Serpent’s Tooth

Final layout

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” Most parents’ can relate to this line from Act 1, Scene 4 of William Shakespeare’s King Lear. The bite of perceived ingratitude is intensified by magnitudes, however, if the parents are separated or divorced.

The interesting thing about this phenomena is that it can continue well into your child’s young adult life. This is neither totally pathological, nor even necessarily a divorce related trait. It’s usually just normal child development.

Children have the ability, duty even, to “fire” their parents, so to speak, to some degree as they grow to be fully functioning, independent adults. Up to that point their developmental task is to garner as many resources, both material and emotional, as they can to aid them on their voyage.

This may not be what you signed up for when you decided to become a parent and you may well resent the position you find yourself in as your children mature and become self-sufficient. Your perception may be that you are the parent who has provided the lion’s share of emotional and financial stability for the kids. Therefore, it may come as a shock that your efforts in no way compels them to recognize this fact.

It’s common for the concerned parent to suspect the machinations of the other parent as the cause of their adult children’s unappreciative attitude. Although there are instances when a parent does actively attempt to separate a child from the other parent. More often than not the cause of ingratitude is more complex, subtle and nuanced as opposed to blatant alienating behavior.

The young adult’s normal developmental need for resources becomes harmful, however, when they try to get those needs met by the parent who has limited capability to provide healthy emotional supplies or may actually be dysfunctional. It’s difficult not to take it personally when you feel that you are being taken for granted or shunned in favor of the less healthy parent. But let’s take a more objective look at the important issues underlying this situation.

The first thing to ask yourself is, what is really at stake. The second, what are your options for a healthy outcome to this dynamic. As to the first issue, what may be at stake is no less than the psycho-emotional health and, possibly, safety of your adult children. And to make matters more critical, how you deal with this issue will impact the future generations of your family, i.e. your grandchildren.

It is hurtful to be taken for granted in favor of a dysfunctional parent. What’s primarily at issue, though, is your adult children’s ability to make healthy relationship choices. The danger here is that they may be comfortable with or blind to the emotional damage that can result from surrounding themselves with toxic people. Of course, as a parent, you want to do everything possible to make sure your kids don’t repeat the kinds of unhealthy relationship choices you may have made.

There are myriad reasons why adult children glom onto low functioning personalities. The most concise and comprehensive understanding is that they are vulnerable to these types of personalities. Their childhood relationships have bred familiarity and vulnerability to these sick people. Therefore blaming the kids or the other parent won’t address the underlying issue.

In attempting to intervene in this dynamic, it is critically important to be nonjudgmental toward the other parent. Verbally lashing out at the concerning behaviors of other parent or the adult children will only serve to push your kids farther away. Not addressing the issue, however, may result in the situation remaining unaltered for generations to come.

The goal, in this situation, is to help your adult children engage with you. The key to this is communication. By expressing your concern about how your relationship seems to be changing you are modeling healthy narcissism and reminding them of the important contributions that you bring to the table. In expressing this it’s very important that you are not  perceived by the kids as being needy or angry. Your message has to be stated in such a way as to project love and strength.

Opening a dialogue with your adult children on this issue does, however, open up the possibility of their communicating concerns they may have about their relationship with you. Ultimately, regardless of whether you accept the kids’ expressed perception of you, this can be a turning point that will create a way for the kids to engage you in a constructive conversation. This may not bring immediate results. It will, however, be a much needed opportunity for your young adult children to, once again, be actively involved in a healthy relationship.

For more information on dealing effectively with child custody and divorce issue please check out these two helpful books:

“The Custody Manual”

“Change Your Mind, Co-Parenting in High Conflict Custody Cases”