by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Excerpted from her award winning book released Dec. 2021:
Beyond Done With The Crying More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children
Are You “Guilting” Your Adult Child?
Earlier, I wrote about a time when my health was at an all-time low. After the
first year of silence, my son, Dan, had phoned. We had a friendly talk, and he
said he wanted us to have a relationship. He assured me he would call again
“soon.” That talk sparked hope, but when he didn’t call again, the fragile peace
I had worked so hard to gain dissolved. Scary visual disturbances led me to the
doctor who was mortified by my symptoms and bloodwork. The stress of the
estrangement was hurting me. I had to take charge. So, instead of waiting in a
sort of limbo as more months passed, I called my son.
When I explained that I’d been waiting for his call, that I’d been emotional,
and that my health had suffered, my son put me off. He was gruff and dismissive,
yet later, I wondered if he might have viewed my words as an attempt to
“guilt” him. That hadn’t been my intention, but the conversation haunted me.
There was no hidden plan behind my words. I’d been as direct as always. I
had laid out my thoughts and feelings to him. In all of Dan’s twenty-five years,
I had never tried to motivate him with guilt. My son knew how I spoke. He also
knew me. Him thinking I was trying to “guilt” him made no sense. So, why did I
ever think he might?
Don’t buy into the “guilting” your adult child opinion. . . .
When Dan rejected me, my self-esteem dipped so low that I second-guessed
everything. I searched for help and came across a mental health professional
who dissected the parents’ language in the letters they wrote to their estranged
adult children. Their words were analyzed for how they might be received as an
intention to trigger feelings of guilt. In desperation, I took the guidance to heart.
After an adult child’s estrangement, distraught parents flail in the murky
waters of their own identity. They may grasp at almost anything to stay afloat,
on a wave of hope that they can repair the relationship.
If you’re a parent who used guilt to motivate your estranged adult child,
you know who you are. Admit it. Then work on more than your language. Work
on yourself and how you interact with the people you love. However, if you’re
not guilty of this “guilting” your adult child behavior, then don’t let your anguish and desperation to reconnect stir self-doubt. Don’t take advice that doesn’t fit. Your child knows
you. Why would your speech suddenly be construed as an attempt to “guilt”?
Here’s another thought: If your words trigger adult children’s guilt, maybe
it’s their conscience knocking. Maybe your son feels guilty because he has
treated you badly or the guilt your daughter feels is her inner wisdom, confirming
that her behavior is wrong. Don’t make yourself responsible for another
adult’s feelings or behavior.
There’s an acronym for “Walking on Eggshells”
If you’re not a “guilter,” then guidance that assumes you are is nothing
more than Olympic level training to walk on eggshells. There’s an acronym for
that: W.O.E. Walking. On. Eggshells. Woe! It’s a fitting term for any relationship
where one party lives in fear, believing they may be one word away from
For more information about advice, consult the box, also in this book,
“Advice: Be Discerning, Not Desperate.”