Dr. Miriam Adahan, Jan. 2010–01–24

            One of the tragic consequences of an unhappy marriage is that the grown children may have distanced themselves from you, despite the fact that you were very loving and tried heroically to keep the marriage together despite addictions, abuse, betrayals and neglect. Now in your 50's or higher, you may find yourself out in the cold, grief-stricken and bewildered, asking how this could happen when you had done your utmost to be so responsible and caring.

 Why is it that, now that they are grown, the children rarely call or are abrupt in conversations, with little to say?  If you initiate a call, the children seem annoyed, angry or too busy to talk.  Your heart constricts in pain when you are not be invited to family get-togethers or are told not to send e-mails, although you see their name on e-mails forwarded from others. One mother said, "My oldest daughter and I were especially close. I was always her best friend and cheerleader. But as soon as she married, she suddenly had no time for me. She never invites me to visit, yet she does everything to please her domineering mother-in-law, who comes frequently.  I long to share the details of our lives as we once did. I can't get used to being stonewalled.  Being deleted is devastating.  The loneliness is unbearable."

This type of grief involves on-going pain for which there is no closure or cure.  Every illness requires that we become more disciplined. And grief is like an illness which must be managed by constant acts of self-control, such as: 

1. Avoid guilt. Unless you were intentionally abusive or neglectful, you need to forgive yourself over and over again. Assume that you did your best, under very trying circumstances, despite the fact that you probably did not always behave in a saintly manner, given the grief, loneliness and lack of love.  You would think that abused children would want to be distance from the abusive parent. Yet, ironically, they often crave that very person's love!  While the loving parent's love is often unappreciated and taken for granted, a child who spent years hungering for an unfulfilled love may experience an even more intense desire to get it as an adult. Furthermore, children want to be on the "winning side," the side with the power. Many children associate power with being cold and insensitive.  

2. Ask the child if there is anything you can do now to improve the relationship. If you were abusive, ask for forgiveness. Let the child talk about the painful incidents without getting defensive or angry. However, if the child is vindictive and vicious, say, "I cannot allow you to talk to me like this." Then put the phone down. However much you want a relationship, taking more abuse will not be helpful.  Nastiness has a strong genetic component, and they may have inherited it from the disturbed parent.   Remember, the one who wants the relationship least is the one who controls it. Then pray for awareness and strength to bear the pain of this terrible grief.

3. Understand their pain. Children imitate their parents. Seeing abnormal behavior displayed at home teaches them to see it as normal and justified. For example, if a parent punished the other by not talking for weeks, children think that cutting people off is acceptable. They may have learned to play one parent against the other to get money or attention. They may have learned to bully younger siblings or speak scornfully if they saw you scorned. If you divorced, they may be angry that you ruined their childhood. If you did not divorced, they may be angry that you did not protect them. To ensure that they get good shidduchim, you may have taught them to be very secretive about family problems, which may have caused them to be withdrawn. Children learn to dissociate, disconnect and distrust if there is no one to trust. One mother, married to an irresponsible internet addict who rarely got up to daaven, asked her seven-year-old son why he wouldn't daaven. The boy said, "Maybe if I act like Daddy then he will love me." One girl, whose Borderline mother was a screamer and a pathological liar, became a liar and a bully. She bullied the sensitive girls in school, just as she had seen her mother treat her father.  

4. Do not criticize or threaten. It is tempting to tell them, "You'll be sorry. You'll cry over my grave when I'm gone!" Or, "G-d will punish you for ignoring me." "You only call when you want money and then you delete me!" Don't beg them to visit out of guilt, as this will poison the relationship even further. Love and respect cannot be forced. They must come from within.  People do the best they can with the level of awareness they have at this point in life. Pray for greater awareness in the future.

5.  Don't try to figure it out. It's the loving parents who are most likely to "process the past," obsessively, trying to figure out, "What did I do wrong? Was I too harsh? Did I take my bitterness and frustration out on them?  Was I too indulgent, afraid to discipline them for fear of alienating them? After all, since they were my only source of love. I wanted to make sure they didn't hate me or wouldn't snitch on me to the abuser. Is that why they are now so entitled and selfish?  Did I use them as "spouse substitutes," craving their touch and warmth, so that scorned me as pathetic and clingy? Did I use them as "therapist substitutes," sharing the gory details of my misery, which made them feel overly burdened too early in life? Did I turn them into "parent substitutes," looking to them for security and advice, which caused them to disrespect me? Perhaps I was not there for them, since I was the sole wage-earner or had to get away and escape the pain, thus teaching them to manage on their own?" Whatever the answers, speculating can drive you crazy. In the end, we can never know, with 100% certainty, what causes children to become alienated.  

6.  Avoid comparing yourself to others who have warm and loving relationships with their children. Comparisons will cause you to drown in self-pity.  Yes, it is painful to see grown children visiting their parents when your home is empty. It is even more painful to be told that your children are friendly with their in-laws or with those who caused you the greatest pain. To handle the grief and avoid feeling like a failure, I strongly suggest using EFT - EMOTIONAL FREEDOM TECHNIQUE. EFT teaches us to say accept the pain in our lives and to grow from it. 

7. Get very busy! You must have a source of love in your life. Find people who can appreciate your loving heart. There are endless chesed organizations which need volunteers. There are many real orphans or "emotional orphans" who crave someone's love.  We have very little control over who likes or dislikes us. All we can do is to be proud of ourselves for facing pain with an increase in faith, patience and compassion. People may not always understand us or have compassion for us, but we can try to understand them and be compassionate toward ourselves. By filling our hearts with compassion, we keep our hearts open to all kinds of possibilities.  

While some children do become closer with the years, there are no guarantees. No matter what happens, maintain your dignity and your faith! Use the pain to spur you to contribute to your community in whatever way you can and to create a rock-solid relationship with Hashem.  Each of us has repair work to do in this lifetime and Hashem gives us the people and situations we need to learn lessons in faith, humility and compassion.

[You can receive my 39 SANITY CARDS for adults or for children to develop faith in the midst of life's frustrations and losses. Each set is $15, with shipping. Send to 13/5 Uzrad, Jerusalem 97277. I can be reached at emett@netvision.net.il, 011-972-2-5868201 or www.miriamadahan.com. I am deeply grateful to all who contribute to the ADAHAN FUND. Since I have no office expenses or salaries to pay, all donations go directly to the impoverished people who need it the most.]


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