What happens when your child turns against you or even cuts off contact completely? Julie Beun finds out about the unkindest cut of all parents, ‘I hate you and I’m never going to speak to you again! You might hear those words once – if not several times – from your teen before she hits adulthood. But what happens when she really means them? According to US parenting expert Dr Joshua Coleman, you’re not alone. “I get a letter a day from parents whose adult children literally abandon them, cut off ties permanently or temporarily, or are in their lives but are so critical and harsh, they’re hurtful to be around,” he says. “In Western culture, it’s more common than uncommon for teens to be rude to their parents, and it’s becoming more common for them to grow into adults who want nothing to do with their parents.”
Cause and effect So what are we doing wrong? Not as much as you’d think. “Being a parent today means being sensitive to our kids’ complaints in a way that would have been unheard of in prior generations,” says Coleman in his book, When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along
Children abandon parents and today’s parents are freaked out
“While this sensitivity increases the potential for a closer, more fulfilling relationship, it also increases the chance that the parents will be made to feel inadequate, shamed or guilty in the process.” Compounding that is our culture of fear, says Coleman.
“While the 20th century has seen unprecedented improvements in the quality of children’s lives, today’s parents are freaked out,” he says. “They obsess over the slightest error in parenting and worry that they may have forever blighted their child’s life with a comment made in anger or exhaustion. Today, a responsible parent is a worried, guilt-ridden parent.” Not surprisingly, divorce accelerates many issues because, Coleman says, “children are witnesses and are even subconsciously participating in the alienation and criticism of the other parent”.
Several studies have also shown they had jobs and kids by 30; in 2000, only 31 per cent of men and 46 per cent of women had done so.
So what’s the problem? “This shift has a huge effect on parent/teen relations,” says Coleman. “For example, if children are remaining younger longer, then they may need to extend the kind of rebellious, shaming and devaluing behaviour
‘You’re a lousy parent’
Why? Because your adult child is still working on separating from you.” what to do If your teen or adult child shames you with harsh statements like ‘You’re a lousy parent’, learn to detach. “the goal is to get curious about the statements, rather than deeply feeling what is being said about you,” says Coleman. “So you might say something like, ‘really? In what way?’ Let them talk it out and practise remaining curious without taking it in. It’s what I call being affectionately detached.”
Difficult temperament “Some people just have difficult personalities,” says Coleman. “They’re born under a dark cloud. Some children are aggressive because they need a lot of stimulation; on the other hand, some children’s aggressiveness comes out in a kind of over-sensitivity. They push back strongly because they experience interaction as a form of intrusion.” Either way, they don’t always mellow as adults. Apt to physically and emotionally distance themselves from you, such adult children will also try using blame and guilt to express themselves. They may be intelligent and talented, but can almost deliberately under-achieve in university or work to defy your expectations while blaming you for every disappointment.
Children abandon their parents – What to do
What to do if your children abandon you as their parents. Avoid power struggles, never shout to regain control and set clear limits, like politely declining to speak to your adult child unless he or she is respectful. If every contact ends in conflict, schedule a low-stress activity you both enjoy, like going for.