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 I 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.


Mother and daughter


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.

So 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? Or do you have a friend who has been shut out by their children in later life? 

  1. Kathie  

    This isn’t just an Australian thing. At 61, I’ve experienced this with my 2 grown (41 and 43) children. I never hear from them unless they want or need something from me and their step-father of the past 33 years…usually money. I have been accused of abandoning them to their father when he and I divorced, but that isn’t so. As an unemployed person, I wasn’t able to care for them, as I had to move back in with my own mother, and their father refused to pay the court-ordered child support. When he threatened to take them out of the country so that I could never see them again, I agreed to let him have custody (this was in the 70’s, when child support was not enforced as rigorously as it is now). I go for weeks not hearing from my daughter, who lives more than 300 miles away from us, unless she needs us to bail her out of another financial bind… most recently, it was $800 to rent a new apartment, to get our teen-aged granddaughter out of an unsafe neighborhood. We are already paying almost $400 per month to pay back student loans for her, for a degree she never finished. Our son lives less than 15 minutes away from us, but we rarely hear from him unless he needs to ‘borrow’ money, which he declares he will pay back, but never does. My husband retired last year after working as a CNA at a mental hospital for 30 years, but we are unable to enjoy his retirement because of the neediness of our kids. Why can’t they call once in a while just to ask how we are doing? I can’t imagine ever going for weeks, and sometimes months, without talking to my (late) mother. It hurts…a lot.

    • Rosemary Jean  

      Kathie .. I think sooner rather than later you need to stop letting them use you when they are in a bind. My daughter moved in with her boyfriend at age 17 .. against my wishes of

    • Rosemary Jean  

      Kathie I think their comes a time when you have to say NO! They use and discard you because you let them! I raised my kids alone from the ages of 12 and 9yrs and brought them back to Australia leaving their Swiss FAther to his girlfriend. He tried to make my life difficul, cut off a credit card that I had set up befor leaving Switzerland from money I earned tutoring English. When he hastened to get a divorce he was irate when swiss law made him pay maintenance and even left his job in an effort to stop paying .. but he had to continue regardless and soon had a better job anyway. I worked in Casual employment as it was all I could ge as a single Mim but I was always there for them and when I couldnt I had a sister to fall back on for child minding .. tho they soon said they would rather be on their own than with her! At age 17 my daughter moved in with her boyfriend .. I didnt like it but knew it was pointless to stop her .. just let her know if she was ever in a bad situation I’d come and get her regardless if it was middle of the night .. and often was.When he became abusive I finally convinced her once & for all to walk away.. She was back home then at 20 . Just prior to that at 19 I’d convinced her father to have his kids back for a holiday which he did and paid for Airfares and of course accomodated them in the family home but put them both in my sons old room for the 5 weeks they were there rather than let stay in her old room which was now his girlfriend’s office and sewing room. After I put my daughter thru a deportment & grooming course to boost her confidence .. she started modeling clothes and hair fashions. She and a friend moved to Sydney to further modeling careers but soon worked out they could not give up a day job and did reception and sec temping to stay alive. Eventually she mived more into Event management and away from modeling. She had a few more disastorois relationships but by age 29was ready to settle as was her friend’s 3o yr old brother . They were soon Pregnat and when she produced my first Grandchild at age 30 I decided I was not missing out on my Grandkids so moved from SA to NSW. I often felt in a losing battle as the other Nanna had her own large house where they and grandson could have sleepovers .. unlike my small 1 bed rental unit. They would frequently drive past me (I was 2 streets in from the Hwy) to go visit her without so much as 5 min drop in for a coffee. I now have a 2bed unit and a swimming pool which the grandkids(6 and 2 and a half) would love to swim in but still dont rate a visit or a call to ask how I am. I have been going to their home in the country fairly regularly over last year or so as my daughter now has a job near home .. and depending on Dads shift I my be required to stay with them. However if I do or say something displeasing to her or her partner .. there is no fight .. I’m just frozen out for a while . Currently because I opted for my local mechanic rather than let my very busy Son-in-law fix it. I know my Grandaughter hates daycare but ny daughter insists it is good for her to be there at least once a week plus that is where she goes when I’m on the poo list. I persever regardless of their bad behaviour as I dont want to be cut out of the grandkids lives.Son whose marriage recently fell apart has begin to appreciate me again and will also move here in the near future. I also find that now he’s single again he’s come in handy for recent car repairs I could not afford .. but he was always generous when we lived together prior to his marriage. Things change dail and I dont always like what happens but I think they are basically good people .. and I’m hangin in there because I love them and I believe they love me 🙂

    • Marg  

      Kathy, I know you mean well but you are enabling your family to continually use you financially. Please don’t do this because it is not fair to you and your husband. You two deserve to enjoy your life without financial and emotional abuse. Please think of yourselves before this situation causes resentment with your husband. I wish you all the best.

    • Sue Hayes  

      Good topic I too have been cut out of my two adult daughters lives completely. My eldest daughter used a fight with her brother over something he told her 18yo daughter to get her sister to join her and cut me out. When I think about the years as she grew up I don’t think she ever really approved of me as a mother. She had 2 children by the time she was 17yo and moved in with a man (not the father) who for some reason disliked me. It has been over ten years now and I have given up sending the grand children and my daughters presents, and birthday cards etc. after both of my daughters returned them not wanted at this address.. I do wonder if the divorce in family situations cause this sort of break. I worked two jobs to make ends meet after my divorce, my husband did not work and could not afford very much maintenance. There is a lot more to this event but I am not going to enter it now. I only want to add that I really think childhood jealousy has a lot to do with these ones who cut us off. yes I would be interested in your book & findings.

    • Cathy DeMarco  

      Kathy, you are enabling your children by giving them any money. Stop now. They are using you.

  2. Life is too busy nowadays for the younger generation and we need to continue to pursue staying connected with them in every which way possible. I too miss hearing or seeing my son at times and remind him of how much I do miss this.

    • Glenda Cruikshank Kirk  

      Sorry Avril — you are being too enabling!! And catering to the “grown” (I won’t say mature and responsible) is just not smart. It is a two way street!! Why chase????

      • Susan Florence  

        Why is “enabler” such a common w word? It’s a lazy-sloppy way of thinking. It’s a getting off the hook for running from decency.

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