|Phone home. ET instinctively knew how to relieve stress. Now research confirms that if you reach out and touch someone, preferably Mom, you’ll feel better. According to a recent study, girls aged 7-12 who spoke on the phone with their mothers when upset showed decreases in cortisol, the stress hormone, and increases in oxytocin, the chemical that promotes well-being. Researchers speculate that the benefits also apply to older daughters. But what about the mothers?
In a survey of friends whose children have left for college, nine out of ten mothers considered ditching their phones to protect themselves from the stress induced by incessant calls. The tenth mother has a son. She would gladly accept a collect call from jail just to hear from him.
When my laconic daughter, Emma, went away to college, I initially welcomed her frequent calls. Homesickness made her more communicative.
Too communicative, actually. I recalled my friend Pam’s exhaustion when her daughter had called constantly to process every upset in her adjustment to campus life. A graph of their mood swings resembled the Dow on Wall Street’s most haywire day. After every phonecall, her daughter rallied, but Pam crashed.
Possibly I harbored a smug thought or two about their enmeshment. Until a year later, when Emma went off to college.
“Hi,” comes the quavery voice across the line late at night. Then silence, punctuated by an occasional sniffle.
“I don’t know . . . it’s just that . . . “
Now I’m wide awake, ready to drop everything and board the next plane.
“What is it, honey?”
“Nothing, really. . . but . . . can I come home?”
Instantly, I repent my smugness. Now I am in the same boat with Pam, loosing sleep and all perspective as I launch a full maternal arsenal of pep talks, deep breathing, unwanted advice, and listening. Lots of listening.
Emma’s cortisol levels drop, but mine are through the roof.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t talk to her for so long,” my husband suggests. Pam’s husband has said the same thing. He might have even told his daughter to stop calling so often. Heartless, sensible men.
My friend Leslie, who was lucky enough to launch her children before the age of cell phones and other electronic umbilical cords, is more sympathetic. When I mention through clenched teeth my daughter’s difficult adjustment, Leslie moans, “Ohhh. . . the phonecalls!” as if it were yesterday. Her daughter is now 35, with girls of her own. If justice prevails, they’ll be calling soon enough.
And so the see-saw of motherhood continues: daughters’ oxytocin levels and happiness rise while moms’ plummet.
How do we get off the see-saw without causing our daughters to crash? Is it possible to disconnect the live feed from mood.com without being bad mothers?
Of course. That’s why God—or, more likely, the Mother of God—invented texting.
Lorrie Goldin is a psychotherapist in the San Francisco Bay Area and blogs regularly at Shrinkrapped.