No more Hot Potatoes for Dad

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My kids refer to me as the “Department of Complaints”.

They always turn to me whenever something goes wrong. When they were in college, I was the one to get the calls about roommate problems, a bad grade and “Do you think I have mono, Mom?”

I urged them to consider calling me not only when things went wrong but when things go well. How about the occasional call, I suggested,  to say – “Hi, Mom. It’s a sunny day. I’m feeling good. Had a great class. Love you, bye.”

Never happened.

Now that they are adults the calls have changed but only as to topic.

I am happy to give tips on how to get along with an annoying boss, thoughts on grad school and relationship advice. I function well as “Tell Mom, she will know what to do.”

Mostly, this is kind of flattering and it goes with the role we play as perennial parents.

But sometimes it can be burdensome. Especially if you are the type who worries. (Who me???). Your kid has a problem, picture it as a “hot potato”; he or she calls and hands off the “hot potato” to you. Your kid then goes on about his or her life while you are stuck worrying about their problem, the “hot potato” is now in your lap; even if the problem may already be solved or they aren’t worrying about it anymore.

I was a regular player of  “hot potato” with my Dad.

After my Mom died when I was in my 20’s,  Dad became the one I called with my problems.  He has been a wise advisor for concerns, large and small, for many years.

When our daughter got quite sick as a toddler, he was the first person I called. When our son had a tough problem at school, guess who got the phone call.  If I was having a difficult time at work, I called Dad for advice.  When the economy sunk my 401 (k) plan, I complained to him.

I never once stopped to think that maybe I was doing exactly the same thing to my Dad as my kids do to me.

Where is it written that we should spend our whole life as parents as the on-call-recipient of our kids’ problems?

Shouldn’t there come a time when your relationship with your parent changes?

Shortly after my 60th birthday I spent some unpleasant months being very ill. My 89 year old Dad called me every day while I was in the hospital to see how I was doing. Suddenly I realized I didn’t want to burden him any longer with my problems. He had been on the receiving end long enough. Maybe it was time for a change.

So when he called me in the hospital and asked – “how are you feeling today?”

I’d answer – “pretty good, doing better, really.” And I’d say that even if I had had a bad night or a frightening procedure coming up or a worrisome test result.

Now I was the one who wanted to protect him as best I could from bad news.

He had enough going on in his own life. My step-mom’s dementia was not getting better. Every week he would hear of the death of a friend or colleague. Attending funerals was becoming a hobby. Getting older was no picnic, although he never complains.

Since my illness (I am now much better, thank you), I call my Dad frequently. But I try to offer only cheerful news or funny stories. Our 1st grandson learned to sit up, our daughter got a new job, my husband has a promotion.  I no longer share with him any of my daily woes or the worries of our family.

Sometimes I almost slip up. A problem crops up and I reach for the phone. But then I stop. I can handle this. I can work through it, with my husband’s help, whatever it is. No need to call Dad anymore to put the “hot potato” in his well-worn lap.

Scary but liberating to (finally) become a grown up at age 62.


Filed under General

5 responses to “No more Hot Potatoes for Dad

  1. Lauren Randel

    Great post. I remember vividly doing that to my parents when I was in college.

    Lauren Randel, MD 4400 East-West Highway, Ste G Bethesda, MD 20814 phone 301.656.3410 fax 301.656.3411

    Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2014 21:02:54 +0000 To:


  2. I enjoyed reading this. Food for thought!


  3. Oh Nancy I so saw myself in this post. I do this to my mom all the time! Of course now that she lives with us I really can’t help it since she’s witnessing/involved in all of it. I also worry about my son’s things (he’s only 15) and find myself upset about things that happen to or around him that don’t even bother him.


  4. Suzanne Fluhr

    Unlike my sisters, I don’t call our 89 year old mother with my “problems”. In fact, I’ve left her out of my problems for most of my life. What I’ve now decided is that omission is not sufficient. Like you, I think I’m willing to lie to keep my worries off her plate. The only thing is that I have to try to make sure no one spills the beans if I’m in the hospital.


    • Suzanne, thanks. Somehow I think your Mom will find out if you are in the hospital. Parental radar detector, active at any age. But I get what you mean! Nancy
      (also a recovering lawyer, fyi).


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