Relationship Connection: My 3 sons have forgotten about us  

Question

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?

Answer

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.

Stay connected!

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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.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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9 Comments

  • Sheryl February 18, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Her husband can’t meet all of her emotional needs either. That’s too much pressure to put on one person. She needs to meet her own needs first, then she can better meet the needs of others. When she can meet her own emotional needs, she won’t be so dependent on others to fill in the gaps, so the love and support she receives from her husband and children will be even better to her.

  • Sapphire February 18, 2015 at 9:08 am

    There was a time when families stuck together and took care of each other. It wasn’t uncommon for parents to live with children when they were older. Today people are generally too wrapped up in themselves to be wrapped up in anyone else. The time to teach children to respect and care for their elders and to value family is when they are young and you take them to care for and regularly visit your parents and grandparents and attend family get-togethers. This sets a pattern and should include a discussion on valuing each other. Children can be raised to be neglected and needy, to be caring and helpful, or to be narcissistic, pampered, and self-absorbed. Senior communities, assisted living centers and nursing homes are full of people who would give anything to have someone care about them, and you can’t help but wonder where the heck their family is. It is the responsibility of parents not to dump their personal daily challenges on their children, but children should know about their health and financial problems as they enter retirement and old age without sufficient funds, and there should be enough comradery to be helpful. The parents in this article appear to be decent caring people who loved and enjoyed their kids. And people like that should not be ignored. Unfortunately, their sons have little appreciation for what they did or who they are. There are many songs and stories written about finally realizing who is important in this life after it is too late and they are gone. People are odd creatures who will give their life for a stranger but won’t give 15 minutes once a week for their parents. As stated in the article the only thing these parents can do is make any contact with their sons pleasant for them and maybe as they get older they will get over themselves and have something to offer their parents. It is also possible that their sons are doing things they don’t want their parents to know about. Sons often cave to their wife’s wishes of only being involved with her family. Anyway, the idea that we are nothing but animals and once out of the nest have no responsibility to those who gave their lives, finances, and freely loved us for 20+ years is absurd. People are capable of benevolence, love, compassion, service and much more. And it should start with family.

    • Annie February 18, 2015 at 7:20 pm

      I live close to my elderly Mother, and look after her. I do her shopping, since she can no longer drive. I also take her where she needs to go. I have two brothers who only call on her birthday and at Christmas, which is kind of sad. I agree, fifteen minutes a week, or even every month of attention would be really nice. I’m not bashing men, there are plenty of women who don’t want to stay in touch with their parents. Eventually, when our parents can no longer take care of themselves, someone has to step in and help out. I feel my brothers and I were raised well and have good values. We have all worked hard all our lives, and no one has been in jail or been on drugs. It is sad that these days families have drifted apart, and so many people are self-centered.

      • Sapphire February 19, 2015 at 4:47 pm

        Good for you Annie! I wish there were more people like you. There is an entire generation of elderly people who need to feel they matter to someone and who still want to feel useful.

  • anybody home February 18, 2015 at 10:01 am

    Sounds like you thought being a parent entitled you to a prize. How are your relationships with your own parents? Perfect? Happy? I think you’re darned lucky these three kids didn’t move back home! Be proud of your independent sons instead of expecting them to be proud of you for changing their diapers. I have two adult daughters, neither of whom live where I do, and our relationships go up and down, each relationship is different by the way, but I raised them to be independent and they are. If I hear from either of them more than a couple of times a month, it’s bliss, but I’ll take the infrequent calls or notes in exchange for knowing my daughters are healthy, happy, successful and are not wasting time thinking I should still be the center of their attention. If you’re home is comfortable, they’ll come back at the right time, on their schedule, and you’ll enjoy the voluntary (not coerced) attention and presence. Smile, mom and dad. If you’re doing interesting things instead of sitting and wishing (and griping), they’ll want to be with you all the more. Good luck!

  • CaliGirl February 18, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    “When I hear of other parents being honored by their children, I feel like we’ve failed in every way.” Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. Do they really know what it is to “honor their parents?” To you, does that mean they say nice things about you to their friends? Or does it mean that they call you every Sunday and come over for dinner weekly?

    What did you do to honor your parents in the presence of your sons as they were growing up?

    The best thing for you to do is to get a hobby, invest in somebody else’s life, volunteer, get a part-time job.

    If you don’t already have one, this may be a good opportunity to go after that college degree that you never finished while you were sacrificing by raising your children.

  • Hataalii February 18, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    You are reaping what you have sown. You have raised three self centered children who think of themselves only. Guess who taught them that?
    Back off and take their communication on the basis they offer it. Or cut off all communication with them. Which if course would be self destructive.
    But get off your duff and find something to do that is productive, and fulfilling to you. Happiness is not given to you by other people.
    And affection can never be demanded, only given freely.

  • LunchboxHero February 18, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    And if all else fails, instead of leaving them a nest egg in your will, you can always leave them a big goose egg, just to say “thanks”.

  • fun bag February 18, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    wasn’t there a tv show called ‘my 3 sons’?

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