“Man, I’m bored. What should I do today – watch a movie?” (Flips through channels.
) “Nah. Nothin’ good on. Visit an amusement park?” (Flips through wallet.
) “Nope. Not enough cash. Maybe experiment with new hairstyles?” (Flips through curls.
) “Fuckin’ frizz. Can’t control it when it’s this humid.” (Sigh.
) “What to do, what to do – hey, I know! I’ll cut all ties to my parents and spend the rest of my life as a person without a family!”
That’s not the train of thought which makes certain adults arrive at the decision to estrange themselves from the parents of their childhoods, but you’d never know it to read this New York Times blog post
(a couple months old but only now did I find it) about a "silent epidemic" of elderly adults flabbergasted when their adult children sever all connections to them.
Dr. Joshua Coleman, a San Francisco psychologist who bills himself an expert in parental estrangement issues (being estranged from his own adult daughter for several years presumably gave unique insight into the issue) is the chief expert cited in the story:
[Coleman] says it appears to be growing more and more common, even in families who haven’t experienced obvious cruelty or traumas like abuse and addiction. Instead, parents often report that a once-close relationship has deteriorated after a conflict over money, a boyfriend or built-up resentments about a parent’s divorce or remarriage.
“We live in a culture that assumes if there is an estrangement, the parents must have done something really terrible,” said Dr. Coleman, whose book “When Parents Hurt” (William Morrow, 2007) focuses on estrangement. “But this is not a story of adult children cutting off parents who made egregious mistakes. It’s about parents who were good parents, who made mistakes that were certainly within normal limits.”
There’s no set formula to any human relationship, and we certainly don’t live in a just world where suffering is only inflicted on those who deserve it. Back when I wrote for local newspapers – back when you didn’t have to be entirely delusional to think career prospects still existed in that field – I sometimes had to visit bleak nursing homes for the occasional write-up of a centenarian birthday party. Only rarely did I see relatives visiting the inmates, and of course I had no way of knowing what those people were like in their prime: were their children selfishly ungrateful, or had the parents been miserable old bastards who drove their offspring away?
story says Joshua Coleman refused to accept it when his adult daughter cut ties to him, though the story doesn’t speak to the daughter or go into detail over what caused the estrangement:
Dr. Coleman himself experienced several years of estrangement with his adult daughter, with whom he has reconciled. Mending the relationship took time and a persistent effort by Dr. Coleman to stay in contact. It also meant listening to his daughter’s complaints and accepting responsibility for his mistakes. “I tried to really get what her feelings were and tried to make amends and repair,” he said. “Over the course of several years, it came back slowly.” …. Dr. Coleman says he believes parental estrangement is a “silent epidemic,” because many parents are ashamed to admit they’ve lost contact with their children.
Often, he said, parents in these situations give up too soon. He advises them to continue weekly letters, e-mail messages or phone calls even when they are rejected, and to be generous in taking responsibility for their mistakes — even if they did not seem like mistakes at the time
Persistence is a virtue. How many dead romantic relationships might have been resuscitated had the spurned partner taken Coleman’s advice? “Often, the rejected partners in these situations give up too soon. He advises them to continue sending their exes weekly letters, email messages or phone calls even when they are rejected, and to be generous in taking responsibility for their mistakes – even if they did not seem like mistakes at the time.”
So if the parents really were good folk suffering unjustly at the hands of their children, Coleman recommends they take more abuse: “I’m sorry I made you brush your teeth, sweetheart. I was wrong to make you do homework when you wanted to play video games instead. You’re right – I should have given you money every single time you asked, and never refused when you wanted a new toy.”
On the other hand, if the children broke off with their parents who were abusive but refuse to admit it, Coleman suggests the parents compound their childrens’ anguish by nagging them with constant communication after their children – full-fledged adults by this point – made it clear they wanted no further contact with these people.
The story doesn’t address the question “What if my letters and e-mails and phone calls result in a restraining order?”