Sorry, No Kids; plus, Make Every Moment Count.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’ll get to the point. I can’t get past my anger toward my mother. Though I’ve long since come out to her (over 22 years ago), she never misses a chance to get in a dig that she’ll “never have grandchildren,” or that she “would have made a good grandmother, but will never get the chance.” And she does this in front of her—and my—friends.
I am who I am. She is loving and helpful otherwise, but I’m tired of hearing this reproductive nonsense from her. How do I change my—or her—attitude?
Dr. Hurd replies,
When your mother decided to have a child, she made a commitment. Her commitment was to raise you and send you into adulthood. However, this came with no guarantees that you would have children, pursue a certain career, or even have a particular sexual orientation.
That’s common sense, and your mother knows it. But she refuses to accept it. That’s her problem, not yours. What you must stop doing is making her problem your problem.
You don’t owe her an apology for being who you are. Our lives belong to ourselves, and nobody else. Again, it’s self-evident, but many find it difficult to accept. “Yes, our lives belong to ourselves…but I want grandchildren, dammit!” Your mother is experiencing a psychological conflict that stems from being caught up in contradictions and other errors in thinking.
No doubt you love her, and that’s why you care. But you can’t help her with this. She must help herself, or find someone other than you to help her. This isn’t like she’s having a heart attack or a cut finger where you can take her to the ER. It isn’t like she’s confused about how to work her computer or do her taxes. You could maybe help with those kinds of things, but not this. So let it go.
When she makes her comments, ignore them or simply walk away. When she brings that up (and she will), calmly explain that that’s what you will do when she says unacceptable things. Don’t be defensive. Just shrug and say, “You’re entitled to your feelings, mom, but I’m equally entitled not to hear them.”
Don’t show anger or frustration. This will tell her that you’re making her problem your problem. The irrational side of her wants you to do this, so appeal to her rational side with your calm refusal to give power to her guilt-inducing behavior.
This isn’t the same as changing her mind. You’ll never change her mind. Her mind might someday change, but it won’t be you who changes it. It’s an issue for her psychotherapist, her “spiritual” counselor or simply within the confines of her self-reflection. Bottom line? We don’t always get what we want.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My partner and I have been together for almost 40 years. Recently, he suffered a mild heart attack that has slowed him down a bit. I didn’t expect to feel this way, but now I’m in constant fear that I’ll lose him. This fear is manifesting itself in my “walking on eggshells” around him, being overly solicitous to his every desire, and discouraging any activity that might be the least bit strenuous. This is getting on his nerves, and he has told me as much. But I can’t get the specter of living without him out of my mind.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Your fear might be new, but the reality is not. Life is fragile, and we could go at any time. This didn’t suddenly become true when your partner had his heart attack. It was true all along—for him, for you, for all of us.
“Live in the moment” is a cliché, but sometimes clichés are true. Life is a temporary condition, glorious and exciting. But all things come to an end. The only rational thing to do is enjoy it to the fullest and make every moment count.
It seems like things are worse now, and you’d probably like to go back to the good old days when you didn’t worry about dying. But your partner’s heart attack merely demonstrates how worry doesn’t change a thing. Rational action like watching one’s weight, etc., can make a difference, but even that’s not guaranteed.
As you see it, “I have all this worry now and I must get rid of it.” Actually, you’re now more in touch with reality. That’s a good thing, believe it or not. By being more aware of just how fragile we all are, you’re finally in a position to live and love every minute of it. That doesn’t seem so bad, does it?
If anything, by annoying your partner you might be taking years off his (and your own) life. We can’t prove that, but you’re certainly not helping anyone either. The whole reason you feel this way is because you’re anxious. And the whole reason you’re anxious is because you’re now more aware that life isn’t forever. Why make living less valuable just because it isn’t forever? Redirect that energy into making every moment matter.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, life coach and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email your questions or comments Dr. Hurd.