"Children Who Break Your Heart": A Reader Asks for Your Advice

At the Legacy Project, we’ve asked over 1200 of the oldest and wisest Americans for their advice about how to solve life’s problems. In this post we ask: How do you deal with children who break your heart? For advice on this topic and much more, see the bestselling book 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.

In an earlier post, one of the Legacy Project elders shared her mixed feelings about having children. Loraine,89 , talked about accepting both the joy and the pain children can bring. She stated: “If you don’t have children now, when you have them you will have these moments.  When you look at them and your heart – it’s like your heart takes all the pain and all the love for them that you have.”

We just received a comment on that post from one of our readers, who would like your advice:

What about when your children are disappointments? I would like to hear how parents handle situations when their most loved children are cause for a broken heart? Comments please!

We asked some experts for their advice, which you can find here.

Can you help? Does anyone have advice for overcoming the heartbreak children can sometimes cause? Please share your comments!

310 thoughts on “"Children Who Break Your Heart": A Reader Asks for Your Advice

  1. We have two grown children. My son (28) married a girl dated only a few months. We have accepted and welcomed her into our tiny family. We were a career military family (husband was active duty). I was a stay at home mom so our kids would have that stability and comfort knowing there was always someone there when they needed it. My D-I-L has a very large extended family and can’t quite get just how tight we have always been. Our son is in the military and she hates it, so he is getting out when his enlistment is up. They live an hour away and I am only allowed to see him when she doesn’t have plans with her family. Last year we delayed Christmas by 2 days to accommodate my kid’s schedules. I didn’t like it, but we did it. I was told this was our year to host ON Christmas day. Now I am told no. Delay again because she wants to go to her family’s 3rd party of the season. Or thy could come, but only for 2 hours. I was told this 2 days ago and have not stopped crying because I went all out with the menu, decorating and other prep. I have been looking forward to this for months. They showed up for Thanksgiving and confirmed that we had all Christmas. But now I am told that it shouldn’t matter because we are just a few and she has a huge extended family. I have NOBODY else but my kids and husband of almost 30 years. My daughter said we should just go to the party (not invited to). They are in their 20’s and drinking and partying is all they want to do. We don’t drink a lot, have huge parties, or get rowdy. We try to make it as fun as possible. I don’t see my son more than 2 or 3 times a year. I don’t see him on my Birthday, mother’s day or just for the heck of it unless we go to them. I have some health issues and my husband works so much, some times it is impossible to drive to them. They drive by our house on the way to some of her family and don’t say anything because she doesn’t want to spend any more time here than she has to. I know his wife should come before us, but her family takes priority always! They are even moving to a new state when her parents move so she doesn’t have to miss her family. To her we are nothing because we are so small. She doesn’t get that my kids are my heart. I wanted to make her part of that too, but I was given the Heisman. I knitted her a scarf in the colors she said she liked, and it went in the back of the closet. Nothing I do is right. So now I lose my son and my daughter is following. I am crying as I type this because I have no more fight left in me. My husband has tried to intervene, but was told they are doing what they want to do and I have to accept it. I just want to take it all down, and curl up in bed for the rest of the holiday season. I used to love Christmas. Now…. not so much. It brings on nothing but pain. I am still mourning the loss of a beloved parent and now let’s add on my son choosing 3 parties over his own family. They are saying I am only crying because I want them to feel sorry for me and come out of pity. It’s not the case. I never broke a promise to them, but they do it all the time. We are the last priority. I haven’t told anyone (including my husband) that I think I am sick. The doctor’s found something on an MRI (they weren’t looking for anything in that area) and it might be bad. I have to wait until after the holiday’s for answers. But if it is “C”, then I have a huge fight ahead. Either way, I won’t tell my kids until I know for sure. I don’t want the pity party. I want our kids to be here because they want to be here. I know it sounds like I am ranting, but everything is so fresh. I pray constantly for the strength to get through my day as I am in constant pain. I try not to let my pain get to me or take it out on anyone. My husband asks me all the time how I can laugh and joke around in that much pain. It’s how I deal with it. Why make everyone else miserable? I just don’t know what to do now. My son won’t talk to me now, because his wife told him this is how it’s going to be and if I don’t like it, too bad. I am more than heartbroken. I am disillusioned.

  2. Terri, I am SO sorry for all the hurt you are enduring. But I read your post twice so that I could be sure I understood everything you wrote before I responded…

    Terri, I notice in your post, you don’t talk a lot about your own daughter. I refrain from mentioning it, but maybe you can explain a little more in depth why you don’t try to find happiness in your own daughter? I would handle this quite differently but then I finally made my mind up quite awhile ago that I was NOT going to let my daughter rule my life. Based ONLY on what I know of your situation, I would start to build my life more around my OWN daughter. You know the old saying…’A son is a son till he takes on a wife, a daughters a daughter
    the rest of your life’. If we consider how hard it is to change OURSELVES, only then will we realize how impossible it is to change OTHERS. Your life WILL go on without your son being a major part in it. I hate to see you or ANY one give more of themselves than they receive. From what I read, you have a good husband and daughter and it should be more than enough. Do not let this situation of your sons steal your joy! If he is still in his 20’s, he’s still got a lot of growing up to do. I hate to say it but even though he is officially a man, some do mature more slowly. And if he doesn’t? That’s alright, too. Try to build your life around your husband and daughter and let the chips fall where they may. That’s what I did and my situation is SO much improved. I suspect there is so much more to your story as I am curious as to why you did not share your medical test with your husband and daughter and why you STILL place more importance on your relationship with your son than your own prognosis. I do hope everything turns out well with the results from that test, Terri. But THAT should be the most important thing in your mind right now. Get on with your life and more than likely your son and DIL will come around if anything for a babysitter when that time comes. And if not, that’s fine too, isn’t it? I would assume your husband and you are planning on retiring sooner now than later and at that point you should be clinging to each other just as your son is with his new wife. I know it’s easier said than done but you MUST try to find a way to let it go and ‘live and let live’. You are more than welcome to call on me ANY time and I can tell you more about my situation and how I have FINALLY come to peace with things and how they have actually gotten better BECAUSE of it. I hate to see you in pain but the only one that can really help is YOU. Please call on me if you need to. Good luck, Terri. Tracy :)

  3. I have no sympathy for those who have a husband and more than one child. I am totally, absolutely alone, with no husband and my only child estranged. Just found out through a mutual acquaintance she is having her 2nd baby. I was not told about the wedding nor given a reason for the estrangement. Everyone assumes I must have been one terrible mother but our family therapist in her teens said that if it wasn’t for me, my daughter would not have known how to love at all because of the alienation and constant put downs from her father. I was a single mom and did the best I could. There were no drugs and alcohol, but her father brought constant custody battles to control me, the therapist said.

  4. I know your pain of Children breaking your heart, Terri. I have a fair temper, so when I am insulted or accused, I come back. We have two children, 47 and 44, daughter and son. They never can find time to come by, but our daughter saves about a hour once or twice a month to meet us for breakfast. Some reason, we have not been getting along, she blames me for all of it…then our son has totally ignored us, because he sides with his sister …..I am the bad person. I have a son-in-law, which could really care less about us, and a daughter-in-law who has always been against me….I think she is crazy but thats just me. So today I find out that the 4 of them have been talking, and have come to the conclusion that I am sick, with Alzheimers. My sister died of Alzheimers almost two years ago. So they just decided thats what I have, because I am so hateful to them. No, I do come back tho, when they tend to knock me down, with names. So now, right here at Christmas, it will be my husband and myself…..and our little dog, who loves us both, no matter.
    Not saying I might not be a candidate for Alzheimers, but so far other than forgetting some words I want to say, or forgetting small stuff, I don’t think I am sick. However, they have washed their hands of both of us. So I know
    they are all relieved and happy. How can kids turn on their parents?
    They are or were our life….we need to find friends close, or just move away.
    We are home bodies, retired, so not alot of income, we don’t party.
    Just curious if anyone else is going thru this like Terri, above, and I are.

  5. Where is the page for parents who break their children’s hearts? Some of us have mothers and fathers who frankly don’t care if we live or die for the simple crime of not being exactly what they wanted us to be. Sometimes it’s the parents who want nothing to do with the children.

  6. You poor git
    . That makes me so sad. Clearly there isn’t anything you can do or say right now. It’s just how it is. It’ll change when/if they need something. You’ve become the “other” family and effectively you’ve lost him. I know from experience. Similar situation. Every Christmas, birthday, Mother’s Day – card in the mail. Sometimes I cant bring myself to open the envelope. Crumbs …
    Just crumbs send leftovers, and still I’d give my life for them.

  7. I can relate to what you are going through Terri. I have 5 sons and 1 daughter. I worked 2 full time jobs as my Husband worked aircraft and was always getting laid off. The pregnancies ruined my health and my body which I gladly accepted because of the love I have and had for my Children. Well, my daughter and I do not get along at all. My sons have girlfriends and wives who do not include me in anything. Birthdays, Anniversaries, BBQs etc…….They include their family and also my ex husband. I have 12 Grand Children that I never see even though most live within a few blocks from me. The only time I see my Grand children is when I see pictures on Facebook (most often with the other Grand parents) My ex husband was angry when I left the marriage due to his alcoholism and he told me that he would make sure and ruin any relationship that I would ever have with our children (that may be a contributing factor) I am tired of crying at home when there are grandchildren’s birthday parties I don’t get invited to (my ex and the Girlfriends family is invited) I am to the point where I need to displace myself from their lives and disappear. This way, I can get on with my life and stop hurting. My situation prevents me from moving away at this time. My well wishing friends try to help by telling me to disinherit them. lol. I hope your Daughter in law comes to her senses and realizes just how precious you are as his Mother. Good luck to you.

  8. As mothers we literally give our souls to our children and they will not realize any of this pain unfortunately until their children are grown. I know I didn’t visit my mom sometimes when I visited home – I believed all my sisters lies about her and for some dumb reason I felt that I shouldn’t see her. All the while my sister was visiting everyone she told me to avoid. My mom passed away a few years after my father and today I listen to friend taking about their parents and I always want to say “let it go” because one day they will be gone. I have two grown sons and after watching my mom go through the same fate as you, one brother didn’t talk to her for 30 years and he would send the Christmas gifts back.. The funny thing is his daughter grew up and immediately visited and loved all of us including my mom. Gifts do come. I say to adult children that they should think about the positive traits of their parents because they have to remember he (your father) was just a boy and she (your mom) was just a girl. Luckily I was able to mend things with my mom and their isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t miss them. Lastly, in-laws who do that (usually females) will get that with their children. My husbands mom didn’t like me but I made him call her on Mother’s Day and visit her without me – I grew up and went to the mall. I didn’t want my husband to not see his mom. Eventually I gave birth to her only grandchild and he forced me to go into her home with the baby. She threw her arms around me and hugged me. She knew I could have been like your DIL. pray pray and pray some moe.

  9. I feel for all of you. It is awful for children to reject their parents and for parents to reject their children. I am in a situation I never thought I would find myself in. My son married a woman who has some serious issues. I have been seeing a counselor to help me deal with the estrangement from my son. The counselor, based on things I have told her, believes my daughter-in-law has borderline personality disorder. Not a professional diagnosis, as she has not actually met her. But she certainly meets all of the criteria for Borderline Personality. My son and I were always close, but he has allowed her to destroy our relationship. So far I am being allowed to see my grandsons, whom I absolutely adore. But not sure how long before that goes away too. And that will kill me. But I have to learn what I can control and what I can’t Which is hard for me, because I am one of those people that wants to fix things and fix them now. Life is too short to be in pain all of the time.

  10. I just wanted to say how truly sorry I am to all of you for your deep pain and sorrow. Yes, my adult children are estranged from myself also. It has not been an easy road and would never wish this on anyone. My ex was a womanizer who warned me he would turn our children against me and he did.

    However, I am a believer in God and His mercy. Reguardless of my circumstances, He is with me and walking by my side comforting me and helping me every step of the way.

    Praying for each of your broken hearts.

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