What cuts the ties that bind?

There have been a couple of articles recently written by Australian journalist, Kate Legge, on the modern phenomenon of adult children rejecting their parents in ways which would horrify past generations and  more traditional societies in the world today.

Apparently Legge’s first article, The Deserted Mother’s Club, sparked an avalanche of mail from parents who had experienced such rejection, or who had found themselves in situations where it seemed the best thing they could do, was to limit contact, for a short or long time, with an adult child.

Taking up the theme and talking to friends I have been surprised, and at times shocked, given the nature of some individuals, that they have found themselves in a similar place. One had lost contact with a daughter following a mental collapse and advice from a therapist that she end contact with her mother!

What is at work? Is it because this generation, the ages seem to be thirties and forties,  has been given so much more by parents that they have been indulged in ways unknown in the past and hence made more demanding, needy, judgemental? Former generations might not have liked their parents but they ‘did what was right’ in the main out of respect for them at least.

Now there is little or no respect, let alone any sense of traditional obligation to those who gave birth to them and raised them, for so many. It seems hard to imagine how such rifts can happen. Talking to friends, reading what is written, it is pretty clear that more parents than not, who find themselves in such a situation, were fairly reasonable and totally undeserving of their rejection. One can understand such things where child abuse or sexual abuse is a factor, but where parents have done their best, been fairly reasonable and often actually excellent parents, it is unimaginable that they should be so condemned and often dismissed.

No doubt there are astrological explanations for what is at work in this generation in ways never seen before. But it is also one presumes, largely a Western phenomenon and no doubt, our ways of being and living play a part. Although, having said that, people I know personally in this situation were more often than not, attentive, thoughtful parents and not the sort to allow ‘latch-key’ kids or too much television so it cannot be about a lack of care.

And nor are most of them too rigid in terms of discipline in the way that parents were in the past. What makes an adult child reject a parent who has been, by any assessment, a pretty reasonable parent and who in fact has never done anything to deserve such rejection?

Given Legge’s perspective and talking to friends, it is clear that such situations often arise ‘suddenly’ with a dramatic ‘change’ in the adult child where the parent becomes the focus of blame for all things. No doubt if therapists are involved, young enough to be trained in the view that if it is unpleasant, get rid of it.. institute a quick fix, then many young people are being badly guided when they face the necessary challenge of coming to terms with themselves, their lives, their parents and their destiny.

To grow beyond the child/parent relationship is a requirement for maturity. The mother or father will always be the more powerful because that is the nature of the relationship and while there may be more of a friendship between adult child and parents, there will never be true friendship because a peer relationship is just not possible. A parent will always have more power to hurt an adult child than the other way around although no doubt, being rejected by an adult child, is a hurt beyond imagining for most parents. And yet it seems to be increasingly common.

Has this generation been ‘spoiled’ by too much tolerance from parents and teachers, from the loss of too many rules involving courtesy, respect and ‘doing the right thing?’ Clearly most have survived with relationships intact with parents but it is also clear there is a very large minority where the opposite has happened. The question is why?

There is not much parents can do about such situations except remain open for a knock on the literal and metaphorical door, but it must be the hardest thing of all for a parent who knows they have been pretty reasonable, to deal with. It is in essence a ‘death’ without a body. The ‘child’ for they are always a child even when they are grown and no matter what age they might be, is lost and when there is no contact, gone from life as they know it. It must be an endless, eternal, abiding grief, particularly for mothers who are connected to their children in ways fathers are not. That is not to say men care less but that even as science shows, the DNA of the baby, particularly the sons, passes into the mother’s body and brain and they remain forever connected.

I do not think you can hold another human being in your body for nine months and not be physically connected forever, as well as emotionally and psychologically. The grief of their loss may be distracted, diluted with the passing of the years, but never truly diminished for such ‘deaths’ are impossible to properly grieve and impossible to forget.

No doubt there are karmic lessons in it for all involved but it is something beyond imagining for most parents, and yet, so terribly real for so many in this day and age.

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About rosross

Editor, writer, poet.
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