Dear Neil: I have five grown children and have always been a loving and supportive parent. I call and visit when I have money for gas, but my children aren’t as poor as I am, and they seldom call me and hardly ever visit. I never ask for their help—I just want them to call or to come and see me. But they don’t seem to care. I was a good mother to them and was always there if they needed me. I am in terrible pain, and I feel unloved by them. I tell them I want to see them, but they reply that they’re so “busy.” What do I do? Let them go and keep hurting?

Feeling Unloved in Longview, Texas

Dear Texas: As young adults forge their own careers, families, friends and interests, they often need to get away from their families (and especially their parents) in order to find their own identities. It’s a teenagers and young adults “job” to break away from their families in order to find their own path.

This, of course, does not make it easy for parents, who can easily feel slighted and rejected by their (now) grown children. But typically, adult children have established their own identities by their mid-thirties or earlier, and then they are able to be closer to their parents once again—unless there are some underlying unresolved issues—or unless the family was just never very close.

So what do you do? Why don’t you call your five children, one at a time, and separately ask them if they are hurt, angry, resentful or upset with you. Tell them that you’re not understanding the lack of contact, and that you’re feeling rejected by them. Ask what you could do in order to have a closer relationship with each of them, where you might be able to talk and see each other more regularly and reliably.

If they tell you they have issues or problems with seeing you, listen to them very carefully. Do not get angry or attempt to defend yourself—that will only serve to shut down communication, and you don’t want to do that. You want to know if there are any problems. For instance, let’s just say that one of your children tells you that it’s boring to come to your house, that there’s nothing fun to do. You could then inquire as to what would help in making the visit more interesting, entertaining or meaningful. That would be the beginning of hopefully repairing the relationship with one of your kids. Do the same with the rest of them. You didn’t say whether they live close to you or not, so I can see where a long trip would be time-consuming, arduous and expensive. But that doesn’t explain why there is very little phone contact.

If you continue to get “we’re too busy” as an excuse, something else is going on, and your kids are not being straight with you about what it is. In truth, we all find time for the people that feel important to us. We all have time for the things we want to do. No doubt your kids have time to socialize with friends, watch TV, be in romantic relationships and go shopping for things they want or need. So something else is afoot, and I could offer guesses, but I have no real solid idea about what might be wrong.

Some possible guesses could be that their reluctance to see or talk with you is related to how close they feel to you, or whether they feel controlled, manipulated or guilted by you, or whether they see you as a positive or a negative influence in their lives, or whether they might be embarrassed by you.

Again I will say these are only guesses, and I have no idea if I’m in the right direction or not, but it might be worth checking these out by quizzing your kids about how close they feel the family was when they were growing up, how close they feel the family is today, what were the most positive and the most negative things you and their dad did (or didn’t do) when they were growing up, what are the most positive and negative things you are doing (or not doing) now, do they see you as controlling or smothering or using guilt a lot—and other such questions. Most importantly, what could you do now that would make the biggest difference in the future?

Granted, asking these questions and hearing honest answers opens you to their criticism and judgement, so you would have to be strong enough to hear honest answers without overreacting, but if you’re interested in changing the relationship you have with your adult children, this is the direction I would recommend you go.

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