Q&A with Geoff: How do I deal with an adult son who suddenly disowned me?Jun 09, 2021
My still unmarried (and only) child is now in his early 30s and is basically a good person who wouldn’t hurt a fly. I think he still lives with his mother, yet something has happened in his life to cause him to suddenly become estranged from me and my side of the family.
It’s been four years since he cut off contact, and since then, he doesn’t communicate or respond in any fashion. He and his mother send back mail as “not at this address.” His mother and I were divorced almost 30 years ago, and I’ve tried to be a loving part-time father as best as I can.
When he was young, I made efforts to work close to him for a month at a time so I could spend the evenings during that time trying to be a better part-time father even though I lived in a different state.
Over the years, my new wife and I have included him in many vacations – several overseas. We generally talked on the phone on Sunday evenings and eventually started FaceTime calls. However, a month after a beautiful vacation together almost four years ago, he abruptly stopped taking telephone calls and would not respond to texts or emails.
He eventually sent back Christmas and birthday cards with checks. It has been very hurtful to me – almost like a death has occurred. How do I cope with my estranged adult child? I don’t even know if he will be around to eventually bury me, or if I need to make other arrangements with nieces. He stands to receive a nice inheritance should he lovingly re-enter my life.
I can see how suddenly losing contact with your son for an unknown reason can be terribly distressing. Despite the challenges of divorce and long-distance parenting, you’ve worked hard to keep him as close as possible. Obviously, something has happened, yet you’re not given the opportunity to repair the breach. While you can’t force a relationship with your son, you aren’t powerless to act in the best interest of your relationship with him.
Your son has made his decision by moving far away from your reach and influence. He’s not giving you the opportunity to choose contact and closeness, but you can still choose how you want to be in relationship to him. Your relationship with him is more than phone calls and vacations; your relationship is how you connect to him through your thoughts, feelings, words and actions.
Now is an important moment to ask yourself what kind of relationship you want to have with him.
When your son pushes you away and ignores, how will you choose to relate to him? Will you stay open and compassionate for that moment when he may decide to turn back toward you? Can you do this without even understanding the reasons for the relationship rupture? You don’t know why your son pulled away, but you can still stay put in loving relationship to him as you patiently wait for him to return.
In your pain, you might be tempted to retaliate by cutting him out of your life emotionally, financially or even relationally. While I can’t tell you how to respond to him, I want to invite you to measure your responses against your ultimate relationship goals for you and you son.
I’m guessing you’ve done what you can over the past four years to track him down and establish contact with him. If he’s making it clear that he doesn’t want a relationship with you, then accepting this will be one of the most painful but necessary things you can do to stay emotionally healthy. This is a time to reset your expectations for how you thought things would go in your relationship.
Accepting this new reality means you’re honoring his choices. It doesn’t mean you have to forget him or cancel him out of your life.
You can work to have compassion for the confusion and challenges he’s endured as a child of divorce. You can work to draw on the love you’ve had for him that has motivated you to sacrifice your time, finances, conveniences, pride and comfort for him all of these years. That same love will help you stay out of a victim mindset and allow you to face him with the same open and loving heart that will receive him when he’s ready.
Be careful to not criticize him to others or complain about what he’s doing to you. These types of reactions are understandable and quite common, but they will leave you feeling bitter and powerless. Your love is much greater than his distance, so trust your true feelings about him as your son.
If you have legal questions about how to handle your estate upon your eventual passing, I’m sure there are proper ways to handle this without resorting to punishing him. Continue living in a loving and generous way so you know you’re passing on a legacy of love, even though it may not be directly to your son.
Continue to create meaning and purpose in your life as you extend your wisdom, experience and interest in the lives of your other family members. You have much to give and offer, even if your son isn’t open to receiving it right now. You need to know that your gifts and offerings matter to those around you.
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