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When a crack becomes a gap...

My father was abusive, mostly emotionally, but a couple of times, also physically. I have painful memories of the knife-sharp edges of his words cutting into my heart, leaving scars that, though faded, have irrevocably blemished my memories of him. For years, I thought I could make him love me with the unconditional love my friends' fathers seemed to show, but it just wasn't in him, so in my 40s I gave myself permission to distance myself, to some degree, from the pain, to stop thinking I could "fix" him. But I never stopped seeing him or communicating with him. He was, after all, my father.

I guess that's why it's so puzzling to me that, more and more, so many young people today are totally extricating themselves from parents they deem "toxic." I can certainly understand the adult childrens' actions if the parents are truly abusive. They must protect themselves and their own children. But increasingly, from my outside observation, other than being human, the offending parents simply haven't committed any crimes worthy of being cut off. What jumps out at me, while conducting my own research into this topic, is the psychobabble verbalized by the children, justifying their actions. Overused words like traumatic, depressed, gaslighting, narcissist, toxic, validating, passive aggression, manipulation, victimize, boundary, etc., are used by the children to rationalize their anger, when the emotions they're discussing simply don't match the words. Depression is an emotional black hole, not feeling blue for a few days. Trauma is the result of one or more experiences that impede one's functioning in everyday life, not the memory of the time your dad didn't go to your class play. Is your mom a true narcissist if she chose to go on a girl trip with her friends when you wanted her to take you shopping for school clothes?

Data shows that estrangement, in most cases a young adult cutting off a parent, has become more and more a societal "trend." Increasingly, young adults are perceiving that their parents' past and present behavior toward them is damaging their personal and emotional growth, so they intentionally stop calling, writing, and visiting with them. In most cases, the adult children cite their parents' lack of empathy, respect, and support as a reason they feel they need to protect themselves. Sometimes, the adult child is in a relationship with a significant other who convinces him that he needs to extricate himself from his parents' influence. Sometimes, in an effort to affirm and protect a client, a therapist or confidante, hearing only one side of the story, encourages the child to turn away from the family dynamic. Occasionally, especially in today's cultural climate, polar opposite political, idealogical, and/or religious convictions force the estrangement. In most cases, though, the parents are blindsided when they learn their children have chosen to remove themselves from the family equation. They don't understand what they have done wrong, and no amount of communication between them...ah yes, the ubiquitous texting that conveys no tone whatsoever...resolves their differences. Both sides are simply coming from entirely different perspectives that seem impenetrable. The parents are left bewildered and hurt. The children are angry and resentful. All hearts are broken.

I'm sorry, Young Adults who are choosing to blackball your parents for minor offenses, but I just don't get it. When I was young, parental behaviors that were quirky, annoying, embarrassing, or sometimes a bit hurtful, were in most cases ignored or avoided. We just didn't feel we had the power to question their authority because, well, they were our parents, and that title commanded instant respect. I'm not saying that's healthy. The power balance was totally one-sided, creating an opening for parental abuse and victimization. Reference my first paragraph. But currently, to me, it seems that in far too many cases the old "respect for our elders," because they raised us and possessed the wisdom gained by occupying the planet far longer than us, has totally evolved into selfish, short-sighted blame. I say short-sighted, because instead of accepting responsibility for your own personal shortcomings and trying to resolve them, you blame the people who raised you. And perhaps the blame is justified to an extent. Those parents created a world for you in which you were seldom told "no." Everybody who tried out for cheerleader was chosen for the squad because moms cried "unfair" if the judges deemed their daughters clumsy. If all the other kids got an IPhone, your parents bowed to the pressure and got you one too. If the teacher gave you a D because you slept in class, Mom and Dad went straight to the principal. If you forgot your lunch, Mom dropped everything, rushing to MacDonalds and bringing your food to school, rather than letting you go hungry for the afternoon. They assigned you few household chores. The work/play ratio was highly unbalanced. In doing these things, they protected you from failure, which weakened your resilience. They overpraised your strengths and underemphasized your weaknesses, giving you an unrealistic sense of your own importance in the eyes of the world. They provided the material things you wanted without requiring you to reciprocate or work for them, making the economic demands of adulthood a shock that sometimes sent you back home to live. In short, they protected you from the "real" world. The harsh requirements of becoming an adult were a figurative slap in the face that evolved, in your mind, into a real one. Sadly, you are paying for your parents' overindulgence, and they are suffering because they thought they were protecting you.

So, families are left in a painful standoff, with each generation blaming the other for its failings. With luck, the opposing factions reconcile, hopefully with honest, open communication and not a devastating life event that makes them realize that "family" is the most important factor in a healthy, fulfilling existence. But, after 75 years of existence and my own personal experience I have come to my own conclusions:

For the suffering parent who has been cut off, I think the best thing to do would be to examine yourself and offer an apology if one is due, assure your child that you love them, but learn to accept that they have to figure this out for themselves. For the adult children holding on to an overinflated grudge, I would say, take off the rose-colored glasses and just

let it go. And don't underestimate the power of grace. You too, will have adult children one day.


Dana Davis
Dana Davis
Jun 14, 2023

Interesting. As a person who has just lost her mother, my advice to young adults who have estranged themselves from their family need to do some serious contemplation. One day those family members will be gone and you can’t pick up your phone & text or ever seen them again. Then, you may wish you had extended grace to the family who created & nurtured you. Parents aren’t perfect; after all, they are human.

Patty Sisco
Patty Sisco
Jun 27, 2023
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