"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!

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

  1. I’m too depressed to write much. I’m Bipolar. My son hasn’t spoken to me in 6 months and wouldn’t say why. I called today to leave a message on his cellphone to tell him his grandmother’s birthday is this week (he never answers my calls). This time he picked up. He barked at me. He blames me for his life because “I put him on all that medication when [he] was so little…” and therefore I screwed up his whole life. He says he only is just starting to get on track now (he’s 26) and to just stay the “f” out of his life. He lives with his Dad. His Dad walked out when he was 8. He said he couldn’t handle being a father. I’m sure the strain of my mental illness was part of the problem, but from the time our son was born, my husband could not cope. I did the best I could. I tried to make up for the frustration between my husband and my son. I loved them both dearly. My son had many issues. I took him to a therapist with my husband’s consent. The therapist saw him for a long time. She referred him to several psychiatrists. They diagnosed him and prescribed medications. He seemed to do better when he was on them. I supported him in school. He continued to have problems. At 18, he stopped going regularly to his college classes. I had to repeatedly wake him to make sure he wasn’t late for class, and he was so disrespectful and vulgar toward me, I had no choice but to finally tell him he needed to go live with his Dad. He resented me for it. There was friction. He and his father got in a fist fight. My son, against my advice, decided to quit taking all of his medications at once instead of tapering them off. He was able to get a job and finish college while living with his Dad who made him tow the line. His recent anger came after I had a manic episode at my parent’s while on vacation there with my son. He just stopped talking to me. He’s never been able to deal with/accept my mental illness. He’s never visited me in the hospital. Still, I’m crushed that he blames me for everything. There’s no room left to even explain. He will never listen. He will never understand.

  2. This is a new issue

    I have a terminal illness and my husband has numerous health issues, parkinsons etc. Our sons never call to see how we are. In fact our one son has not been to our house for over 2 1/2 years. He lives 20 min. away. Our daughter calls once a week to see how we are.
    We have asked them why and the answer is we’re busy, but they aren’t too busy to golf at a course three blocks from our house.
    This hurts us deeply. Any suggestions to get past this?

  3. Help! I’m hurting so much. Anyone out there feel the same, from the same experience as I? My son gave up his rights to his daughter, my 1st grandchild when she was 6. They lived 3,000 miles apart. NY & Oregon. I saw & he saw & we me her when she was 3. She is now 10. He begged me to never speak about her. I promised I wouldn’t. I went to Oregon to meet her again after she had already been legally adopted by the childs mothers new husband. They love us & want her part of our family. But now my son will not speak to me & won’t let us see our other 2 grandkids from his marriage. Why does the world have to shed so much pain? looking for someone who’s had the same experience?

  4. I sympathize with all of you and know it is hard to say no more. I was a young mother having one son at 19 and another by 21, divorced and having to raise my two sons by myself without family or financial assistance. I found a job and believe me when I say we had hard times. I wanted a family so badly, that I tried to make the best of it for all of us When they were 11 and 13 years old I remarried and life was much easier for me and I thought for them. My youngest son adjusted to the changes of our life beautifully, but the older son could never adjust. My younger son was Mr. Personality and loved everyone including me. My older son couldn’t get close to anyone. When my husband died I thought maybe the problems were between my husband and the oldest son. But I soon found out that it was me.. I relived the moments in my life over and over wondering what did I do to him?. He is now married and his wife would scream and yell at me and finally, I had enough and yelled back. So for almost 13 years he kicked me out of his family, I tried to talk to him and his wife but he wanted no part of it. If I called he would hang up on me. Now my youngest son tells me he is softening up and might want to make contact. I had to say no that it’s better like this. He was surprised but I feel that i went through two deaths, my husband and my son at the same time (even the dog died at that time). I don’t want to walk on egg shells any longer. I’m afraid he will hurt me again and I just don’t want the heartache . Plus I don’t know my four grandchildren thanks to their parents. My grand daughter is now 18 and I’ve talked to her mom (not the one my son is married to) and asked her for her phone number and email address but never receive it. I really don’t want to get too attached to any of them. I don’t want to get hurt again, it took me a long time to get over him. When I talk to people and they say how many children do you have I say one son and one grandson. So what I can say to all of you is that there is a life after your child leaves you . Be strong and have a good cry and move on with your life, as hard as it can be it will get better,

  5. I’m reading a really helpful book which I ordered from Amazon just after my last post. It’s, “When Parents Hurt,” by Joshua Coleman, PH.D. Other than that, I just pray every day. Good luck to everyone here.

    God Bless.

  6. To all who have posted today. I share your heart break and also struggle to understand my situation and all of yours. My remedy is to keep sharing (anonymously because “I feel” identification fuels the fire). Use this site to make a deposit of all the pain and sorrow you feel into a trusted place where you are understood with compassion and acceptance by others experiencing the same, for what often feels like no good reason. Withdraw from the site the peace that you have vented this sorrow and confusion and hopefully feel a bit lighter. Everyday, sometimes every minute can feel like an insurmountable challenge. I can only share what has worked for me and that is to deposit here when I am overwhelmed with my painful emotions and other times: distract myself with things I enjoy, turn to those who ARE present and loving in my life and be truly grateful for them and give to others who want my love, guidance and time. I have often thought a registry that matches adult children who have lost their parents to those of us who want to provide that role and love could be a helpful (perhaps necessary) tool for healing both sides that suffer. Most towns have a CASA organization where you can become a court appointed special advocate for children who need positive role models and families who live on the edge. My husband and I “adopted”, in our own way, a young man we met in Central America one time in our travel to fill this void in our lives. Having so little in his country has made him so appreciative of our sponsorship. I am proud of those who have set boundaries with their abusive adult children. I know how hard this is. There are no words for this pain but we must have enough self respect to do this. I hope today those who wrote feel a little lighter, a little better and not so alone. I know and understand your pain.

  7. I have a son that I was very close to. I would do anything for him. He was diagnosed as having a Bipolor disorder. He feels that we hold him back. Lately he has refused to speak with some members of his family or correspond through email. It is Sad that he wants to throw away his family because they want to help him. He is angry at society because they don’t understand being BiPolor. I try to encourage him to be healthy and to find ways of decreasing his mood swings. I guess he just wants us to leave him alone. It does break my heart

  8. I have learned from the many hurts I have had in life is that the best person to help when we have endured a heartbreaking hurtful situation, whether it be with children a spouse or whomever, is someone who has experienced a similar situation. No offense to the professionals but they are usually clueless. You can only with identify with someone’s pain if you have been there yourself. I have many friends but they all go spend Christmas with their children. I am a widow of 10 years and my son goes to his in laws (more fun as they have a big family) for Christmas and I have never been invited. I was good enough to have in my home and pay for their wedding. I have a hard time the professionals that suggested a way to get through a repeated painfully lonely Christmas is to decorate my house. I knew this was ridiculous but did so anyway, inside and out. Then I sat here all alone only now with a decorated home to make sure I know it’s Christmas. . It was more depressing waking up Christmas morning. The couple of little presents I received (not from my son) I sat here by myself and opened and just cried. A person that has read all the books and has the degrees can’t possibly comprehend what a person feels just because they read it in a book. That’s why support groups are so important. I wish there were more support groups.

  9. After 10 years of trying to help my son stay out of jail and off drugs, it took him accusing me of stealing his pills, then telling others I stole his pills, to make me stop hurting. I finally realized he really only cares about himself and why have I been knocking myself out to help someone who cares nothing about me unless I am doing for him. He has manipulated me, used me, stole from me, lied you name it. I kept hoping he would come back to himself, the way he used to be, and maybe he will, but if I am not around to enable him, what happens will happen. I’m tired, I’m raising his children, one who is autiistic. He’s 35 freakin years old and it’s time to grow up. I don’t have much time in this world left, I choose to live it on my terms not his. I have a daughter the same. way.. The more you do, the more they expect, and the more they feel entitled. I even thought of legally disowning them. And I didn’t steal his pills. He found them later

  10. Mari, Applause to you. Congratulations for making it as far as you did. Self survival kicked in, instead of self destruction.
    IF he wants to make amends for all the pain he has caused you, sit back, relax, be calm, and let him begin to try to close the divide he built between you. Let him attempt to dismantle the wall he built, brick by brick. Right now you see through a possible sham, the same one you have probably seen before, he makes a slight gesture and you do all the work to make everything the way it should be, unknowingly only becoming the ultimate enabler.
    You will know when the damage has been repaired because you paid the price and bore the agony while he tried to extort so many things from you.
    If he’s not old enough to know what he had done was disrespectful and unnatural, then he’s never going to know.
    You should be an example to all.
    Bravo Mari. Thank you for making the world a better place. Stay on the road to happiness, because life is too short to travel the alternative routes, AND there’s no traffic jams on it because not enough people travel it these days!

  11. Well, I do not like to be in this group of find people. But I to have a son and daughter who wanting nothing to do with me. My heart is so broken words can not even begin to explain. I even had a nervous breakdown and it made them run away even father. I have not even spoken a word to my daughter in over four years. My son when I did talk to him sr ended up fighting. They make it so hard to love them!! They have kept grandkids away as well. MEAN HUH?

  12. I never post on boards but I am hurting so much too. My son and daughter don’t have anything to do with me either. I have been separated from their Mom since 2009 and recently divorced. I beat myself up so much and wish I could do things differently. I didn’t want the divorce and me and their Mom are still on really good terms. I was never abusive or violent or drunk or anything. Still, I know I must have done something. Neither one of them will talk about things and I desperately want to know why they just don’t even care. Part of me wants to blame this generation. My dad did horrible things and I would never even dream of treating him the way they treat me. I have tried so hard… Divorce happened last month and job requiring me to relocate to Tampa by end of March, so praying I will be able to let it go and turn them over and always be here for them but accept things the way that they are. It kind of helps to know there are others out there going through the same thing, but wouldn’t wish this on anyone and hate it for you all. Any advice on support groups out there would be appreciated.

  13. I have really had a very hard time accepting that our daughter is not who we believed her to be. I started going to therapy to learn what happened here. I was convinced that somehow I had created this reality. I must have done something- right? It took a very short time to look through my family tree and see all the same traits that my daughter exhibits in my relatives. So many broken lives. I made sure to parent differently- with respect and love. The end result was the same in regards to being discarded. I wasn’t perfect, but in the end it seems that genetics are genetics. My daughter uses people and throws them away, just like the majority of her relatives. It’s not her fault. Genetically she cannot feel empathy. The good thing is because she was raised well she is able to channel her traits for ruthlessness in a business environment. This makes her successful. Many of her relatives, without that benefit have become criminals.

    It’s a lonely place to be where I am now. It is going to take time to create a new life for myself and my husband. The world looks the same, yet it has all changed. I have lost my faith in the goodness of my daughter and therefore people in general. It’s sad. But I am not a victim and although my life is different it doesn’t mean there cannot be good in it. Can’t wait to get to a place in which the hurt isn’t so raw. I am sure many of us feel like this.

  14. I have three adult children who are now 25 – Son, 23 – daughter and 22 – daughter. When my oldest was 4, my ex, who had cheated, before and during our marriage, walked out of our lives. He wanted nothing to do with the kids after he left. I raised them, we even lived overseas, I showed them the world. Despite sacrificing everything that I could have had, relationships, a home (I paid for my daughters divorce thus used my savings) a life…they now do not understand why I have said no to their lies, their disrespect…and now my youngest daughter whom I thought I had a close relationship with is being influenced by my oldest daughter who has blamed me for the divorce … they want nothing to do with me. If I text, they do not respond, if I call they do not answer and my 25 year old son who is soon to join the Navy; leaves food wrappers all over, dirty dishes in his bedroom where he hibernates all day, and plays on-line video games. I’m tired of being made to feel that I’m a horrible intrusive mother. I’m told I am the one with the problem and I am so done with all the blame, and done with my three children. Everything I did was for my children…I did nothing for me. I’m nearing 60 and honestly see no reason to live anymore…but, I have to believe there is a better life for me somewhere…I just can’t believe that it is all my fault. I just can’t believe that I will never feel love from anyone again…this was not supposed to be my life…

    Has anyone started over, and lived happily because I really need to know that this is not all there is to life…

  15. Its my birthday today and my 12&14 did not say Happy Birthday. I guess I didn’t realize how much they hate me. I’m sad.

  16. My son went too his dads for the weekend when he was 11 years old and never came back , that was 10 years ago hardly any comunications between us , people don’t know the hurt you go through , when your son tells people you have died, he has recently got back in touch with his sister , they are now best of buddies and are being horrible too me life’s not great at the moment trying too get through the daysv

  17. Best of luck to all of you. It’s an ultra tough position to be put in. Hopefully you will not let it diminish your life. This situation cost me an excellent relationship because a good woman’s son was very selfish about many things he expected from her. I tried to protect her and help him make a necessary adjustment with the best intentions for both, but she thought I was too hard on her kid. Reality and society will have to force that adjustment now and that will happen with living life. Society doesn’t adjust to you, you adjust to it, or life can be much harder than it has to be. I do understand her decision, although I don’t agree with it.

  18. It is helpful yet sad to see so many other parents that have the same heart break that my husband and I share over our two sons. Everyone has a different story yet the heart break feels the same when your children are absent from your lives. Our sons are hard working good young men that just happen to not want much to do with their parents. As far as we can tell, we were loving, supportive parents that always put them first. We feel that this may be the problem because we taught them that they were more important than we were. As young adults this is how they are. We don’t expect them to not have their own lives but we only exist to them when they need something from us. They don’t acknowledge birthdays, mother’s day, father’s day, when we have had serious illness’, don’t want to spend Christmas with us, or really just call to say hey how is it going. This is not how they were raised. As they grew up we spent a lot of family time with our parents and other family members. That is just it, we were around family all the time and our sons have no desire to have family other than their friends and my oldest son’s wife’s family. It is not that our sons are awful people, they just simply act as if we do not exist and so we feel we must let go of the fantasy of having them in our lives. Letting go is hard but sometimes holding on to someone that does not want to be held onto is much harder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *