One of the saddest things I’ve seen as a pastor, chaplain, counselor, and spiritual director is grown-up children who reject, rebuff, ignore, or dismiss their parents. Sometimes, of course, it is inevitable, even healthy. If a parent physically or sexually assaulted a child and continues to deny any responsibility or show any remorse, the adult child is best to distance themselves. Those are extreme cases. More often the rejection involves subtitles that need not cause a rupture.
Children reject, ignore, and rebuff their parents in various ways and for various reasons. Regardless of the methods or the causes, it hurts. It not only hurts the parents. It hurts the adult children in ways they may not recognize for years.
Invariably, it’s all tied up in stuff that happened as the kid was growing up and parents were trying to figure out how to be parents. And, undoubtedly, if all parties were motivated and willing to work with a team of systemic family therapists in whole-family sessions (or at least parent-adult child sessions) the underlying issues would surface into the healing light. Sadly, few are both willing and able.
Children nearly always see the rupture as mom or dad’s fault. Parents usually blame themselves. Occidental society eschews the aged and venerates the young. Whereas once the norm was a house occupied by three or four generations (remember the Waltons?), now the norm is “assisted living,” “skilled nursing care,” and “memory care.” Whereas once couples stuck it out for the sake of kids, now divorce is widespread and custody battles are ubiquitous. And, even when there’s no court battle, there’s often a battle for the hearts of the kids. If the kid chooses me, it reinforces my belief that I’m right. I am relieved of responsibility for marriage failure.
I’m not condemning anyone. I was less than attentive to my aging mother. I was too busy “serving God” to connect as deeply as I wish I had with my children. My oldest children were hurt deeply when their mother and I divorced. It’s a mistake to underestimate the effect divorce has on children.
So, no judgment. But, know this: when kids of any age rebuff or ignore their parents, it hurts deeply and it affects how your own children will feel about you. Do unto others …
Unless your parents were cruel or abusive, take the initiative to forgive and reconcile. Your folks may even have wisdom you could use.
To paraphrase Philo: Be kind. Everyone you meet (including your aging parents) is fighting a great battle.
Sometimes, the most profound lessons are the ones from kindergarten: Be nice.