Are You Giving Too Much?

giving too muchMany parents estranged from an adult child or children find themselves sending gifts and money into a void. They can’t quite decide how much to give, or whether to keep giving, to an adult child who doesn’t acknowledge them.

If this describes you, and if you’re feeling resentful of the time, money and energy you’ve put into sending material gestures of goodwill, read on to find out how to stop the cycle of endless giving and not receiving. Because you deserve better.

No Contact, No Privileges

When your adult child decided to reduce or eliminate contact with you, they lost something. Or at least, they should lose something as a consequence of that decision.

In many cases, rejected parents continue sending gifts and money month after month, year after year, with no strings attached. They never receive a thank-you or even acknowledgement of receipt.

Yet they continue to send gifts because it’s the only form of contact that *might* be acceptable to their child.

If your child is in college, they may need to suspend contact AND continue receiving money from you. That’s normal for this phase of your lives.

The more you fight reduced contact or requests for essential resources from a college-aged child, the more you risk damaging that relationship.

However, if your child is living independently — maybe even rearing children of their own — they can no longer expect you to contribute to their financial well-being, especially if they’re keeping their distance.

Continuing to offer gifts to unresponsive adult children is not an effective strategy for re-establishing trust and closeness.

Nor do you need to keep them up to date on every little thing that’s going on with you and others they know. Apart from emergencies, if they want to be in the loop they need to stay engaged with you.

As the American Express commercial used to say, membership has its privileges. When your child walked away from you, they left a club that offers privileges only to active members.

Don’t unwittingly protect your child from the consequences of their choice.

However, DO leave the door open with appropriate invitations to family events (only if your child hasn’t specifically asked you not to contact them).

And obviously, DO warmly receive any contact they initiate.

Neither Punish Nor Reward

Most parents will keep the door open for their child(ren) no matter what, at least on an emotional level. But an open door policy doesn’t mean a “walk all over me” policy that rewards rejection with gifts, money, or privileges.

Just because you’ll always be available if they want to have a relationship, doesn’t mean you’ll always expend energy, time or money doing things they didn’t ask for and apparently don’t appreciate.

Don’t let yourself get so hurt that you end up rejecting them if and when they do come around. Even if it’s subtle, feelings of resentment can lead to unaffectionate, unyielding behavior that your child will pick up on and flee from.

Take care of yourself and your boundaries now in order to stay open to a healthy relationship with them later. Don’t try to punish them for their rejection, but be mindful not to reward it either.

It’s always appropriate to apologize often and whole-heartedly to your child for whatever you can. Don’t withhold an apology until they offer you one. You’re still The Parent and they The Child; you remain in charge of the health of the relationship.

Good Boundaries

If you send a gift and receive no acknowledgement, let alone a thank you, that should be the last gift you send until there’s a change in the relationship.

This is not about punishment. This is about boundaries. No one can take advantage of you consistently without your consent. Sending gifts into a void in which you never get a thank-you is a choice that hurts you both in the long run.

It hurts you by putting you in a position of being taken for granted. This creates resentment which will affect your ability to offer the more important gift of forgiveness when it counts.

Your giving hurts your child by forcing on them a reminder of you when they’ve asked — or implied a need or desire — for distance. Even a gift can feel like harassment when they’ve asked for no contact.

It hurts the relationship because gifts are often perceived as bribes or as desperate attempts at contact, rather than as acts of pure generosity. They can have exactly the opposite of the effect you intended.

If you want your child to respect you, show them that you respect yourself. Don’t continue sending gifts if the last gift you sent was not acknowledged.

Calmly and compassionately allow your child to experience the consequences of their rejecting behavior, while remaining steadfast in your openness to reconcile.

Gifts for Grandchildren

Your children’s children are innocent and deserving of a relationship with you. However, if gifts to them are returned or unacknowledged, don’t continue sending them without checking in with their parents.

Without parental permission, your gifts may not reach their intended recipients.

If you regularly send gifts to grandchildren but never receive a thank you, and if you haven’t already had a conversation with your adult child about sending gifts to their children, I recommend sending a short note along these lines:

“We’ve been sending gifts to Victoria and Albert for Christmas and birthdays, but realize now that we neglected to ask if this was okay with you. Please let us know if gifts for the children* are unwelcome, and we’ll (reluctantly) stop sending them. Otherwise, we’ll assume it’s alright to continue sending gifts for special occasions. Lots of love to all, Mom and Dad.”

Notice the phrase “the children” instead of “our grandchildren.” If you’ve been accused of being emotionally distant, it’s okay to claim the kids as your grandchildren. But in most cases, avoiding references to “my grandchild” is a safer bet.

A note like this is a true gesture of goodwill, and you may be put to the test if you hear back from them and they say they’d rather you didn’t send gifts. But realize that you haven’t lost anything; your note can only have a positive impact because of the humility and respect it shows.

If they’re not welcome, you can’t be sure the gifts ever made it to your grandchildren anyway. If you’re asked not to send gifts, save the money or spend it on yourself instead. DO NOT send gifts at all if you’ve been asked not to. It won’t help your cause.

You may be desperate to make sure your grandchildren know you, and gifts may seem like the only avenue for that.

However, passing an important test by respecting their parents’ wishes will have a greater impact on your access to them than anything else you can do.

Once you’ve spent some time respecting your adult child’s wishes, you can check in with them to see whether it’s okay to send gifts again. Don’t do this too often! The more time you give it, the more likely you’ll find a softened stance.

Your grandchildren are aware that mommies and daddies have parents too. They won’t forget that you exist. They may become more and more curious about you as they get older.

If you spend the time wisely cultivating the respect and trust of your adult child, you’ll be doing everything you can to open the door to your grandchildren.

Feel Your Feelings

Sending gifts may be the only contact option you have. But sending gifts to unresponsive adult children is like eating a poisonous plant when you’re starving. Even if it’s your only option, the poison is still bad for you. It won’t help you achieve your goal of getting enough to eat.

Instead, it will make you sick as well as hungry.

Recognize continued gift-giving as the expression of your desire for contact. It’s not that you feel so darned generous all the time, but that you miss your child and grandchild(ren).

Feel that longing for connection; you can experience that emotion without having to do something about it. If you need a hug, get one.

Honoring your child’s request for space will encourage them to trust you. Trust takes time to grow. Here’s what to do while you wait:

  • Don’t send another gift if the last one wasn’t acknowledged.
  • Ask permission before sending gifts to grandchildren.
  • It’s okay to send positive thoughts and good wishes. Don’t overdo it.
  • If you normally send a card containing money, send an e-card instead.
  • Offer gifts of love, encouragement, respect, or interest in your child — not material gifts.
  • If you’ve been asked for distance, give them distance.
  • Spend time, energy and money on yourself.
  • Acknowledge how sad it is to lose this time with them. But don’t stop creating good memories with others.
  • Keep your bucket full so that you can greet them with uncomplicated joy later

It’s such a shame that in order to hold your child accountable for their decision to cut you off, you must lose something yourself: The freedom to reach out whenever you feel the longing to do so.

Some problems have no solution. Others have only imperfect solutions. Reconciling with your adult child is difficult and time-consuming, but potentially possible with self-discipline, self-respect, and self-compassion.

Give as much love, understanding and forgiveness to your child as you wish. But be extremely careful with other kinds of gifts.

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