Thankless Giving

Unwanted gift[Do you prefer listening to reading? This article was adapted for audio in Episode 10 of The Reconnection Club Podcast: 5 Reasons Not to Send Gifts to an Estranged Adult Child]

Here in the U.S., Thanksgiving Day will soon be upon us. It’s supposed to be a time for gratitude …

Yet many estranged parents, both here and elsewhere, find themselves continuing to give without receiving very much to be grateful for.

If you’ve sent gifts, cards, loving texts, money, flowers, puppies or anything else to your child without getting a thank-you, this month’s newsletter is for you.

‘Tis Not Always Better to Give

If you’ve been sending cards or gifts without getting a response from an adult child, I’m sorry to say you could be prolonging your estrangement.

Here are five reasons why you might be shooting yourself in the foot.

1. No contact.

If your child specifically asked for no contact, your gifts may unfortunately not be seen not as peace offerings or expressions of love, but as intrusions, boundary violations, and even proof of narcissism on your part!

Contact is contact, regardless of the form it takes. Your child doesn’t necessarily distinguish between gifts and other forms of communication. If they hear from you at all after they ask for no contact, they may not feel seen, heard, cared for, or respected.

In other words, your gifts could very well create an atmosphere that negatively affects your chances of reconciliation any time soon.

2. Rug-Sweeping.

Gifts and cards that don’t reference the challenges present in the relationship could be seen as efforts on your part to sweep problems under the rug.

What’s required in general for relationship repair is effective communication. Since your child is not up for that right now (hence the silence), it falls entirely to you.

The only truly meaningful gift, perhaps, would be the gift of your effort to understand, accept and validate your child’s point of view… even if all they want is some time apart to continue with their personal healing and growth.

3. Questionable intentions.

Gift-giving may be seen by your child as hypocritical. Where was that generosity you’re showing now, your child might ask, when s/he expressed disappointment, anger or dissent?

Gifts are often viewed with cynicism by people estranged from parents. Your child may even point to your gift-giving as proof of your desire to manipulate them somehow, or to have things your way.

Don’t give them reason to question your character or intentions.

4. Lack of consequences.

Someone who removes him- or herself from your life can’t reasonably expect to continue receiving gifts.

There should be fallout when family ties are cut. If they can estrange themselves and *still* get a birthday card and/or gift, why should they reconcile? They have all the perks of a relationship, without having to show up.

Every decision we make has consequences. Don’t protect your child from that reality by rewarding unwanted behavior.

NB: The exception is college-age children who need financial support while they position themselves to begin making a living. Cutting off financial assistance to a child who has no other access to funds could have a major impact, not only on your relationship, but on your child’s future prospects.

5. Misdirected energy.

Sending gifts and cards to your child can give you the false impression that you’re working on the relationship. When a year or two of this one-sided giving has gone by, you may have nothing to show for it but a growing resentment.

Instead of sending anything to a child who doesn’t want contact right now, a better use of your time is in self-reflection. You might learn things about yourself that can unlock keys to this and other relationships.

For example, if you can’t stop worrying that your estranged child is unhappy, might you be projecting your own unhappiness onto your child? Such projections from parents toward their children are very common, but they’re rarely helpful.

The antidote is self-awareness. It’s the key to being able to choose how you “do” relationships, rather than acting from unconscious impulses.

As long as you’re thinking about what to send your child and when to send it, and whether you get a response and what it means, you’re not engaging in the self-reflection that could be the key to everything.

Take It Down a Notch

As we enter the season of gratitude and year-end gift giving, consider stepping down your previous behavior.

If you usually invite them to family events, don’t.

If you usually send gifts, send just a card instead.

If you usually send a card containing money, send an e-card with warm wishes instead.

If you usually send a card, go ahead and send one. However…

In the new year, plan to write or call your child and explain you’ve decided to do a better job of respecting their wishes.

Tell them it will be hard for you NOT to reach out on special days, but that you won’t be doing that anymore. Instead, you’ll think of them and send them your love in spirit.

You and I will know what you’re doing instead. You’ll be removing the risks inherent in one-sided gift-giving and engaging in the productive work of self-reflection.

You’ll be taking time to grow your capacity for self-awareness … and hopefully self-compassion, too. These are wondrous gifts not only for you, but for your child by extension.

(Note: If you’ve already sent them that message in acknowledgement of their no-contact request, your work is already done. There’s no need to re-send.)

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