Dear Rabbi Saulson:
Yesterday I had a wonderful day with my mom—shopping, lunch, girl talk, etc. It was a day that was long overdue, since most other days we spend together are tension-filled, where she complains non-stop about her health, and criticizes me for my life’s choices. (I live a happy, “successful” life by most standards, by the way.) I want to spend more time with her like this, but I know there are no guarantees. Her mood has seemed much more tenuous this past year or so, even though we have had no major family crises of note. To be honest, I find myself spending less and less time with my mother, even avoiding her completely sometimes.
Rabbi, is there anything I can do on my end that can lead to more joy-filled days with my mom? It saddens me to think that the older my mother gets, the less stable our relationship becomes.
Down in the Dumps in Dunwoody
Your letter saddens me, as I know your situation with your mom so deeply saddens you. These are the years you want to spend the best of times with your parents and make memories you can keep in your heart — especially since you’ve been blessed with a mother who is mobile when you yourself are an active adult.
I urge you not to stop spending time with your mom, nor to give up on your wish to spend more quality time together. Tell me, are you willing to put a little work into the situation? I’d like to hear more about your dreams and wishes for your relationship. What would your ideal day with your mother be like? Would you like to spend more days lunching and shopping together? Do you have a dream trip or hobby that you’d like to explore? Have you always wanted to learn to garden from your mom?
Together we can get you there, with your mom. While it’s true that the elderly can have a tendency to become more difficult or even ornery and that may not be something your mother can control, what we can control is your reaction to the situation. With a little fine-tuning of your ultimate goals, we can help you better communicate with your mother. Maybe she needs a little more coddling or attention on some days, or maybe she simply needs the conversation redirected when it starts to slide. We can practice techniques to effectively and non-confrontationally direct your conversations away from her harsh criticisms and steer them to safer waters.
Yes, you’re going to have to shoulder some extra burden, but I think you’ll agree that creating this positive time together will be well worth it.
Please call or e-mail me so that we can schedule an appointment and talk further.
All the best,
Scott [Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.]