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Feeling Anxious When Speaking to Adult Children

December 7, 2022 Liana M. Scott

I have three children -- two daughters and a son. They're adults now with busy lives and stresses of their own. My adult children are exceptional individuals. I love and respect them as I know they love and respect me. Why, then, do I get anxious when I need or want to speak to them, ask them about their lives, or talk about something important to me?

My Anxiety Asks, 'Why Do My Adult Kids Keep Me at Arm's Length?'

Being born and raised in the '60s, kids were better seen, not heard. It was a time of corporal punishment, dispensed at home and in the classroom, and respect for your elders was demanded. Good behavior was rarely recognized because it was expected. If rules were broken, punishments were doled out swiftly with the textbook admonishment of, "I hope you learned your lesson." Our feelings weren't considered, and speaking our thoughts was a no-no.

Behaviors and attitudes had drastically changed by the time my husband and I had our kids in the late '80s and early '90s. Eager to do things differently than our parents and their parents before them, we raised our children to be respectful while also being strong-minded and curious. We taught them to push boundaries and question the status quo, even at home. We raised them to be independent thinkers, to stand up to injustice, and to exercise empathy.

Upon reflection, it seems like a pretty good upbringing. At least it does to me, a kid who wasn't even allowed to ask, "Why?"

But it seems that how we raised our kids, with the encouragement and freedom to think and feel out loud, may have instilled a certain apathy in them. Not towards other people necessarily, but toward us—their parents—insomuch as they seem indifferent to what we have to offer. They keep us at arm's length.

Anxiety in Relationships with Adult Children

When I was a similar age with a young family and stresses of my own, I listened when my mother and father spoke to me. Their experience and wisdom commanded attention. While I may not have agreed with their perspectives and sometimes secretly rolled my eyes at their old-fashioned values and approach, I deferred to them. I gave them the metaphorical floor.

It is not so today.

I feel that this generation's adult children—the less than 40-somethings—have much less tolerance for what parents have to say.

When one of my adult children shares an experience, I must cleverly reverse-engineer my response so as not to steal their thunder. In as straightforward a way as possible, I relay my disguised expertise and am still sometimes met with, "This isn't about you, Mom."

It's become a very "I might come to you if I need you and don't tell me how it is or was for you unless I ask you" kind of existence, which makes for a one-sided, walking-on-eggshells relationship. As a mom, this is very hard.

It's not disrespect, although sometimes it can come off that way. Instead, it's like a lack of appreciation for my (parental) experience and knowledge coupled with little or no desire to entertain my thoughts and ideas.

Casual conversation is easy. Talking about the grandkids is a piece of cake. But broaching a subject with substance with my kids can be a source of anxiety. Here are some of the thoughts I have:

"I don't want to insinuate myself where I'm not wanted or needed."

"Why won't she talk to me? Is it something I've done or said?"

"I don't want to trigger him."

"How will he percieve my questions and comments?"

"If I share my experience without prompting by her, will I be accused of making her situation about me?

"If I tell her I miss her, will she call me needy again?

"If I share how I'm feeling, and I cry, will he think—'There goes Mom, swimming in her emotion pool again.'"

While I know of at least three other moms my age with adult children who claim to have similar feelings, I realize that my generalized anxiety amplifies how I feel and react.

I will still question why my kids communicate with me the way they do—or don't, as the case may be. Maybe it's not apathy at all. Perhaps it's because we live in a time of information overload. Why rely on a parent's wisdom when a dozen YouTube and TikTok videos by perfect strangers can validate your experience and provide reliable solutions to similar issues? Perhaps it's because psychotherapy is more readily accepted and available. Who knows?

For now, I remain steadfast in my desire to be there for my kids if and when they need me. With the help of my therapist, I hope to better understand where my insecurities come from and replace my anxious thoughts with more adaptive ones, the most significant thought being:

"I am enough."

APA Reference
Scott, L. (2022, December 7). Feeling Anxious When Speaking to Adult Children, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, February 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2022/12/feeling-anxious-when-speaking-to-adult-children



Author: Liana M. Scott

Connect with Liana on Twitter, Instagram, and her site.

Lavenia
December, 27 2023 at 1:11 pm

This was so on point.I am trying not to lose my temper but I'm heading in that direction with my adult daughter who keeps saying all the above in the article .She is 38 and since she has been with her kids father they have since broken up but he is estranged from his family and sarcastic about family relationships she has absorbed his terrible attitude and I try to be silent because of my love for my granddaughters and my relationship.with them but it's getting harder and harder dealing with my daughter's comments .

Denise
December, 15 2023 at 3:06 pm

Amazing - spot on to what I've been experiencing with my daughter for over the last ten years, or so. She is 41 now. About 5 years ago she broke her foot in a terrible accident. Her husband didn't step up to the plate to care for her and her two small children. I and my husband did of course. So she has been separated for 2 years now - and is trying to get divorced from her husband. She has since moved on to live a wonderful guy - and his young son. I had spent so much time with my grandkids - from their birth onward. My oldest gs is 14 and my gd is 9. I don't see them - or my daughter very much at all. They moved about 4 miles away - which really isn't far when you are welcomed. I know she lvoes and appreciates me - but doesn't return texts - doesn't pick up my calls. It's the holidays now and I need to talk to her about gifts, etc...and no answer. I know it's not personal - but c'mon answer my texts already. We have had a rough go these last several years - to the point where she has all out said FYou on the phone - and that really stung. She felt terrible about it - and then weirdly dropped by the next evening to go for a walk - but we didn't talk about hte fight. We used to be so so close.....it's REALLY hard now for me to deal with her - because I'm so afraid I will say the wrong thing. I honestly wonder if she is happy. I have stepped back a lot for her - and am just hoping by the time she is 50 she will come around...but till then, it's just so weird talking or dealing with her. She can be very condescending - just like her dad. Her dad I divorced when she was about 1 1/2 years old. So she doesn't really remember us being together. But wow, she is so much like her dad - so no wonder we clash so terribly. Thank you for writing this - I'm relieved to know it's just not me experiencing this distance.

Mom
October, 31 2023 at 9:57 pm

It wouldn’t be as bad but in our situation, son-in-law never had a dad & my husband LOVES that he has that son, even though he has a birth son… birth son lives in another state. Son in law & daughter bought the family home for way less than worth.
Being the mom, I have given up A LOT. But im still criticized by my son in law & my husband has slowly turned his way. My daughter only calls when she needs my help.
But im feeling sorry for myself….

CR
October, 15 2023 at 4:49 pm

Thank you. Grandparent alienation is a torturous experience. Especially when there has been no abuse, substance or alcohol abuse, or a God less home. It’s painful and very unfair. Adult children can make your spirit soar or break it.

L
August, 13 2023 at 5:41 pm

OMG! I am sitting here beating myself up and ruining a beautiful day because of my adult daughter. I thought I was helping her with a situation but nope. I am glad I am not alone. Feeling down, unappreciated and going crazy.

Chris
July, 30 2023 at 3:10 pm

This is me exactly. And my situation. It sucks. I actually prefer not to see or be involved with adult kids as after the encounter, I end up feeling depressed and bad about myself. It lowers my confidence and it takes days for me to feel mentally good again. I feel so bad admitting I prefer almost no contact due to them making me feel bad.

Deb
August, 3 2023 at 3:57 am

Chris
We are in the same boat. It’s degrading and mentally exhausting.

Katie
November, 19 2023 at 1:51 pm

I understand and agree with you. I realize the would not choose either one of my daughters as friends. That’s sad.

Kim Burnicle
November, 26 2023 at 7:06 pm

I just left my adult kids. They live 4 hours away and we spent thanksgiving week together. I noticed on the drive home I felt depressed and lonely. I got the feeling they were happy to see me go and they don’t need my anymore. I know they love me but I also think they don’t like me. They often use a tone of voice with me that leaves my feeling stupid and irrelevant. It’ll take me days to “get over” this sadness.

Andrea
March, 28 2023 at 8:19 am

Thank you for this. I am enough! This is important for me to continue to relay to myself when I am feeling defeated as a mother of grown ups. <3

Janet
December, 7 2022 at 11:23 am

Your experience is pretty universal in democratic societies I think. Because I was your kids 40 years ago and I understand I just need to keep shut and nod. Girls playing dumb once again.

Heide
December, 7 2022 at 10:49 am

❤️

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