In my line of work, I get to meet the most wonderful people. And as one spends time chatting about projects over the years, one becomes friends, and sharing of stories start… writes Mia Ziervogel, Dossier.
The women I speak about in this piece, are women at the top of their fields, they are creative, warm, gracious, and in a world of fashion, brands and publishing, things can get a bitchy but these women are kind. It is important that you understand that I am speaking about classy, good, lovely women aged 50 to 65.
But let me start my story in a Hyde Park pharmacy, where I was waiting patiently in line and the pharmacist was having an animated chat with an elderly lady. You know we are all so rushed and have traffic to contend with, we get agitated waiting in a line. Eventually I got to the front and I said to the pharmacist, phew, that lady speaks a lot. She put down what she was doing, and looked up at me with the saddest eyes and said, “You know, these ladies come in here and their children are in Australia or Canada, sometimes I am the only person they speak to the whole day, so I don’t mind keeping the other customers waiting, I am all they have.”
I got a lump in my throat, and I realised we are just not doing enough for our parents.
I don’t have parents. I miss my mom every day, every moment. I spoke to a friend who lost her mom to Covid and she says she still picks up the phone and starts dialling and then stops and it hits her. “My mom is dead. I can’t tell her this story.” This is how I feel every day.
I lived with my mom, we sat in the morning chatting over coffee and we chatted till bedtime. We never had harsh words, although we went through a lot. My divorce, a business liquidation, deaths, suicides, we were troopers, we went through every thing together holding hands from when I was born till the night she passed.
So when my one friend told me years ago that her son cut her off, I was shocked. This was about 8 years ago, and I had until that time never heard of such behaviour. “What do you mean he cut you off?” She cried bitterly and said her son blocked her on every platform. I did not know what to say. They had no arguments. I asked if he was bipolar. We chatted a long time, trying to find answers. He went to a very good school in Cape Town. He had all the opportunities given to him by a mom that worked very hard. She tells me that he threw it back in her face, and said that was expected of her. She did not do anything special.
Yesterday she told me she went to a forum on the internet to work out how to commit suicide. She said God intervened. She says she sometimes just hits her head on the tiles in the bathroom, wailing in agony.
“Mia, I cannot face Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day, I cry when I see kids on the streets, I am broken”, she says.
Then later in the same day, I spoke to another gorgeous friend who looks like a movie star, and I said I saw a photo of her daughter on Facebook commented on how beautiful she is. And her voice started breaking. “Mia”, she said, “she has put me through hell. She got married and has totally cut me off.”
Not too long ago, I spoke to a mom who is besotted with her kids. Also a single mom. Also did the utmost for them. Au pairs to see that they did flash cards as babies and interesting outings, so that they would be more than prepared when they start school, this was when she could hardly afford to buy herself anything. She, like the other women, a recurring theme, had absent or abusive husbands.
Her child cut her off, after years of being best friends, doing everything together, he met someone, and since then sees her once or twice a year. She is broken. Her child’s father is wealthy and now after years of not being there, he is new hero. She cries herself to sleep, she says.
So after speaking to these women, and hearing their agony I thought I should do some investigation.
There is of course, no one is denying it, a reason for a child to cut off a parent who abused them. Who neglected them. Who is really toxic. But I personally know the women well, they are kind. Hard working. Funny. Smart.
This is not a story of kids cancelling toxic parents – this is a story about adult children who drop their parents. Like a hot potato. No reason. Just does not fit their schedule. Mom, you are cancelled.
How did we get here? George Orwell wrote in the book 1984 about how children will be self serving in the future – that they would send their own parents off to their death. I read the book in 1984 strangely, for my Matric literature and thought that idea was preposterous. We saw a bit of it in world wars with youth groups, but to see it now amongst people I know! Not sending parents to death per se, but to an emotional near death. All I can say, do not for a moment think it cannot happen to you. I have spoken to many moms now, and most of them say, no, this will never happen to me. Yet, that is exactly what my friends say. They never thought it could happen to them.
There has always been jokes between generations. Parents telling their kids they walked to school in blizzards and hurricanes and were told to be out of the house till dark. Seen and not heard. We all exaggerate a lot – but growing up in the 70’s and 80’s there was no disrespect tolerated. Your bum would burn. We were left to entertain ourselves. I remember telling my mom I was bored sometimes and I stopped that very soon. “Only boring people are bored”, she said, and I certainly did not want to be a boring person. We kept ourselves occupied.
We were left at home alone for 3 weeks on vacations, and if you got sick you just had to wait till 6 pm till your parents came home. We fell, and saw to our own wounds. We read, and drew and rode bikes.
I had from a very young age a malady that I had no words for. I could not express it and I never spoke to my parents about it. We did not speak of mental health in those days. My mom and I would discuss that later in life, I could never tell her that I suffered with crippling anxiety and she said they had no frame of reference when she was a young mom of mental health issues. It was not spoken about. It did not exist. I spoke to a cousin of mine recently, who spent every weekend with us as our families were close, and we discussed the sexual molestation of another cousin by her step dad, and how the whole family knew, and no one did anything. This cousin often stayed with my family for months at a time. She committed suicide. And the day after her funeral, I had to go write Matric. I was a total wreck. Yet, my mom and dad went back to work and that was that. No more discussion. What my parents felt deep down, was not up for discussion. They must have been devastated, but nothing was discussed. Needless to say, my Matric marks were not as I wanted.
Now, my generation as parents, who now have young adult kids, raised our children in such a different way. We were more their friends than their elders. We rushed to play therapy if the slightest thing seemed off. We spoke to them about life, sex and treated them like adults, only smaller ones. Our kids spoke at the table. They were raised to have opinions. And, we listened to their opinions. And we spent. We spent a lot. New phones, new Nikes, soccer boots when they only played one game ever. Kids had credit at the schools canteen. I got peanut butter and jam sandwiches for 12 years. And I am not joking. I was still loved, and cared for, but I was not my parents friend. I was their kid.
So now thinking about what went wrong with my generation and their kids, I know we all juggled difficult jobs, difficult marriages and I think my generation of women are exhausted and despondent. We were made promises of equality, and in the end it only meant that we worked harder. We took on more responsibilities.
But I sit here looking out of the window, and I am truly baffled for my friends. What did my generation do wrong?
“The declaration of ‘I am done’ with a family member is a powerful and distinct phenomenon,” explains Karl Andrew Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell University, US. “It is different from family feuds, from high-conflict situations and from relationships that are emotionally distant but still include contact.”
After realising there were few major studies of family estrangement, he carried out a nationwide survey for his 2020 book Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them. The survey showed more than one in four Americans reported being estranged from their family. Similar research for British estrangement charity Stand Alone suggests it affects one out of five families, while academic researchers and therapists in Australia and Canada also say they’re witnessing a “silent epidemic” of family break-ups.
On social media, there’s been a boom in online support groups for adult children who’ve chosen to be estranged, including one Scott is involved in, which has thousands of members. “Our numbers in the group have been rising steadily,” he says. “I think it’s becoming more and more common.”
The fact that estrangement between parents and their adult children seems to be on the rise – or at least is increasingly discussed – seems to be down to a complex web of cultural and psychological factors. And the trend raises plenty of questions about its impact on both individuals and society. Source : BBC
My grandfather, who died of a heart attack in his 50’s before I was born, was an orphan. He often hid pieces of bread in the sand that he stole from the kitchen, so that he could eat it later because food was so scarce. My grandmother was sent to a “home” for children when she was a child, as her mother did not have the funds to feed her. My parents grew up poor, well educated and well read, but my dad did not have his own dad around when he was growing up, his dad was a missionary in Africa, leaving my gran with six kids to raise alone. My mom was an only child who spent her days reading in their apartment which was in Sunnyside, Pretoria. My grandfather was a travelling salesman. It was a very lonely childhood. They did not have much, but I never heard my parents complain about anything about their childhoods. Ever. They adored their parents. And my grandparents were flawed. But boy were they respected!
I cannot write a story from a perspective other than the one I was born into. So I will not, out of lack of knowledge write about the experience of growing up in home other than the culture I know. It is not my place. I was born into the family I was born into, and had no say in that. I expect social media to give me snide comments about white priviledge and really, I had no say into what family I was born into or the colour of my skin. I am telling a story of what is happening to white mothers, yes. I cannot tell a story of another race, it is not mine to tell.
All I can say, is that as far as my generation is concerned, we raised kids in a really great time. The 90’s and early 2000’s. There was hope and there were jobs. Apartheid was over. There was joy.
We took our kids on holidays, and took them to make their own pizzas at restaurants and took them to pottery classes and I bet you anything, like me, all the moms still display the crazy vases that were made, with pride.
Our kids did not know wars, they played outside and they had VHS tapes of their favourite Disney movies, and Cartoon Network which they watched from their parents beds, but their lives were not on phones and iPads. They had toy cars and played in the sand. Girls dressed their dolls.
It seems to me to be a pretty grand time to be a kid. Am I wrong?
I don’t have words for my friends. When I post this story on Facebook, I will expect a lot of private messages.
I hope if this story reaches you, and you have been cancelled, that you realise it is a crazy phenomenon. Inexplicable. And as my friend said, 8 years ago she felt so much shame as she did not know anyone who was going through a cancelation by a child, but she has joined Facebook groups and gone to counselling and realised that she is not alone.
I leave you with some things I found online:
Here are some links to stories written about this subject:
A poem from Facebook Abandoned Parents page:
The abandoned mother peers through her unadorned window
At the neighbor’s lit tree
And through their window she can see joy denied to her
The laughing faces of children
Gifts of bright paper
And ribbon, lots of ribbon
Discarded on the floor but lying there brightly lit anyway
She sees the steam rising from hot coffee mugs
And pastries waiting for a break in the activity
The abandoned mother turns away to stare
Into the greyness of her home
Where she will make her coffee
And eat a lifeless meal with no one at the table but her
She will not remember this day
She will be remembering the joy of times past
Now denied to her by those she lived to serve
By Sharon Wildey
More on parental alienation:
This article by MIA ZIERVOGEL first appeared on DOSSIER, and is republished here with Mia’s kind permission.