Radio silence: when children disown their parents

"If you leave now, you don’t have to come back at all.", was the last sentence Elena Sanger* heard from her mother when, a few months after graduating from high school, she was loading clothes and books into her car to move to a small apartment in Bonn, 20 kilometers away. It was February and cold, she had not slept all night and was shivering. But what else did she expect from her parents?? That they would shout hurray? If it had been up to her mother, Elena Sanger would have done an apprenticeship and stayed at home until she got married. Even if there were only quarrels and fights.

It was only the night before she moved out that she came clean with her parents. "If I had said something before, they probably would have killed me", says the 50-year-old gallery owner today with a soft voice that doesn’t sound bitter at all, even if everything sounds "so bitter" Was. Nothing was allowed, everything was forbidden when she was young. The mother reacted to his wishes with reproaches, devaluation or indifference. The daughter then withdrew, but of her own accord always sought reconciliation with her parents. Until she finally broke off contact two years ago.

Rosi Berg* has experienced a separation from the other, from the mother’s perspective. "My daughter and I were always one heart and soul", she tells "like friends." However, after the 58-year-old businesswoman tried to set her up with a wealthy man five years ago, her daughter said goodbye to her mother’s life. Abruptly and without notice. The interference was a mistake, says Rosi Berg, she is sorry. She had already shed many tears because of it. But was their "matchmaking" really the only reason for the separation?

Shouldn’t we be grateful to our parents for what they did for us??

Tom Lurenz* was 16 when his mother asked him to pack his things and move out. The boy didn’t know where to go, and stayed, more tolerated than wanted. He never had the feeling that he meant anything to his mother. That his Colombian father had stolen out of his life by suicide, that a new relationship of his mother had failed, that the money was not enough – Tom Lurenz, the difficult child, was to blame. The mother blamed her son for all her unhappiness, but she did not give him love, security and recognition.

The fact that children completely break off contact with their parents in adulthood has the force of a Greek tragedy, and on top of that it is a taboo. Who wants to tell his friends that the daughter or the son has become distant?? Or that the parents know nothing of our lives? The only connection seems to be guilt, anger and grief. "Don’t we have to be grateful to our parents for what they did for us??", the children wonder.

While the parents justify themselves: "We only meant well and did what we could"." "And exactly that, unfortunately, may have been damn wrong", says the Swiss psychotherapist Katharina Ley. Children need to detach themselves from their parental home. Better for the good than for the bad. But sometimes the impulsive, final separation comes at the end of a long painful process. There are many reasons for this. "In some families, children are victims for a very long time, says Ley. They no longer want to suffer. Because even without obvious abuse, bad hurts, assaults and slights may have occurred in the past. Unintentional for the parents, formative for the children.

Parents bring their children into the world without being asked and have a duty to take care of them

For Tom Lurenz, the bad memories are deep-seated. Now he’s cleaning it up, he says. At 27. He studies dentistry and is one of the best in his class. Sitting very upright at the coffee table of his "surrogate" parents and strives to tell his breakup story as accurately as possible. But he still finds it difficult.

Before finally saying goodbye to his mother, he made one last attempt. He had waited three years for a place in his dream degree program. When he had it, he asked his mother for an expensive medicine book. But instead of being proud of her son and buying him one, she referred Tom Lurenz to the Internet, where he could order his book antiquarian. At that moment, the boy realized what he had long suspected: if he did not want to continue to be disappointed, he would have to bury his expectations of his mother. His "surrogate parents Tom Lurenz got to know this family when he earned his money with computer repairs: "In this family I experienced for the first time in my life what it means to be accepted, loved and cared for."

"Parents bring their children into the world without being asked and have the duty to take care of them", says Katharina Ley. If the parents do not move away from their ego-centeredness and deny their children recognition, understanding and affirmation, they suffer. For their own protection, they withdraw from their parents as soon as they are adults. Sometimes only to gain temporary distance, sometimes for good. "A distance between parents and children can be very healing, opening eyes on both sides and providing different perspectives", says Ley.

Maybe we can have a friendly relationship someday

Tom Lurenz doesn’t plan to return, but maybe "we can have a friendly relationship someday". He was four years old when his parents moved from Berlin to join the extended family in Colombia, where his father came from. In her in-laws family, the mother felt alienated. When his father committed suicide, the little boy got caught in the middle. Mother or grandparents: Where did he prefer to live, who did he prefer to have? "Whatever I said, I was a traitor", Tom Lurenz draws his mouth into a line. He felt stalked, couldn’t please anyone and developed into an aggressive, defiant child.

When his mother returned to Germany with him and a new partner, "even our dogs were more important than I was". When Tom needed a new pair of jeans because the old ones were worn out, his mother was dismissive, he had to take care of his own lunch, and he was refused money for a school trip.

She was not a desired child

Instead: "You look like your father, you are like your father, you end up like your father", Constant reproaches, which did not exactly contribute to the consolidation of his self-esteem. Tom Lurenz skipped school for days and just hung around depressed in front of the computer. If it hadn’t been for an empathetic guidance counselor who deleted his absenteeism account on the PC, he would have been kicked out of school without a high school diploma. But the parents also suffer greatly from such a separation. Recently, Rosi Berg, who ties her hair up in a ponytail like a young girl, says she saw her daughter from a distance at a funeral after five years: "She looked great." But the daughter did not even look at her. The mother was not doing her any good, she had written as an explanation for the separation in a letter to a pastor, whom Rosi Berg had asked for mediation. "Why?", the mother wonders to this day.

Their daughter was not the child they wanted, but an "accident", Rosi Berg was 15, still a child herself, but her parents threw her out of the house. She would have preferred to have an abortion, she says laconically. But when the daughter was born, she did everything for her, even financing riding and singing lessons. If she had already messed up her own youth, the child should at least achieve something. Becoming a pop singer – that would have pleased Rosi Berg. And the daughter? Well, says her mother, she drove her from competition to competition, and also got her an appointment with a producer. But the girl refused, instead of making a record, she wanted to go to school. "Too bad", says the mother. The daughter has made her own way. And she looked for a husband herself. Did Rosi Berg interfere too much and project her own wishes onto the girl?? "Nope", she says and shrugs her shoulders, she always meant well.

Often it’s just a small event that leads to radio silence

And exactly this is often the problem, the well meant does not necessarily do the relationship good. It is a position that parents like to retreat to, it makes them unassailable, but they themselves obscure their view of what really happened, and also of their own mistakes. So it’s not a good basis for resolving such a serious conflict.

Parents must learn to take children’s needs seriously. Unwanted advice and interference harbor a lot of conflict material. Often it is only a small event that makes the barrel overflow. When Elena Sanger wanted to congratulate her mother on her golden wedding anniversary two years ago, she turned away brusquely, "as if I were air. That’s when the daughter cracked and broke off all further contact. Finally. Because she didn’t want to make any more accusations and didn’t want to hear any more, she just wanted to be left alone. In their parents’ home there was never much talking, but there were three principles: faith, order, obedience. She herself calls it "strict, wrong, unloving"." At some point, you become quite "emotionless" in the process. For almost 50 years she suffered from her mother’s heedlessness, which often enough turned into contempt.

If parents are not capable of criticism and do not apologize for their mistakes and children do not dare to criticize their parents, both sides cannot enter into a conversation. There is only one way out of this painful situation: "Both must learn to talk and listen to each other, in a joint therapy session, for example. Even if that is often difficult for the parents’ generation.

Even as a small child, she "escaped" from the constant quarrels between her parents to the animals in the barn, Elena Sanger tells with indignantly raised eyebrows. "I used to sit for hours with the sheep, the only place where I could get warmth."

The girl wanted to go to high school, but her mother was against it, and when she brought home good grades, Elena Sanger was beaten for not helping out enough around the house. The girl became rebellious, whatever she did, she did it in the feeling that she had to prove something to her mother, both positive and negative. Whether as top of the class at school or in her adolescent resistance. When she came home with her first boyfriend, her mother called her a whore. "No one could have held me", says Elena Sanger.

The only thing she wanted was to stand on her own two feet and be independent. "Criticism and devaluation by parents can also make children strong", says Katharina Ley. A strength that comes at a high price. Even as a schoolgirl, Elena Sanger worked as a dog sitter and at McDonald’s, often at night. She saved up for her driver’s license, for a car, and then for an apartment. She studied geography, all without financial support. Couldn’t the parents finally have been proud of their daughter??

Parents often find it difficult to accept that children have different priorities and goals in life than they do.

No. When Elena Sanger was born a few months after her first "separation attempt", she said When Elena Sanger returned home, she was reproached. And so it went on: When Elena Sanger had her fourth child, her mother commented on the event with "That too!!". Her parental home was anything but a place of retreat where she found support when life was difficult. Elena Sanger broke off contact with her parents. No meeting at Christmas and not at birthdays. Today, she says, she no longer expects love and understanding. Bitter for the parents, because children always mean an option for the future. To the fact that a part of oneself lives on in the children.

Parents often find it difficult to accept that children set different priorities and life goals than they do themselves. "When I presented my dissertation to my mother", psychotherapist Katharina Ley recounts from her own painful experience "she said she would rather have a grandchild." Nevertheless: A separation forever is not the best solution. Because it is mostly only a matter of spatial, external distance. An inner bond of the children, even if it is based on guilt and hatred, often persists. This does not do any good. Especially if parents die without any prior discussion or reconciliation. A reconciliation with oneself as well as with one’s parents. This means for children to accept that the parents meant well, but still did it wrong. Only in this way can you live independently of them and, in the best case, even come close to them again. Tom Lurenz rarely visits his mother, but when she has problems with the PC, he helps out. Elena Sanger is considering whether to send her parents the photos she took two years ago at her golden wedding anniversary celebration. And how does Rosi Berg deal with the fact that her daughter no longer wants to know anything about her?? "Don’t think about it", she says and seems lost "and a glass of wine now and then."

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