Question

 I am a 70 year-old mother of three adult children in their forties. My husband had a wandering eye so I have raised my kids alone since they were in elementary school.

As I look back, even though it seemed things were trouble-free when I was raising them, I worry that I gave them too much. Since they’ve become adults, they’ve had nothing but problems. Their dad was barely in their lives and I tried so hard to be both mom and dad to and for them. My two sons and daughter had very little male role modeling in their lives.

I am now living the most lonely and painfully neglected life and I honestly don’t know why. None of my kids like me and none of them spend any time with me. For example, I live close to one of my sons and his children come visit me, but he hates to come inside my house, so he usually calls the oldest one on her cell phone and tells them to meet him in the driveway.

All three of my children have struggled with drug addiction and relationship problems. I have financially helped all three of my kids and they rarely have paid me back. In fact, it seems they just resent me more for helping them after the fact.

I find myself crying any time my kids contact me. We will talk to me just for a minute then get irritated and hang up. I used to have a satisfying career working with the disabled, but I haven’t been able to find any work in that area, perhaps because I’m too old? Any suggestions you have would be appreciated on how I can cope.

Answer 

Your family has been through so much pain and I can only imagine how much all of you are hurting. I have tremendous respect for single parents who carry forward to raise their kids without the support of a partner. Being a parent is difficult enough when there are two of you to back each other up.

I understand how common it is to constantly evaluate our own performance as parents. You’re not a perfect parent and neither am I. A perfect parent is the one who keeps working at staying connected to their children through all of the twists and turns of life.

Please be gentle with yourself when it comes to reflecting on how you raised your children. You made mistakes and you had wonderful successes. I have no doubt that you, like every parent I’ve met, love your children and did the best with the resources you had available.

As painful and unfair as it is, some parents have more resources available to them and, therefore, can provide more stability and opportunities for their children. You can spend the rest of your life analyzing the breakdown of how you parented and feeling like a failure, or you can accept that you had to work under less-than-ideal conditions and know that you gave it everything you had.

This acceptance can help you feel peaceful when you see your children struggling. Sure, they have some struggles that resulted from their childhood. If there are areas you need to repair and have some accountability to your children, make sure you take care of those things.

However, recognize that regardless of what hand they were dealt as children, they have a personal responsibility to make choices that set them up for success. You aren’t required to keep enabling their poor choices just because you feel bad for the conditions under which they were raised. You are all constantly learning and growing into healthier people, which means jettisoning unhealthy patterns and habits.

Let each of your children know what you can and can’t do for them. Let them know how much they mean to you and how you want to better understand what they need from you as their mother. If they don’t know what to say or they’re rude, take this as their answer and give them time and space to see your sincerity.

Even though you long to have a healthy relationship with your children, make sure they aren’t your only social connection. Otherwise, you will be tossed around by their struggles to figure out their family relationships.

The pain you feel from these troubled parent-child relationships is real, but doesn’t have to define your days. I’m certain there are other ladies in your neighborhood, ward, and community who would love to be friends with you. While you don’t need a large group of friends to find meaningful connection, it’s wise to include a variety of people in your social network who are in different stages of life. This is also a season of life where you can do more to volunteer and give to those who have less than you. Serving others always helps us feel connected and peaceful.

The pain from your children’s distance cannot be minimized. It’s awful to have your own children avoid you. Connecting with others and serving those around you will help you recognize that you have much to offer and will give you a protective layer while you continue working to heal your relationships with your children.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com 

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT