You're planning out your menu. You're readying the decor and you're ready for the holiday rush. But what you may not have prepared for is the call or text from your adult child: “I'm not going to be there this year, Mom” or “Maybe next year, Dad.”
Here's a few reasons your adult children (and their families) might not be willing to show up this year or next, if some things don't start to change:
You make them feel like a child again.
Coming home can remind you of where you came from and not in the Hallmark movie kind of way. Stepping away from dysfunction makes dysfunction even more vivid when you see it again. When your kids have been away (maybe even to college) and they come home and they see the obvious conflict, endure the unhealthy communication styles, and are made to feel like children again, they won't be inclined to return.
They don't feel wanted. Not really.
Family gatherings around the holidays can feel more obligatory, stiff and forced than warm and welcoming. Forcing your family to come together for the sake of saying you did may just not be worth the mental distress. Maybe you're thinking to yourself, “We always just did what we were supposed to. We didn't ask any questions.” And to that I ask, did that leave you feeling loved, appreciated and wanted? Have you ever considered the purpose of the gathering may have changed with time? And that the meaning of gathering is to foster connection? What if we started to set an objective for our family gatherings? Think about it...
You aren't listening.
You're talking at your kids. You're telling them what you think, what they should think, what they should be doing different and the worst part: you are assuming you know what's going on with them. You're forgetting that they CARE WHAT YOU THINK but they may not want to BE WHAT YOU THINK. And you're draining them. They walk away feeling exhausted, sitting in my office the next week trying to repair the damage and they're sick of it.
You don't respect their boundaries.
I'm always telling clients two things about boundaries. 1) The only people who are going to have a problem with your boundaries are the people who benefit from you not having them. And 2) You won't allow anyone to test your boundaries more than family/the people closest to you. This is because there is an intrinsic and hierarchical need to be accepted. Your kids let you push their boundaries because they are (naturally) afraid to stand in this world alone. In the four walls of my office, they are learning to push back. They are learning to accept themselves. And they're on their way, so you may want to reconsider.
You make them feel indebted.
You may have given your kids everything. Every opportunity, every chance, every grace. But you did not do their success for them. They did that. You should be proud. But if you're making them feel indebted to you for their success, their joys, their belongings…you're doing it wrong. And slowly but surely, they will become more and more avoidant. Don't let your adult children slip away at the hands of your self-importance.
There's no space for their differences.
The elephant in the room: Your child doesn't believe what you believe. They don't wear what you want them to. They don't have a job or a spouse or a parenting style you would have. But that's okay because what they do have belongs to them. Your child's differences do not represent your failures. They represent their individuality, their strength and their discovery.
They don't want to answer all the questions.
When you ask your child, “When are you getting married? When are you going to give me a grandchild? When are you going to get a new job?” It's incredibly short-sighted, self-centered and ignorant. Consider this: Maybe they are trying as hard as they can to make those things happen. Maybe they don't want those things. Maybe their way isn't your way. Maybe it's better. Maybe it's not. But your child is on their own path that weaves and distances from yours. This is appropriate, natural, and healthy.
Family time can surface memories of abuse
DISCLAIMER: If you are unaware if your adult child suffered CSA (childhood sexual abuse) at this point, it is unlikely that now is a good time to ask them if they did. Most people who have suffered CSA will share it with people they trust when they are ready and when they feel it's safe to do so. Often, children do not disclose abuse because they are ashamed, they are fearful of their abuser or fearful of the repercussions. According to the Darkness to Light Perpetrator Statistics, 90% of victims know their abuser and 60% are abused by a person the family trusts. You can learn more here:
This one is tough. You might not be aware that your home is representative of you child's worst memories. It is common for individuals to suddenly remember painful past memories of their abuse in the context of time spent with family or revisiting a childhood home. Asking them to come home, may be asking them to re-live their abuse. It may surface resentments and result in re-traumatization. Your child may be conflicted--wanting to please you but barely being able to hold themselves together.
So what can we do about this?
You can start by giving your child room. Room to be who they are, to take the space, and execute the boundaries they have set for their best and healthiest self. You can verbally acknowledge their differences, their strengths and your acceptance of them. You can state your support for their wellness, demonstrate an understand of their needs even if that means that they must distance themselves from you. And finally, vowing to your child to engage in your own self-discovery and betterment. Get the skills and tools you need to be a better parent to your child. Seek to create new, authentic traditions that are driven by connection and not ritual.
Authored by Daron Elam, Owner and Managing Therapist at Summit's Edge, LLC.