Radio silence with one’s own family: It is a taboo subject when children break contact with their parents. This is often a big shock for parents and a radical and not easy step for the adult children. Both parties address Dunja Voos. She is a doctor and psychotherapist and answered our questions on the subject.
SWR1: Why do children break off contact with their parents?
Dunja Voos: That’s the hardest question of all. Parents who have experienced a loss of contact through their children often do not know why this could happen – they did everything for their children and did not use violence. Sometimes the reasons become clear. Either way, the parents will not admit that the childhood was not so nice after all. Or there was a new partner or another trigger. Very often, however, it is not clear why the children have cut off contact with their parents. The kids often say that my parents were very dominant and that I could never feel what I wanted for myself. Children often say that their parents have never understood their feelings. In this case, the children often perceived their parents as dominant.
SWR1: For parents, this loss of contact often comes abruptly. Is that right?
Voos: They feel this way because this disconnection is also performed in a harsh way. But mostly before that, there are long arguments and letters and attempts to clarify or change something. It comes all of a sudden for many parents, but if you look closely, there was a lot of prelude.
SWR1: What do the affected parents in particular suffer from?
Voos: You suffer from the feeling of powerlessness. One mother said to me: The worst thing is the feeling that my child is still alive. It sounds very difficult, but she said: If my child was dead, I would know where it was, what I should do, where I should pray. Parents experience this insecurity and powerlessness as the worst thing that the child is alive and one can do nothing at all.
SWR1: How do the children handle it when they have disconnected?
Voos: You suffer from guilt. Sometimes when an adult child becomes ill, for example gets cancer, it has the feeling that it is the punishment for breaking the contact. These children also feel that they have no family, no one to stand behind them and be there for them. This loss of the parents, even in the inner relationship, often makes the children unstable. It is my experience that children suffer a lot from this.
SWR1: How should parents behave in the situation?
Voos: This is a long process and it often takes a long time to disconnect. There are many behavioral options that parents try. Some write lovely letters, birthday postcards or callers. But nothing seems really right. Because every child is different, we can not really tell what the child is really thinking in one case. Sometimes it is children who undergo psychotherapy and interrupt contact with their parents during therapy. You yourself have other wishes – it may look different on Monday than on Tuesday. This is often an up and down in families.
SWR1: Will these children make contact again at some point?
Voos: My experience is that at some point the children make contact again, for example if they go into psychotherapy and themselves continue to mature. But it is also possible that they break the contact again later. But I also have patients whose children have not contacted me for 20 to 30 years and who have given up hope. But I believe that as long as parents and children are still alive, there can always be hope.
SWR1: And when the kids report back, how should the parents handle it?
Voos: Of course, therapy can also help parents become clearer about themselves. What always helps in contact is to try to be “right”. But everyone also knows how difficult it is because there are so many voices and personalities in us. I will always say: calm down and follow your feelings.