by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Fiddle Leaf Fig trees (ficus lyrata) are known for their big leaves. So, when I found a scrawny one at the back of a crowded nursery shelf, I wasn’t worried and took it home. Unfortunately, my waiflike ficus struggled all summer. Pale, misshapen leaves, a toothpick-thin stalk, and holes like windows etching into her foliage was the norm. New buds would start but then dry up before developing.
Discouraged, I donned magnifying glasses and checked for pests—none. I fed and talked to that plant, set her next to fellow fiddles who had already doubled in size, and hoped for the best. Still, her paltry leaves curled. Determined, I pulled her from the pot and was surprised when the soil fell away. Only a plug of dirt near the center clung to the stem. A small net bag imprisoned a tiny ball of roots. No wonder my fiddle had failed.
Online digging–(okay, research)–revealed that some growers use what houseplant enthusiasts refer to as “root cages.” The disdained seed-starting nets are touted as easy for the roots to penetrate. Not the case for my sickly fiddle—and lots of plants people fret over in online forums. The cages can stunt growth.
Parents of estranged adult children: Inside the net?
People usually have wonderful memories of time with their kids and take very seriously the role of parenting. We love our children. When they reject us, we’re devastated. Eager to regain a good relationship, or to prove we’re good parents undeserving of rejection, we may take the high road and keep trying to reconnect with estranged adult children even to our own emotional harm. And there are plenty of opinions out there to keep us stuck.
Like those nets that imprison plant roots, opinions about what it means to be a “good” parent can keep us bound. Idealistic views such as a parent’s unconditional love and ceaseless patience, or even that we’re in control, can keep us in the realm of wishes. It stunts our growth.
Have your attempts to reconnect with estranged adult children been rebuffed or met with silence? After enduring an adult child’s disrespect, disdain, or disregard, parents are wise to reflect and reevaluate. The same is true when mentally ill or addicted adult children refuse treatment and engage in abuse. Deeply rooted beliefs, fears about how we’ll be perceived or what might happen can motivate us to hang on, to our own, or even to our adult child’s, detriment.
My book, Beyond Done With The Crying More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children, covers the way parents’ emotions evolve in a continued estrangement or when there’s difficult, intermittent contact. Our actions may not keep up with our emotional changes, or we may have trouble admitting our feelings. We may think: What father wouldn’t always be there for a daughter? What mother says “no” to a son needing help? What kind of parent gives up? This is particularly true around special times when we may ponder what is “right,” ruminate about how we’ll be viewed or worry how a change in us might affect our adult child’s feelings.
The reality is that estrangement does change us, and those darling kids that exist in our memories have changed too. When we refuse to see them as they are today, we aren’t acting on reality. We risk opening ourselves to repeated hurt.
Some of us do this knowingly for a time. When is enough, enough? Only you can decide when you’re ready to halt attempts to reconnect with estranged adult children. Just make sure you’re facing the truth of your unique situation and not caught up in a net.
Friends and family members whom we love and respect may also influence us—and not necessarily on purpose. Frequently, other people’s opinions for our lives, and their thoughts about what we should do, are misinformed or sometimes self-serving. That’s why it’s crucial to examine our own circumstances, which shift over time. We can renew or refresh our decisions about continued attempts to reconnect with adult children, and whether to acknowledge special occasions, keep them as next-of-kin, or disinherit them. Each of us and our dilemmas are unique. There is no one size fits all answer. However, setting boundaries, in your thinking and in your actions, helps a person cope.
Beyond Done With The Crying More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children includes tools to reflect on deeply rooted beliefs and motivations, as well as the facts of the current situation. Even the wisest, most worthy pursuits may no longer serve us or our estranged adult children. If we can always be counted on, despite mistreatment, then what’s their motivation to change how they treat us? Just as an addict whose parents keep funding substance abuse enables addiction, parents who send the message of unconditional forgiveness without consequences despite meanness and disregard may be enabling abuse.
Break free but stay aware
As I carefully cut the net from the roots and repotted my ficus, I recalled the early daze of my adult child’s estrangement and how my worries, what-ifs, and wishes negatively affected me. But life is not static. To cope and thrive requires self-examination weighed against shifting circumstances, and then recognizing how that relates to enjoying life regardless of one’s ability, or inability, to reconnect with estranged adult children.
A few days after repotting my little tree, I noticed growth. Wow! Without the root cage, a new leaf had unfurled, swiftly followed by another. Overnight, that second leaf swelled to gigantic proportions. It grew so fast that the fiddle’s narrow trunk bowed, threatening to break. Freed now, it seemed to overcompensate for lost time, just as I once did in breaking free. It’s a common occurrence among parents—and apparently in plants.
Breaking free for ourselves can result in a sense of urgency, fueling massive leaps forward that can stress our foundations or cause us further injury. That’s why awareness is so important. In Beyond Done With The Crying More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children, I tell more about my own and other parents’ overcompensating experiences, to help you avoid precarious pendulum swings in how you take charge of your life, parent other children, or otherwise interact. Even when our relationships with our adult children don’t live up to our expectations, if we’re honest with ourselves and focus on solid growth with needed support, we can embrace our own brand of resilience for a fulfilling life.
To progress, my fiddle leaf fig tree will require a new strong foundation. For a little while, until her roots grow sturdy, I’ll let her lean on other trees and maybe even provide a brace. I hope this website, my newsletter (subscribe below), and my books will enhance your continued growth. Be sure to read the article comments and leave a reply to other parents’ thoughts. We can encourage each other.