Living with Grown-up Children’s Distorted Realities


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


This article is written to help the older parent cope with the fact that grown-up children, despite what parents have done, may distort the past and distance themselves from parents. Coping with this confusing turn of events is a life changing process. It is hurtful, confusing, and many older parents are crushed by the actions and opinions of their adult children.

Sad to say, this problem is more commonplace now then it was in the past. It seems to be related to the fact that children who grow up in this world of psychobabble and affluence feel that parents, not themselves, are responsible for their “failures” in life. This perception is supported by many of the social sciences.

The typical scenario goes something like this. The child experiences, what the parent feels, is a beautiful childhood which includes a good education, family vacations, nice clothes, religious training, private lessons to enhance skills, sacrifices by the parents to provide good home, etc. From the parent’s point of view everything is fine. They are looking forward to a time of joy and good memories. The older parent is looking forward to sharing life with the friend they have raised. But alas, the adult child lets it be known (normally not to their parents face) that they had a terrible child-hood. They claim that they were never understood. They may even claim that they were abused.

When this happens the older parent feels like they have just received a big slap in the face. Because such allegations are such a surprise the older parent will typically be so hurt that they are numb. After the hurt subsides a little they older parent will spend hours trying to pinpoint what they did wrong. After all, the person they have given their life to is accusing them of atrocities they can’t even remember. They cannot believe that their child could be lying and they have never even thought about the fact that individuals can rewrite history and distort reality in any way they desire.

Normally these parents have spent a lot of time trying to help their children become responsible and caring individuals. They have spent time training, helping, modeling, and doing everything possible to help the child develop into a responsible person. They have taken pride in the fact that they are dedicated to their child’s growth and development and they spend a lot of time doing whatever it takes to help their child. But while the parents were working hard to “do the right thing” the child is busy processing everything.

How the child process what is happening to them is private, invisible, and difficult to measure. Yet what is happening inside the child is probably more important then what is happening outside. As the child develops he or she creates perceptions or beliefs about the world, about themselves, about the motive of others, and about what gives life meaning.

In this process the child has some choices to make. When parent’s discipline as parents must  the child can choose to see the parents actions as caring and helping or the child can see the parent’s actions as controlling or even cruel and mean. The sad truth is that the child’s reality has little to do with the parent’s behavior. Children from the perfect family can see their parents as cruel feel sorry for themselves and children from abusive families can see their parents as individuals who are doing their best and choose to love them very much. The choice is the child’s. This fact does not excuse the actions of abusive parents but it also does not excuse the behavior of abusive children.

Because the adult child’s reality is crated inside the head of the individual it is important that older parents do no crucify themselves because their children choose to condemn, isolate, or ignore them. Instead the older parent must travel the most difficult road of all. The older parent must progress to a level of love that is experienced only by the rejected. This level of love is pure, unadulterated, unconditional love that only comes as a result of time and maturity. When the older parent has decided that living a life full of sorrow, hurt feelings, or doubt are unproductive then they are ready to let down the protective wall and truly love.

This love may never be returned in the lifetime of the older parent. (Although, as time progresses, most adult children evolve to this same level of love as it becomes necessary in their life.) But it rally doesn’t matter anymore. The older parent knows who they are even if their children do not. The older adult knows what they have given and what they have sacrificed but they also know that these actions were not to receive love in return.

As the winter of their life approaches these parents are filled with a peace that can best be described as spiritual in nature. When their adult child remolds their thinking to forgive, understand, or just enjoy them, they will be ready. But if not that is ok. Even if they were not perfect, they did their best. The older parent realizes that they have something no one can take from them. The older parent has memories of the little ones they loved, raised, and enjoyed. These memories are their reality.