It’s one thing to have a decent connection to our aging parents. We may not be close, but we still feel compelled by love and loyalty to come along side them in the in last years of their lives. But what if we have a bad connection from all those things that poison the parent-child partnership? This can be anything from irreconcilable personalities to abuse and neglect. Are we beholding to step back in or is it better to call it day?
To be clear, many “disconnected” adult children don’t step back in. For them, there is no going back. The outside world may judge them harshly, but it matters not. I have a friend who walked away from his family at an early age, and refused the urgent call in his fifties to reconcile with his dying mother.
Cold hearted? Depends on whose reality you choose to inhabit. In an unusual moment of transparency, he shared with me his childhood trauma. It was raw and left me distressed. He broke away in his mid-teens and never went back. Understandably, he spent many non-linear years trying to outrun his demons and scars, but finally, with help, righted his thinking and his life into a stable success story. Then he got the call.
His mother was dying. She wanted to see him. He refused. “I barely survive her once,” he told me. “I can’t take a second round.” And he didn’t. Her deathbed request went unanswered. His family condemned him. He has no apparent regrets.
But others change their minds. Unlike my friend, they see an opening that allows them to return and lend a hand. Some find their ability to forgive is big enough for both parties. Some find an all too familiar disappointment they recognize from their childhood. I think all of them hope for some form of a better ending for their story about their earthly parents. And that, I think, is the key to those who return and those who won’t.
At some point in the parent-child disconnect, you decide its time to let it be. It’s over and probably for the better. That point may be death, but for many, it comes much earlier in the saga. These early adopters resign their affiliation and call it a day. It’s not a case of good or bad, but what is necessary given the players and the circumstances of the family drama. Those who leave but don’t disinherit their family keep the door open for some form of reconsideration. What is important for adult children is to recognize that both choices get the job done. Bad connections are one of life’s nasty dilemmas, leaving all parties unsure of what to say, do, or expect. In the end, we all wind up doing our best, as we understand it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Accepting that, proves to be another matter…