Care and Feeding

I Long for Closeness With My Grown Daughter

An older woman looks longingly at her phone.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Giulio Fornasar/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Is there any way to get a grown child to call home more often? My daughter is two years out of college and a thousand miles away, and although we have what I believe (and she has said she agrees) is a good relationship, I hear from her inconsistently, she doesn’t pick up the phone if I call (so I have pretty much given up calling, especially since her voice mailbox is ALWAYS full), and she lets my texts pile up. Sometimes I go three weeks without hearing from her, and even then it’s usually because I’ve nagged her to call, via text. I know she’s busy, but nobody is THAT busy. After a couple of weeks have passed, I always start thinking: Is she mad at me? Did I say something last time that rubbed her the wrong way? Or … is she sick? Missing? Dead? It’s exhausting, honestly. Is there something I can do to get her to check in regularly? I miss her so much (too much?). And I am bitterly jealous of friends who hear from their grown kids all the time. Unfortunately, I seem to be surrounded by them.

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—Sad Mom in Mississippi

Dear Sad,

I feel your pain. I truly do. I miss my grown-up daughter (probably too much), too. And I used to be jealous of my friends who had kids who seemed to call them all the time, too.

Look, some adult children are in constant contact with their parents. Some call every day just to say hello and fill their parents in on every little thing that’s happened since the day before—the way most people do only with their best friends or romantic partners when they are apart. Other parent-grown child pairs I know have brief, not especially meaningful weekly check-in phone calls at a specified time. My young friend Nick and his mom have a deal so that she won’t worry that he’s dead: Anytime she texts and says, “Are you OK?” he drops everything and texts back, “Yup.”

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Some kids call their parents whenever there’s a problem but conveniently forget about them when things are going smoothly—or vice versa: They call when everything is good and drop out of sight when there’s a problem. My own daughter tends to fall into this last category, ducking out of sight when anything is wrong and popping back up when things are basically OK again. But even when things are OK, she does not call often—or, anyway, as often as I’d like—and it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s medicine that is important for me to take.

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So here’s your medicine:

You’re right, no one is that busy. Your twentysomething daughter would rather spend her free time doing other things. Calling her mom is not high on her priority list right now. And this is pretty normal (it’s one version of the many different kinds of “normal”) for a person in their 20s and 30s, as hard as this can be for some parents to accept.

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I hope that when you and your daughter do talk, you get to talk for a good long time. But even if yours is checking in irregularly and then still doesn’t seem to have much time to talk when she does call, take heart: If your relationship is good, this will just be a phase of it. I think of my own daughter’s communication strategy with me as yet another developmental phase of her growing (fully) up—especially when I think about the history of my phone relationship with my own mother. For years I was irregularly in touch with my mother, and to be honest, I never thought about it or her: I was busy, and when I wasn’t busy, I was spending my free time doing other things. I didn’t feel like spending it on the phone with my mom.

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And then I had a child myself. And one day—my daughter was 7 or 8, just beginning to show some signs of independence (sleepovers; no more kisses and hugs allowed at school drop-off time)—it hit me like a ton of bricks how my mother must feel, hearing from me so sporadically. And I don’t know if it was out of active empathy, or if I just wanted to make sure my karma was good once it was my turn to have a grown-up daughter living far away, but I started calling her every day. And that’s been going on for a good 20 years now. Some days Mom and I talk for five minutes, some days for a half an hour, but I have rarely missed a day.

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The karma part didn’t work—not yet. But if my daughter and I are still living 500 miles away when she has a child, I’m betting she’ll (eventually) have the same revelation I did. In the meantime, I do my best to stay chill. I hope you can, too.

• If you missed Friday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My cousins and I (all in our late teens/early 20s) have gotten much closer in the last few years and want to try to rekindle a relationship with two estranged cousins, Camille and Melanie. Melanie is our Uncle George’s daughter; she cut her dad off completely during his messy divorce with his ex-wife, Melanie’s mom, eight years ago. For years, we were all told by the adults in the family that Uncle George’s ex-wife was a narcissistic abuser and Melanie was being brainwashed by her mom, that this was why she didn’t want to talk to or see any of us. We accepted this and stayed close with Uncle George. But a few years ago, a huge fight broke out and Uncle George was physically and verbally abusive toward his stepdaughter, Camille, in front of us. Camille moved in with her dad and cut Uncle George out of her life, breaking contact with our side of the family when she did so. Now my cousins and I are wondering what the best way would be to reach out to Camille and Melanie and let them know that we value a relationship with them more than one with Uncle George (even though our parents have completely forgiven him and blamed Camille and Melanie). We wonder, too, if we can help them bond with each other after their long estrangement. Finally: Should we try to get our parents to realize that Uncle George is the one in the wrong?

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—Cousin Crew Missing Members

Dear CCMM,

The best way to reach out to your estranged cousins is to write each of them a heartfelt letter or email, apologizing for and explaining (but not justifying) your actions, gracefully and swiftly, and telling them how much you miss them and why. Tell them what’s inspired you to contact them—go ahead and tell them how close the rest of you have become and how much you long to have them be a part of this new, nurturing, and supportive relationship among cousins who are no longer children, who are thinking for themselves and reevaluating what they have been taught and told.

And then let it be. Reach out, and then wait patiently. They may or may not be interested in renewing their relationships with cousins who remind them of painful periods in their lives. They may or may not find the notion of forming a young adult family relationship appealing. It’s possible that they won’t be up for it now but might be later—that will be their choice.

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Do not take it upon yourselves to heal the rift between the two of them. That’s between them; it’s none of your business. If and when they’re ready to, they will do that on their own. (But who knows? If both of them respond to your effort to connect to them, they may find themselves coming together sooner than they—or I—would have predicted.)

As for trying to get your parents to see things as you do, forget it. This is not your job either. And it really doesn’t matter if they agree with you or not. You and your cousins are all growing up: You may have very different ideas about many things than your parents do. It happens. They needn’t be on your “side” any more than you need to be on theirs.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My fiancé and I are in the early stages of wedding planning. As the youngest of our generation in both of our families, and given that we have waited a long time to tie the knot, most of our families and friends have children. My entire family and some close friends would have to travel three to four hours to be a part of our day. We are strongly considering not going the traditional route, instead “eloping” in a small, child-free, 10-person ceremony at the beginning of the year, and sending out announcements along with an invitation for a cookout in summer 2022 (wine and beer, food, music, dancing, cornhole), highlighting that everyone’s children are welcome to attend.

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This way our friends and extended family wouldn’t have to choose between parting from their kids for a weekend (and having to arrange child care), bringing them along and having to arrange child care where we live in order to attend the wedding, and bringing them to an event that’s not suitable for children. But I know—because I’ve been told!—that weddings are among the few occasions parents of young children feel like they can “take a night off,” so I’m worried that my idea will not be taken well. I don’t really want to take a poll among everyone I know—I’m not prepared to crowdsource my wedding plans—so I thought I would turn to a parenting expert. Is this a good idea? P.S. Any additional advice on how to make an event child-friendly is appreciated.

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—Wedding in Washington

Dear WiW,

I think it’s an extraordinarily thoughtful—and delightful!—idea. There may indeed be parents who tell themselves that their only excuse to take a night off from child care is an adults-only wedding, but that’s their concern, not yours. You can’t please everybody (not when it comes to planning your wedding, not when it comes to anything in life). Many people will be very grateful to you if you proceed as you are considering.

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As to making the event itself child-friendly, you’ll want to have something for the children to do. Dancing and cornhole may or may not keep the younger ones happily occupied for hours. I’ve heard of people who’ve had child-friendly wedding receptions including a “coloring station” (my own inclination would be to expand this to a craft station, with plenty of glitter and felt and ribbons and big plastic beads for stringing, etc.), a Lego station, a supply of hula hoops and jump ropes and perhaps a piñata. If I were you, I’d hire a few teenagers for the occasion to oversee these activities and just generally help out with child care (which should please everyone, even the parents who wish they’d had an ironclad reason to leave their kids at home). But along with these suggestions, let me say this: You need to plan the day you want, and enjoy yourself. Don’t lose sight of the fact that this is your celebration. So whether you include minimal or maximal activities for children in attendance, the kids and their parents will all be fine.

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I send you and your fiancé my very best wishes for your happiness.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

This is one of those kid-asking-about-parents questions, I guess. I hope you can help me because I don’t know who else to ask. I’m 16 and eligible for the COVID vaccine but my parents, who refuse to be vaccinated themselves, won’t let me get it. They’re convinced it’s dangerous and also unnecessary—that the risk of getting COVID has been exaggerated by the “liberal media” and that the virus is much less dangerous than reported. They’re not crazy or anything, and I love them and all, but they read and watch nothing but media that tells them this stuff. I can’t reason with them, and I can’t convince them that I don’t feel safe getting back out and doing things without being vaccinated. They think I should just get on with my life. But even if I felt like I could, I can’t, since my friend’s families are vaccinated and no one wants me around if I’m not. What do I do? Is it OK to secretly get the vaccine? Is it even legal to do that?

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—Frustrated and Feeling Unsafe

Dear FaFU,

You are not alone in this conundrum. The New York Times reports that seven out of 10 parents of children between the ages of 12 through 17 will not allow them to be vaccinated, and that some are finding ways to get around this and, yes, keeping it a secret from their parents.

The Times story points out that “The issue of who can consent to the Covid shots is providing fresh context for decades-old legal, ethical and medical questions. When parents disagree, who is the arbiter? At what age are children capable of making their own health decisions and how should that be determined?”

Since you are asking me, I’ll tell you what I think: If you can find a way to be vaccinated, you should do it—for your own safety and to protect the health of your parents (even if they don’t understand that they need it) and others. Depending on where you live, you may be able to get the vaccine without your parents’ permission. Check VaxTeen, a website created by 18-year-old Kelly Danielpour, which provides a guide to state consent laws, links to clinics, and other resources (I learned of its existence through the Times piece).

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You can’t make them do the right thing, but you can do your best to take responsibility for your own health if they won’t.

Happy Independence Day.

—Michelle

More Advice From Slate

My teenage daughter, like most teenagers this year, spent a lot of time on social media engaged in conversations about race, social justice, and activism. In general, we’re happy with this; she is getting a worldview-expanding experience, and she’s been actively engaged in trying to create change at her high school. The problem is that she’s fixated on getting a Black friend. This makes me uncomfortable; what should I do?

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