Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
For more Asian American
stories in Wisconsin, click:
Reflecting on “Children Who Break
Your Heart” Reactions
By Heidi M. Pascual

I recently came across a Blog from Cornell University’s The Legacy Project (Lessons for Living from the Wisest Americans),
and the topic of discussion attracted my attention:  
“Children Who Break Your Heart.”

There is absolutely nothing more painful to parents than losing a child either by death or by complete estrangement. This is
the conclusion I gathered from reactions or comments by many American elders who responded to the question:

“What about when your children are disappointments? I would like to hear how parents handle situations when their
most loved children are cause for a broken heart? Comments please!”

Below are some of the abridged comments I would love to share with our readers, knowing that many situations resonate
with them, though resolutions differ greatly:

•        My son married a woman who has some serious issues. I have been seeing a counselor to help me deal with the
estrangement from my son. The counselor believes my daughter-in-law has borderline personality disorder. My son and I
were always close, but he has allowed her to destroy our relationship. I have to learn what I can control and what I can’t, which
is hard for me, because I am one of those people that wants to fix things and fix them now. Life is too short to be in pain all of
the time.

•        My adult children are estranged from myself also. It has not been an easy road and would never wish this on anyone. My
ex was a womanizer who warned me he would turn our children against me and he did. However, I am a believer in God and
His mercy. Regardless of my circumstances, He is with me and walking by my side comforting me and helping me every step
of the way.

•        My son has devastated me with his actions. We had the perfect relationship until he got with a girl who was never nice to
me or anyone else close to my son.

•        I realize I am not alone when it comes to feeling the emptiness of being placed on the sidelines of your adult children’s
lives, despite the years of devotion, love and respect given to them. I too spent countless hours trying to understand where I
went wrong. I feel I created spoiled and selfish children who now have grown into self -centered adults. For me spiritual
guidance felt like such a life-line and I do feel that finding a good counselor or the “right fit” counselor is important but that has
not been easy and being on a budget adds to that hurdle.

•        I would not allow any abusive person to stay at my house, regardless of “relation” or not. It wasn’t until very recently that
our culture recognized that “battered spouses” existed and that the husband did NOT have the right to beat them, just
because they married them. The same goes for battered mothers. Freud did so much damage with his blame-the-mother-for-
everything theories and I can’t wait until those illicit and illogical ideas are buried in the grave next to him. We do not have to
accept abuse from ANYONE. Especially not from relatives or children. Surely we deserve the same common courtesy we
expect from strangers on the street.

•        I don’t know why some adult children have the same characteristics, when they weren’t raised with cruelty or meanness
of any kind. I do see a lot of this kind of behavior in other genetic family members, however, so I’m wondering if it is passed
down the same way genetically. It could also be severe personality disorders and/or
addictions of any kind. Some people are mean and cruel and some people are generous and kind. When the mean ones
come after me, I have to remind myself it’s not my fault.

•        There’s no abuse, verbal or otherwise… However there’s also no respect and mean intended words. How do I let it go
when some of the people I love most are so hurt over it they can’t let it go or talk about it with me? I was never nor am I a
perfect person but I loved my children I am learning now to a fault, an unhealthy fault… They were never spoiled, always loved,
always disciplined, when needed by myself and their father. They had more than they needed and most of what they wanted.
There was never alcohol or drugs in our lives. I truly don’t understand this mean, disrespectful
behavior.

I also came across some
expert advice given by respondents to a blog post on this topic, courtesy of Dr. Karl A. Pillemer,
professor of Human Development at Cornell University. Respondents are experts on family relations — from psychology,
psychiatry, and social work. Below are some of their abridged comments which for those in these
situations may consider:

•        (1) Remember it's their story and they're sticking to it so don't try to change or correct their version of the past. (2) Express
your regret without letting them guilt-trip you; regret is guilt without the neuroses. (3) Stay open to their overture — who's the
grown-up here? — but don't allow them to abuse you emotionally, physically, or financially.--
Jane Adams, Ph.D., author of
When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us

•        The estrangement of adult children from parents, in cases where overt parental abuse had not in fact occurred, can in
some instances be read as a mark of immaturity on the part of the adult children, who may not yet have experienced the
emotional challenges of parenting; for this group, at least, there is the hope that if they find themselves in the same role a few
years later, they will gain compassion, if not forgiveness, for their own parents. Some older parents can at least hold out for
this hope. No one, of course, had "perfect parents." Forgiveness involves understanding and identification with the difficulties
one's parents may have had, and as such, forgiveness is an expression of love and maturity. --
Robert C. Abrams, M. D.,
Professor of Psychiatry, Weill Cornell Medical College

•        I feel the parent is the one that can't stop reaching out, can't stop going above and beyond to do anything to repair this
broken relationship. The parent has to steer this relationship to a better path. The parent must let go of his or her ego. Leave it
at the door. Apologize. It doesn't matter what happened. It is your CHILD. Never stop trying. Be humble. Apologize and profess
your unconditional love. When you finally meet, hug your child and don't let go for a really long time. If you are estranged due to
parental alienation, I have the same advice. Don't stop trying. The kids will find out the truth one day. --
Marina Sbrochi Spriggs,
author of Stop Looking for a Husband: Find the Love of Your Life and Nasty Divorce: A Kid's Eye View (forthcoming)

•        Estrangement from an adult child can happen for any number of reasons. Sometimes it is the child's spouse who
demands distancing from family. Other times it may be due to an adult child becoming abusive and the parent needs to cut off
ties for safety reasons. And sometimes the reason can seem inexplicable. Whatever the cause, the loss can be
heartbreaking. If it does not resolve, it can feel like a death. Compounding the problem, older couples may not agree on how
the reality came to pass or on what to do and this may cause friction. And other family members may have strong opinions or
judgments, adding to the distress. Not surprisingly, powerful feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety and depression may emerge.
There may also be significant grief. Older adults living with estrangement deserve support and understanding from others.
Healing is a process and takes time. Seeking professional counseling can help with the challenging practical and emotional
problems surrounding the experience. --
Risa S. Breckman, LCSW, Therapist and Director of NYC Elder Abuse Center

•        Experience has taught me that when it comes to family life, nothing is simple or formulaic. Children who remain close to
their parents didn't all grow up on Sunnybrook Farm. And those who distance themselves or choose to have zero contact
haven't all done so because their parents failed them in some significant way. (Though, of course, some have.) Many fine
parents have children who pull away — sometimes for reasons the parents cannot figure out. If your grown child has pulled
away, ask yourself this: Is there an unresolved issue that needs to be addressed? Is there something I might do to make that
resolution possible? Is there something I need to apologize for or forgive?

Difficult as it is, I've seen many parents remain openhearted to their estranged children, reaching out, inviting contact,
expressing their love, with no expectation or insistence that it be reciprocated. Sometimes all we can do is leave the porch
light on with a key under the mat.--
Winifred M. Reilly, MA, Marriage and Family Therapist, author of Speaking of Marriage blog.


I am no expert, but I am a mother, and I love my children more than anything else in this world. I know I am not a perfect parent
… tell me, who is? But I did my best to show that love through deeds only a mother could do. If I were in the shoes of a parent
experiencing the pain of an ungrateful adult child, I will never lose hope for the better and continue to reach out to my lost child,
extend my unconditional love and support to him/her, and pray that God enlighten my lost child so he/so could find his/her way
back home. The parable of the Prodigal Son wasn’t written in the Bible for nothing.