Her son was four when she divorced his father and she raised him single-handedly. Now, 16 years later, he refuses to have anything to do with her. “I must have failed somewhere to deserve being treated like I’m his enemy,” Michelle* says sadly.
Michele, her son and her 17-year-old daughter were a close family. They led normal lives and she worked hard to provide for them.
Then after 14 years of no contact, her ex-husband called, telling her he’d like to get to know his kids. His visits became more frequent and there was a gradual shift in her son’s attitude.
“Anything I said to him at that time started a fight.
“He took his suitcases and left and the next time I heard from him was through a lawyer, saying he wanted me to contribute to his college fees.”
At maintenance court her son refuses to make eye contact or talk to her. “He acts like he hates me,” she says.
Experts say the number of children who disown their parents is growing. Some teenagers emotionally disown their parents after simple disagreements, others believe their parents don’t understand them and that disowning them will make life easier.
Clinical psychologist Dain Peters says parents become devastated in the process. “When someone who’s been making sacrifices for a relationship is rejected they feel doubly wronged.”
“If we look at the ever-increasing divorce rate then we should ask what are we teaching our children?” counselling psychologist Dr Joanita Holtzkamp asks.
“Are we teaching them when things become difficult, or we disagree, we can simply walk out? It’s not surprising some children believe disowning their parent is the best way to deal with a conflict.”
Experts say we’re seeing the start of a global trend. In 2006 the American Journal of Sociology recorded one in every 25 Americans had broken ties with at least one family member.
How can parents avoid this shattering experience?
They need to look at how they’ve taught their children to deal with conflict, Dr Holtzkamp says.
“If a child adopts the all-or-nothing approach to conflicts then somewhere along the line they’ve picked up that behaviour from those closest to them,” Peters says.
“They have to shoulder some of the responsibility for their children’s behaviour. Once they’ve made the connection they are in a much better position to resolve the conflict.”
Read the full article in YOU, 10 February 2011.