Relating to adult children — 02 July 2012
Are you estranged from your adult child?

The frequency of estrangement between young adult children and their parents has greatly increased in recent years. The pain that it causes parents and the loss to both generations is immeasurable. How can you deal with the loss of connection with your adult child?

There are three main explanations for the greater prevalence of family estrangement: A change in family constellation and expectations, the increase in family dissolutions and the young generations’ child-rearing experiences.

Historically, families were more connected due to life circumstances and mutual generational expectations. When adult children left home they tended to live close to their parents and witnessed their parents’ devotion in caring for the grandparents. Familial inter-dependence was stronger and intergenerational accountability was the norm.

Ironically, the baby boomers were raised more strictly and stayed closer to their parents through dutifulness or devotion, while their offspring, who were raised with greater attention, more ease and fewer responsibilities ended up emancipating with less skills and greater distance from their doting parents.

Joshua Coleman, the author of When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along attributes the parent-child estrangement to the attitude of the ‘me-first’ values with which the younger adults have been raised. Parents excessively accommodated their children’s every wish and did not expect enough accountability from them. It suggests that when the pattern of self-indulgence led to disappointment, the younger adults saw no further reason to stay close to their parents.

Divorce is also assumed by Dr. Coleman to be a source of pain and disillusionment for young adults who may be angry with their parents for not maintaining their commitment in preserving the original family intact. The parents may have modeled a relaxed commitment to family unity.

Perhaps the most compelling research findings by Ronald Rohner and Associates of the University of Connecticut found, “After about two thousand studies, many inspired directly by parental acceptance-rejection theory (PARTheory) at least one conclusion is clear: Children everywhere need a specific form of positive response–acceptance–from parents and other primary caregivers. When this need is not met satisfactorily, children worldwide–regardless of variations in culture, gender, age, ethnicity, or other such defining conditions–tend to report themselves to be hostile and aggressive, dependent or defensively independent, impaired in self-esteem and self-adequacy, emotionally unresponsive, emotionally unstable, and to have a negative worldview, among other responses.”

If you are estranged from your adult child:

¨     Assess your responsibility for any part of your child’s rejection of you.

¨     Console yourself that you did not contribute to your child’s rejection if you have been an accepting, loving parent.

¨     Be open to discussing your adult child’s concerns or hurts.

¨     Apologize for mistakes you may have made.

¨     Keep sending positive messages stating interest in your child- regardless of the hurt you feel.

¨     Be patient and persistent in your interest. Your child may reconsider when he/she becomes a parent or life experiences soften his/her heart.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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