Dear Carolyn: My parents and in-laws are all retired and reasonably well-off. They’ve filled their retirements with joining musical groups, coaching kids’ sports, visiting family, gardening, etc.
My husband and I, meanwhile, are working four jobs between us just to pay the bills. Often, one or both of us works seven days a week. Literally almost every time we talk to the parents, they start going on about how “busy” they are, how they don’t have time to read, etc.
Any advice on how not to explode when they start in on this?
– “I’m Soooo Busy”
What would you like them to do – cluck less? Suffer more?
These aren’t rhetorical questions, and here’s why: You’re all living on your own terms, as you’re entitled to do. That your terms are different from theirs is a given, not only because your life stages differ (did they struggle once, too?), but also because no two households’ circumstances will ever align exactly.
So far so good, right?
Meanwhile, you recognize that grotesque luxury and crushing poverty coexist on earth, but you don’t worry you’ll “explode” when you read about a celebrity’s “exhausting” schedule of starring in too many films in a row. Right?
If we can agree these are givens, then we walk ourselves to a likely source of your anguish. It’s not that these retirees are flush, but that they’re flush right in your faces as you grind just to get by. It’s proximity, not parity.
And thus my questions. To learn not to resent the good fortune of people you supposedly love, you need to figure out what else you’d have them do.
Presumably the answers to these are all “no”: Would you rather they stayed home and grumped? Went into a financial skid? Were too frail or sick to be so active? Such wishes would not only be mean-spirited, but also more stress for you if they came true. Thinking these questions through, though, is a helpful exercise in perspective; being grateful they have the lives they do can help you not want to explode.
It also presumably narrows down what you really want: I figure it’s either for them to share their good fortune somehow, or not be so tone-deaf about it around you.
Both of these are not only understandable, but also, appropriately, they’re not about your parents’ busy-busy lives -- they’re about your unhappiness and your desire for (material or moral) support.
So validate your own needs by asking for that support: “I am really happy for you guys -- you earned a busy retirement. I’ll admit it’s tough for me to hear you complain about being busy, though, when we’re working four jobs between us.” Then you request any help you’d accept – a pat on the back, an errand, a ride, etc.
Or you don’t ask because it feels peevish to, and instead concentrate on keeping your life frustrations from seeping into your feelings for others.
It’s hard not to want what someone next to you has – but easier when you admit it. Don’t be afraid to say so aloud to Mom or Dad sometime. “I’m glad you’re happy, but sometimes can’t see that past my own hell. Have you ever felt that way? How did you handle it?” Try them as allies, not foils.