There are many reasons children become estranged from parents, many of which are selfish and misguided. I’m no stranger to this phenomenon, nor are some of my friends and acquaintances. A child that was abused naturally is unlikely to have a relationship with parents as an adult, but situations where a grown child becomes estranged from parents because a spouse wants to spend all their free time with his or her own parents or a divorced parent who spitefully turns a child against the other parent is selfish in the extreme.
Is this a new problem with this generation? No. That is a small consolation to those who are deprived of a relationship with grandchildren, however.
In 1856, Heinrich Thiersch addressed one cause of estrangement – that of parents who make it a life commitment to complain about some negative behavior on the part of the child instead of addressing it and then giving the child the opportunity to learn from the mistake and strive to live a good life. A footnote stressed that his message was not admonishing parents to overlook bad behavior and allow it to continue, but not to continuously berate the child for past mistakes after the situation has been properly dealt with.
“Continuance of anger, repetition of reproaches, and the renewed reminding of children, without sufficient reason of that which is past, are the most usual causes of that disheartening and estrangement against which the Apostle warns us, as against the greatest evil; “Fathers provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged;” for if once the children be embittered against their father and mother, and have closed their hearts against them, and are without faith in the love and conscientiousness of their parents; what word can still find an entrance with them? No man can step into the father’s place, for the estranged children will not have an ear for the fatherly word, but only for the mischievous tattle of false worldly friends.”
In past times relatives often lived with family and most of the time that was a positive experience for all, however, an 1888 article addressed the problem when a live-in relative possessed a vile temper and nasty disposition that disrupted the peace and harmony of the home. “. . . the parents who know that such an unhealthful influence exists in their home, should endeavor to remove it, and prevent future trouble for themselves that may find maturity in estranged children and a ruined home”.
Our perception of the Gilded Age is one of more genteel times, but truthfully, divorce was already a ready escape for unhappy spouses. My great grandmother claimed to be an orphan with no idea who her parents were; however, I’m a pretty decent researcher and in recent years found the divorce record of her parents which solidified my suspicions regarding her home life. Her father was found on census records in more than one household with different “wives” and different sets of children whose birth dates overlapped those of my great grandmother and her siblings. Recently I found my gg grandparents’ divorce records in which he was brought to task for his many infidelities against gg grandma who was his only legitimate wife. She named names in court – both of the other women and of his illegitimate children with them. He denied all, but I already knew from the census records that he had been a philanderer and apparently the judge agreed as he was ordered to pay her alimony for life. She died less than ten years later. His actions and the reactions of the community so embarrassed my great grandmother, however, that she died never revealing to her husband and children who her parents were or what her actual early home life was like.
Reviewing old books and court cases from the Victorian era shows that their situation and mine is no different from countless other families. Estrangement occurred, for example, when one parent spitefully turned children against the other, grown children resented the remarriage of a divorced or widowed parent, a faithless spouse was considered too immoral for the court to allow a relationship with the children, children grew into reprehensible adults committing crimes that pious parents could not condone, a father could not resist the evils of drink and became estranged from his impoverished wife and children, etc. Accounts were found of parents who felt alienated when an adult daughter or son chose to go into monastic life or a convent when their decision was actually made out of love of God, not a lack of love for earthly parents.
In 1894, “Good Housekeeping” published a piece on husbands and wives who refused to get along with their mothers and fathers-in-law resulting in the estrangement of child from parents. Reasons cited included children recently married who suddenly viewed parents’ concern for their welfare as interference, jealousy of the close relationship the other spouse had with mother or father, resentment toward the mother of a deceased spouse who naturally felt drawn to care for an infant or small child, and a spouse resentful of care and support given to a widowed mother-in-law.
Regardless of time period, perhaps the greatest loss when estrangement occurs between parent and child is the resultant separation of grandchild and grandparent. A child who is deprived of the grandparent’s love and life experience suffers as acutely as the grandparent who can’t help but love children they don’t even know but for whom they a feel a strong connection that can never be severed. The latter is much like grieving the loss of the child over the course of a lifetime.
In closing let’s note the return of members to the Church, was frequently compared to an estranged child returning to parents in sermons from the early Victorian era. “Like estranged children we are returning to union and reconciliation; we, through greater diligence and faithfulness in our high commission, to a deeper sense of our position, our office, and our sacraments. . .”
Since this article is of a material culture nature and not about food I will not leave you with my customary “Blissful Meals”, but will instead wish anyone experiencing these problems peace and reconciliation.