I’ll never forget the day I succumbed to a mother’s anxiety and violated my then 20 -year-old son’s Facebook page with this,
“Dear Nathan, Call your Mother.”
Well, it wasn’t big and red, but it may as well have been.
Yes, I had become a cliché.” I was THAT mom….and not only that mom – I was THAT kid, too.
A BEAUTIFUL DREAM
When I was a little girl, I dreamed of growing up and buying a home across the street from my parents. I envisioned my children playing in the same woods that formed the backdrop of my childhood adventures. They would run across the street to share their latest news with my mom and dad after school. The adult me would chat the morning away with my mom as we sipped on a warm cup of coffee on the back deck or sipped margaritas in our floating pool loungers. We were going to be THAT family and it was going to be GREAT!
It was a beautiful dream.
Then, I grew up.
I grew up and I moved 2,000 miles away and, eventually, stopped making my weekly calls. I wasn’t mad. Honestly, I was tired and just didn’t feel like talking – I’m pretty sure I broke my momma’s heart for few years. I’m doing better now, promise!
The relationship between parents and their adult children is naturally complex and there are no two relationships that are just alike. There are no two stories of disconnection that are exactly the same and no identical circumstances. This makes it hard to offer any advice or solace to a mom or dad who is sitting, lonely, waiting for the phone to ring. However, there are some trends we can point to when asking the question –
WHY DON’T MY KIDS CALL?
Again, while there may be any number of reasons that your adult kids don’t call, here are some of the most common.
1. They’re Busy
When adult children first move out, they are preoccupied trying to figure out how to be an adult. They’re navigating relationships, raising kids and managing the normal responsibilities of adult life. Don’t you remember it? It can be overwhelming.
They’re busy and they’re tired. And they don’t know where you fit in to their schedule…and that’s OK.
There is a meme going around on the internet that says, “”Too busy” is a myth. People make time for things that are truly important to them,” attributed to Mandy Hale. Well, I call BS on this meme.
Honestly, in an ideal world, our adult children would carve time out of their days to call us and check-in. Some people even believe that they owe it to us as their parents. Some postulate that the Biblical mandate to honor your parents includes a mandatory weekly phone call. It doesn’t, they don’t and the whole saying seems to be just another way we blame other people for not adequately filling the emptiness in our hearts that they were never meant to fill.
People, even our own kids, can both love us and be occupied with other things. We are not meant to be at the top of their priority list during this time in their lives.
But we don’t live in an idyllic world with unlimited time and energy. And giving birth to a child does not require lifelong pay back, nor should it. Let’s just take a deep breath and give our adult kids a break. Give them time to figure out their lives and our place in it. Let them navigate adulthood without the guilt trip and without the added stress of obligation. If you do this, you’ll increase the likelihood that things will turn around.
2. They’re Finding Themselves
A normal part of growing up is the developing of a more solid sense of self. The adult child is asking, “What do I believe?” “Who do I want to be?” “Do I have what it takes to be an adult?” And part of that process means disconnecting from parents as caretakers. They can’t truly claim the title ‘adult’ if they are still dependent on others. A symbol of this transformation might be an actual prolonged disconnection in order to provide evidence that they can, indeed, do it.
This is typically just a season of growth and not a long-term disconnection. If this is where your kids are, the best you can do is ride it out and let them grow. They’ll be back.
3. It’s Hard to Connect with You
Technology offers instant gratification. Young adults (and even those into their 40s) are accustomed to quick connections and instant feedback. Phone calls are becoming more and more of a rarity. If you want to make it easy for your kids to connect, the very least you can do is use texting as the primary means of communication. From there, you can branch out to programs like Skype and Facetime for face-to-face communication (a favorite for grandparents). Then, try learning apps like Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp for quick check-ins.
Do not, however, use these apps to spy on your kids and gather information that you can use against them when they finally do call!
“Oh, thanks for calling. I guess you’re recovering from that party at Joe’s. That was a cute dress you wore last night…I would have loved to have seen it in person. I guess you just didn’t have time, right?”
That tactic is the fastest way to push them away and ensure they stop calling long-term. Which leads us to…
4. You’re Needy
I know, I know…please don’t take offense, but a large percentage of empty nesters are simply too emotionally needy for healthy relationship with their kids. I am not judging you. In fact, I have deep compassion for your pain. However, your children were never meant to be your whole world. They weren’t meant to be your identity. And they weren’t meant to fill (and are not responsible for) the emotional emptiness you’re feeling now.
You were meant to mother them…not the other way around. If your kids feel obligated to call or responsible for you ‘okayness’, that is a heavy burden and one that will chase them away…no matter how much they love you. This is one of those issues of codependence that looks like love but is really control. Hence, the best thing you can do for your own mental health and for the health of your relationship with your kids is to seek help from a qualified professional or support group like AlAnon or Codependents Anonymous.
It might be helpful, also, to widen your network of friends so you can get the support you need from appropriate sources. If you’re having trouble making friends now that the kids are grown, check out my post, An Introvert’s Guide to Making Friends in Midlife. It’s a helpful article for extroverts as well!
5. They Don’t Feel Safe with You
They may love you and they may long for a loving connection, but they do not feel accepted or supported…so they don’t call. It is really important to take an honest look at how you engage with your adult children. Do you find yourself using words like “should” or “need to”…particularly when prefaced with YOU? When was the last time you said, “I told you so!” Or are you constantly asking “why would you do this or that”?
Even more difficult, do your children know that you disapprove of their choice of school, profession, or mate? If your children feel judged or not enough when they communicate with you, they will stay away. This is something that only you can change. Even if you’re right (and you probably aren’t…sorry), you must ask yourself, “do I want to be right or do I want to have relationship?” Your kids already know the answer….so they stay away.
6. They Don’t Like You
Harsh. I know. The reality is that stories and personalities clash. The parent and child relationship is hard and you have a history with this kid that spans decades. That is a lot of water under the bridge and some of it was rough….like, class 5 whitewater rough. With some therapy and restoration, the resulting discord may be salvageable, but sometimes it’s just not – not because of unforgiveness or because your kids are dishonoring, but because it’s just not going to work. So, you grieve. You cry and you let them go. I’m sorry for your heartache….it is like a death. It would be helpful, if this is the case, to talk to a counselor to process the pain.
7. They are ‘Bad’ People
Finally, and sadly, evil does exist in the world. And sometimes it grabs ahold of our kids. Again, it’s a harsh reality. It’s sad to acknowledge that sometimes our kids grow up to be people we don’t recognize. Mental illness, addiction, trauma and/or really, really bad choices (even laziness) can rob our children of the person they were supposed to be and the life we had dreamed of for them. Again, this is one of those situations where the only thing you can do is take care of yourself, let go, and grieve. My heart hurts with you.
In most cases, though, there is hope.
Ultimately, the parent/adult child relationship is ever-evolving and complicated. It must be renegotiated several times over the course of our lives. Ironically, when our babes are in our arms, we dream of how great it will be when they’re our adult best friends. Then, when they’re grown, we wish we could snuggle them again, protect them and, sometimes, do everything differently….if only they’d call.
While nothing can bring back the closeness of a child in love with her mummy, now is a time to reestablish a mutually respectful, life-giving, healthy adult relationship that is built on a foundation of love. Instead of waiting for your child to “change her attitude,” “be grateful for all you’ve done for her,” or “just grow up and call her mum,” do the things that YOU can do…just love your kid.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV
Be patient. Be kind. Do not be envious of your child’s new interests, job, partner, kids. Do not be arrogant or rude…as if they owe you something.
Do not insist on your own way, but negotiate something that works for both of you. Don’t become irritable or resentful….be open and understanding.
Don’t rejoice when you were right all along…reestablish relationship with humility. Welcome a prodigal child with hugs and kisses (and a fatted calf if at all possible!)
Love bears the distance. Love believes in reconnection. Love hopes for restoration. Love endures a quiet telephone.
When your adult child knows he is important, safe, accepted and, most importantly, free, he is more likely to fly back to the nest for a quick meal and peck on the cheek…and that’s all you really need anyway, right?
P.S. I’d love to hear from you. Won’t you comment and share your own story – how have things changed for you and your kids?
And if you’d like to hear more from me, to receive encouragement and support in this midlife journey, please sign up for my periodic newsletter. My series, Rediscovering Me, for newsletter-only is about to start. If you feel like you lost yourself somewhere between age 18 and 50, you won’t want to miss it! Sign up here: