It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Friends and Frenemies: ACoNs and Friendship

When we first begin to grasp what narcissism is and learn how to recognize it, many of us are surprised at how many narcissists we find already in our lives. By the time someone comes to this blog, they are pretty sure someone in their family—usually one or both parents—are narcissistic, but they are totally unprepared for how many other people they know seem to be Ns as well.
This can lead to self-doubt because it doesn’t seem possible that all of those people are narcissists, too. So we begin to dig deeper into narcissism and its traits because we are unwilling to trust our initial assessments or, because we assume we are wrong, we deliberately ignore the red flags that are tossed our way by narcissistic bosses, co-workers, siblings, doctors, shopkeepers, other family members, and people we call friends, because we aren’t sure of the difference between real narcissism and fleas.
Most people gravitate to what they know. They seek the familiar, even when that familiar is toxic or painful. They seek it and tolerate it because they know the territory. They can run on auto-pilot (habituated awareness and responses) when in the presence of the familiar. You know not to say this or do that in order to avoid conflict, you know when to disappear or to put in a strategically timed appearance to maintain a fragile peace. You can recognise the run-up to a fight or a confrontation or an ass-chewing or even a beating and your life is predictable—if unhappy—and predictability brings a measure of security in and of itself.
When faced with what we don’t know—a person who seems genuinely warm and giving and interested in us, for example—we experience two immediate emotions: fear and distrust. We are afraid because we are in unfamiliar territory and don’t know what to do or think or trust and we don’t want to make fools of ourselves in our ignorance. Most people like us will respond to such a situation in predictable ways: they will remove themselves, they will bluff it out, or they will attempt to make light of the discomfort. But they will not feel at ease.
We tend to distrust that with which we are unfamiliar. In our experience, this kind and giving behaviour on the part of another person has often been no more than a fa├žade designed to lure us in and make us vulnerable. If we stick around at all, it is because we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the monster to emerge from behind the mask—or we are studiously ignoring the red flags that are popping up all over the place. We simply cannot be sure this lovely person is genuine and due to previous experiences, we may not ever completely drop our suspicions.
But that can make us feel guilty. As the children of narcissists, we are conditioned to be givers, pleasers, and without any expectation of reciprocity. Misplaced guilt acts as a goad that propels us to give even more: it drowns out our doubts, blinds us to those red flags, and chides us for not being charitable in our thoughts.
We are conditioned to see the best in everyone and to overlook, ignore or refuse to acknowledge the kinds of character flaws that would otherwise alert us to something being wrong. This conditioning coupled with our desperate desire for someone in our lives from who we can get (or earn) approbation, makes us very vulnerable to the con artists and narcissists of the world. Women are conned out of their life savings and assets by romantic con artists in just this way: they so want to be loved in the ways these monsters pretend that they deliberately put their common sense on a high shelf in a dark, seldom-visited corner of their minds and then forget about it. We, the victims of narcissists, do much the same thing.
It has been said that narcissists are drawn to us in the same way that wolves are drawn to the weakest, most vulnerable member of a herd. The wolf doesn’t care if their prey is old and chewy or if it is young and tender—the only thing the wolf is interested in is whether or not the prey can be caught: a haunch of venison is a haunch of venison whether it is from an old stag or a new fawn—the wolf does not care as long as the wolf gets a meal. And so it is with narcissists: whatever it is they want, if they perceive we can and will provide it, that is all they need to pick up our trail.
These narcissists can be—or at least seem—romantically inclined like the con artist lover or clingy gold digger, and they can be platonic. All they require is a person who feels in need of a friend badly enough to overlook any flaws that might inadvertently pop out. All we require is someone we think will be a real friend to us. Symbiosis…
It is important to realize that what the narcissist wants does not have to be major: it doesn’t have to be a large sum of money or huge favours like borrowing your car or moving into your house. It can be as small as using you as a “cork” for a hole in their life. They are between the kinds of friends they can usually prey on and you only need a few strokes now and then to keep you around: low maintenance friends are easy to manage while looking for the “right” friend. Maybe the N has managed to get herself stuck in suburbia, cut off from the bright lights and party atmosphere she thrives in. She needs to jog or cycle or do Pilates or boxing or whatever to keep fit and she needs a partner. I briefly had a friend like this: she moved into my neighbourhood and we met by chance at the local 7-11. She seemed to want a friend but what she really wanted, it eventually emerged, was a running partner, and I was just pudgy enough that she could use the promise of shedding a few pounds as a way to get me to run with her. I thought she would take it easy on me because I had never done this before: nope—she did her normal 2 mile circuit and I ended up walking home alone…with shin splints and asthma. She never called me again after that and for a very long time I could not understand why. Everybody knows that a novice doesn’t have the stamina of the experienced, so I couldn’t understand why she was so upset—disgusted is the word she used—with me. It seemed so unreasonable—and I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t see how unreasonable she was being—but I didn’t know anything about narcissists back then.
Once you turn out to be inadequate to plug the hole in their lives or, more likely, they find the “right” kind of person to befriend, you are on your way to becoming history. They might drag you along for a while, as they solidify this new relationship or they may drag you into an established social circle into which you would otherwise not be accepted: this is to instil a sense of obligation in you: without the narcissist, you would not have access to all of this wonderfulness... But there is always something in it for the narcissist so when you no longer supply what the narcissist wants or when they find someone they deem better to supply it, or they no longer feel a need for what you supply, you then for them, it is over.
This ending of the relationship can play out several ways but I suspect “ghosting1” is the most common because it allows the narcissist to simply move on without wasting any of her precious time on something she does not value, like your feelings. If you manage to corner her, you might get a lame excuse for her disappearance (“I have just been so busy…”), you might get blamed for it (“…what makes you think I’d want to hang out with a liar like you ever again?” when you told her a truth she didn’t like), or you might get a vague promise of a future meetup (“let’s do lunch next week…I’ll call you…”) that never comes to be. Too often we are left holding the bleeding remains of an executed relationship with no idea why it was put to death, and the other party is simply unwilling to give a clue. This can be very painful—it is a serious betrayal of trust and that always hurts. It can also make you fearful, particularly if you confided anything sensitive or confidential to your absconding friend. Will she keep your confidences? Or will she consider her obligation to maintain your confidentiality dead with the ending of the relationship?
In my experience, the vast majority of people go through these kinds of endings but ACoNs seem to have them more often and are also more emotionally injured by them. It makes sense, if you think about it: our FOOs are untrustworthy and emotionally unavailable to us so we are hungry for connection. And that hunger, coupled with our sense of familiarity with narcissists, draws us into relationships—I hesitate to call them “friendships” because these people really aren’t our friends—with people who seem in the beginning to be warm and welcoming, empathetic and supportive, loving and giving, only to discover later that we projected onto this person what we wanted to see, not what and who they really were.
We often suffer with this kind of “friendship” for years, silently questioning hurts both large and small, but always forgiving, making excuses, rationalizations, justifications. Friendship requires compromises, after all, and forgiveness. And then one day something occurs and you start seeing that you are the one compromising, not your friend. You are the one forgiving, not your friend. You get left out of important events—or given only a minor role—and when you need someone to lean on, she is mysteriously—and consistently—absent.
These kinds of “friendships” come from two places: lack understanding what a real friendship is and our own desperation and fear of aloneness. We may not really know what true friendships are because we have not yet experienced one nor have we had them modelled for us. If our Ns manage to keep a long-term friendship, a close examination will likely reveal the same kind of pathology we have in our own: someone who is well-versed in toadying to an N in order to keep the one-way relationship alive.
Real friendships have reciprocity—but neither friend keeps score. They don’t need to because they know that the other one will be there when they need them and that is enough. Real friendships wax and wane: there are times you hardly see or talk to each other, and time when you are virtually joined at the hip. And real friendships can end, too. Emotionally healthy people grow and sometimes they grow in different directions. But the end of those friendships are soft…there is no painful dump or bump, your lives just grow apart and you remember each other fondly.
Narcissists are not capable of real friendship so you can’t “save” a friendship with a narcissist because there is no friendship there to save. We, however, often don’t know how to deal with the waxing and waning or eventual wind down of a friendship that has run its course. When coming from a place of deprivation, we want to grab onto our relationships and hug them to us—and when we do that, we run the risk of strangling the life out of them.
I treat friendships loosely—if my friend is a call-once-a month kind of person, fine—because I do not need friends in my life to feel whole. I am whole all by myself and have lots of stuff that keeps me busy and engaged, thinking and writing, coming and going. I love my friends but I have discovered that I do not need them—and that is a good thing. If a friend drifts away into another phase of life, I am happy for her, happy to see her progressing. Only those friends who try to put a stranglehold on me, who want my constant company, who cannot seem to function without my presence or at least my approval, only these friends do I have difficulty with because they are not creating their own lives, they are creating lives they hope I will approve of, and that is not healthy for them—they should be creating lives that fulfil them regardless of my opinion or approval.
After divorcing my NexH I stayed away from men for two years. During that time I concentrated on school and on my therapy. When I started dating, I came to a remarkable discovery: I didn’t “need” a man! My previous hunger for male companionship had not only disappeared, I found myself not responding in my previously programmed ways to men who were, if not full-on Ns, full of fleas. I didn’t try to please them—I didn’t care if they were happy with me or not! I was gobsmacked because this was just so out of character for me! But I really, truly, didn’t care if I was paired up or not. I did things on my own, I was comfortable with myself and didn’t need someone else to distract me from what I used to perceive as my inadequacies. I was just fine the way I was and if I was going to have a man in my life, he was going to have to be someone who added a dimension to my life, not someone who took it over expecting me to jump at his expectations like a trained dog.
This realization brought me to the further realization that friends, while lovely to have and entertaining to hang with, weren’t necessities. This made me much more circumspect in the people I came to call friends. I stopped tolerating behaviours I didn’t like and walked away from friendships with women who thought feminism was synonymous with man-hating, who thought men were meal tickets, who judged other women. I began looking at friendships like informal marriages: this person will be in my life, have access to sensitive information, and I will go out of my way to be there for her/him when needed—is this person worthy? Is she trustworthy? Is she tolerant? Is she kind? Does she love?
At some point in therapy I realized that friendship is actually about ME. I know that sounds narcissistic but it isn’t: it is a manifestation of healthy self esteem. I want a friend who will be my friend, not a person who sees me as the supplier of whatever is missing from her life because these are the people who dump their friendships as soon as you get tired of always having to shovel love, attention, advice, sympathy and understanding into that bottomless pit of need and moves on to someone else with a bigger shovel. I have a long-term friend who recently experienced this: a friend of hers (acquaintance of mine), after years of waiting and hunting, finally found “the guy.” And suddenly she disappeared out of my friend’s life. She would stand her up for meetups, lunches, movies, dinner parties—you name it and you couldn’t depend on her to be there anymore because the hole in her life…a man who might marry her…came ahead of a girlfriendship of more than ten years. It made my friend angry, but beneath the anger I could see she was hurt—she had been dumped for a man...for those ten years she had been only a “filler,” a placeholder, until her friend found what she really wanted.
When we as ACoNs choose friendships, we need to be careful and make sure we are not friending just anybody because we are needy, because when we do that, we sow the seeds of our own disappointment. We are prone to repeating old, unhealthy patterns by relying on that comforting feeling of familiarity, so we need to be consciously aware and look for—and heed—those red flags. Most of all, we need to learn how to be alone with ourselves, to be our own best friends, before we go out looking for more. If we don’t like ourselves well enough to spend lots of time alone with ourselves, why would we expect people—the kind of good people who will make true friends—to be friends with us? Other people are not tools to be used to distract us from our own unhappiness with ourselves, nor are they security blankets to keep us shored up as we are try to survive without digging into the quagmire of our dysfunctional emotional history and actually fixing what is wrong with us.
Healing can be a long and lonely process, but it is longer—and lonelier—if we take a gaggle of faux friends with us, people who sabotage us or hold us back or have expectations of us that are unhealthy to our own psyches. You have to be your own best friend first, before you can recognize and reciprocate a healthy friendship with someone who loves you just as you are, regardless of how you might be at any given moment. Friends like this are rare, so don’t expect to find one around every corner and don’t expect to have a horde of them. Fair weather friends—those who love you when your fortunes…and moods…are good but who can’t be found when you have troubles—are a dime a dozen and narcissistic opportunists who masquerade as friends are no less plentiful. You cannot close yourself off to people because there are so many frauds out there looking out only for themselves, though, because if you do you won’t be available to find the real friends who are out there, just waiting for someone like you to buddy up with. You have to put real effort into learning how to separate the chalk from the cheese—you have to stiffen your own spine and exert the self-discipline to not ignore those red flags, to not follow the comfortably familiar path back into a dysfunctional relationship. You have the power here, and it is up to you to use it.
It’s not easy, but it is truly, truly worth it.

1    Ghosting refers to the act of breaking off a relationship…by ceasing all communication and contact with the [other person] without any apparent warning or justification, as well as avoiding and/or ignoring and refusing to respond in any way to…attempts

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Dear Estranged and Alienated Parents and Grandparents:

Your daughter won’t speak to you and because of that, you haven’t seen or heard from your grandbabies in over six months. You’ve sent them cards and gifts, but heard nothing back. When you try to contact them via phone or text, you don’t get an answer, and you have been blocked on her Facebook and Instagram. What’s a devoted grandparent to do?
I know that what I am about to suggest is probably furthest from your mind, but have you thought about simply respecting your daughter’s wishes rather than ignoring them? I know that sounds counter-productive, but the truth of the matter is that if you believed you had the wolf trying the blow your house down, would you be opening the door to him? Or would you be increasing and improving your defences?
Yes, I know, you don’t believe you are the wolf at the door, you are her parent and the grandparent of those darling children. You love them, you have their best interests at heart, and for some unfathomable reason, your own child has turned her back on you and slammed and locked the door! What can you do?
Whether your goal is access to your own child, the grandchildren, or both, the first thing you need to understand is that you cannot get what you want by further alienating your own child. She is the gatekeeper, the person who grants or withholds access to herself and to those precious grandbabies and without her cooperation, you get nowhere.
Okay, I know that some states have grandparent’s rights in their statutes but taking that route is ill-advised at best. First of all, it will permanently alienate the parent, your child—if you have any hope of repairing the relationship with your child, this will forever kill any possibility of that. Secondly, very few states have these laws and among those that do, the chances of you prevailing are very low—especially if the person you are suing is your own child. Finally, it will take a lot of money for your adult child to defend against such a suit, money that could be better spent taking care of those grandchildren—and that is a fact that will not be lost on the court. If you hope for a reconciliation—or at least to gain access to your grandchildren, then the image you portray is critically important, and presenting yourself to a court as a person who is willing impoverish the parent of your grandkids in order to get your own way is not going to polish your halo.
The first thing you must understand—and understand clearly—is that you are not entitled to a relationship with your grandchildren. You may not like that, you may not want to believe it, but your dislikes and disbeliefs don’t influence the truth of it. You have no right, either morally or legally, to insert yourself into another family’s life. Even in states that provide for grandparents’ rights, those rights are very narrow and circumscribed and the only grandparents who actually have to those rights are those who have successfully had them granted: prior to a court granting you those rights, they don’t exist. For the most part, access to the children of other people is a privilege granted to you by the parents or guardians of those children. And that privilege often comes with rules—i.e., no sweets, no snacks after a certain time, prescribed bedtimes or other things you may dislike or disagree with. The fact that you are the grandparent does not give you leave to disrespect the structure the child’s parents have created and if you do disrespect them—like trying to make a vegetarian child eat meat—the parents may limit or even end your ability to see the children, which is well within their rights.
You need to understand that you are not in control of the household of your adult child nor should you be. A lot has been discovered by doctors and scientists since the last time you and I were parenting young kids. Things we thought were harmless or normal have been discovered to be harmful; things we considered harmful—like “spoiling” a child with “too much” attention—have been found to be beneficial. Your way is not the only way to care for children, it may be far from the best way, and it’s not your call anyway. If you refuse to respect the parent’s instructions not only are they well within their rights to limit or even end your association with the kids, a court will most likely agree with them—and then instruct you to pay the other party’s legal costs.
Having been the parents and in charge for so many years, it may be difficult for you to accept that your children are now in control and you must take instruction from and obey them. You want to remain in control, as you have always been, but you can’t always get what you want: some things are simply beyond your grasp. You can’t lasso the moon, you can’t put Reagan back in the White House, and you can’t change another person to be who you want them to be or make them act the way you want them to act, not even your own adult child.
You can, however, change yourself. I am not saying that it is easy, but you can do it and, if you want to have a relationship with your estranged child and her children, that may very well be what you need to do. Some problems cannot be solved by throwing money, in the form of loans, gifts or lawyer’s and court fees, at them and resolving the issue of the alienated adult child is one of those problems that money not only cannot fix but may actually make worse.
You must also grasp that your perception of a situation or event is not the only one—there may be other, equally valid—in fact, even more valid—perceptions out there than your own. In other words, it is entirely possible that you are wrong about how you are seeing the situation. If you are not willing to accept that possibility, then you will be fighting an uphill battle. Just feeling or believing you are right is not enough: there was a time when we fervently believed in the existence of the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, but later discovered they weren’t real. No amount of believing on our parts, however, conjured them up: we believed with our whole hearts and it wasn’t enough to make it so. And so it is with your perceptions—no how fervently you believe you are right, you may still be wrong and if you want access to your adult child and her children, you need to become intimately familiar with that concept.
You also need to understand that it is very unlikely that your adult child is going to simply capitulate to your demands, so you need to do some soul-searching and determine what it is you really want. Do you want to have your own way or do you want access to your child and/or grandchildren? Think about which is most important to you because they may very well be mutually exclusive: in order to have access to your child/grandchildren you are probably going to have to compromise and, by its very nature, compromise means giving up some of what you think you want. Ask yourself this: what am I willing to give up to just see the grandchildren for five minutes—just five minutes. If you aren’t willing to give up all of your demands and expectations to have just five minutes—and not necessarily five minutes alone—with them, then you want your own way more than you want to see those kids and that is going to work against you.
Perhaps the most important thing for you to understand is that adult children almost never cut off their parents without a) thinking about it for a long time; b) trying to get their parents to understand their issues; and c) trying to get their parents to work with them in resolving their issues. Too often I have had letters from estranged parents/grandparents lamenting their child having cut them off “suddenly and with no explanation” when, in fact, it was neither sudden nor was it unexplained.
Some of these estranged adult children have spent years—literally years—trying to get their parents to address issues only to have their issues minimized, dismissed or even laughed at. The fact that something is unimportant to you in no way means it is unimportant to others: an issue you have dismissed as “petty” may be of earth-shattering importance to your adult child and your dismissal is, at the very least, hurtful.
The most common complaint I hear from estranged adult children is a lack of respect from their parents. Before you get huffy and try to tell me that respect is “earned,” allow me to point out that that is a very disrespectful attitude to take. Everyone one on the planet is entitled to respect until they earn your DISrespect. You have no right to demand respect from anyone—including your children—if you do not give them respect up front.
If you believe that respect must be earned, tell me what have you done to earn respect from your adult kids? Do you even know what you need to do to earn that respect from them? Has is ever occurred to you that if you insist that respect is earned, then you need to earn the respect of others, including your own children, regardless of their age? Respect is a two-way street: you cannot legitimately expect it from others if you won’t to give it to them.
But you do respect your adult kids, you tell me. Do you really? If you really want to heal the rift in your family, then you have to understand what has upset your adult child and in order to do that, you have to put yourself in their shoes. Did you tell your daughter, without being asked for your help or opinion, that she was bathing her new baby wrong? Did you say “here, let me show you how to do that”? or did you say, instead, “you look like you’re having some trouble there. Can I help?” The first is disrespectful, the second is not. When you had your grandchildren overnight did you let them stay up past their bedtime? Did you let them eat cookies before dinner? Did you let them do anything that their parents said not to? Then you disrespected your children.
When it comes to their kids, the parents are the final authority even if you disagree right down to your very toes with them. These are not your children and this is not your decision or choice to make. Would you have left your children with people who ignored your wishes concerning your child’s diet or safety or obedience? Would you have been unhappy if you left your child with a family member and that person ignored your wishes in favour of their own? Suppose your family member liked watching porn and despite your admonition “no TV, movies or videos,” he let them not only watch videos, he let them watch a porn vid they found. Would you be upset? Would you let him baby sit again? (Hint: if you would allow it, you lack the proper judgment to be left in charge of children.)
So you shouldn’t be surprised that, when you violate the rules set down by your children with respect to their own children, your kids don’t want you minding their kids anymore.
“But it’s not porn,” you say after letting them stay up past their bedtime to watch a Disney film. Or, “It was just an ice cream and it was really hot that day and little Sonny really liked it,” after the parent told you no ice cream. What if Sonny was lactose intolerant or allergic to cow’s milk or has issues with blood sugar? His parents don’t have to tell you his medical history—that is none of your business. You have an obligation, like every other babysitter, to stick to the dictates of the child’s parents whether you agree or not, whether you like it or not, whether you want to or not. Deliberately going against the wishes of the parent of the child is a deep, lasting betrayal, guaranteed to damage the trust that parent has in you. The more often you do it, the more that trust is chipped away and if you have the audacity to try to defend yourself or, worse, try to make the parent feel like they are wrong, you are gouging huge chunks out of that parent’s trust.
You don’t care if the parent trusts you or not? Well, guess what got you into this situation, where you own child won’t speak to you and you can’t have any contact with your grandchildren? No parent worth the title exposes their children to people they cannot trust so if you destroyed your own child’s trust in you through your high-handed, disrespectful and entitled ways, your kid did what every self-respecting parent on the planet will do: cut you and your untrustworthy ways right out of their lives.
Perhaps you think your child is out of line by putting the grandchildren “in the middle.” Actually, it is you who are putting them in the middle by refusing to respect either their parents or their parents’ wishes. No child should have to witness their parents being treated disrespectfully nor should any child be cozened into taking part in behaviours that their parents disapprove of. It is you who are causing the rift by your simple act of believing you know better than the grandchild’s parents and acting like you have the right to override them and their authority. You don’t. And the parents are right to remove their children from being the centre of conflict and not allowing them to be treated like a bone caught between two fighting dogs. You have put those grandchildren in the middle by refusing to accede to their parents’ wishes and/or treating the parent(s) disrespectfully, and the parents have taken them out of the middle by removing them from the field of battle.
So let’s say you have finally—albeit reluctantly—come to the conclusion that it is your behaviour that prompted your child to remove your grandchildren from your life. And let’s further assume that you wish to make sincere amends so that you can see your grandchildren again. What now?
Well, like it or not, your child is now an adult and has an incontrovertible right to decide the conditions of her life—and in this regard, you have no rights whatsoever. None. Repeat that. Aloud. “I have no rights in this.” Repeat it over and over until you truly get it. You have NO rights in this, in your adult child’s life, in the lives of your grandchildren. You have no rights. None. Understanding this and accepting this is the first—and most essential—step in resolving the issue(s) that caused you to be denied contact with your grandchildren.
If you truly understand and accept this, then you also understand that any access to your adult children and grandchildren is a privilege and your adult child (or his/her significant other) is the only person who can grant you that privilege. And because they can grant it, they can also take it away. They have all of the rights here, not you. (And yes, again, I know about “grandparent’s rights” and also know that if you go that route you will never fix the problem that drove your child away, you will just entrench it permanently. See paragraphs 5 and 6.)
So what do you do when you want something from a person who has absolute power over giving it or withholding it? Why, you make sure this person sees you in a good light, right? Because if this person doesn’t, if this person is irritated with you, annoyed by you, afraid of you, doesn’t like you—if this person harbours any negative feelings towards you—the odds of you getting what you want start to slide, don’t they? So you need to be on this person’s good side, don’t you?
Your child is the gatekeeper to your grandchildren. So your adult child is the person whose good books you need to be in. How can you do that after you have already screwed it up so badly?
The very first thing you must do is to respect your child’s boundaries. All of them. Even the ones you don’t like or think are unfair. That includes the present boundaries set down by your child. This may seem counter-productive because respecting that boundary means going along with no contact with your grandchildren, the opposite of what you want.  But if you don’t respect this boundary, you are proving to your child that you are not trustworthy and every bad thing she thinks about you is true.
Next, you have to get over yourself. That means you have to change. And that means starting to take on board the perspective of other people. You have been so busy justifying yourself and trying to get your child to understand and agree with you (or browbeating, guilt-tripping, intimidating and manipulating your child into capitulating) that you have completely missed the fact this this is not a one-way street. Your child is entitled to a position and a point of view and what’s more, she is the one who has the rights, not you! You are so accustomed to being the boss in your relationship with your child you didn’t see that not only did her body grow up, so did her psyche—and she acquired some new rights and you lost some old ones. Catch up—she isn’t ten anymore and you don’t have any rights over her!
Adult children do not just “break up” with their parents whimsically and for no reason. In my experience (with hundreds of people over a five+ year span of time), the vast majority of adult children who sever relations with their parents do it after long months—even years—of agonizing and soul searching. Often times they try to have discussions, they send letters and emails, they try to have conversations on the phone, all without feeling like their parents have heard them or have any empathy for the pain they are feeling. Because, believe me, very few adult children sever ties with their parents without going through a lot of pain en route to the decision. So the odds are, your child has tried numerous times to get through to you to no avail.
So start with the reasons your child stopped contact with you. And don’t claim you don’t know, either. Odds are that you have been told—probably countless times—what to stop doing, what to back off from, what upsets your kid. And the odds also strongly suggest that you have either ignored or dismissed whatever your child said. You have called it “over-reacting” or “childish” or denied it happened or tried to justify or rationalize why it—whatever “it” was—was ok. You didn’t listen and, most importantly, you did not take your child seriously. And then something happened—like you showed up at a party you weren’t invited to, or you presumed to dictate something to your child, or you said something rude or snide or did something sneaky or underhanded—or high-handed and disrespectful—and that was the last straw for your adult child. They stopped responding to you, they may even have sent you a letter that said to just stay away, you might even have received a letter from a lawyer telling you to stay away. Whatever it was, something you did or said was, for your child, the final insult, the final betrayal, and now your child wants nothing to do with you and does not want you influencing her child.
So go back over what has been said to you. Things you discounted or dismissed, things you found absurd or petty. Things you did not take seriously. Take them seriously now. Use the next few months to walk in your adult child’s shoes, to examine your entitlement, your expectations, your perspective. Did you think your child should have been grateful when you bought the grandchild new shoes but she was angry instead? What did you take away from that disagreement? Did you think “She’s spoilt and ungrateful and I was only trying to help and besides, she can’t afford the shoes Sissie wants and I can so what’s the big deal?”? Did you stop to put yourself in her position? What if she was thinking “I already told Sissie she couldn’t have those shoes so she’s sneaking behind my back and you are helping her—and she knows it will work because you have done this kind of thing before, buying stuff for my kid without asking me first. You are teaching my child to be manipulative because you won’t consult with me!” Or maybe she was thinking “I don’t want you to corrupt my child with ‘stuff.’ I don’t want her to value people for what they can give her but for who they are. I want you to let me decide what my child can and cannot have. That’s my job, not yours!”
Go over every instance you can remember—and if your child wrote you a letter about what you have said and done that has upset her, take her every instance—and try to see it from her point of view. Don’t excuse yourself with rationalizations—truly try to see things from her perspective. You gave your grandchild a bicycle and your daughter blew up—did you ask if you could give the child a bicycle? Did the kid say “somebody stole my bike” and you swooped to the rescue? Did you give the parent a chance to tell you that the child has had three bikes stolen because she leaves them on the front lawn, unlocked and unattended? Did you know that she is not allowed to have another one until she demonstrates better responsibility and now you have made your daughter the bad guy because she had to lock this one away in order to go on with the lesson in responsibility she is trying to teach?
Maybe you can’t come up with some reason where you were wrong. My guess would be that means you aren’t really trying. Did your daughter do something you didn’t like and you scolded her like a naughty child? Where do you get the right to do that to another adult? Have you made assumptions—she’s going on holiday so you’ll go to the same place, assuming you are welcome? Did you try to impose your will on her taste for her wedding or her first house or your grandchild’s nursery because you think you know better than she does or, worse, you contributed to the cost? Wrong move—her life, her choices, her tastes, not yours!
Once you have reached a point at which you fully understand why your adult child has reached the end of her rope and cut you off, you should be feeling remorse. And embarrassment. And shame. Because you really were out of line and you really did do things that disrespected her and her autonomy. If you’re not feeling that way, then you don’t really understand and you need to go back to the soul searching and seeking the evidence in yourself and your behaviours that make up the truth of your adult child’s removal of herself and her children from your life. Until you “get” what you did and why your kid is upset with you, you are not ready for the next step, and getting what your kid is trying to get across to you may take professional help—like a therapist—and months…even years…before you are truly ready for the next step. And do not take that next step if you aren’t really ready or you will permanently screw this up.
Once you can empathize with your adult child and you are in a headspace that says “Wow, I don’t blame her for cutting me off—I was awful to her!” you are in the right frame of mind to attempt a reconciliation. Start with a letter and start that letter with your first apology: apologize for disrespecting her boundary with the letter. That should be your very first sentence: “Let me begin by apologising for violating the boundary you set when you said you did not want to be in contact with me anymore. I have spent our estranged time really working on understanding your point of view and it is important to me to tell you that I finally get it…”
Then tell the truth—don’t try to make it sweet and palatable, don’t use euphemisms in an attempt to soften it. “I have been awful to you. I realize that now and I am truly sorry.” You should be feeling shame when you write this, and you should be feeling humility because after you eat a few bushels of crow, you are going to have to swallow that crow along with your pride and ask for forgiveness. And worse, you are going to have to acknowledge that she is under no obligation to either forgive or believe you and if she does either one, let alone both, you are incredibly lucky. Because this is an uphill battle that you created for yourself and nobody can fix it but you—and she has nothing to lose by telling you to fuck off and leave her alone. You have to go into this with that in the forefront of your mind and with acceptance of that in your heart: you screwed this up, you screwed it up really bad, and if there is any coming back from it, it is going to be from the goodness of her heart. You had better hope you haven’t crushed that out of her.
Don’t tell her what you are going to do—that presumes that you know what she wants and in the past that hasn’t worked very well for you, has it? Stick to apologising, giving examples of where you screwed up, what you did wrong, what you should have done, then saying you are sorry and then empathising with the feelings your behaviour provoked in her. Ask for things, don’t tell—stay away from phrases like “talking this out” because that proves you don’t get it—she doesn’t want to talk anything out, she doesn’t need to talk it out and besides, there is nothing TO talk out: if you think there is, you still don’t get it.
Resolving your adult child’s issues with you basically comes in the form of you backing off from trying to run things. You don’t get to tell her what she needs (to talk it out), you don’t get to put your needs (like your need to understand) ahead of hers. You don’t get to put the burden of your understanding on her, either—that is your responsibility. You are no longer at the helm of her life and it is past time for you to get out of the driver’s seat and hand control over to her. If you are not willing to do that, if you find yourself saying or thinking “yes, but…” as you read this, you don’t get it yet, you aren’t ready to approach your estranged adult child, you need to shed some more of your effrontery and eat some more of that crow because if you don’t and you approach your child with a “yes, but...” mindset, I guarantee that you will cock it up and you will not get a second chance to fix this.
So, let’s say you’ve sent a letter and it has been favourably received. Is it all better now? Um, no—you have only just succeeded in getting her to give you an opportunity to prove to her that you have changed. The kind of change she is looking for is permanent—it means, in some ways, that you must become a different person than you have heretofore been. It means you cannot pretend to have changed in her presence, then go back home and bitch about what a bitch she has become or how incompetent she is to manage her affairs or how stupid she is to still be hooked up with that loser husband of hers. It means that you respect her choices even when you don’t agree with them. It means no passive aggressive remarks like “well, I guess is it your choice…” with a disapproving or sulky demeanour or tone. It means respecting her and her choices and loving her regardless of your disapproval or disappointment in choices she makes, especially things political or personal/lifestyle oriented. The only time your disapproval has any validity is if the situation is potentially life threatening, like a drug-fuelled lifestyle in which the children are exposed and even then, your place is not to condemn her, it is to support an effort on her part to change and see to the safety to your grandchildren through proper channels. Beware of using this manipulatively, however, by levelling false charges, because even if the authorities don’t come back on you for misusing the justice system, your estranged adult child will very likely become permanently estranged from you as a result. You will have proven yourself untrustworthy in the worst possible way and it is unlikely you will be able to recover from that.

The truth is, most parents from whom adult children become estranged are unwilling to humble themselves in the ways required to create a new, healthy, appropriate and respectful relationship with their estranged adult child. What they really want is to have their cake and eat it too: they want their adult child to resume the role they set up for her when she was a child and they want unfettered and uncontrolled access to their grandchildren. These people believe their estranged adult child is wrong and refuse to even address the possibility that they are the ones who are wrong. They therefore refuse to make any effort to change, instead making attempts to “talk through” an estrangement which is really just a euphemism for getting the adult child in a position where she cannot fight back and then browbeating her into submission and a return to her original role, a role in which you are in control of her life and she remains subordinate to you.
If you are thinking things like “I want my family back” and “things were fine until…” then you still don’t get it and your attempts at reconciliation will be viewed as disrespectful violations of the boundaries she set and unwanted intrusions into her private life. Only when you have given up the desire to put things back the way they were do you have any hope of resuming a relationship with your estranged adult child and those grandchildren because “the way things were” is exactly what hurt her and drove her away in the first place.
And just to be clear, that estranged adult child may well be a son rather than a daughter. And if you blame your daughter-in-law for causing the rift, if you believe that anything other than your own behaviour and lack of awareness of and empathy for your child’s feelings caused the split, then you need to go back to the beginning of this post and start reading all over again.
You broke this and if there is even a hint of a chance that it can be fixed, then it will only happen through you making serious changes in the way you (and your partner/spouse) view and treat your estranged adult child. And if you don’t want to do that, if you think you don’t need to change or it is too much work or you are too old, then what you are really saying is that you care more for your convenience than the happiness and well-being of your adult child and his/her immediate family.
And you know what? That is okay! What is not okay is hurting your adult child with your disrespect. Stick to your own way if you wish, but respect your adult child’s autonomy and leave her/him alone.