The last phone call was months ago. Text messages routinely go ignored. Most parents are very troubled when adult children fail to keep in contact with them.
“Why does my child get in touch so seldom?” they wonder.
Parents often don’t understand – or they misunderstand – their child’s development, says couples counsellor Sascha Schmidt, who has written a guide for parents wanting to reestablish contact with estranged adult children.
One piece of advice he gives them is to think back to the child’s puberty, a period when the first signs of a possible communication breakdown often appear. Some children start to go silent in their teen years while still living at home.
Later, between the ages of 20 and 30, children are naturally busy leading their own lives, as are their parents, Schmidt says. Some stay in contact and still have their parents do their laundry, while others break it off, perhaps due to widely divergent political views or moral values.
Should the latter be the case, a maxim that parents can often go by, remarks Schmidt, is: If the kids don’t get in touch, they’re doing fine.
Family therapist Valeska Riedel advises parents who find it hard to let go when their children move out to take a self-inventory of sorts. As Schmidt explains it, they should assess their own relationship and their friendships – other people may be able to satisfy many of the emotional needs left unfulfilled by their absent child.
Another turning point in the parents-children relationship is when the children become parents themselves. “Then the children gladly spend more time with their parents again, in part because they look after the grandchildren, ” points out Riedel, who says in many cases it sparks a renaissance in their ties.
“If the parents – or a parent – can open up to the grandkids, for instance, it could build a bridge to the children, ” says Schmidt, because understanding why someone behaved in the way that he or she did can often dissipate negative energy.
Sometimes, however, the arrival of grandchildren can aggravate the relationship between parents and their children, for example if the children feel their parents or parents-in-law are interfering even more in their lives than before via their child-rearing.
Whatever the reasons behind an adult child’s break-off or reduction in contact, Schmidt says it’s important that parents know a breach isn’t made impulsively. “It’s extremely difficult for the children, ” he says.
Riedel recommends that parents analyse the changes that preceded the child’s stop in communication. “And if you don’t know, then ask without being reproachful.”
In any case, she says, it’s wiser for parents to convey their needs than to be accusatory. They might say, for example, “How nice that you called! I missed you”, or “I’ve been thinking of you a lot”.
“The parents, not the children, are responsible for contact, ” asserts Schmidt, saying they’re the ones who should seek and maintain family ties rather than wait and expect the child to get in touch.
For their part, adult children should take a good look at themselves and figure out how much time and closeness with their parents is good for them. “Cutting off ties isn’t a long-term solution, ” Riedel says.
Being an adult means taking responsibility for your feelings, she remarks, adding that being angry at your parents is a decision you make. She suggests asking yourself how old you’re acting when you let their phone calls or text messages annoy you – usually you’re reverting to your childhood role. – dpa/Bernadette Winter