Phoning It In

31 Mar

Dear LetterBalm: My granddaughter and I are quite close. She confides that she is going crazy because her parents persist in calling her every day, even after she’s been married for several years, works fulltime and has a baby daughter. The calls started when she went away to college 10 years ago. She and my daughter and son-in-law have a good relationship, but they want to talk with her about the details of their day, and the conversation can go on for half an hour, with her saying nothing. She doesn’t have time for long phone calls. She’s asked them several times not to phone her at work or at home after a long day, but they don’t listen. If she doesn’t pick up, they keep calling until she does. And, now that they have cellphones, they call her from everywhere. How can she get them to call her less frequently and make them shorter without making her feel guilty?

–Empathic Granny

This is a challenge. Not only are frequent and long personal phone calls counterproductive at work, they’re intruding on your granddaughter’s family time with her husband and baby. Ms. L.B. appreciates that your son and daughter-in-law love their child and want to keep in touch, and she knows your granddaughter feels the same. But the calls may also be motivated by worry, boredom and isolation as her parents grow older. Have a talk with your granddaughter, giving her some effective techniques to train her folks:

Laurel, I’ve been doing some thinking about your parents and their frequent phone calls. You say you’re fine with a brief call once a day – it’s nice that you and your parents get along so well, and you know they want to know the latest about Emma. I’ve come up with a few techniques that can work to train them to respect your wishes. Here they are:

  1. Have a quiet, in-person talk with your parents without anyone else present.
  2. Remind them how happy you are that everyone gets along so well and that they want to hear your voice and the latest news about Emma. But frequent calls, calls during your work and calls that go on for a long time are unacceptable for you and your husband now.
  3. To reduce their anxiety, decide on a mutually workable time of day when they can call you for five or ten minutes (your choice). Put them on notice that when the time is up, you will hang up and turn off your phone. Phone calls at other times will go to voicemail.
  4. Decide on a mutually acceptable and simple word or phrase to be used only in an emergency. If they abuse this, tell them you won’t take any calls in the future, and they can call emergency services. You trust them not to use this when it’s not a necessity. This is also a good way to gauge whether they’re in genuine distress.

I know these rules sound strict – and there are occasions, like birthdays, celebrations, and good and bad news when longer phone calls are warranted. You can tell your folks this. Tell them, too, that you will always love them and welcome them in your life.

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