With Mother’s Day having just passed, I thought this was an ideal time to re-share one of my most viral posts of 2016: What to do when your adult child will not speak to you.
Why does this matter and to whom? Well, dear readers, you may be completely unaware that hundreds of thousands of mothers are living with the pain of having adult children sever all ties. The reason you’re unaware is because these mothers feel ashamed and embarrassed and therefore, they remain silent.
Adult child and parent estrangement
A few days ago, I got out of our warm and comfy bed early in the morning. I made coffee and jumped back into bed with my ultimate concierge, grabbed my laptop (as I always do) and clicked on my email.
I saw messages from a few of my early-riser girlfriends, my grandson Joe, studying in Beijing, China, and… a new website.
The first few words of this email captured my attention, so I clicked through to the website. The title of the first story was, “What To Do When Your Grown Up Kids Won’t Talk to You.” Under that was another story on the same subject, “Why Some Grown Kids Cut Off Their Parents.”
I continued to read, the story began, “In the painful days after my husband’s death, I crafted a eulogy that concluded with a thought from the ‘Book of Laughter and Forgetting,’ by Milan Kundera. The key sentence in her eulogy: Love is a constant interrogation.”
I immediately connected with the writer’s story about losing her husband because I too have lived through the tragedy of watching my children lose their father and facing widowhood.
My second husband, Shelly, is also a widower, and thus he has children who lost a mother.
In addition to losing a parent, our children have had to deal with the joy and conflict that comes about when Mom or Dad remarries. Life changes for adult children the second time around. The older children move through the experience of blending two families, and yet, sadly, families are never completely whole again after one parent dies.
My curious mind urged me to read on, and I was shocked with my findings. I knew I wanted to share this situation, even though we are in the middle of the holiday season. I wanted sorrowful mothers living through the ordeal of being “cut off” by their adult children to know they are not alone. Mothers should know there is an epidemic of silence in thousands of child-parent relationships.
To me, deliberate loss of touch with a mother leaves me horrified. If only every adult child could understand what a gut-wrenching experience this is for their mother. I feel a child who does this is unkind, selfish and lacking all aspects of empathy. Of course, if there is psychological, sexual or physical abuse from a parent, the adult child has the right to disengage.
A mother questions, “Did I fail? I taught my children the importance of compassion, empathy, respect and the art of communication? Why do some adult children cut off their mother? Why can other children with similar struggles stay connected through thick and thin?”
Two schools of thought on adult child and parent estrangement
This is my belief on the subject: I believe that no matter what happens, your mother is your mother. The Ten Commandments state to honor thy father and thy mother. As a daughter, I had many stormy days with my mom, but I would never think to cut her off completely. I would fight, but I would never take flight! And, right or wrong, I was the one who apologized, not my mother. Period.
The other school of thought I discovered from learned psychologists and psychiatrists: Adult children take flight because they feel a sense of relief. Why? They lack the ability to address and resolve problems and conflict with their mother; it is too much for them to handle.
Isn’t that awful?
I question if they really take flight because I don’t believe they can. They have resolved nothing and have to be feeling stressed. They want to feel disconnected, but will never be free of their mother.
What can a mother do when an adult child will not speak to her
1. Love and stay connected with other members in your family. Show your grands and other children that you will never “take flight.”
2. Talk to a therapist or join one of the many support groups that are available.
3. Remain true to yourself and don’t let anger rule. Don’t cut off your adult child, but instead send birthday cards or a small sentimental gift. Stay in touch with their children, your grandchildren. This will bring you comfort.
4. Hopefully their door will open and when it does, bite your tongue and listen with an open mind and heart. It may be very hard, but don’t get caught up in your feelings. Be empathetic and set an example.
5. Until this day happens, live a full life. You did not leave your child.
In an article by Elizabeth Vagnoni, a mother estranged from her two sons, wrote: “76% of adult children say that being estranged has affected their well-being, even though it appears to have been their choice.”
I would think it would be 100% because you cannot escape the mother-child bond. That is why a mother should hang in there.
It is hard to write my musings today because this is such a complicated topic. I want to leave you with a few messages: If your child reaches out to you, establish a shared set of future guidelines.
If your child does not reach out to you, don’t close the door. Consider texting them and saying, “Let’s find common ground to resolve our conflicts. I love you. I miss you. I need you. Let’s talk.” Do not expect a response, but instead know that you opened the door and hopefully one day they will walk through it.
Lastly, do not demean yourself and never feel ashamed. You are not the only one experiencing adult child and parent estrangement. Many professional doctors say our generation of parents spared the rod and spoiled the child. They may be 100% correct.