Today is my 65th birthday, so I am officially an old lady. I went walking at the mall with my friend D for the first time since I dislocated my foot, which was convenient (walking at the mall, not the injury) since I had to pick up my new glasses. The glasses are my birthday present from my husband. As new glasses always do, they feel strange.
D and I made two laps around the mall (about a mile) and then had coffee at the food court and caught up.
Naturally, a lot of the conversation involved our boys, or as much about their lives as we know at present. That led to D sharing some information from the latest issue of the AARP magazine. She had read an article about children who are completely estranged from their parents, and was shocked at how high the number was. She recalled the number as one in eight, but I am not sure whether that was one in eight adults is estranged from a parent, or one in eight parents of adults are estranged from at least one child. It makes a difference. Either way, it does sound high.
The article apparently had some advice for keeping a relationship with your children, all of which can be boiled down to “don’t criticize”. Don’t offer unsolicited advice; don’t criticize your child’s sexual orientation; don’t criticize your child’s spouse; don’t criticize how your child is raising your grandchildren.
I think I would find the last one hardest of all if I had grandchildren. Not that I would criticize how my son and (future, someday, please God) son-spouse dressed a child, fed a child, or what bedtime was, or in what if any religious tradition they chose to rear the child. What I would have a hard time with is if they let grandkid ride a bike without a helmet or ride unsecured in the back of a pickup truck, or something else I saw as risking life and limb.
Besides, I have concluded from comments others make about me that I have really expressive body language. When I think I am sitting in a calm, neutral posture with a calm, neutral expression on my face, I apparently look like Medusa on a bad hair day. I can imagine a conversation with son or son-spouse in which one of them takes a look at me, asks with a sigh, “What’s wrong?” and I answer “Nothing” while easily hitting G above high C. That would go well.
My other concern about a someday daughter-in-law is not that I might not like her, but that she might not like me. I am a very introverted person, and to someone who expects outgoing and bubbly, I could seem unwelcoming. I doubt that, “This is me being warm and welcoming, dammit!” will go over well, either.
Naturally the article was written in terms of what older parents can do to heal or prevent estrangements with their grown children, because it was an AARP magazine and the only advice you can give people in that situation is to clean up their own side of the street. I doubt that all estrangements come from the parental side, however. We had friends from church whose troubled son, who had been adopted at the age of six and always been a handful, left home at 16, with the help of members of his birth family, and dropped completely out of their lives. Last time I saw them, they were afraid he was living on the street, if not in jail. They have since moved away, but occasionally we think about the young man and hope he is okay, and back in touch.
I doubt the well meant advice for parents will touch those parents who were cold and abusive and drove their children away, or the ones who simply cannot accept what they see as sin in their children’s sexuality or life choices. I also suspect some parents may be safer away from grown children who are themselves abusive or demanding. But one in eight? That’s sad. That’s truly sad. And strange.