For most people, it’s unimaginable for a grown man or woman to choose to stop all contact with their parents. The people who provided food, clothes, and shelter, attended dance classes, volunteered at school, or cheered from the bleachers during every Rugby game don’t deserve to be abandoned in their old age just because they made some parenting mistakes, right?
Here’s how I see it, if either party feels as though they cannot be respectful, loving, and supportive towards the other, then yes, it’s time to move on and find those with whom one can. This is true for family members, friends, coworkers, and really anyone one would surround oneself with.
Dysfunction, especially when combined with abuse, does not end once a child reaches adulthood or because the abuser begins to get old. By then, the abusive parent is well-versed in the tactics needed to make their children do what they want, and these behaviors are likely to continue right up until the parents’ death, unless someone – usually the abused – makes it stop.
I am one of those people who recognized slowly what was happening to me. I didn’t make the choice to “break up” with my parents/family overnight, and I’m not happy I have no relationship with them. I’m sad my family is broken. I wish it was different, but it isn’t.
If my parents had been willing to really listen to what their adult child had to say, to respect and consider it, the outcome would have been entirely different. Yet as I’ve learned in my journey to understand and heal, I am not alone. Daily I meet people who’ve made multiple attempts to repair unhealthy relations and have eventually disowned or gone no-contact with the people who raised them.
Alternatively, parents of estranged children claim their son or daughter never explained their reasons for walking away. If you are estranged from your adult child, chances are they have told you why – you just chose to ignore it. And it’s likely that it was one of these five reasons:
1. The Parent Disrespects the Adult Child’s Spouse
Like me, many consider their parents’ behavior normal until they marry. Looking at your parents from your significant other’s perspective can be eye-opening.
Not having grown up under your parents’ manipulations, as a new daughter or son-in-law, your spouse may be unwilling to participate in the dysfunction that feels so natural to you. The parent who has always controlled you also expects to control your spouse, and when this fails to happen, it often results in contention, smear campaigns, and petty complaints designed to either force the new son or daughter-in-law into compliance or get rid of them entirely via divorce.
Parents must respect their adult children and their spouses, regardless of whether they like them or not, even if you have differing expectations about family roles. You do not get to choose whom your children love. Respecting your son/daughter-in-law does not mean condoning or agreeing. Whether you want to admit it or not, you are not – nor can you ever be – the most important person in your adult child’s life at all times. The sooner you understand that, the better off you’ll be.
2. The Parent Refuses to Apologize
The refusal to apologize is a red flag for narcissistic personality disorder: It allows someone to justify their hurtful actions and words and blurs reality. Time and again, their children will try to make them understand a different perspective, but they continue to fail to see their own culpability. They gaslight their children into believing they are at fault and force them to apologize in order to mend the family.
When we hurt people, we ought to apologize without justifying. Just a simple “I’m sorry, please forgive me” is enough. Avoid the word ‘But.’
I confronted my father…. He gaslighted me, meaning he told me my perceptions were incorrect…. My father sneered, ‘You have a very vivid imagination.’
3. Overbearing and Undermining Grandparenting
A disordered parent sees their child as an extension of themselves, not as an individual, and grandchildren are but one more step on the ladder of “me.”
• Did you insist on participating in naming your grandchildren? Not okay.
• Have you ever said, “It’s okay, Grandma will let you do it” when the parents said no? Undermining is not okay.
• Did you ever demand to have your grandchildren for certain events or visits? Ask, don’t demand. If you’re told no, respect it.
• Stop giving the grandchildren sugar when their parents ask you not to. How you did it then wasn’t the way they did it before and certainly not the way they do it now.
• If you still think Mother’s Day or Father’s Day is all about you, you’ve got another think coming.
• You’re not smarter than the pediatrician.
• No, it’s not okay to encourage your grandchild to love you more than his/her parents.
• Stop trying to buy your grandchild’s love with gifts.
• You’re not entitled to “alone time” with your grandchildren and your insistence on such is creepy.
• Quit taunting your grandchildren with scary stories and insulting “jokes.” You’re being a bully.
The older generation must learn the difference between parenting and grandparenting. Your days of making all the decisions are over. In this new chapter of your life, your role is to give unconditional love and guidance, but it is a privilege, not a right. A grandchild is not your prodigy, nor are they your property. Be thankful for the time you are given rather than resentful over what you think you deserve.
4. The Parent Plays Favorites Among Siblings
In early childhood, siblings in disordered families are assigned roles as either a scapegoat or a golden child. A golden child seldom suffers consequences for misbehavior and is often praised and applauded, while the scapegoat shoulders the blame for the family’s dysfunction and suffers the brunt of the consequences.
Although the role one plays may be fluid, those who are mostly scapegoats are often the first (and sometimes only) ones to see and name the dysfunction—and this seldom goes very well. Eventually, the scapegoat realizes they are alone, even among family. Some will continue to try, but many will just walk away. Cutting off toxic parents is often the only way to make sure the cycle doesn’t continue.
5. Ignored Boundaries
Last but not least is the refusal of the older generation to respect the boundaries of the child/parent relationship. Because disordered minds struggle to understand boundaries, I believe this reason is better explained with examples.
• Prying into your child’s finances and/or offering unsolicited financial advice is overstepping.
• Insisting on being present for the birth of a grandchild is wrong. Nobody but the mother-to-be and her birthing staff have the right to be in the room.
• Giving undergarments and sex toys as gifts is inappropriate. Doing this is crossing more boundaries than I have time to list.
• Stop insisting on spending all holidays with your adult child and behaving badly if it doesn’t happen. You’re an adult, for goodness sake, quit acting like a child.
• Quit demanding “alone time” with your adult child away from their significant other. Sure it’s nice, but as I mentioned with grandchildren, your insistence on such is downright creepy and concerning.
• Discussing your marital troubles with your adult child is wrong and crosses so many hill-to-die-on boundaries. Tell it to your best friend, or may I recommend a therapist? Whatever you do, don’t discuss it with your child.
• Criticizing clothing choices, hairstyles, companions, careers, religion or lack thereof, parenting styles, and the like is crossing boundaries. It is an utter and complete disrespect for your children’s right to choose what is best for themselves.
At some point, the older generation must trust they have raised their children to make good decisions and respect those decisions. If you can’t do this, you need to work out why with a therapist. In the meantime, keep your opinions to yourself and stop trying to “save them” or “fix” things. You’re only making it worse, I promise.
My family had been maligning me my whole life… not in a way of telling people I was a horrible person but making it seem as if I was a poor, befuddled soul, a hapless idiot, borderline mentally disturbed, a pathetic loser who only cared about money. None of this was true. It never was. Once I got away, my life got so much better. Oh, so much.
Be brave to be you – healthy and free of toxic people.
By Brian Nadon