A few years back, our good friend’s daughter, a young woman who was raised in a conservative Christian homeschooling family, cut her parents out of her life. She stopped all communication with her mother and moved to another part of the country. The other day her father told me with great sadness in his voice that his daughter decided she would also be stopping all communication with him.
It turns out that parental estrangement from their adult children is a current phenomenon. A common theme is children who have been raised in fairly typical households move away from home and find it too stressful or troublesome to maintain a relationship with their parents. Parents work hard to make their children’s lives successful and instill in them a sense of independence – and that independence apparently includes the freedom from ongoing communication with their parents.
Joshua Coleman, writing in The Atlantic points out that the causes of estrangement are complex, but factors that may influence estrangement are divorce, lack of filial and community bonds that were common in past generations, and anxious parenting. Coleman also makes a strong case that parents of young adults simply underestimate and misunderstand the value their own children place on feelings and emotional capital.
The experience of my friends and recent clients with the same struggle, caused me to reflect on whether the Bible had anything to say regarding estrangement. Typically, the story of prodigal son does not apply. The adult child is not an addict and has not run off to spend the family fortune recklessly. The children who choose estrangement from parents often are doing relatively well, which makes the cut off all the more painful for parents to comprehend. It is not about waiting for the child to “come to their senses” because that day may never come. For Biblical metaphors we have to dig a little deeper into the Old Testament. Israel, often referred to Ephraim, was God’s chosen people and God clearly viewed them collectively as a parent would a child. Ephraim had already willfully become estranged from God when Jeremiah makes this statement from God, “Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him;” (Jeremiah 31:20). Note the feelings of God as parent. He calls his son dear, darling and yearns for him. This is the heart of the estranged parent. The depiction of God’s estrangement from His own children is heightened in the book of Hosea. Hosea makes this statement for God, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away;…Yet it was I who taught Ephraim how to walk, I took them up by their arms,…” (Hosea 11:1,2). This passage has all the markings of parental estrangement. The tender memories of raising the child and ultimately the rejection despite repeated attempts to connect.
God knows about estrangement. This new phenomenon is not new to Him. God personally relates to this heart sickness. Take it to Him. Pray for your children and talk honestly to God about your feelings. Stayed tuned. In future blog posts will make suggestions of how I try to help my estranged clients.