Family estrangement - when grownup kids want nothing to do with you

What happens when your kids, all grown up, don’t call, don’t visit, don’t care.

Had things gone to plan, you’d be hearing an answer from a friend I’ll call Beth, 52, mother of three and desperately sad. Her eldest, now 32 and flying high as an oncologist, never calls, never visits and openly tells her father, sister and brother she has no interest in having a relationship with her mother. 

Was there a cataclysmic rupture in their relationship – an event Beth can identify? She says no. Has she tried every which way to get her daughter to open up, tell her why she’s being shunned? Yes, says Beth. She’s also suggested they see a therapist. Not even a no to that one. No response. 

Coming on The Big Middle, anonymously, was too hard for Beth. Her life, on this subject, is cloaked by heartache and confusion. 

This is a little-reported flaw in the fantasy ‘Happy Families’ social script we’re all fed. The advent of The Big Middle years doesn’t mean there’s less drama and more love and respect in both directions. 

My interest in this is born of comments from Beth and two other mothers of grownups. In the past year, all surprised me with “Susan, I wish I’d never had them. They couldn’t care less about me. I only hear from them when they want something.” 

I know why they felt they could share that with me without judgement. I love kids but never felt in a hurry to make my own. That ambivalence held through a succession of international jobs, miscarriages and the cancer death of my beloved in my mid-40s. It’s harder to share the dark reality that your kids have abandoned you with friends living that Happy Families fantasy of enduring mutual love and support and so much fun had by all whenever you’re all together. 

That’s my springboard to take a wider look at the flaws in that social script. Our guide is Rachel Melville-Thomas, a child and adolescent psychotherapist with 30 years of experience in the US, UK, France and Switzerland. 





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