Forty years of silence…REALLY???

boston 11

By Kenneth Justice

I haven’t talked with my mother in 40 years” he said


~ Over the course of 200 coffee houses I’ve visited this past year, I’ve ran into a number of different high schoolers who told me they couldn’t wait to move out of their parent’s house,

—) “My dad is so controlling, I can’t wait till I’m old enough to live on my own” said a 16 year young man

—) “My mom gets in my business all the time, she’s always putting her nose into things that are none of her concern” said a 17 year old young woman

—) “My step-father is a jerk. He treats me like shit and the minute I’m legally allowed to move out I’ll be gone” said a 16 year old young man

We’ve all heard the Proverb, “Familiarity breeds contempt” and in many of these cases involving tension between parents and children, or family members in general, I suspect an element of the problem is that we all tend to grind on each other’s nerves when we live in such close contact with loved ones. Unless we live in the White House, most houses aren’t big enough to give us the arm distance we need at times in order to have a break from the relatives that are driving us nuts.

Yet of all the people I’ve met this past year who complained about her parents, it was a 64 year therapist in Atlanta whose story stood out to me the most,

My husband and I are both practicing psychotherapists here in the Atlanta area. We are successful, earn well above the national average in salary, have a beautiful house in an nice neighborhood, are respected members of our community and serve on a board at our local church…..yet despite all that I haven’t talked to my parents in 41 years” she said

While the narrative the psychotherapist told me is rather long, the jist of the story is that her parents are the type of people who are ‘right about everything, nothing is good enough for them and they are always either finding fault with me, my husband, and couldn’t go one conversation without telling me how something I was doing was wrong” she said.

Forty one years seemed like an awful long time to go without a word between her and the parents and when I asked her if she ever tried to contact them in all that time she emphatically said no, “my parents have periodically sent me letters telling me what an awful evil person I am, that I have failed them as a daughter, and that because I have cut them off it means I am destined to hell. So the answer to your question is no, they are still clearly not at a place where they are able to respect the fact that I’m an adult and am no longer answerable to them as a little child”.

She’s 64 years old and her parents still don’t respect the fact that she’s an adult…! How old does one have to be to be treated like an adult by your parents?

While conflict between relatives isn’t necessarily something that everyone can relate to; conflict in some way, shape, or form is unavoidable;

—) Managers and bosses who talk down to us or treat us like little children

—) Co-workers or relatives who gossip about us

—) Customers or clients who are unreasonable and treat us with contempt

The list is positively endless regarding everyday conflict situations and anyone who has been a teacher, worked in customer relations, been a barista at a coffee shop, or held political office knows only too well the types of conflict that show up in various forms at the drop of a hat.

What differentiates the type of conflict one might experience in a work setting versus a family setting is the very simple phenomena of familiarity; people who don’t know us as well often demonstrate a higher level of respect towards us in the midst of the conflicting situation. It’s the people whom we are closer to that are the most likely to use more vitriolic language towards us and to disrespect us the most.

At the height of his ministry, Jesus was waltzing around Canaan like a modern day Rock Star; he was being received with massive amounts of joy and excitement everywhere he went; he was like John Lennon and the Beatles showing up to the Ed Sullivan Show.…..and then he decided to go to his hometown. Talk about a deflating experience; the people in his hometown treated him like shit, “Isn’t this the punk kid who was the son of that carpenter?” the people said. These were the people who’d known him since he was young, they watched him grow up, and they merely thought of him as just another boy from neighborhood; they didn’t respect him at all.

~ A prophet is without honor in his own home ~

Often times in life it’s our parents, our siblings, our relatives, and our close friends who respect us the least. We can have obtained worldwide fame and massive amounts of intellectual success, yet to those people closest to us we may never be nothing more than that punk kid they remember us as when we were younger.

I just ignore them” someone told me recently. A mid-thirtyish young man explained to me that he gets along rather well with his parents because he simply ignores their overbearing ways, “They are hardcore fundamentalist Christians and think they-know-it-all. If they aren’t telling me what type of sin I’m guilty of lately, they are telling me about one of my other siblings or cousins or relatives and how they are in sin. It’s a never ending pit of my mom and dad bashing people behind their backs; but I’ve learned to just ignore them. I smile, I don’t say anything, and we get along great”.

While being stupid and cheerful is a tactic that might work in keeping the peace between us and grumpy family members; I often wonder what type of relationship it truly is if all we are ever doing is suppressing our feelings and ignoring the nasty behavior of those closest to us. Can we really say that we have a ‘great relationship’ with our parents or siblings if we are suppressing what we really think and feel about their behavior and who they are as individuals?

Ultimately, conflict sucks. Listening to parents or anyone grate on our nerves can get old after a while. Arguing with people tends to only perpetuate the problem. Being stupid and cheerful might work temporarily but after a while I wonder if it doesn’t end up having a negative effect on our own psyche since all we are really doing is bottling up our true feelings toward people. Nonetheless, we will never truly be able to hide from conflict; it has been a part of the human experience since the dawn of time and will stick with us till the very end. So what are we to do? How do we deal with all these difficult people?

Unfortunately I don’t have all the answers, I do have a nice cup of coffee in front of me, and I think it’s time I finish it,



Categories: Culture & Society

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

59 replies

  1. I just read the best book which is applicable to all kinds of interpersonal conflicts and how to handle them. It is called Boundaries In Marriage by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I HIGHLY recommend it. The same authors have other books on boundaries, but I loved Boundaries In Marriages. It is a very helpful book!

  2. I attended the 50th wedding anniv. party of an older sister this weekend. Eight of our nine siblings were there. I am #7 down the list. Even at age 67, I am still a little brother. That will never change.

    Try not to define yourself by how others view you. It is part, but not all, of you.

  3. Conflict is eminent between parents and children. Though a child could never fail a parent, a parent could fail a child.

    We do say parents always think they know better. well weird enough they do. they been our age just a different time period, but none the less they try to help us avoid issues they ran into. they want us to be better.

    I came to find that out age 12 when a parent was gone most the time. All of a sudden you see what parent truly does. and still we had conflict.

    Ooh the days we were a teenager LOL

  4. Good article… I’m commenting as a parent and just want to say that parents also feel disrespected in some types of situations you are talking about. Maybe when your children get older, you’ll have a little different perspective about how to handle the differences in the generations! It’s not easy!!! We absolutely love our children and grandchildren and try to stay out of their business, but we love them and would enjoy more time together! Hopefully they aren’t avoiding us because we are people of conviction and standards… and we really look forward to our fun times with them. By the way, say HI to your mom from me!

  5. How sad. I can’t fathom that though I have seen it in my extended family as well. Hurt runs deep


  6. Parent and child relationship should be simple but often times it is not. There should be a bond between both parent and child so there can be mutual respect. Sometimes not! But no matter what the conflict may be, I believe there comes a time when you must let go, forgive but not forget because this is what molds you into the person you are today and will be in the future. Thank you for letting me share my thoughts as they are personal too! Have a great day, Allie.

  7. Have this situation with the way my family views my second husband, who does not accept anyone treating him with disrespect. My daughter and son-in-law crossed that line to the point of physical violence. I see her occasionally because of the grandchildren, but my husband never does. She seems to accept this, so while the situation is unfortunate, it doesn’t escalate.

  8. Sometimes, there are simply very good reasons, which don’t have a need to be publicly defended. Forgiveness can occur from a distance that preserves safety. Unfortunately, everything can’t be fix over tea and biscuits, or even better, coffee and biscotti 🙂

  9. Ultimately conflict sucks. Truer words were never spoken my friend. And I agree, arguing only perpetuates the problem. Sometimes you do have to grin and bear it. This is such a great blog. Loved it.

  10. Conflict is inevitable….how one deals with it is the tricky part. Sometimes it’s head-on if you think it can be resolved…sometimes it’s grin and bear it….great blog!!

  11. Honoring your mother and father is such an important ideal and it’s one that’s really been lost in modern culture. What I think many people don’t understand is that it’s not really about our parents, it’s about us. Consider the burden you carry when you don’t talk for 40 years to the people who raised you. Like it or not, our parents are a significant piece of our own identity. You can never truly be at peace with yourself unless you can reach that place of accepting that parents are who they are and they did the best they could with what they had at the time.

    In some cases, I don’t think it’s so much about parents not treating their child as an adult, its more about a child not yet realizing they are now an adult, not a child still ruled by their parent’s opinions of them.

    • Well said. I think it’s also important to remember that honor of one’s parents is not whole-heart agreement to their viewpoints or ideals. Rather, it is accepting them as they are, giving them full credit as adults/parents for your successful accomplishment of the age of adulthood, and doing your best to meet basic needs they may have (should they be of a needy age).

      Conflict is only harmful if it cannot be mutually determined to ‘agree to disagree’. The festering that ensues will only worsen.

      I cannot imagine 40 plus years. I’m not overly communicative with the only remaining parent I have, but a year would be way too long to go without at least phone calls.

    • “conflict is only harmful if it cannot be mutually determined to ‘agree to disagree’ ”

      well said 🙂

    • In some ways I agree with your comment. Our parents are, indeed, a huge part of our identity, and sometimes it is more about us than them. But there are other circumstances where this just simply isn’t the case. Funny enough, it took me becoming a parent to realize it. Some families are so dysfunctional and parents so self-serving that they use their children to meet or avoid their own deficiencies. It’s sad, and I wish it weren’t the case, but it happens more than it should. There are times when a relationship will never improve, and the only option left is the sever that tie.

      And yes, not speaking to a family member, especially a parent, is a burden indeed. No one WANTS to not have a parent in his/her life. It must be something powerful and truly unhealthy to warrant this.

    • “no one wants to not have a parent in his/her life”

      Exactly….. its definitely not something that people jump for joy about.

    • “in some cases, I don’t think its so much about parents treating their child……”

      I also think a lot of parents are simply insensitive to how their child is interpreting parental behavior.

    • “Doing the best with what they had at the time.” Is a good line. It took me a while to wrap my head around that idea when it came to understanding who my parents were before myself and my siblings came into this world. I’ve come to a place in life where I’ve made peace with how I was bought into this world…now the rest is up to me.

  12. The issue a lot of times is that because someone is labeled “family” we are supposed to try and make it work. I know I did. Over and over again, we tolerate comments and behaviors from family when, if it came from anyone else, it would never be tolerated otherwise. A good thing to consider is to remove the label and just say “a person.” Now how does that behavior measure up?

    I do think you can forgive but also keep yourself safe. I forgive people, but I don’t expect them to change and therefore won’t walk right back in to an unhealthy situation anymore. It took a long time and having kids of my own to realize how much it was affecting me and how badly I needed to remove myself from those types of relationships.

  13. My youngest son hasn’t spoken to me in a decade. He was selling drugs out of our house when we weren’t home (as well as using himself of course), and I sent him to live with my sister. That was both to keep him out of prison and to keep our house from being seized; we found out from one of the local deputies that they had been conducting an investigation for months against our son and were days to weeks away from an arrest. It was, apparently, an unforgivable sin to my son; he hasn’t spoken to me since June of 2004. It hurts, a lot. He just had a child that I will probably never meet. But, on the other hand, he didn’t go to prison, he didn’t end up dead, and he is clean now.

  14. Wow! Now, that’s crazy, But sadly, not uncommon. To quote Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is failure to communicate!” My experience has been that most people don’t communicate at all, which means trying to be understood and to seek to understand the other person. They tell them what they think and/or how the other should think. Both sides are the problem. One wants to run the other person over; the other wants to run away. Very few actually sit down and have a heart to heart talk, where we make the problem the problem, not the other person. As my wife and I have told couples we’ve counseled, you can either demand to be right or have intimacy in your relationship. But you can only pick one.

    • So true! I have had some issues with my mother… things are getting better… but I’ve read forums online and talked to people about it. What I see again and again are children saying, “My mom does blah blah blah!” and parents saying, “My kid does yada yada yada!” Each person just says what’s wrong with the other person. No acknowledgement of the issues. No acknowledgement that maybe *I’m* not doing everything perfectly. It’s terrible! And you’re right, you can demand to be right, OR you can have intimacy. I think that demand to be right, aka pride, is a huge stumbling block in the parent-child relationship. The child is proudly trying to assert his or her adulthood, while the parent is proudly trying to assert that he or she is still “Mom” or “Dad.” Smh. It’s tough!

  15. Much as it hurts I like an old say: If you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent.
    After you have children yourself, you begin to understand what you owe your parents. I simply don’t understand their 41yrs of NO communication between parents and child; it’s a heart breaking. They shouldn’t wait for a funeral to except their past.

    • I agree that waiting for a funeral is a sad, sad thing. But may I point out something? The idea of children “owing” their parents is really pretty bothersome to a some people, including me. Parents say their love is unconditional. If that’s true, then I owe nothing — because receiving my parents’ love didn’t come on any condition! Also, I don’t think I owe anyone for a favor, gift, etc. that I neither wished for, nor consented to. My parents gave me life, in a sense, but do I really owe them for my existence? Or do I owe them for all the sacrifices they chose to make? Having a child is a couple’s own decision. They decide to accept the responsibilities, sacrifices, whatever else that goes with that. So why should the child ever owe them?

      And what about parents who are flat out bad? Do parents “owe” their children for the opportunities they sheltered the children from? Do parents “owe” their children a college education?

      I think this concept of debt in supposedly loving relationships is utterly mistaken. The only real love that is given is given unconditionally. Period. I love my parents, and I choose to do many things to try to be a good daughter. I appreciate the things they did for me, but I also am aware of things they did that held me back; but I neither owe them for the good things, nor consider them in my debt for the bad things.

    • “if you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent”

      Ha! AWESOME quote!!

  16. Wow, so many thoughts and comments on this one! I feel like I could write a book on this. Or at least a really, really long blog post myself. You know, it’s tough. For me, as a Christian, I think about “honoring” my parents. I don’t think honoring my parents is just keeping quiet and thinking, “You’re out of your mind,” when they’re saying something I think is wrong or even hurtful. But I don’t think it’s honoring them to avoid hearing them out, to avoid them altogether, or to respond to them perhaps as bluntly as I’d wish. Plus none of those things are really effective in solving the actual conflict (though I realize not everything can be solved).

    I have no answers, trust me. But one thing I’ve learned unexpectedly, as someone who left home as soon as I fucking could — pardon my French, but that’s the way I felt — is that when you leave, yes, you might leave behind some of the aggravations. But you lose some of the things you didn’t realize you used to cherish. And you might not even know until years later. When I left home, I think I visited once or twice within the first year, but then I didn’t visit for two or three after that (first because I was broke, and later on for more complicated reasons). I always wrote letters and emails, talked at least monthly on the phone (except in boot camp), and sometimes even sent gifts.

    Then when I finally did go “home,” the old sites and smells and tones of voice crushed me with the weight of all the anger and depression and whatever else drove me to leave in the first place. At the same time, the familiarity, the comfort, the family feeling — the good stuff — had honestly faded quite a lot. And I had had no idea it was slipping away while I was physically absent. I guess it’s like reading about famine in Africa or something. You might be able to believe you know what’s going on there, but until and unless you’re actually THERE, you have no idea about any of it.

    So I wish people knew this. Once you lose hold of some of those good things I’ve mentioned, you know, it isn’t that easy to get them back… especially if you still live far away! Family ties are nothing to be scoffed at. But then again, teens don’t typically reason, “The consequences of this action may cause me to regret it years down the line,” so… :/

    Anyway, thought provoking as always, Kenneth. 🙂

  17. Sometimes we forget that parents are people too. They have their own challenges in life especially being parents. There is no training school for parenting except in the home. Sometimes, parents don’t know how to express their love for their child except in pointing out mistakes. We need parenting school these days with practical applications in the real homes.

    Children can also teach their parents how to be parents. In the end, all in charity.

  18. I think the problem partly stems from the fact that this is a rapidly changing world we live in. Our Parents, to a certain extent, still live in the past. I’m talking about elderly parents as in the story you’ve shared about the 64 yr old. Up until the day she passed, my 88 yr old Mother continued to criticise my life and actions and so I sympathise with the 64 yr old in your post. I eventually reached the stage some 20 odd years ago when I refused to ever set foot in my parents home because my Mother would only ask me over when my Father was absent and then she spent the whole time criticising my Father (or the neighbours, despite their kind efforts).

    Since she didn’t drive due to an eyesight problem, the only way to ‘connect’ with me was for my Father to bring her over to my home for lunch and even then, she would often criticise my Father or belittle his efforts in front of him. It was only recently that my (now) 88 yr old Father confided his low self esteem and fear of having been a failure in his life, job and early marriage. I had to remind him of all his successes and thoughtful deeds in life.

    Sad isn’t it.

    I also suspect criticism stems from criticism. I wonder if these critical parents of ours were subjected to the same degree (of criticism) as they are passing on to us? I wonder if our parents were brought up in less than loving circumstances? They certainly had a hard life in the 1930s depression. But that can’t be the answer as my Aunts & Uncles (my Mother’s) were all tactile, loving and generous with their praise.

    The reality is that no matter what you do, you can’t please some people ANY of the time.

    • “I also suspect criticism stems from criticism”

      So true. I’ve thought the same thing you are pointing out… it seems like a vicious cycle that is repeated over and over and over 😦

  19. The only person I have to live with for the rest my life is myself. 😉

  20. I’m forty and my so-called family still treats me like a small child — a retarded, mentally deranged one at that.

  21. Reblogged this on Musings On My Life and commented:

  22. Conflict, in all forms, is inevitable – but I do think you’re right —- choosing to ignore it by pretending everything is fine – is a short-term band-aid. Often those who are best able to handle conflicts, especially from those closest to them, the ones we would normally consider and hope to be most supportive, are the people who have made peace with themselves, their ideas and ideals and principles – and choose to live from that place of acceptance, understanding and self-respect. If you truly honor yourself – you respect yourself – and in turn, can look at those hell-bent on sowing dissent with a sense of understanding and compassion; this doesn’t mean agreement with the means, methods and ways being projected or hurled outwards, but rather, acceptance. If one chooses to view another person’s “offerings” as a gift, then the right to refuse the gift and return it to sender, deflates the situation, more times than not. Often the person projecting all the garbage is angry, hurt, resentful and spiteful – and who says that anyone has to accept this, at any point? “Garbage” projected belongs where it rightfully belongs, back at the sender, and if one lives honestly, then it becomes easier to refuse delivery.

    Just a few thoughts ….

    • Pat, Great thoughts, its such a multidimensional topic that there are so many ways to look at it 🙂

    • thank you – I really enjoy reading your thoughts — always interesting and certainly liquid refreshment that is well versed; pass the coffee? 🙂

  23. Like it…
    I think respect works both ways..our children have been taught that those who have different views..views which have a morality not known to this generation…our idiots…
    And believe that they have the right at any opportunity to tell another how stupid they are…
    Respect works both ways…but I have discovered something in my 51 years….
    We live in a disposable society…no reason to respect or care for another..they are replaceable…
    Not my personal view but I see it in action every day…

  24. OMG… I see this all the time and nothing seems to ever change. From an outsiders perspective it looks like the parties are okay with the way things are because nobody ever does anything different. Maybe that is the case but I have my doubts. I really think that people just don’t know any different. It has always been this way so they think it always has to be this way. It has become a habit and habits are comforting. They are predicable. Change is unpredictable and scary but it is the only way to make things better. For things to get better either the people involved or the interactions need to change. Most people probably recognize this but they expect the other person to change. That’s a pretty self defeating expectation since the only person we really have control over is our self. As Ghandi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

  25. Actually, there is a strange concept that an adult is mature and a child is immature. The heartistic development has more to do with our True Self than social and family expectations, traditions, and so on.

    We are always in the position of a child, a sibling, a husband/wife and a parent. These will never change, although, many elders still stuck in a certain level, and incapable of growing, therefore their happiness and the joy, happiness of the people, mostly family members fail by them.

    You can not always give love, since the love what is unchanging requires a giving (without expectations) and receiving (even a baby smiles ang giggles), and giving back (more than the one can imagine), and all this can create a harmonius energy, what can lead to a prosperous life.

    The misconcepts of family dooms the life of the most…

  26. I meant you can not always give love if there is no energy is created for existence, joy and prosperity, since our original (true) self, what is connected to the eternal source of energy (love, God), is just the initiation, the spark, therefore man can start and restart, however, for co-existence and real life you need an object partner of love fro whom you are also the object and in that sence he/she is your subject.

  27. So clearly you got my email lol. I’m pretty sure you’re reflecting some on my most recent “experience” with my sister. With her, I finally decided that I couldn’t handle bullying anymore. As long as I ignored it or found a way to keep the peace it would mean she could get away with it, especially with treating her kids like weapons and I just wasn’t fine with that. Lines to eventually have to be drawn somewhere. I kind of feel that complacency can only go so far before it actually becomes unethical to be complacent. There’s only so long you can turn the other cheek before you’re actually helping cause harm by not taking a stand. It’s unfortunate but sometimes it has to happen. People like who you are describing are abusive, quite frankly. They can’t be allowed to think it’s okay to behave that way. Hope you had a Happy 4th Kenneth! 🙂

    • Thanks Jen 🙂 it was a really peaceful fourth for me….I took some time off and disappeared for the weekend. Did a lot of reading and got lost in my thoughts…. my thoughts and prayers are with you, who knows, maybe the best is yet to come for you and the sister 🙂

  28. I think conflicts start with differences in values, cultures and principles. And families can’t escape those differences. I think we just need to embrace the differences (easy to say but really hard to do).
    Me, as the “child”, I don’t argue with my parents (because they are always right) and we need to honor them whoever or whatever they are. But at times, I get irritated or sad whenever conflicts afflict our home. I cannot do anything about it really because I don’t argue and I don’t like arguments. The only thing but I think powerful to do is pray for the conflicts to be resolved, pray for their souls.

    Btw, this is very timely. 🙂

  29. Another great one. This is a topic I’ve discussed with my wife, especially, “it’s the people whom we are closer to that are the most likely to use more vitriolic language towards us and to disrespect us the most.”

    These words resonate with great intensity. It brings to mind someone with success. Strangers will consider this person the best thing since sliced bread, but with certain loved ones, he’s just alright. “He cured cancer and all, but ehh, that’s not that big of a deal.” This behavior is always baffling.

    When someone I know achieves something, I have no gripes showing my acknowledgement. To demean and treat your loved ones worse than you would a stranger, though I have witnessed this idiotic behavior, it is foreign to me. To have more concern fixing the relationship of an “outsider,” than repairing a bond that diminished between your parents, it’s simply a strange concept.

    I’ve witnessed people treat their family worse than animal feces, yet bend over backwards for strangers. Wow!

%d bloggers like this: