Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Another Baby Boomer Trend Story From The New York Times

“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?

The Times 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?”


Anonymous Cap'n NoStar said...

The following sentence seems to missing a word.

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 cut or severed all connections to them.

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Cap'n NoStar said...

I inserted a choice of embolded words.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Whoops! Fixed. But you really don't wannabe an editor. At least not an editor of self-published stuff. Trust me. I know.

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Cap'n NoStar said...

Now, edit out our comments and no one else will see the error.

1:21 PM  
Anonymous Cap'n NoStar said...

I haven't heard from my oldest step son for at least five years.
I do chat with my other son (his brother) on facebook at least once a month. My oldest step daughter from marriage #2 sends me pictures of my grandaughter all the time.

I have no idea what happened, but then my younger son hasn't been in contact with him either. I find it puzzling and sad.

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Son of Sam Adams said...

This trend is just part of the drive to extend adolescence. You're sort of supposed to rebel against your parents when you're 16, and then when you start to earn a living, you see how smart your idiot dad suddenly is. But when you can't support yourself, you look for somebody to blame, and the 'rents are the obvious choice. Maybe even the accurate choice, as they didn't kick your ass out at 18 and make you work for a living. But if they had, you'd blame them for that. 'sOK; real soon now kids will either grow up, or grow down about 6 feet. Economic collapse will do that.

8:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These things are not uncommon and probably every story is a little different. However the most common "common denominator" is some kind of mental health issue either in the estranged or the estranger. I doubt this will ever change. However I think the mistake would be to ignore the part a mental illness plays in this and jump to the conclusion it is the result of some easily avoidable act on the part of the parent or child. Sadly there are many "broken" people and rarely can you fix them and rarely is it "your" fault they are broken.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Point is, anonymous, whether the estrangement is the parent's or the children's "fault," that jackass Joshua Coleman pushes for the victimized party to indulge in further victimization. Some kids are just fuckups -- if a kid leaves his parents because he's furious said parents refused to give him unlimited drug money, the parents are supposed to apologize for that and Preserve the Family Unit at All Costs? And if the parent's a fuckup and the kid has to leave to keep her sanity, Coleman suggests the parents refuse to honor the kid's wish, but indulge in quasi-stalker tactics.

Wouldn't surprise me if his "new" relationship with his daughter consists of her tolerating one Christmas dinner per year, and spending that entire time thinking "Goddammit, you miserable old fart, will you just fucking DIE already?"

9:59 AM  
Blogger Charles Pergiel said...

I AM NOT EITHER CRAZY. Oh, wait, maybe I am. All the best people are, you know. I like to think I have a better relationship with my kids than I did with my parents, but maybe I am just deluding myself. As complicated as people are I find it pretty amazing that so many of them work so well.

It's easier to get along when there is plenty of money. Of course, people can always find something to quibble about.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi I just came across this blogg today and ohhh so true to many.

My Eldest son will have absolutely nothing to do with me and anyone that has contact with me.

I left his step father and no one has ever asked or told me the real reasons other than money issues that have made bith my sons turn their backs on me. They dont know what went on, My daughter has started to speak to me but blocks me from leaving messages on her fb wall. I know she has kept things from me to protect either me or her brothers. It hurts so bad that I have even tried to committ suicide. Thank GOD for a good psychologists who has helped me think of myself and not them. But it is still very difficult and not one of them including my daughter in law who is a psychologist and is surposed to be so clever and have many degrees, has not once asked my opion. They will not even let me know or see my grandaughter.

1:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The same isolated my daughter from seeing her niece once they knew that I was helpiing her when she needed. Not one of them helped her when she needed.

1:17 AM  
Blogger FreeMyBrain said...

Why not have the basics of parenthood sorted out sane from scratch...? I will see it as a true blessing never ever counted on, if my kids will like to hang out with me even the least as adults. I have always figured I am obliged to have to earn that and will never ever count on it. I'll of course feel deep grief if I mess up. But if, I will promise to spend all time and money to take a deep look into my own inner flaws instead and work on them eager to become the adult parent they would like to have in their lives. Not focusing on what's wrong with them. There's wishes of how an adult parent shall be like, are my rule. Will always be. Within the frames of higher legality. I love my precious no narc kids dearly:)! Their genuine souls and iner wills are sanctuared for me. That's my parental rule of thumb!

And besides as I as a cert. child psychologist have understood narcissistic children with no narcissistic parents... They would rarely rarely wish for No contact. No oposite, they would really strive to optimize their adult relations with their parents to be as tight and frequent as needed to get optimal narcissistic supply from them. Narcs can't deal well with the oposite, the immense pain and grieve to cut off a parent. Sorry Mr Coleman. All respect but that is my informed opinion.

1:43 AM  
Blogger FreeMyBrain said...

And he will probably not read it... :)

2:03 AM  
Blogger FreeMyBrain said...

Good you brought the subject up though Jennifer! 😘

2:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've obviously never read Dr. Coleman's book "When Parents Hurt" or have listened to his (free) phone or web-based seminars. Some of these comments, including the one from the child psychologist who doesn't know how to spell, are totally off the mark. Until you've read the book from cover to cover, you won't understand the wisdom behind Dr. Coleman's recommendations.

8:39 AM  

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