Family Chasms

>> Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ironic to stumble across this topic right before Mother's Day and yet, somehow, fitting. This article in the NYT was discussing a growing trend toward estrangement between parents and their grown children.

I have my own ideas on this, perhaps because one could say I'm estranged from my own mother. I'll be honest. I'm comfortable with that. But that's a different story. Note that, as I describe "children" here who are making conscious decisions, I'm referring to grown children, not legal minors.

I will say that I think this growing trend has two causes, one a bit healthier than the other. The first cause is that I think grown children are willing to acknowledge today when they had an unhealthy childhood, when they had parents that misused them. Adult scions are much less inclined to maintain an uncomfortable relationship out of guilt. I think that, twenty years ago, grown children felt less inclined to speak out or keep themselves away from parents who were toxic to their happiness. The fact that children can move on with their lives without maintaining unhealthy relationships from misplaced guilt is likely a good thing.

However, the pendulum can always swing too far the other direction. I suspect (and as my children are all too young to leave home, I'm speculating) that many children are severing their ties with their parents not because of mistreatment but because they just felt their parents "just didn't do enough for them." And, again I suspect from observation, that it's a direct result of children growing up with less and less responsibility and more and more privilege. Indulgences and consideration from parents are taken for granted. And, when children reach an age when they might be expected to fend for themselves, these children might feel their parents owe them more: free childcare, money, support, a place to live, etc. BUT have no right to set any limits or make any rules, even criticize actions or even just say, enough.

These self-important egocentric children see everything their parents didn't do for them, every car they didn't buy or bail money they didn't provide as a form of abuse. These children have gone their whole lives taking everything their parents have provided as a right. If they don't get what they see they deserve, they'll turn their backs on their parents without hesitation.

The sad part is that, once, taking care of parents was part of family. For unhealthy families, it could be a painful duty. But, for most families, it was cheerfully part of the circle of life, giving when your parents needed it just as they did when the children needed it.

For many parents, who I believe were doing their very best, they will have a sad future, all of their efforts unappreciated and discarded when they are no longer seen to be of use.

And that's very sad.


  • The Mother

    I have two totally unrelated comments.

    First: This entire generation does, indeed have trouble remembering that not everything that happens to them is someone else's fault. Undoubtedly, blaming their parents has something to do with this trend, as you suggested.


    Second: the world is an easier place to communicate in now. People who once had to write letters and wait months for a response can get real time access from across the globe. That makes it easy to whine when one doesn't hear from someone for a microsecond or two, especially the Jewish Mom types.

  • Stephanie Barr

    You make a valid point there and it's a reminder that, while I speculated some possible reasons, there may be as many individual reasons as there are individuals. One parent's estrangement might be the space another child needs from smothering.

  • Quadmama

    I keep my distance from certain relatives because of micromanaging. My parents are willing to raise my children my way with little to no feedback from them. Do I think they agree with everything I do? No, but I know they support the decisions I make. Other relatives think that because they have already been parents then a) they know better than I do and b)it's OK to treat me like a child. Those are the people I keep my distance from, no matter how close we used to be when I was growing up. I guess my point is, when children become adults they need to be treated as such. Not all parents are willing to do that.

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