Best of 2016: When children abandon their parents

“I haven’t heard from your brother in months… again,” sighed my mother. “I have been trying to find out if

“I haven’t heard from your brother in months… again,” sighed my mother.

“I have been trying to find out if he will be coming over on Christmas day but he just ignores my calls as usual.

“Have you heard from him? Is he okay? I just don’t know what I have done?” she asks.

This is a regular occurrence for Mum. Luckily she has two other children — my younger brother and me — who do stay in contact regularly and will be coming home for Christmas. But I can see the heartbreak in her eyes when she speaks about her always absent first-born son.

There are so many similar stories of this epidemic… Children who abandon their parents in later life.

Judy is a 67-year-old widower with three children, five grandchildren but hasn’t seen any of them for years.

“I gave birth to three children, but now they are strangers to me. I breaks my heart and I miss them terribly.”

“I have racked my mind to try to work out what I have done that could have justified the abandonment. I am at a loss to what I’ve done or said.”

Judy has now given up trying to contact her children but sill diligently sends presents each year to the grandchildren on their birthday.

Recently a newspaper columnist wrote about a mother’s isolation from her adult children. There was an overwhelming response across Australia from older parents. They said that they were both bewildered and saddened by the strained relations with their adult children who they brought up as best they could.

What is the reason for this epidemic? Does it stem from a specific incident, an argument, a criticism taken the wrong way, the disapproval of a new partner, or perhaps it can be from some unresolved tensions from earlier years?

Or perhaps expectations of parenting have expanded dramatically. Today we see images of perfect families in advertising and these could lead to envy and deprivation if childhood memories do not live up to these ideals. Perhaps the new generation has become too self involved.

Jane, who grew up in the ’60s, jokes “we were grateful if our parents fed, sheltered us and sent us to school, our kids got everything and yet they still want more”.

One father of three children tells of how he and his wife have been cut off and ignored by their eldest son who is now a highly successful businessman. On mother’s day he refused to visit, “We received an hour-long rant on all the things we’d done wrong as parents, including once driving away from him when he was naughty. We did this to all of our children at one stage or another and was quite effective. It taught them a lesson and made them behave better. They turned out ok and we were just trying to do the best we could as parents at the time.”

Some mothers think that childcare might have impacted early bonding. According to my mum, “I put him in daycare when he was two and I think he resented that. I will never forget the image of looking out of the train window an seeing my son grasping at the fence of the childcare centre watching my train pull away, it broke my heart.”

Perhaps it has to do with today’s society, which is busier than ever before, and the shifting dynamic of the family unit. Families are now no longer based on biological connections and we now have more mixed and blended families, gay parenting and friendship groups that converge to become todays family unit.

The tradition of going home for a Sunday roast and other rituals seems to be dissipating in this time of loosening family bonds.

Maybe it has to do with the way we handle conflict? How many criticisms and arguments are held in family units with so many things unresolved, left to stew with resentment over the years.

I have an aunt who had the responsibility of looking after my late grandmothers incredibly rare and sentimental jewellery including all of my grandfathers war medals. One night, her second level, inner city unit was broken into and all the items were stolen. Her daughter (my cousin) who had continually been asking her mother to buy a safe to put the items in, or let somebody else look after them with a more secure home was livid and a massive argument followed. The argument questioned her parenting and brought up years of unresolved conflict. Today their relationship is incredibly strained and my aunt rarely gets to see her grandchildren.

For whatever reason this lack of interest from some children in reaching out to their parents is having a real impact. Some mothers  feel a lack of identity when abandoned by their children. Motherhood was such a large part of their lives and when it is gone there is a big hole.

Ruby who has also had also been abandoned by her daughter has decided to give up contacting her children and grandchildren. “I just started to feel like a stalker and have now decided to get on with my life”.

“Of course it still hurts, but I keep myself busy. I have joined a quilt club and practice yoga and dancing,” she said.

Ruby recalls with angst her own mother who she left in England to migrate to Australia.

“I used to receive letters from her all the time, letting me know how much she missed me and how sad she was not seeing the children grow up. I now know how she feels.

“Sometimes that is just the way life turns out and we just have to make the most of what we have,” she said.

What has been your experience? Do you have a friend who has been shut out by their children in later life?

This piece was originally published on Starts at 60 as ‘When children abandon their parents’. It was one of our most popular contributions by the Starts at 60 community in 2016.

  1. Z.Charlton  

    Could we call this the ‘King Lear’ syndrome ? Lear expected his daughters would love and care for him when he gave away his kingdom, and suffered greatly when the two who had promised most love then resented having to care for him….. he was lucky with one, tho. But it does indicate that the situation was there even in Shakespeare’s day…… not just a modern problem.

  2. there is only one answer. the lack of RESPECT for der elders.

    • zenaida  

      I do not expect my children to care for me at old age because I understand they also have a family to care and jobs that are full of stress and a mortgage payment of other bills, I move to my birthplace. The economy is modest and can pay for a caretaker from my meager social security! My children are happy because they are not stressed to care for me!

  3. Janet Evans  

    My son has not spoken to me since his father died 13 years ago. Sadly, it is all about money. I don’t have any to give him therefore are of no use to him. His children, my grandchildren, keep in touch, but as they are interstate don’t see them much. It saddens me greatly.

  4. C Smith  

    What is the solution?

    • Christina Kuhne  

      Is there a solution as far as the kids are concerned you are wrong and they are right

  5. bernadette  

    This is the most common heartache I have come across with my friends, family and community. It saddens me that our children seem to treat us as a bother in their lives. That is how I feel sometimes, with mine, unfortunately live in other states, married girls from them and now I don’t hear from very often; they encouraged me to get a computer so we can skype ,but even that is rarely and I have to ask when their are available.

  6. Lyne Achman  

    I think sometimes that the children get so caught up in their busy lives, work, children and friends, that weeks and months can go by in the “flash of an eye” and the family becomes disconnected. Sometimes intentional if there are issues sometimes it just happens. When i look at kids who spend a lot of time at home on their phone or tablet or in their room watching tv or playing xbox etc they are disconnecting a lot younger age.they aren’t doing “stuff” as a family. A family outing is a shopping trip not a family trip to park or beach or picnic no quality time as a family bonding. When these kids leave home there wont be much of a bond with their parents to bring them back home unless its to want something from them

    • Kerry Gerlach  

      I totally agree with the above comments…I have five grown children, and they are all like this…so are their friends…this new generation is too self-involved-and they expect everything to be given to them…my daughter uses me just in case she needs a dress fixed or recipe-I drive an hour and a half to her place, fix it, and don’t hear from her for months. No phone call or card for Xmas, lots of blame going on too for all I have done wrong as the mom…as if I should be perfect…never thinking about walking in my shoes once, or any empathy for dealing with older parents as well-they feel I am a disposable mom…family is about gaming, texting, etc…I agree with Lyne too that they don’t come home unless it’s something they want from me. And being low income puts me on their emergency list as last to be contacted. It breaks my heart. I lost one this summer, and ex, my kids, and his wife all blame me for being the trigger. They don’t see the bigger picture and the role they all played…no how are you holding up, Mom…So very sad…

  7. My son has been behaving like this for years, it has always been my fault according to him, never his. I haven’t seen him for over a year. He makes contact with his sister when he wants to. He does not keep contact with any of the other relatives too. I have tried to reach out to him but he ignores me completely. It is good to read this article because I felt that I was having a battle all by myself and sometimes I feel like a terrible mother. Did I miss something when he was growing up. He lost his father when he was six. You keep asking yourself all these questions and then I realize both children were treated the same and I tried to do the best as a single mother with one wage giving them the best I could, making sacrifices so that they would not want. He knows where I am and the door is always open to him. Maybe one day he might want to walk through that door again.

    • Lyn Curr  

      Yes I too have had a similar experience with my son, I keep in touch at Birthdays etc but do not expect anything back. It has taken me till my Seventies to stop feeling hurt, that is just how he is, not only with me but all his family.
      I was a working single Mum in the Eighties and my children the first at school of divorced parents and my son felt it the hardest. My daughter and I have a good relationship despite or maybe because of living a long distance away.
      I do not have any Grandchildren so that helps and having been very independent has helped also along with many wonderful friends. Look after your self and let the chips fall where they may.

  8. Jayne-Anne  

    I haven’t heard from my son since Mother’s Day, this year, & THAT was only at the behest of my daughter.
    I normally don’t hear from him, one year’s end to the next.
    I send him Xmas, & Birthday Cards. No response!
    He’s ALL my contact details, so, IMO, there’s no excuse!

    After three years’ of non-contact, my daughter was ‘forced’ by a couple of friends’ to let me know she was expecting. That was March 2015.
    She’s decided now to cease contact with me, yet again, since Sep’16.
    There’s nothing I didn’t do for them as a ‘normal’ Mother, whilst working full-time, as had to, for financial reasons’.
    She’s still in contact with her father, as he’s a ‘Parent Bank’, with oodles of money!
    I’ve only the Pension, so she can’t get money from me, as I’ve NONE to give!

    I do believe ‘karma’ will get her one day, for treating her Mother do abysmally!

  9. Rosemary  

    I too feel abandoned by my three boys. At first I thought it was because I left the family when they were aged 17, 21 and 23, so not children. I left because I only felt wanted for what I did about the house, the money I brought into it and so they could use “my” car. The family car, as I didn’t own a car in my own name until I was aged 45. At first I lived in the same town, but I rarely saw or heard from them, so, when I met someone who I felt I could love I moved to another state to be with him. I feel as if they regard me as already dead, but I am also sure if I had lots of money they would be more interested in me. It really just confirms the reason why I left.

  10. Kathy Grega  

    My husband and I retired near our son at his request. He calls us weekly to check in with us. The woman he married had twins who are now going on 17 years old. They both have cars now but never visit us. I had to create a holiday of my own where they could visit us. That way there would be no conflict with his in-laws. They do come over for that. I’m not invited to any of the school events. This year they invited us to lunch on Christmas Eve which we turned down. It was apparent it was just to deliver the yearly Christmas gifts. The in-laws were invited to Christmas Eve and Christmas day when presents would be opened. I don’t feel obligated to buy presents for strangers. That is what they have become. They only live 15 minutes away. I don’t blame my son, I do blame his wife.

    • Beanne  

      He’s a big boy! He chooses to go along with her wishes. Therefore, he is equally to blame!

  11. RL  

    Gosh I can so relate to these stories! After many years of keeping in contact with my 3 children, sadly I decided to give up. It’s not an eas thing to do however. The hurt remains, however, after coming close to an almost complete breakdown, I realized that life must go on. I have my elderly mother to consider and me breaking down would do her no good at all.
    My wonderful friends keep my going. Without their love, support and encouragement, well, it scares me to think what I may have done.
    I’m so sorry to hear that so many other parents are experiencing similar. I can’t explain it. My children were raised pretty much as I was. They were taught respect for others and their property, manners, compassion and love. I really don’t know what happens when they leave home.
    It’s painful to not be needed. I would love to spend more time with my grandchildren. I’d like to know what it’s really like to be a grandmother and I’ve not been given that opportunity.
    Stand strong, stand tall, retain your self-respect and know that you are not alone!

  12. peter  

    I now live in Thailand were there is no social security and the pension is only about $20 a month but the respect, love and the care the Thais have for their elderly parents is amazing. The family is important to Thais even the extended family is respected. we could learn a lot from the Asians about how families should be

    • Wayne Grant  

      Peter….I couldnt agree with you more….Even poor Asians not forget to look after their Parents and make sure they visit…

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