One of the tragic consequences of an unhappy marriage is that the grown children may distance themselves from you. It is understandable that they would want to be distant from people who were addicted, abusive or neglectful. But what is very confusing is that many children turn against the parent who was the most loving and tried most heroically to keep the marriage together despite the abuse and betrayals.  If you were a loving parent and feel as if you've been thrown out in the cold, you are, no doubt, grief-stricken and bewildered, wondering how this could happen. Each day, you wonder how it is that despite all you did for them, they rarely call or are abrupt in conversations, annoyed that you called or too busy to talk?  

No doubt, your heart constricts in pain when you are not 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 confidant. But as soon as she married, she suddenly had no time for me. She never invites me to visit, yet 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, worse than death."

This type of grief involves on-going pain for which there is no closure or cure.  In order to avoid adding to the pain you already feel, make sure that you:    

1. Avoid guilt. Unless you were intentionally abusive or neglectful, you must forgive yourself over and over again. You did your best, under very trying circumstances, despite the fact that you did not always behave in a saintly manner, given the grief, abuse and lack of love.  You assume that abused children would want to be distance from the abusive parent. Yet, ironically, they may crave that person's love!  While the loving parent's love is often unappreciated and taken for granted, a child who spent years hungering for love may experience an intense craving to fulfill that need as an adult.  Or, they may associate you with the disturbed parent, no matter how loving you were, wanting nothing to do with either. It's like a "package deal" in their minds; when they think of you, they think also of the other.

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 am sorry, but I must end the conversation. I did my best and I will not abuse myself more by taking abuse."  You are probably the type who will do anything to stay connected, which is why you stayed in an abusive relationship for so long in the first place. But taking more abuse now in the hope that this will heal the wound is not healthy.  Nastiness has a strong genetic component which they may have inherited from the disturbed parent.  

3. Understand their pain. Living in a dysfunctional family engenders great shame and anxiety in children. Having witnessed abnormal behavior, they think it is normal and justified to act like this. If your spouse punished you by not talking for weeks, children think that this is acceptable. They may have learned to exploit you shamelessly to get money or attention or learned to bully and speak scornfully if they saw you scorned. If you divorced, they may be angry that you ruined their childhood. If you did not divorce, they may be angry that you did not provide them with a happier childhood. To ensure that they get good shidduchim, you may have taught them to be super-secretive to outsiders, which taught them to withhold information. Children want to be on the "winning side," i.e., the side with the power. Many children associate power with being cold, cynical and insensitive. Children learn to dissociate, disconnect and distrust if there is no one to trust. Remember, the one who wants the relationship least is the one who controls it. This is a painful fact of life.

4. Do not criticize or threaten. Don't give in to the temptation to tell them that they are heartless, self-centered or narcissistic. Don't tell them, "You'll cry over my grave when I'm gone! G-d will punish you for ignoring me." "You only call when you want money!" Don't beg them to visit or call you out of guilt, as this will poison the relationship even further. Love cannot be forced. It must come from within.  This is the best they can do with the level of awareness they have at this point in life. 

5.  Don't try to figure it out.  Loving parents often "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 my only source of love? Was I scared they would hate me or snitch on me that I gave in, which caused them to be so selfish?  Did I use them as "spouse substitutes," craving their touch and warmth, so that scorned me as needy and clingy? Did I use them as "therapist substitutes," sharing the gory details of my misery, which made them feel overly burdened? Did I turn them into "parent substitutes," looking to them for security and advice, which caused them to hate me? Perhaps I was not there for them, since I was the sole wage-earner and was away for hours, thus teaching them to manage on their own?" Whatever the answers, speculating will drive you crazy. In the end, we can never know, with 100% certainty, what causes children to become alienated.  

6.  Learn to "manage" the grief, like a physical illness which cannot be cured and must be managed. Avoid comparing yourself to those 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 and grandchildren 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 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. Enjoy life to whatever extent possible. Enjoy flowers and hobbies. Take a dance class. 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 help and 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 the pain with faith 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, radiate confidence and competence! Do not expect understanding or pity. 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.  


[My 39 SANITY CARDS for adults or for children help us 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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