Are Parents Who are Cut Off by Their Adult Children Really That Clueless? (Themes of This Blog Seen In Newspaper Advice Columns – Part III)

In the advice column Annie’s Mailbox by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, there has recently been a series of letters from the parents of adult children who have cut them out of their lives. The parents complain that they have absolutely no idea and do not understand why this has happened, and they seem to indicate that they had been just model parents or, at worst, guilty of some very minor parental transgressions.Lately, a couple of other letter writers opined that just perhaps the parental behavior was a lot more problematic than these folks would have the world believe. For the most part, whenever I delve into the family dynamics of those patients who either cut off parents or have been cut off like this, that is certainly always the case.In reading the letters from the parents who just cannot seem to figure out why their children have cut them off, a question arises. Are they really that clueless? Are they “in denial?” - whatever that means?  To me, “denial” of reality is just – how should I put this? – lying.In fact, when such parents are in the process of portraying themselves as the innocent victims of mean-spirited, unreasonable adult children, they are in fact, pushing their adult children even further away. They are, in a sense, invalidating their adult children’s sense of reality about what transpires in their relationships.  In doing so, they are literally being hateful. This of course further infuriates the adult children. This illustrates one subtle form of distancing behavior. The last letter in the following series illustrates the adult child's anger about this issue better than I ever could.(How such situations might be repaired is described by the letter writer of 4/5/14).10/8/13.  Dear Annie: When our daughter was a child, she had emotional issues and extensive anger management problems. With tremendous concern and love, we got her professional support and therapy, and ultimately, our daughter learned the skills to control herself. What we did not do was tell extended family members of these private problems. We had seen their extreme intolerance for any kind of mental health issues and did not want our daughter to suffer prejudice from her own family. In college, the troubling incidents started again. Because of our daughter's refusal to let us have access to her medical information, we had no real idea of what was happening. The next few years included troubling breakups with both friends and boyfriends, extreme weight loss and talk of suicide. Our daughter is now 32 and recently married. She suddenly and inexplicably has cut us off. When we try to communicate with her, she becomes hysterical with rage. We have learned she has been saying horrible things about us to the same extended family members we tried to protect her from in childhood. We are devastated. One relative actually told my husband that we must have done something terrible to our daughter for her to treat us this way. These family members now have a special, almost frenzied new importance to our daughter. They judge us constantly. To be accused of such mistreatment is insulting and painful. Please print this so these family members will stop jumping to conclusions. — Reading This Can HelpDear Reading: Most likely, the only thing that will change their perspective is to be on the receiving end of your daughter's erratic behavior. Despite all the therapy she had when younger, her problems haven't disappeared. She has simply chosen to deal with them in her own way, which currently precludes a loving relationship with you. We hope that will change. While you cannot control what the relatives think, please take comfort in knowing you handled your daughter's issues in a way that protected and helped her. That is what good parents do.12/26/13.  Dear Annie: You often print letters from older parents dealing with rejection from their adult children. This is literally an epidemic everywhere. Anger and hatred are destroying families. My husband and I have three adult children who were the delight of our lives. We had a typical loving family, with vacations, birthday parties and special celebrations that included friends and extended family. We had anxious times during illnesses, surgeries and accidents, but we made it through. All three of our children have grown to be successful, well-liked and respected adults. Sadly, over the past 22 years, they all have chosen to shut us out of their lives. We've had minor disagreements at times, but never any major battles that might justify their choices. None of them will tell us why they are angry. They refuse to have any contact or open dialog that might heal our relationship. I know you're probably thinking "there must be something." If so, we don't know what it is. My husband is 81, and I am 78. We understand there is a real possibility that we will never hear from our children before we die. We do our best to focus on the great times we had and to hold onto the many precious memories of their growing-up years. Holidays are the hardest, but with God's help, we make it through. We have forgiven our children and will always pray for them. We will always thank God for choosing us to be their parents. — Joining the Letting Go ClubDear Joining: Your letter is heartbreaking. When children are brought up by loving parents, we don't know why some remain close and others do not. The same fire that melts butter will forge steel. If you have any family members who are in touch with your children, perhaps they could help you understand what is going on and even intercede on your behalf. In the meantime, you are wise to accept what you cannot change and compassionate to forgive those who have hurt you.3/7/14. Dear Annie:My wife and I have lost contact with our son. He is a recovering addict. As far as we know, he has maintained a job and, I hope, has been able to stay clean. He has moved to a city about four hours away with his new girlfriend, and I am sure she is keeping him in line.  My wife is heartbroken. We maintained a room for him in our home until he was almost 30 years old. He was always close to his mother, and they would speak on a daily basis. Now, he doesn't call or take our calls or emails, and never accepts cards or letters. He said he needed space when he left, and that was a year ago. My wife grieves as though he has passed, crying at night, wondering what happened to our son. What should I do to relieve the pain? Should we keep trying to contact him? We don't understand how he can be so hurtful. — Tears in VermontDear Tears: We are so sorry that your son has chosen to cut off contact, but you cannot force him to stay in touch. Are you in touch with the girlfriend? Is she a reliable partner, or might she be abusive? Even so, he is an adult, and you can only do so much without his cooperation. In the meantime, please consider counseling. You are grieving and worried, and you need to move forward so your son's absence doesn't become the focus of your daily life. It will not be easy. But we recommend that you keep sending your son emails and cards, just saying that you love him and that you will always be available should he decide to contact you. We hope he will. Soon.4/5/14.  Dear Annie:Thanks for printing the letter from "Joining the Letting Go Club," who feel rejected by their grown children. One part of the letter got my attention — the part where they say they've had "minor disagreements" at times, but nothing so major as to cut off contact. I have had this same situation with my family, and honestly, sometimes the disagreements aren't as minor as the folks believe. Sometimes disagreements are downplayed to avoid dealing with the hurt feelings and poor communication between family members. The grown children may feel they can't talk to their parents because of negative and heated exchanges in the past. Nonetheless, I do agree that the grown children need to tell their parents why they don't have any contact, even if it upsets the parents. They have a right to know. Several years after a falling out, I reached out to my family members. Over time, we were able to rebuild our relationship, and last year, we had a wonderful Christmas holiday together. I greatly appreciate the special relationship my children now have with their grandparents. Sometimes you have to be the bigger person and do what is best for the family — even if you don't always agree. — No StateDear No: How heartwarming that you took that first step — not only for your sake, but for that of your children.2/28/14.   Dear Annie: I have followed the many outraged responses regarding adult children who have cut elderly parents out of their lives, so let me give another view. My mother is 86 and possessed of her faculties. She can live alone and unassisted. Both of my sisters cut her out of their lives years ago. Why? Because Mom has a cruel mouth and is bigoted, gratuitously insulting, highly opinionated and very vocal about what she thinks of you and everyone else. Mom complained that she has been shunned because of her age, and I told her it is because she is unpleasant and impossible, and that she should get counseling. She responded with a well-chosen two-word obscenity. So I'm done. I have tried with great patience to keep Mom in my life, but she is so difficult that I, too, have finally thrown in the towel. I don't need the stress that she creates. Please let your readers know that the behavior of some adult children may be abundantly justified. — Finished in Chicago 5/10/14.  Dear Annie: I feel sure that, were she to pick up pen and paper, my mother would be among those parents wailing over their "heartless" children's "abandoning" them. My mother would say that she was a loving, wonderful parent, and I'm sure she believes it. Annie, this is a woman who told me every day that she wished she'd aborted me. When I was very little, she helpfully explained the term so I would know exactly what she meant. Very rarely are abusive parents capable of comprehending that they are, in fact, abusive. There is no child on Earth who wants to not have parents. If your kids have cut you out of their lives, there is a reason, and that reason is YOU. — S. 

 
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