Coping with Inconsistent Contact

If you have any contact with your child at all, you might feel dismayed at how inconsistent it is.

You may be in the post-reconciliation phase, when you hoped everything would be fine again. Or their inconsistency might be part of an on-again, off-again cycle of “now you see me, now you don’t,” and reconciliation remains elusive.

You can’t change your child’s inconsistent contact just by figuring out exactly the right words and actions. I know I talk a lot about strategy in my book, Reconnecting With Your Estranged Adult Child. But I don’t want you to get the idea that doing the right thing at the right time always gets results.

In truth, you can do absolutely everything “right,” and still not get a reply when you reach out.

Take yourself off the hook. You are not solely responsible for your child’s inconsistent contact. There are at least two reasons why their contact may not be steady, over which you have little to no control.

1. Your child is ambivalent.

They want to connect, and at the same time, they’re nervous about connecting. You can certainly do things to increase their trust and affection over time. You can be fun, pleasant, or helpful as they define those qualities.

You can be consistent in the positive ways you relate to them. You can be quick to apologize for any missteps.

But you can’t make the ambivalence go away before it’s resolved. And resolving ambivalence takes time — sometimes, quite a long time. It’s up to your child to work through this and come out the other side, where you can be waiting.

2. Your child has a lot going on.

They’re juggling work, life, and relationships. They might have a family to support. They’re building their own legacy and have precious little spirit to devote right now to the relationship you share.

Especially if the two of you have had some challenging times together, they might need to find reserves of emotional energy to allocate to your communication. And they may not always be able to find that in their currently busy life.

Maybe you’ll get a text when they’re in a reflective mood, contemplating all that you’ve done for them. But otherwise, their focus is often somewhere else.

Not a Sign of Failure

Inconsistent contact from your adult child doesn’t have to mean you’ve failed as a parent. Statistically speaking, many parents did a worse job than you did, and their kids still talk to them. Different families, different outcomes.

Besides, you can’t have failed unless you’ve finished parenting. And you haven’t. You’re still a parent to your adult child(ren), even now.

The only way you can fail at parenting is to give up while you and your adult child are both alive. If you’re reading these words, you haven’t given up. So you can’t have failed.

In the face of spotty contact from your child(ren), you can continue to be consistent in the way you relate to them as the nurturing, supportive Parent-with-a-capital-P. You can be the person who, of everyone in the world, most wants to see them thrive.

To maximize the chances of recovering your relationship and seeing it flourish, always try to approach your child with affection and acceptance. You might not see results right away, even if you act like Jesus, Buddha and Mother Teresa all rolled into one. Continue anyway.

Make consistent behavior toward your child a habit. And make that habit part of a life that includes fulfilling relationships with other people and meaningful activities that anchor your days.

Don’t let your self-worth or well-being depend on whether your child returned your last text or email. Even if they have your whole heart, no one should have complete control over your mindset.

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