Today's guest post is contributed by Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, author of Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2008), and Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012). A resident scholar at the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center, Dr. Nemzoff also speaks and blogs about intergenerational relationships.
Q: My 72-year-old grandmother is dating and the family is up in arms. Some of my aunts find this unseemly, though my grandfather died three years ago. My uncle is worried that this man will take all her money, which isn’t a lot. My cousins worry she will be too busy for us. I think my grandmother has a right to live her life. Any suggestions on how we might integrate this man into the family?
A: While it’s always wise to plan ahead, a few dates won’t necessarily lead to a long-term commitment. Some of your family members’ worries may be premature. However, it’s never too early to reflect on the complexity of extended family relationships.
Three years is long enough to mourn. Your grandmother has fulfilled her obligations to her husband. She is entitled to choose life. She is to be commended for not sitting around moping in her loneliness. Instead, she is being proactive in attempting to enrich her life. At the same time, she is relieving the extended family of the sole responsibility for her happiness. After all, with life expectancies high, she might have 20 or 30 more years. Why should she not have daily companionship?
Rest assured, it is not uncommon for adult children of any age to be miffed when their parents are not available on-demand. Many adult children fear abandonment when their parents have a new love interest. There is a two-year-old in each of us that expects our parents’ full attention, even when we are adults. Your grandmother has put a lot of time into the family. It is unlikely that your grandmother will forsake her children and all of you.
Family members express their love in many ways. The concerns of your aunts and uncles indicate that they care about their mother. Like parents, adult children can be overprotective and out of date. On the other hand, like parents, some of the children’s concerns have validity.
Whether your grandmother marries this man or a different one, it’s time to make sure your grandmother’s financial affairs are in the order she wants them. Estate lawyers can help her protect whatever money she has, if she so desires. This will not only make your uncle feel better, it also gives your grandmother a chance to talk about other end of life issues. Paradoxically, though she is choosing life, it’s an opportunity to talk about death.
Fortunately, we live in times when women are more than the matriarchs of their families. They are also individuals. Your grandmother is both a loving presence and a person in her own right. Value and respect her for both her contributions to your family and to herself.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish Journal MA and is reprinted with permission.
Gina Stepp interviews Brandeis University resident scholar Ruth Nemzoff about her latest book, Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws into Family.
Ruth Nemzoff is a resident scholar at Brandeis University. Vision interviewed her about her recent book covering parent and adult-child communication.