We had to choose between the annual reunion with four of my kids and their families, versus a graduation ceremony for Dee’s son. We couldn’t split up, nor could we attend both events. I made the choice for us, because I couldn’t bring myself to give up that once-a-year chance to see my family.
At first Dee’s son didn’t seem to care one way or the other about us coming for his college graduation. He didn’t say much when Dee told him we couldn’t attend. We knew he’d have lots of other family members there, and we thought he understood how Dee’s health issues limit our travel. Turns out, he didn’t understand, and he did mind. He minded a lot.
We only found out when he stopped speaking to us. Then we heard from his sister that he was deeply hurt because we didn’t care enough to come. We let him down. We missed his big day. I neglected his big day to spend time with my other children.
We wish there were do-overs for parents. I’m not sure what we could have done differently, but I’d like the chance to try again. Disappointment has settled on my memories of that weekend like a wet blanket, blocking all the happy memories and stealing their warmth. While I was having fun, my step son felt abandoned and unloved. And I imagine his wonderful and supportive wife is also hurt.
Our apologies have not helped much, and I’m sure they sound hollow. Our attempts for a make-up visit have been rebuffed. He’s too busy. We get it. He’s giving us a dose of our own medicine (he is now a nurse, so that’s an apt comparison) And maybe he’s also remembering the divorce and being separated from his father for many years—once through circumstances, and later through his own choices.
Joshua Coleman is co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families and runs a webinar for parents who want to improve relations with their adult children. He sees so much of this problem that he calls parent/adult child estrangement a silent epidemic. “Nobody wants to talk about this,” he says.
“Unfortunately, when the hurt has been going on for a long time, simply saying ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t enough. First you have to recognize what caused the rupture,” says Susan Kuczmarksi, an expert on family relationships. “And you might not like what you find. Perhaps you crossed a line. Or maybe you said or did something your child experienced as deeply wounding, even if you never intended to hurt.”
What can we do to mend things with our newly-estranged son? Hopefully, time and our affection for him will heal the bruised heart of this young nurse. We can’t take back the wrong, but we can be more careful and caring in the future.
If you’d like to read more about this kind of issue, I recommend an excellent article by Linda Bernstein called “Estranged Parents and Adult Children: A Silent Epidemic.” http://www.nextavenue.org/article/2013-07/estranged-parents-and-adult-children-silent-epidemic
Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.
She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.
A recent review for Dialogue for Writers:
Did you know dialogue matters even for poetry? I didn’t, and I am so glad I do now! This small book packs a punch. It easily and accessibly convinced me of just how and why good dialogue matters, why many pieces could use more of it, and when not to use it. The author also helps the reader learn to plainly identify what makes good dialogue good and what does and doesn’t work through the use of a plethora of useful examples. It is also full of different kinds of useful information for writers of all sorts. There are gems in it such as “Usually the best point of view character is the one with most to lose.” (page 83) If your writing could benefit from some good editing, try this book. If your writing could benefit from some new tricks, try this book. It won’t disappoint. I think of it as a course on dialogue in itself and there are exercises at the end of each chapter.
Find the book on Amazon.com: http://dld.bz/dngkg