My husband and I have three grown sons whom we taught the gospel but who are all inactive. And since they’ve left home, they don’t seem to think they have parents. They never give us a phone call or come to see us unless we invite (beg) them or they need something. One son is married, one is single without a girlfriend, and the oldest is living with his girlfriend.
Special occasions aren’t special to them. I always try to make occasions meaningful, but they don’t care. My birthday went unnoticed this year, except for a gift from my husband and a phone call from my oldest son. I suppose two out of four isn’t so bad!
I had hoped by the time my kids were adults they would value my husband and me for something, but that hasn’t happened. When I hear of other parents being honored by their children, I feel like we’ve failed in every way. What should we expect from them, and how should we proceed?
It’s terribly painful to have your children disregard the very relationships that gave them life and supported them every day. The sacrifices parents make for their children are incalculable and while I’m certain most parents aren’t keeping score, there certainly is a hope that these bonds will stay intact after children leave home.
The commandment to honor our parents turns us to our earthy parents and, in effect, keeps us pointed in love and deference toward our Heavenly Parents. Elder Dallin H. Oaks outlined what this looks like. He taught, “If you honor your parents, you will love them, respect them, confide in them, be considerate of them, express appreciation for them, and demonstrate all of these things by following their counsel in righteousness and by obeying the commandments of God.”[i]
I believe your sons will someday regret their negligence and immaturity. If they have specific reasons they aren’t turning toward the two of you, then it’s important they approach you in an effort to reconcile and work out any differences. In the meantime, it’s important you continue to create conditions where they can be received when they decide to care about this relationship.
As difficult as it may seem, I encourage you to be patient with them as you give them room to have more experiences that will help them deepen their awareness. I know my own gratitude for my parents increases on a regular basis as I have new experiences with children, marriage, work, health, and other areas.
Continue finding ways you can connect with them. Don’t give up on attempting to get it right with them. As you continue to show interest, provide observations, and offer them support, perhaps there can be moments where they can see how important you are to their lives. Even if they don’t reciprocate, the experience of serving your children will continue to help you grow and develop attributes and traits that will make your life more complete.
This feeling of be underused and underwhelmed is painful, but a great opportunity for you to grow. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:
“Since patience is one of the traits of a saint, it should not surprise us that we must sometimes learn patience not only by physical suffering, but also by sometimes having something to offer which, for one reason or another, we are prevented from offering, at least on the terms we would like to make the contribution. To trust God enough to accept the reality that he knows perfectly both what we have to offer and what we desire is a special form of trust.”[ii]
You didn’t mention anything about the state of your marriage, but please recognize that if you organized your happiness and relationship needs around the lives of your sons, your life will feel very empty and lonely when they leave your nest. You might even feel it’s unfair that they aren’t returning the favors you did for them. If you did all of that so you could guarantee that you would always have them close to you, then these efforts were placed in the wrong context. Your children can’t meet your emotional needs. Make sure you are actively working on building a solid marriage with your husband so you can have those needs met in a healthy way.
Continue to reach out and connect to your boys individually. Learn as much as you can about their lives so you can find ways to support them. Seek their feedback about what you can do better as parents to support them and connect to them. They may have ideas as you approach them with a sincere desire to be closer to them.
As you get your emotional needs met in healthy ways through turning to God, strengthening your marriage, counseling with friends, and providing service, you will have more capacity to continue reaching out to your sons. You have not failed your sons. They have lessons to learn and have personal responsibility to care for their relationships with their parents regardless of their activity level in the Church. Keep reaching and don’t give up.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.