Talking About Estrangement -The Toast

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Oh, my God, do you ever read something and find the rock in your stomach sinking down through it altogether to your knees? That’s how I felt about this article on adult children’s estrangement from their parents.

The title should have been my first clue that this was not going to be a very self-aware essay.

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BUT OF COURSE I STILL CLICKED ON IT, YOU GUYS. Oh God, it’s very sad, of course, but it’s also so unsettling because it’s so vague about the cause of her children’s silence, which naturally makes one wonder what her part in the estrangement is and why she seems so unaware of her own behavior. It’s just “young people are narcissists, it’s sad but true, what can you do about it.”

Since I have been met with silence when trying to understand my children’s point of view, however, I have turned to studying estrangement. I have researched every article I could find on the topic, presented at conferences and co-authored a paper about estrangement. I started a private social network for those who are experiencing the same thing, and one thing is clear — there are literally thousands of stories just like mine…

Parents tell stories of ill-spoken words, of misunderstanding, of unhelpful interference from others. Much of what they describe, while conflict-laden and uncomfortable, doesn’t seem bad enough to have caused estrangement. The scenarios don’t appear to warrant a total cutoff. At least not according to the way I was raised. I hear that phrase a lot, too.

Can you imagine having to cut your parent off and then finding out they had started co-authoring academic papers and publishing articles online about the narcissism of your generation? That is probably not conducive to rapprochement!

Most of the parents I talk to are boomers, who share similar values and beliefs, including thoughts on how parents should be treated. The similarities I’ve seen in stories about how they lost contact with their children created a new direction for my research — our culture.

Specifically, I have directed my focus to the rise of narcissism among younger people. The topic is hot right now.

The book, The Narcissist Next Door, was released just last month by Jeffrey Kluger, science editor of Time magazine. Kluger writes: “Parents spend a lot of time ensuring their children have high self-esteem. You need a healthy ego to climb to the top of your profession. But when does self-regard become narcissism?”

Narcissism has been long been associated with the notion of entitlement, which typically suggests a lack of empathy, a feeling of superiority and a tendency to overreact to criticism.

So I wonder.

I…hoo boy.

My sons consistently refuse to reply to my emails and let my calls go to voicemail, or barely speak if they do answer. They accuse me of being a terrible person, but won’t elaborate about exactly what I’ve done. Well, sometimes they do, but it doesn’t make sense, at least to me. For example, it’s hard to be part of the birth of my grandchild if I didn’t know that I was going to have one!

All this started because of a personal email they felt entitled to read on my computer.

If they are like the adult children who responded to my site’s survey, they are probably suffering, as I am.

Good God, I have several hundred questions about this. They won’t elaborate, but they do? But she doesn’t seem to remember what they’ve said? What was in that email?

Normally I don’t recommend reading the comments, but in this case they’re actually full of (mostly gentle!) suggestions and questions for the author. This is somewhat chilling! If at some point in your life a family member feels they need to stop talking to you, I recommend not writing articles about them on the internet; just my Hot Take.

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