What Have I Done WRONG?
My adult daughter doesn’t want a relationship with me. I always believed we had a good mother–daughter relationship until about four years ago. She stopped contacting me, and then one day I received a letter telling me that she didn’t want any contact with me apart from birthdays and Christmas when we would exchange cards and gifts. She told me that interaction with me triggered things from her past. She didn’t want any response apart from acknowledgement that I had received her letter and that I agreed to her request.
Needless to say, I cried, feeling totally bewildered as to what I had done wrong, and I have agonised many times over the past four years. I had hoped that she would figure things out and feel able to talk to me about what the problem was. Time is a great healer, so they say – but not in this case. Each Christmas and birthday, cards and gifts are exchanged remotely, and that’s it, until the next event.
I don’t believe this is an unfamiliar story, as I have heard of many mums whose children have stopped contact with them, without explanation.
Together with those mums, I feel so many mixed emotions.
Shame that this happened and admitting it to friends. Close friends often ask if I’ve heard from her, at which point I wonder whether they are judging me.
Guilt that I’ve done something that so badly affected her that she’s scarred, but she won’t tell me what. Her sister hasn’t rejected me and tells me she had a happy childhood.
I feel anger that I’m being punished without knowing why.
I also feel a real sense of failure as a mother.
But the greatest emotion I am grappling with is an enormous sense of loss. I’m grieving for my beautiful daughter, who I love with all my heart.
I FEEL LIKE A FAILURE
When I became a mum, I wanted to be the best, so I set myself high, and probably unrealistic standards. In today’s world, we have many more demands on us, and we’re endlessly juggling too many balls, worried that at any point we may drop one or more, and then everything will fall apart.
It became even harder when my marriage broke down. That’s when I felt a complete failure, and really guilty, as my children didn’t ask for that. It wasn’t fair on them to be moved away from their home and friends, but I need to remind myself that the responsibility for the success or failure of my relationship was not mine alone.
COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF JOY
Despite knowing there’s no such thing as a perfect mum, we still try don’t we? We look around at what we perceive as perfect. Comparing ourselves to other images of ‘perfect mums’. Social media is the worst demon of all. We actually believe those glossy ‘shop windows’ projected onto that black screen, either by friends or celebrities. Their perfect relationship with their daughter, how their mum is their best friend. I especially dread birthdays, Christmas, and Mother’s Day, when I see social media flooded with images of perfect mothers and daughters.
The truth is that plenty of families don’t get on. They just don’t talk about it. Still, I find the SHOULDS, MUSTS and OUGHTS come to the surface. Each one a dagger to my heart, as I torture myself thinking what I might have done to cause this rift. I know it’s all pretty futile though until my daughter tells me what it is.
I must be a failure.
● I should have been more available.
● I ought not to have pushed so hard to go to college.
● It must be because I was too strict/too lenient.
● I should have tried harder to make my marriage work.
The list goes on and you’ll probably have plenty more of your own.
At the same time, I remind myself of the many children who are abused, emotionally, physically, or sexually. I see the results of that daily when working with clients who have been victims of childhood abuse. I know that I didn’t treat my children in that way.
I FEEL BOTH ANGRY AND UPSET
I worked so hard to give my children the best I could. I worked overtime and took second jobs to earn extra money, but of course, that was at a cost, as I wasn’t always there. But as their father paid the minimum child maintenance and didn’t share parenting, it fell totally on me.
WILL I LOSE HER COMPLETELY?
There were times before the rift when I bit my tongue, holding back on saying something that might be taken in the wrong way. That fear of saying something wrong, at the wrong time. I recognise that as controlling behaviour and that makes me really angry that it’s all on her terms!
I have often thought about writing to her, telling her how I feel, but I fear it will make things worse, that if I ask her to explain she will break ties completely. Each day, I live in hope she will want to reconnect, that she will tell me what’s wrong and we can heal those wounds together, and so I allow the situation to continue.
AS PARENTS, WE DO OUR BEST WITH THE TOOLS WE HAVE
We don’t have a guide on how to be a parent, and even if we did, we aren’t robots, and what works for one, won’t necessarily work for others. Each of us has a different personality. If you have more than one child, you will certainly know that. As parents, we encourage our children to be healthy and get the best start in life, with the best intentions. Sometimes there are situations that are out of our control. Whether we get sick, divorce, financially struggle or didn’t have the best parenting role models ourselves. I want to remind
you that you have done your best.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but we can’t change the past. If you do make mistakes, I encourage you to say sorry. I know it’s hard when they don’t apologise for things they have done wrong, but that doesn’t mean we have to join them in the playground too. As parents, I believe we never stop showing them the right way.
There are so many unanswered questions that may remain forever answered, however painful that is, I need to respect her choices.
Despite feeling that she is controlling me, I have choices too. I could choose to cut her out of my life, but she will always be my daughter and I will always love her. I chose to bring her into the world – not the other way round, Some of you may feel differently and again that’s for you to make the decision that is right for you.
The reasons our children detach themselves from us
The most usual time a child will move away from us is during teenage years. They are moving into independence and adulthood, and during those adolescent years they are likely to be disrespectful as they challenge the rules and expectations placed on them. They are trying to take back some of the power they feel they don’t
have. Living under their parents’ roof and adhering to their rules.
Of course, we are instilling values and boundaries into them, but they can’t see that. We don’t want them to make the same mistakes we did – but the fact is that we only learn from making mistakes, all we can hope for is the ones they make aren’t too catastrophic! But during these tumultuous years, they may well disconnect from us. They just stop communicating and when broached they get angry.
Behind anger can often lay fear. The external world can feel very scary when realising you have to face it alone, even if you really want to. Our kids will act out against us, because they feel safe enough to do so. I know that’s a backhanded compliment when on the receiving end, but they feel that however badly they behave, you’ll always be there for them.
There’s also a theory that the only way our youngsters can detach themselves from us, is to create disharmony. They need to find their own identity and sometimes they find that difficult if they are too close to you. They may feel anger about past events, but they can’t hurt you by talking about it. Or they are fearful of the response they receive from you, that maybe you will become too defensive, or that they won’t be heard. Is your young person saying the same thing over and over? If that’s the case, it may be that they don’t feel heard.
The natural response is to defend ourselves or try to correct what we believe is their misconception of events.
Instead, can I suggest you are curious? Ask them to tell you more – and listen with the intention of trying to understand, rather than to respond. Don’t interrupt, however hurtful the words are.
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
― The Dalai Lama
- Love and stay connected with other members in your family. Show your family and children that you will never ‘take flight.’
2. Talk to a therapist or join one of the many support groups that are available. (See Resources at the end)
3. Remember this is probably your child’s behaviour pattern. You are probably not the only person in their life that they have chosen to walk away from. They probably haven’t learned that relationships can fracture and repair again.
4. Sometimes, it’s easier to blame others than take any responsibility. So, when your child is placing all the blame on you, they are choosing to remain the victim.
5. Remain true to yourself and don’t let anger rule. Don’t cut off your adult child, but instead send birthday cards or a small sentimental gift. If they are parents themselves, stay in touch with their children. This will bring you comfort.
6. Hopefully their door will open and when it does, bite your tongue and listen with an open mind and heart. It may be hard, but don’t get caught up in your feelings. Be empathetic and set an example.
7. Until this day happens, live a full life. You did not leave your child.
You really don’t have to feel alone, check the following out, there’s bound to be something that helps you. I found several Facebook pages and groups, including: Facebook page : Help and Healing for Parents of Estranged Children
Private Facebook Groups – Parents of Teenagers // Support Group for Parents of Estranged Adult Children
Mothers Abandoned by their Adult Children. // For Parents Estranged From Their Adult Children (When The Talking Stops) // Mothers of Estranged Daughters // Toxic Adult Children
Sheri McGregor produces several resources.
Free Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/SheriMcGregorRejectedParents
Website – When Adult Children are Estranged: Support and Information
Book – Done With Crying Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children.
There are several articles on the Relate website that maybe helpful –
This is a link to an article that explains Adolescent Brain development and why teens and young adults behaviour can be testing –