My husband and I have three grown sons. Since they’ve left home, they don’t seem to think they have parents. They never give us a phone call or come to see us unless we invite (beg) them or they need something. One son is married, one is single without a girlfriend, and the oldest is living with his girlfriend.
Special occasions aren’t special to them. I always try to make occasions meaningful, but they don’t care. My birthday went unnoticed this year, except for a gift from my husband and a phone call from my oldest son. I suppose two out of four isn’t so bad!
I had hoped by the time my kids were adults they would value my husband and me for something, but that hasn’t happened. When I hear of other parents being honored by their children, I feel like we’ve failed in every way. What should we expect from them, and how should we proceed?
While I can’t tell you anything that will guarantee the responsiveness of your sons, I can tell you that the way you respond to this situation can have a positive or negative impact on future chances to connect with your boys.
If you want to guarantee that your boys will resent you and keep their distance, then make sure you make them feel guilty for not honoring their parents. You can do this by lecturing them, citing examples of others who honor their parents, or just by pulling away and acting like victims.
On the other hand, if you want to set up an environment where growth and connection are more likely to happen, I recommend you change your perspective on your role as the parent of adult children.
I don’t know how old your boys are, but my guess is that they are in their 20s. Even though it wouldn’t hurt them to be more thoughtful toward their parents, I encourage you to give them the benefit of the doubt as you recognize how focused and busy they are transitioning into full-fledged adulthood.
You have been living in a one-sided relationship since they were born as you cared for all of their needs with no expectation of reward. I’m certain you weren’t annoyed that they didn’t appreciate you all of those years.
Perhaps you can be a little more patient with them as you give them room to have more experiences that will help them deepen their gratitude for their parents. I know my own gratitude for my parents increases on a regular basis as I have new experiences with children, marriage, work, health, and other areas.
I encourage you to continue finding ways you can connect with them. Don’t give up on attempting to get it right with them. Even if they don’t reciprocate, the experience of serving your children will continue to help you grow and develop attributes and traits that will make your life more complete.
While we might expect adult children to be more thoughtful and gracious, some children simply aren’t tuned into relationships. You can’t make them pay attention to you, as it would feel artificial and ruin the authenticity of the experience. Be patient and let them live some more life.
I have to ask about your marriage.
If you organized your happiness and relationship needs around the lives of your sons, your life will feel very empty and lonely when they leave your nest. You might even feel it’s unfair that they aren’t returning the favors you did for them. If you did all of that so you could guarantee that you would always have them close to you, then these efforts were placed in the wrong context. Your children can’t meet your emotional needs.
Make sure you are actively working on building a solid marriage with your husband so you can have those needs met in a healthy way.
Continue to reach out and connect to your boys individually. Learn as much as you can about their lives so you can find ways to support them.
As you get your emotional needs met in healthy ways through marriage, friends, service, and other relationships, you will have more capacity to continue reaching out to your sons, even if they never respond.
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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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