What to do when your adult child goes 'no-contact'


By AGENCY

When adult children cut off ties with their parents, their world can fall apart. But despite feeling abandoned and distressed, parents should see it as an opportunity to come to grips with their own past, experts say. — KAROLIN KRAMER/dpa

NO MORE calls or text messages. No more birthday invitations or weekend visits from your grandchild. If your adult child breaks off all contact with you, your world can fall apart.

It rarely happens out of the blue. “Looking back, you can usually recognise the signs,” says Rose Griffel, a systemic couples and family therapist.

“Contact becomes increasingly infrequent, cooler and confined to the bare minimum,” she says, adding that an unresolved conflict is sometimes the cause if an adult child goes “no-contact.”

But often the cause is unclear. The big question the heavy-hearted parents are then left to brood over for hours is: Why?

There are many possible answers.

“Usually the son or daughter has long felt that the parents haven’t adequately recognised and respected their abilities, goals and views, belittling and criticising them instead,” Griffel says.

What’s more, he or she sees no chance of improving relations with a frank talk. So cutting ties, the therapist says, is the only means to get out from under the parents’ influence and go their own way.

“Sometimes a radical break from one’s parents can be an effort to distance oneself from them, escape a parental taboo or process – and finally get over – extremely hurtful experiences in childhood and/or adolescence,” Griffel says.

The impetus can also be a loyalty conflict resulting from problems between the parents and the child’s partner. The child may see radio silence as a last resort to avoid the constant friction.

Respect the child

Difficult though it is for the parents, who may feel abandoned and distressed, they should respect the child’s decision and not continually try to re-establish contact. Most importantly, they shouldn’t fault the child.

“After a while, once your chagrin has subsided, you can cautiously signal you’d like to understand the reason for the break and are ready for a frank talk,” advises Griffel.

Birgitt Hotopp, a systemic consultant and therapist, also recommends that parents accept the break at first, during which time they can deal with their feelings.

“Besides the sadness and pain over the cut in ties, many parents surely feel shame as well,” Hotopp says. “They’re afraid of being seen as bad parents by others and having to justify themselves for their child’s rejection of them.”

Getting therapeutic support or joining a self-help group might be a good idea in these circumstances, she says, since “talking with other parents in a similar situation can relativise feeling of social failure.”

She sees a chance of reconciliation if the parents are able to recognise the break as a cry for help by the child and “begin to ask themselves what took place in the family that so troubled the child.”

Hotopp’s advice to them is to get therapy. “Rejected parents almost always had problems with their own parents,” she says.Using the break as an opportunity to come to grips with their own past and destructive family patterns can open a door to possible reconciliation and building a better relationship, Hotopp says.

What can be especially hard to bear is simultaneously losing contact with grandchildren. “Not being able to see them grow up is typically the most painful aspect of the loss of contact,” Griffel says.

Connection keeps those in their twilight years happy and content, and this can be taken away when an adult child goes 'no-contact'. — 123rf.comConnection keeps those in their twilight years happy and content, and this can be taken away when an adult child goes 'no-contact'. — 123rf.com

Retain affection

She recommends that grandparents send the grandkids small, innocuous and affectionate letters and packages, at least on occasions such as their birthday and Christmas. This shows that they’re thinking of them and are with them in spirit.

“By no means should you use the child to relay messages to the parents though,” she emphasises. Instead, the grandparents should send the grown children any birthday wishes or cards directly with kind words and no ulterior motives.

“I advise that they don’t try to re-establish contact, but send – without any expectations – unilateral signals such as, ‘I’m thinking of you. I’m sad and miss you but I’m not cross and offended,’” says Griffel.

What if one of the rejected parents becomes seriously ill? Is that a reason for adult children to get back in touch?

“I think the children should be informed,” Hotopp says. “Even if they’ve broken off contact, they can’t simply leave their family behind – in their heart of hearts there’s still a connection to their parents.”

If the ill parent then dies and the grown child hasn’t reached out to them, she adds, the chance of a reconciliation or goodbye is lost forever.

To prevent an estrangement from happening in the first place, parents can work at cultivating a good relationship with their children.

“If the relationship is strained, the most important thing in my view is to always keep the lines of communication open,” says Hotopp. “You should carefully listen to what your child may be trying to say and not cleave to your own standpoint, but rather consider the child’s perspective too.” – dpa

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