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My adult children complain I’m not ‘there for them.’ Are they expecting too much?

The question

I recently helped one of my adult children and her family in remodelling and painting their new house, and during that time they and their three children lived with us for four months to save money. Every fall, my husband and I go back to our ski business and we kind of disappear until March. This January, two new grandchildren were born. According to my daughters, grandma was not there enough for moral and physical support. They are great people but have pretty much attacked me to the point of my complete emotional demise. I have been told that I am "not emotionally there for them," that "I am their best friend but that I am a 'terrible friend.'" I have served my children all my life and at 64 would like a little understanding and respect as I try to save enough money to retire. They claim that "by then it will be too late – that the grandchildren won't care." Please help me get a little balance. Do I "continue to try to communicate" as one of your articles advises? I am extremely hurt.

The answer

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You know, I learn a lot from readers. This "Damage Control" experience is far from being a one-way monologue. Recently, a reader (whose wife was asking privately on his behalf if he, who hates wearing ties, should wear one to an upcoming wedding with a dress code, I said he should) e-mailed me to say, good-naturedly (I believe, after all, he invited me for a beer, bro code for "I ain't mad atcha"): "All right, Dave, I'll wear the tie, but I'll be cursing your name from about 5 o'clock onwards."

And he added, grumblingly: "Mostly I agree with your advice, but sometimes I find you too conciliatory."

That caused me to scratch my noodle a little. Am I? Folks, I hope you understand that most of the time I'm in favour of people working things out, over angrily turning their backs on one another, because so many of us end up sad and alone and the stuff we argued over never seems so important.

Every friend I have, I've either had to forgive some huge transgression, or they've had to forgive me. And I'm so glad I have these friends, and the importance of the transgressions fade in time…

And family? Fuhgedaboudit, without forgiveness there is no travelling through time with family members. My wife, for example, has to forgive me for something on a daily if not hourly basis. My kids, too. Mostly for kicking their butts to hurry up (they're teens, everything they do seems to take forever).

In this case, however, I'm inclined to go the other way. What spoiled, ungrateful little brats your daughters sound like, no offence (though I'm being hypocritical because as I'm always telling my own kids, saying "no offence" after a rude comment – e.g. "Dumb joke, Dad" – does not in fact change anything).

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It reminds me a bit of the New Jersey teenager in the news lately who's suing her parents for tuition and monthly support. The chutzpah of this kid sitting with her lawyer in her little private-school jersey! She's racked up $15,000 (U.S.) and counting in legal fees!

I think it's about time you give your "adult children" a piece of your mind, starting with the fact they should be on their knees with gratitude for bringing them into the world in the first place, raising them, feeding them, clothing them, working your fingers to the bone in the bone-chilling cold of your ski resort to keep a roof between their precious heads and the rain and snow – not to mention the free reno work, babysitting and rent-free accommodation you provided recently.

Sure, it's stuff every parent does. Kids don't ask to be brought into the world and there is a moral and even legal obligation to provide "the necessities of life." But still! It's a huge favour! Your daughters should be calling you every day to thank you and ask how they can help you out.

(Quick sidebar rant aimed at 21st-century kids: Ask not what your parents can do for you, but what you can do for your parents. Ich bin sick of you putting the "attitude" in ingratitude.)

But once you've unpacked your lecture, tell them you're not asking that, just (in time-immemorial fashion) that they return the life-long favour you've given by pouring their energy into their own kids.

That ought to shut them up. Then – sorry, madam, this is the "tough love" portion of the advice – maybe ask the lady in the mirror if it's possible she might have spoiled them just a titch? A smidgen?

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Anyway, it doesn't matter. What's past is past, time flies so you have seize the day (which in Latin I believe translates to "carpe diem cuz tempus fugit") and it's never too late for a mother to tell her children to grow up and smarten up and that's what you should do here.

What am I supposed to do now?

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