Vail Relationships column: Help! My grown children don’t want anything to do with me
Dear Neil: I love my children. My ex took them away from me. It’s a long, terrible story, and I’ve been living in hell ever since. My children are grown now but will have nothing to do with me. I have no idea of how to get them to want a relationship with me. Not so long ago, my ex told me that his new girlfriend is a better mother then I’ve ever been. My heart is broken.
What Can I Do in Little Rock, Arkansas
Dear Little Rock: Sometimes when an adult child distances from a parent, he or she is actually attempting to get away from a verbally, emotionally or physically abusive parent that they’re afraid of. Other times, an adult child will distance themselves because they no longer want to be part of a conflict, and they do not know how to effectively address or resolve the problem — or they have decided to side with the other parent. And sometimes an adult child feels that in order to become his or her own person, she or he has to detach from a parent or from their past.
It would be a mistake to assume, however, that because your children are rejecting you, you should stop reaching out. You will be their mother for the rest of their lives, and even if you are not to blame for the family alienation, you may need to be the one who initiates repair. (If you incur anger, shame or abuse, it may not be in your self-interest to continue, however.)
Don’t give up hope
Here’s what you can do. You could reach out with the question: “What can I do to attempt to repair the damage in our relationship?” Then wait and see if they respond. (If they say that they want an apology for something you said or did, as an example, then you decide if you could give that apology sincerely and with no excuses.) Invite contact, and don’t cut off contact from your children who fail to respond. Keep reaching out with birthday and holiday cards, calls, texts and emails, and keep saying you’d like to mend the relationship.
Also, step back and look at what happened as factually as you can. If you do get an opportunity to address what happened with your children, you’re going to have to openly acknowledge what your role was in causing the problems or in what you did wrong. And if you get an opportunity to talk with one or more of your children, make sure you take the high ground at all times. Suggesting their father was wrong may well backfire.
Also, make sure you are taking good care of yourself. Focus on the good in your life and make sure you pay attention every day to what you are grateful for.
Set yourself toward achieving some positive goals that have the ability to give you hope and move your life in a promising direction. Put your attention and focus on the other people and activities in your life that warm you and give you meaning and happiness. And grieve the loss, understanding there’s still a chance for reconciliation.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. He is the author of the best-selling book “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Creating a Vital Relationship.” Contact him at 303-758-8777, or visit neilrosenthal.com.
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