Always Real, Sometimes Tart

Always Available

The other day I was chatting with an aquaintance when his cell phone rang.

He reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out the phone and checked the number.

“Just a minute,” he said holding up his index finger, “It’s my son.”

No problem.  They chatted for a few minutes while I stared at the ground and then my cuticles and then the ground some more.  By the lilt and chatter of the conversation, it was apparent to me that there was no real emergency, but whatever, it made no difference to me.

When he snapped the phone shut, he said proudly, “That was my son. I’m always available when he calls.”

To which I responded, “Oh.”

After we finished our conversation, I got in my car and drove off.

And as I drove away I began to mull over what had just happened.  I wasn’t offended that he took the call, not at all, but I recalled that his son is in his mid-20s and lives in another state.  And then I wondered at what point, as a parent, should we stop being always available to our children.

And then I laughed to myself because I was thinking somewhere around the age of four.

48 thoughts on “Always Available

  1. Always? I’m thinking definitely before they are well into their 20’s! Its hard to imagine because I feel like thats my job right now- to be there. Always. All the time. But, you are right on. We have to give them room to find solutions on their on. I can just imagine my 20 something daughters calling me to ask how to do laundry or make sweet tea!

  2. When my adult children call, they have my full attention because they WANT to call and they WANT to talk. The teenaged years when that was not always the case are still fresh in my memory!

  3. Now, I know there are extremes, ranging from over protective parents who can’t nose out of their kids’ lives to those who could care less and disappeared as soon as they could, but this was encouraging to me, to hear of a DAD that had this response. It seems to always be the Moms. I could probably elaborate, but I’ll leave it at that. BTW, I don’t delurk often, so I’ll tell you now that I enjoy seeing the world through your eyes! You have a great blog!!! 🙂

  4. My kids are in their late teens. We’ve always been a stay-at-home-mom homeschooling family. My daughter is in college and my son is a senior in our homeschool high school.

    I’ve found that the older they got, the more they seemed to need me. They didnt need me to do things FOR them, but they just needed me available, accessable. Its not that I’m putting my own life on hold, it’s just that they know I am here if they need to talk, or just take comfort in the fact I am here while they go and spread their wings as they begin lives of their own.

    They are meeting new experiences and people and seeing things that are different and new-just because the time of becoming an adult is full of those kind of experiences. It’s nice for them to know I am here and that they can share those things with me and that I can offer bits of wisdom they can take or leave as they walk some of these paths for the first time solo. (and it’s nice for us, as parents to know as kc’s mom said, when our kids want to talk to us adult child to parent -gladly I’ll be available for them if only for that reason)

  5. I’m 23 and living in Germany. My parent’s live in Alabama. While they’re not always available, if they see my number on their phone, they always answer.
    I have two children of my own.
    I believe, as a parent, our jobs are never done. I am a mom today, just as I will be a mom 50 years from now.
    I’ll always be available for my children. If they can’t count on their parent’s, who can they count on?

    * * *
    Hopefully my child grow into an adult who can depend on himself, cope and figure things out. Hopefully my child will develop a reliable social network beyond me. Hopefully my child will depend on God. That is my goal as a parent, not to always be available. At some point I will fail him. I will die. I will not always be available.

  6. RUDE!!! My dh and I were just speaking of this the other day. WHY do people do that? It’s rude?!! We’ll be talking to people on cell phones and they’ll say… “Hang on.” And then we’ll say, “Where are YOU?” Then they’ll be doing something TOTALLY inappropriate to do while talking on the cell phone. And it’s NOT the bathroom either… like IN CHURCH, or talking to the sales man at the store, or at a movie or something. It’s a cell phone for crying out loud — let the voice mail pick it up — it’s not like it’s the RED PHONE IN THE WHITE HOUSE!!

    Oh my… that sounds a little annoyed.

    Oh hold on a minute… I’ve got a call… brb.

  7. I’m 31 and I know that my parents are always available for me if I need to talk to them. Even though I have my own house and my own family it means a lot to me to know that my parents will be there for me no matter what and no matter when.

  8. My poor kids in the future. I’m hearing impaired (seriously) and I never hear the phone ring. The only reason I ever answer it now is they hear it ring and tell me.

  9. I’m always available for my two grown children. I’ve been through many years of one of them not calling that now they call, its my delight and blessing to answer their call.

  10. I was thinking how nice it’s been this last year or so to watch them spread their wings, to make sure they know I have other interests and we’re all lucky to like each other enough to put some things on hold to be together….it’s a struggle for me to find a good balance :blush:

    Thought-provoking, as ever – thank you!

  11. It is not rude–family is first. This is your CHILD we’re talking about. I will ALWAYS take the call, and at the very least say that I will call them right back.

    * * *
    I wasn’t talking about being rude, I was talking about whether we should “always” be available to our child forever, because you know, at some point we won’t be, if you know what I mean. I’m not convinced its good for them. I think that always being available might impede learning to cope. And we didn’t always have cell phones, so throughout the centuries, parents have not always been available all day, every day, 24/7.

  12. This is really thought-provoking! I frequently ignore my cellphone, but if the kids are at school and it’s school calling, I always pick up, no matter what. I say, “I’m sorry, it’s school.” Does this mean that later on when the boys have their own cell phones, I will always pick up if it’s them? I guess I’ll have to see. My eldest now rides to school, and that 15 minutes when he’s out of touch has been SO HARD FOR ME!! I said, “You need a cellphone” and he said “Nah, I don’t” and I said, “Okay, I NEED FOR YOU to have a cell phone!” He just laughed at me! So I wrote my cell number on his bag, his jacket, his forehead….. And I send him off with a prayer.

  13. I’d like to get cell phones for the school years, to cover emergencies, but I don’t see the point of dropping everything and being “always available” once a child is grown with their own family. I’ll get back to my daughter asap, but she’ll have to leave a message like everyone else. I am quite the Luddite about cell phones, though.

  14. As usual, I’m out of step with the parade. I am not “always” available to Sean, even at age 5. If I’m doing something, and he perceives he has a problem, I tell him to go try to figure it out, and “when I’m available” I will try to help if he hasn’t solved his own problem.

    I’m not talking about whether or not it’s rude to take your child’s call in front of someone or should you answer the phone if the school calls or any of these other extraneous issues. I’m asking – in general – is it good (for your child) to be constantly available to them? Does it impede the shaping of a self-reliant and resourceful kid? Were McGyver’s parents “always” available to him? I’d like to know.

  15. My parents decided it was at the age of 30. I can’t get either one of them to answer a phone anymore and heaven forbid I call during one of my mother’s “programs” (despite the fact that they HAVE TIVO!).

  16. Being always available and supportive are two different things. Always available seems controlling and needy on both sides. While the man may want his child to feel important, the rest of the world will not get the same memo that the world is not always available to him AND does not revolve around him.

    This goes back to my favorite rant that in the effort to enhance self esteem, we have created and bred a bunch of little narcissists.

    The best gift a parent can give a child is the ability to stand on their own two feet. And that not everyone will agree or like them, and that is OK.

  17. Four sounds about right to me.

    Adult kids? I’ll happily tell them I’m chatting with someone and will call them back as soon as I’m done.

    And by “adult,” I mean anyone over the age of 10 who isn’t having an emergency.

  18. I kinda think you are talking about two different kinds of availability AM. I totally agree with you that I am not 100% available to the kids even now at 5 and 6 because I want them to problem solve etc.
    I am forever telling them to figure it our. 6 wants so badly for me to “teach” him lego batman on the Wii. I am not good at video games, dont like them, and have little to no coordination in that way…it is totally a figure it out and practice thing in my book.

    However if they are just wanting to talk and need me as a ssounding board I am all over that. I think saying some things out loud gives a little clarity and lets them solve it themself faster.

    Im almost 40 and yet my parents are available when i call. now they may not talk but a few seconds or ask to call back, but they are available…heck they are even available when my husband calls
    but its not a drop everything what can i do for you kind of thing.


  19. I am with you AM. I think it is important for kids to learn to be respectful of other people’s time and responsibilities. When they were little, I did not run to them at every demand. Now, If my 16yo or 20yo call me in the middle of the day, something is usually up. If I can, I answer and ask if it is an emergency, if not and I am busy-I call them back.

  20. Hmmm….always available?
    I try to be there for my kids. But not a doormat be there. I have just let my first child go (off to college) from the nest. I cherish every single phone call or email/chat I get from him.

    I work with 3 women who have all lost teenage children in the last year!
    Time is not promised to any of us. I’m witness to that first-hand.
    I don’t want to miss a single moment with any of my kids.

    Now…as far as being rude to someone “for” my kids. That isn’t necessary. They would totally understand if I said….”can I call you right back?”.

  21. I agree with Steff. My kids are 13 and 15 and have a clear understanding that “available” does not mean I will run home on my lunch break and retrieve the item you forgot to bring to school, or drop everything and cook you breakfast when you decide to roll out of bed on a weekend. However, in the midst of these teen years and all that goes with it I manufacture time to be available to them and just talk and listen to what is going on in their worlds. I pray that by the time they are adults I can take off the parenting hat and be their friend. In my early twenties my mom and MIL were invaluable resources for me as a young wife and mother. I did have the support of my friends, however they were right along side me trying to figure it all out.

  22. I have to agree with you AM. My son is eight and I am continually trying to encourage him to solve problems on his own, without my assistance. I want him to grow up to be an independent adult and my eventual peer/friend, not an overgrown child.

    That’s not to say that I take a hands-off approach. I think my son knows that he can talk to me, but that he doesn’t always need my help or input… that he is capable of handling things on his own.

    As I’ve read the comments, I began to wonder if maybe this has something to do with the fact that we are both parents of an only child.

    I am well aware of the fact that when my hubby and I die, our boy will have no other immediate family members to rely on. He will need to be a fully functioning adult that is able to think critically, solve problems and cope with any situation that may arise.

    I pray that he will rely on God, develop a network of friends that become part of his greater family, and marry a wonderful woman to share the journey with.

  23. When our kids were little, one of our biggest struggles was teaching them not to interrupt us when we were on the phone or speaking to other adults. This is kind of an adult version of that.
    If my teens call me and I’m in the middle of a conversation I have no problem saying “Is everything Ok?” If yes, then I say “I am speaking to Mrs. Smith so I will call you back when I’m finished.” And then I always apologize to the person with whom I was speaking in the first place. Our kids may be the center of OUR world but they are not the center of THE world. Of course, my daugther still thinks running out of Mountain Dew warrants an emergency phone call so we may have a little more work to do.

    However, I have a feeling that once my son is in the marines you won’t be able to pry the phone away from my ear on the rare occasion that he calls.

    This post could lead to a whole new post about cell phone etiquette.

    * * *
    A phone call from a son in the marines is a whole different deal, not even in the same ball park.

  24. WOW.. Have never thought of it the way you have put it. I have always worked so I guess I have not always been available. But when I’m home my world is my son…. well at almost 18 it is as much as he will let me in. We got him a cell phone when he turned 13 and started going out and doing things with friends. More so we could get in contact with him and for him to let us know he has made it to some place and is leaving whatever place. If we lived in a small town I don’t think I’d be as freaked out but we live in a neighborhood where there are registered sex offenders so we have always been way over protective. Now that he is almost 18 I have had to let go and OH MY WORD has it been hard. But I keep reminding myself he will be off to college next year and we will not have control of what he does and where he goes. If he ever calls when he goes off to college I will answer. We have been cautious of teaching him how to pay his truck payment or make a insurance payment, cook, clean and about to teach him how to do laundry so we don’t get the frantic call when is out of the house. We are such a close family I just can’t imagine not being there for him when/if he calls. Heck I’m 38 and miss calling my mom desperately. She passed in Nov. of 2007.

    Blake has always been independent. But I’m always there when he want to be with me or talk to me. I guess my final answer is I don’t know the answer. I guess it is different for every family. 🙂 But this was a GREAT post. Very thought provoking!

  25. Reading over the comments, it seems by & large the greatest differences of perspective are between parents of younger kids & parents of older kids. When our kids were younger, we were completely on your page, AM. We def were not always available, yet they had no question we were always in their corner supporting them.

    But guess what? They learned what we taught them – independence! And we learned they can be so independent & self-sufficient & flat-out busy with their own lives that they can inadvertantly become disconnected. They don’t realize all the water that’s going over the dam.

    But we do. Independence & self-reliance are great; family disconnect is not. And in their 20s, they’re just figuring out what that looks like in real life.

    So there’s the rub: we make ourselves available at times we’d prefer not because we know the value of those connections. It’s a very real possibility that if we don’t pick up that one call when they happen to have a minute or think of it, they won’t call again for a very long time – or if they do, they’ll have moved on & won’t share that part of their lives they were ready to share at that minute. As a parent, you learn to connect when they’re ready otherwise you might not connect much at all.

    So, is it good to always be available? IMHO – No when they’re young. Yes when they were older. Unless you happen to raise the rare breed of teen/young adult who early on achieves the right balance of both self-reliance and yet connectedness to family. It’s a good goal to shoot for.

    One disclaimer – if you’re a parent of a 20something that is not self-reliant & independent, yeah, I’d definitely vote for being unavailable a whole lot.

  26. I think teaching young children independence and that they need to be able to think through decisions on their own is actually totally separate from them being an adult and always answering their calls.

    I don’t have adult children (yet, thankfully!) however when I do I will be of the ‘always available’ mindset although that is not how I am right now with my kids. Right now they do have to learn to think for themselves and entertain themselves sometimes. I imagine that your aquaintance just plain loves his son. You asid he lives in a different state which probably means he doesn’t see his son as often as he’d like – so I totally understand him always answering the phone when he calls. Family is priority, no matter if your child is 2 or 20…the age just determines the different way in which you parent. At 20, I hope I still have the closeness I have with my daughter at 12. The closeness I have at 32 with my own mother.

    I guess I am of this thinking precisely *because* I won’t always be here…so while I am, I would rather spend as many moments as I possibly can talking to them than to anyone else (no matter how old). Nothing will ever be as important as they are. Of course, take my rationality with a grain of salt…I have lost a lot of important people in my life I wish I could still talk to…and wish I would have talked to more and made more of a priority when they were here.

  27. AM, this is such a great story. I do think there is a difference between being “available” and being “co-dependent parents”. I’ve only got a 2 year old and a 3 month old, so I’m not expert by any means and have no wisdom to share there. LOL!

    Although, it is irritating to me when people speak loudly on their cell phones without excusing themselves from local company. Yet, even then, I have to tell myself to shut up. Why? Because this has precipitated a line of questions in my own head that I’m mulling over…

    Do we ever outgrow needing our parents? Needing our Heavenly Father? How often do we pray a demanding prayer, begging for mercy, asking for a way out, needing to just unload and chat? How often is He available to us? Is it rude when we expect Him to be available to us 24/7? Furthermore, is it rude for us to point out other people’s rudeness when we don’t know their circumstances and yet turn around and do the same thing to God?


  28. You said: “At some point I will fail him. I will die. I will not always be available.”

    That’s fundamental. You CAN’T always be there for your children. You MUST raise them to do without you. Because someday, will ye or nil ye, they WILL have to do without you.


  29. We see son so seldom as he lives away. He calls dad everyday and when he has problems minor or major. Rude probably but hey he calls. I’m sure you could say I’m talkign to someone call me later or I’ll call you back but like I say it is a bright spot and if you’d understand I would like you more.

  30. Granted my oldest is mentally ill and I have no choice but to be available to him. Sometimes it is simply a phone call other times, it’s so much more than that. So if he calls my cell & I’m talking to someone else, I don’t mean to be rude but I have to take it.
    But if it’s my 7 year old who has been left at home with her Daddy & she wanted to come with me, you can bet that she’s going to my voicebox.

  31. I learned from an early age that my parents did not “revolve around my fanny”. It was a dose of reality that I hope I give to my kids. No, I’m not always available, but they still know they are a priority to me.

  32. I’ve re-read my post and am baffled as to how it can be implied or inferred that I thought that the person who took the call was rude. I never said that. In fact, I said the complete opposite: “I wasn’t offended that he took the call, not at all,…”

  33. AM, I think some of us are responding to another COMMENTOR. I think as a reader, I imagine myself in a big room with all your commentors and you. Sometimes my comments are worded in response to THEM, not you, even if you’re the original person talking.

    Don’t take it too personal. 🙂

    * * *
    I don’t take it (too) personally, but it is kind of confusing. I always welcome a difference of opinion and will often push back and defend what I’ve written (which makes some people bristle) but it’s hard to defend what you haven’t written. 🙂

  34. LOL, so loud that made a co-worker come check on me! I was thinking around the of 9 when the start to back talk and roll their eyes.

  35. I think the sooner we aren’t ALWAYS available… the sooner they will learn to solve the problem themselves. Whatever has been said pro or con, we used babywise with our kids to get them to sleep through the night and the major premise is that they can teach themselves to go to sleep without you- so you are all much more SANE. So you won’t kill your children and they won’t kill you. Basically, it’s a death prevention book.
    Anyway, I’m with you on 3 or 4. And my 2 year old is actually really resourceful…

  36. There are certain degrees of available. This summer I started a part-time job and for the very first time in their lives I wasn’t always around whenever my daughters needed a ride or a meal. My fourteen year old loved her new found independence and learned how to fend for herself. My twelve year old hated every minute, but change has always been hard for her. On the other hand, as long as God allows me to share time on earth with them, I hope that they will always need me in some capacity. My Mom needs me now more than I need her, but I still value the fact that she is there for me, even if it’s just to get her opinion.

    I have been strong and stood alone for so long during very trying trials in my life. I made it, but it turned me to stone sometimes. I have learned to appreciate a few strong shoulders that God sent my way. I do not want my daughters to think that they must always fight their own battles.

  37. I am near 50 and often call my mom and dad for guidance and support. But sometimes they are busy and say they’ll call me back. And sometimes, by the time they get back to me, I have figured things out myself. That is where I am heading with my young son- sometimes he demands my attention RIGHT NOW and I tell him I am in the middle of something and he’ll have to wait (unless it’s an emergency, of course) Sometimes, when I get to him, he has figured things out for himself. So, I’ll always “be there” for my boy while encouraging the problem solving skills that he’ll require to live this life.


  38. Maybe it’s because you have a four year old:) Funny. I would have thought the same.

    Still, if I think it’s one of the kids, or one of the schools, I pick up asap. I’m always afraid it might be an emergency. I’m always relieved that it’s not.

  39. One more thing. This paragraph-

    “No problem. They chatted for a few minutes while I stared at the ground and then my cuticles and then the ground some more. By the lilt and chatter of the conversation, it was apparent to me that there was no real emergency, but whatever, it made no difference to me.”

    -did make me think that you were headed in the direction of “People who are rude with their cell phones” but as I read, I realized that’s not what this post was about at all. Maybe that’s where some people are getting the “rude cell phone call takers” idea, even though you DID say later that you weren’t offended when he took the call. Just a thought.

  40. While I have had a very good upbringing, and never wanted for anything, I cannot tell you how I wish my mother was “always available,” at least as an ear to listen. So many times in my life I have genuinely needed her help and she either had my sister help me or my grandmother. I spent 3 weeks out of school my Jr. year of high school due to a major flu and I ended up driving myself to the doctor because my mother would not take the time off work. I know she loves me and I love her too, but she is “always available” to only my oldest sister and my brother. I have never felt that I can talk to my Mom about anything important.

  41. AM,
    I will say that from the perspective of a non-mom (So basically I know nothing,haha) but of a HS teacher, parents who are always available perhaps set their children up for difficulty in the classroom.
    Some of the most frustrating moments in the classroom are those when a student is not willing to try something new without constant reassurance. It is exhausting as the teacher and frustrating to think that perhaps we are moving toward a society incapable of self-reliance.

  42. As with anything in this world, I believe there is a fine line between always being available and being a crutch. As parents, we have to be certain to walk that line.

    AM, you said you often tell Sean to try to figure things out for himself… that is fabulous. I try to do the same thing with my son. But look at the other side: he came to you and you were there for him… he came to you for help, and you offered reassurance that if he tries alone you will help him afterward. That is the best thing possible, in my opinion. Like the commentor before me said… it’s aweful to need constant reassurance once you are a teenager and even worse as an adult.

    The father whom you wrote about may make himself “always available” to his children… but we won’t know if it’s to offer wisdom, an encouraging word, or sometimes telling the child to get off his rump and try to figure it out… either way, he’s there… and that’s all that matters.

  43. I can see both sides of this issue.

    My 24-year-old son is pretty self-sufficient, and when he calls, it’s usually to reconnect or to ask for advice. And because I (like other commenters) remember a time when he was not so keen on keeping in touch, I try to be available when he calls.

    Having said that, I really do believe it comes down to etiquette. I realize, this wasn’t the issue you were tackling. But I do think it’s rude to abandon the person in front of you for the person on the other end of a phone call (except in cases of emergency, of course).

    Picking up a call sends a strong message of priority. I would find out if it was urgent, and if not, I would explain to my beloved son that I’m having a conversation and will call him back in a few minutes. That would not only tell the person in front of me that he/she is important, but it would also show my son I believe in conversational courtesy. And that’s nearly as important as self-sufficiency.

  44. After studying A Woman After God’s Own Heart (I don’t know how to put that in italics,) and I remember you said you read it years ago,) I decided it is right to take my grown children’s calls when I’m with someone else.
    It’s true we will not always be available, and I want my children to rely on God, too. However, I want to be available if possible. We actually never know if there is an emergency; also, sometimes there is an emotional emergency. God is always available to us, and I think it’s fine if we want to be available to our children. We can model to the best of our ability (which is like filthy rags,) availability. I do turn my phone on silent during church.

  45. Love this post!

    I’m 33 years old, married with two kids and still talk to my parents (and sister) every day. My sister lives 3 hours away from me (used to be 16 hours away) and my parents live in another state. They’re not always available (like when they’re at work), but I love that I have the kind of relationship where I can talk to my parents about anything, any time. It nearly drove me crazy when they took a 10-day cruise and didn’t use their cell phones…they deserved the vacation, but I really missed talking to them!

  46. What’s interesting in your scenario is that your acquaintance was saying that your time is not valued. The problem with having a phone conversation with anyone (that is not an emergency or a son in the military) while speaking with someone else is that the other person is essentially devaluing you.

    It is not rude to answer the phone, but there are 2 courteous responses. Either tell the caller you’ll call back, or tell the person your speaking to that you need to take the call and let them off the hook so that they don’t have to stand around and wait. If you were visiting their home and the house phone rang would they sit and have a conversation while you waited? It’s the same principle.

    While I understand and agree with your point of not ALWAYS being available (you should try working with and managing the children of helicopter parents – it’s a nightmare), I also found the way your acquaintance handled the call to be inconsiderate and devaluing to you.

  47. My boys are young. I hope they’ll call me when they are all grown up. If I am that desperate to talk to them, I might just answer and be rude.

    As for ALWAYS being there for them, I don’t know. Aren’t I allowed to have a life away from them? Aren’t they allowed to have a life away from me?

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