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Why Adult Children Don't Talk to You
--And How to Change That
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March 7, 2015
By Susan M. Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

As I waited by the phone for the call from my daughter on
my birthday, I realized that it felt eerily like "deja vu".
Hadn't I felt this before?  Then, as if a cloud parted, I could
see clearly a memory from my past, a shocking one, I could
see that I had kept my own Mom waiting on her birthday,
and I felt a sudden pang of guilt. "What goes around does
indeed come around", my Mom must be thinking
somewhere in Heaven.

And that got me thinking. Am I the only one?  My daughter
and I had had our usual ups and downs but she remained
the core of my life, the reason I worked so hard, the reason
I saved my pennies, and keepsakes, the one I wanted to
leave something to.  My memories with her as she grew up
were the best memories of my life. Sometimes, I still curled
up with the picture album on a rainy Saturday, in total bliss,
just re-living her first words, her crawling under the
Christmas tree.  How, then, had it come to this? Surely,
others had experienced this too, this seemingly sudden
distance, once my child reached adulthood.

I thought about my friends. I counted 5 of them who had
told me at one point that their adult daughters or sons had
simply pulled away or stopped talking to them for long
stretches of time, months, even years.  Ever the detective, I
sought out answers to what seems like a phenomenon of
sorts.  Why, in America, are adult children pulling away
from their parents completely?  And why is this happening
even when the parent was supportive, even doting
throughout the child's life?

Scientists Call it The Parent Child Development Schism

As always, I learned that others have come this way before.
Scientists have long observed that the parent child
relationship is one marked by tension and conflict
throughout the lifespan. To understand why, scientists have
come up with two competing theories ---"the
developmental stake" versus the "developmental schism".

What Is the Developmental Stake?

First, the developmental stake theory says that throughout
the lifetime of the child and parent, right from the beginning
of the child's life, the parent is more invested in the success
of the relationship. The parent has the greater stake,
according to a 1990 book by researchers Peter Rossi and
Henry Rossi called "Of Human Bonding".

Other studies have confirmed that there is a fundamental
difference between the way that a parent views the
parent-child relationship and the way the adult child views
it, according to a 2004 study from the University fo North
Georgia, led by Dr. A. Shapiro.

Parents talk about the quality of the relationship -- that is
what is important to us as parents.  Adult children, on the
other hand, when they describe the relationship to
researchers, talk about frequency of contact and assistance
they receive, Dr. Shapiro discovered. Get that? You, as the
parent, are thinking of sentimental memories, embracing the
wonderful "quality" of that last contact with your child.

On the other hand, junior is counting. Counting the number
of contacts, much more than the quality. And counting how
much you give them assistance.

Think of it this way.  You love a certain song, so you are
enraptured by it,  swaying to the "Sound of Music..the hills
are alive with the sound of music...." Wow, that was

But junior, on the other hand, is actually counting how long
the song lasts. And the longer the song plays, the better the

That may sound cold and mechanical, on the child's part.
And, in some sense, it is. But it's true.

Developmental Schism--What Tears Us Apart

This theory believes that there are schisms between parent
and child which we should anticipate depending on what
stage your child is in.

These schisms are caused by differences in generation, age
and gender. Daughters and mothers have different schisms
that sons and mothers. Sons have different schisms with
fathers than daughters and fathers.

Researchers have found that daughters feel ambivalence in
the relationship with their Moms as they grow older. They
place less importance on the relationship. Part of the reason
is that they are making space in their own lives. Part of the
reason is that they feel "intruded upon".

But here is some good news. Daughters who reported that
their tension with their Mothers stems from "annoying
behaviors or habits" also report
higher regard for the
relationship, according to a 1996 study from Pennsylvania
State University entitled "Sources of Tension in the Aging
Mother and Adult Child Relationship". Isn't that a kick in the
head? The  more your daughter finds yo annoying, the
more she secretly values the relationship you have.

Strategies for Dealing with Adult Children

So, what is the bottom line best strategy for achieving a
smooth relationship with your adult child.

Counting Matters. Your child is counting, so give them
something to count. Keep up contacts, weekly, even daily.
Remember, annoyance is better than being perceived as

Give Them Assistance. Even if you can't or won't give
them financial assistance -- and there are plenty of experts
who think lifelong financial support to an adult child is the
worst thing you can do to them -- give them resources.
Help them find apartments, help them find savings
tips...know a friend with a job lead, give that to them. Your
little chicks are counting how many worms you bring back
to teh nest throughout their lives.

Let Them Hear Your Voice. The human voice is magical
and irreplaceable. Let your adult child hear your voice, even
if it is only on voicemail. They need to hear the comfort of
your presence, and your voice is the best substitute for
your being right there, better than e-mail, better than

Now that my own Mom has passed on, her voice is what I
miss the most...just to hear that voice one more time would
be heaven.

Your child likely feels the same. In that sense, you and she
really are the same. Because to your child, your voice really
is "The Sound of Music".

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