Didn't disturb your family

"Adieu, child!": Radio silence in the family

Breaking off contact between parents and children is not uncommon. While the topic has long been openly discussed in Germany or Switzerland and there are countless self-help groups and advisors for relatives, the family radio silence is still an absolute taboo in Austria. An approach to a delicate family problem.

"You died for me!" With these e-mailed words, the now 37-year-old Yvonne ended her relationship with her parents after a violent argument in which, in the eyes of her mother, it was about everything and somehow nothing. And she was serious about it. Three years have passed since this mail. Three years in which the mother, 63-year-old Gabriele from Vienna, wonders how it could have come to this. She is tormented by the "why", but has not yet received an answer. She cannot understand her daughter's behavior. All she knows is: “It hurts very, very much. Above all, it broke my husband's heart. "

"I don't understand my daughter"

She has not seen her daughter and her three-year-old grandson, whom she only knows as a baby, since then. “I don't understand my daughter. Our relationship used to be really close, apart from a few minor differences of opinion. My husband and I have always loved Yvonne, always doing everything for her. And then that. "Gabriele and her husband Fritz (* name changed by the editorial team), a carpenter, have four children. Yvonne is the second born. The relationship with the elder is also "difficult", as Gabriele says. On the other hand, she maintains very close contact with the two younger ones. “All of my children had a lovely childhood. We made everything possible for them, ”says the pensioner, who gave up her job as a pediatric nurse for her children. The children would have had every chance, each of them could have studied, but they would not have taken this opportunity, she says with audible disappointment in her voice.

"I like my child"

Gabriele misses her daughter, but she has given up. Every attempted advances were followed by accusations that she could not understand - until at some point nothing came up. The rejection and the resulting hurt, coupled with the incomprehension and anger about the ingratitude of her daughter, have dulled Gabriele. She is too hurt to take another step towards Yvonne. "That is my life. I don't want to be offended anymore," she says. "The door is open to all my children, they have to go through alone."

But even if there should be a rapprochement with Yvonne that the relationship with her daughter could ever be the same as before, the 63-year-old does not believe. The rift in the relationship is too deep. “There is always something left behind. It's like a mug that has a crack. I like my child, but differently than before. "

Broken contacts are common

Gabriele is not alone with this fate. Discontinued contacts in the family are more common than one would think, says the Viennese psychologist Sabine Standenat. She regularly looks after those affected in her practice, and she believes that one in ten families experiences some kind of break. There is no public talk about it. In contrast to our German-speaking neighboring countries, where the phenomenon is more openly encountered, there are no self-help groups for abandoned relatives, no lectures or advice and hardly any media public in Austria.

When parents break away from their children or children break away from their parents, it violates a kind of law of life.
You can part with friends, business partners or spouses, but not with mom, dad, son or daughter! After all, that father and mother should be “honored” has been a religious commandment for several thousand years, and that “blood is thicker than water” is a well-known popular philosophy. “The relationship between parents and children is characterized by a great many myths,” says Standenat. “There is, on the one hand, the“ flowing mother's love ”and the“ honor ”that one owes one's parents, on the other hand - regardless of what may have happened. That is why a loss of contact is a failure that nobody wants to face, ”says the psychologist.

While abandoned and abandoned people in Austria mostly keep silent out of feelings of shame and guilt, in Germany and Switzerland more and more people are looking for advice and consolation in self-help groups. Of course, this step is not always there either. “In the big cities, the courage to go outside is significantly greater than in small towns or even municipalities,” says Rita Frick, head of the self-help group Abandoned Parents / Daughters / Sons in Ebermannstadt, a small Bavarian town. “The shame and the feeling of having done something wrong dominate. Society is not tolerant of the topic. "

Silence as a last resort

The reasons for breaking contact with a family member, which, according to the Standenat, occur in all social classes, are as varied as they are individual. Often the break is the result of a long and creeping process that is characterized by several destructive moments, the silence appears as the last resort.

The 37-year-old political scientist and journalist Markus V., who writes under the pseudonym Epikur on the German blog www.zeitgeistlos.de/zgblog, and who has also published a highly regarded article on the subject of broken contacts in families, sees the causes in, among other things "Years of interpersonal differences, emotional coldness and a relationship that does not take place on an equal footing". Often parents have missed their children's leap from underage to adulthood - from upbringing to relationship - and want to stick to old hierarchical levels, says Markus V. It's about paternalism and a lack of recognition. Another problem is the lack of reflection on the part of parents - but also of children, believes the political scientist, who himself broke off contact with his mother after an argument. Today he sometimes feels that it is a relief not to have to constantly deal with conflicts. "Sometimes it is healthier to break off contact than to suffer from constant disappointment or lack of love," states the family therapist Standenat.

"Like the loss of a body part"

The reasons for breaking off contact do not always have to lie with the parents, says self-help group leader Frick. “Many children want to go their way unobserved and without comment. Communication is definitely broken. The level of suffering is so high that flight is the only way out. "According to Frick, the signals are often overheard in advance. Recurring "small quarrels" and "everyday differences of opinion" remain undetected in their seriousness, as was probably the case with Gabriele. If there is a break in contact, the majority of the abandoned parents are completely unprepared and stunned in front of a pile of broken glass. “90 percent of parents don't understand at all what happened, how it came to this and where they lost their child,” says Standenat.

When one's own flesh and blood suddenly run away, “it is a loss, like that of a part of the body. The pain is unbearable because it is not integrated into the brain as a concept of life. A severe disturbance of emotional perception becomes a painful permanent state, ”says Frick, describing the experiences from the self-help group. In contrast to the death of a close person, which is definitive, breaking off contact means a limbo in which those affected do not manage to find peace and make peace. “There is always a doubt about what is. Hope and brooding wear down, ”says Frick. Many parents feel - like Gabriele - they have been treated unfairly, “after all they have sown everything and there is no harvest. You only meant well. "

The Viennese psychologist Standenat often observed a mixture of incomprehension, anger and aggression about the ungrateful behavior of the children in affected parents. Sometimes there is also a certain kind of indifference behind which the abandoned hide themselves at some point. But there are also parents who actually don't care about breaking contact, says Standenat. “While children in the heart of their hearts always long to be loved and recognized by mom and dad, parents don't always love their children,” says the psychologist.

With children - regardless of whether they are abandoned or abandoned - the break with their parents creates a gap that cannot be closed alternatively, says Standenat. The loss of contact represents an enormous loss of security and security.

We hereby delete you

Simone also had to experience this (* last name known to the editors). The last words that the 36-year-old photographer heard from her parents came two and a half years ago by email. Without a salutation, without signature: “We are deleting you from our mailing list. You no longer exist for us. "The trigger for the loss of contact was presumably arbitrary. Simone's parents took advantage of a self-made card with which their only daughter had informed them that they were going to be grandparents. The parents found the way in which they had to find out about Simone's pregnancy a cheek - and took this as an opportunity to say goodbye to their daughter's life. They have never seen their granddaughter, who is now 18 months old.

Not entirely surprising. Even if Simone cannot understand the time and form of the loss of contact at all: The cut did not come as a complete surprise. The end of the relationship had been looming for years, the young mother knows today after intensive psychotherapy. “I was never the child my parents wanted. They didn't even notice me as a person with my characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. I was a constant provocation and disappointment to them. No matter how hard I tried to make them proud of me, that they love me - I never made it. "

Although Simone knows that her parents cannot give her what she desires so much, she still longs for a healthy family to this day. “The desire for loving parents is so ingrained that it cannot be erased. There is nothing you can do about it. You have to learn to live with it ”, Simone is convinced. She tries to do that, and yet the 36-year-old finds it difficult, for example, when she happens to witness heartfelt everyday scenes between mothers and daughters or grandparents and grandchildren. "When I see a friend being cooked with soup by her mother at the puerperium, then I just have to go."

About losing and finding

It is clear that breaking contact rarely means a happy ending for both parties. Most of the time, he's just the lesser of two evils. But a break between parents and children does not always have to mean the end of the relationship. If both manage to recognize the separating moments in the time of silence and to free themselves from old patterns, an rapprochement can be successful.

For example, Agnes and Katharina (* last name known to the editors) have lost and found each other. Katharina was 29 when she broke off contact with her parents after a heated argument. “At that time I just didn't want to hear anything more from my parents. I didn't want to see them or read anything - simply nothing, ”says Katharina, who lives in Vienna today. After a loving childhood in a well-to-do family, the problems with her parents - the dominant father, a dentist, and Katharina's rather weak mother, an accountant - began during puberty. "My parents didn't accept my interests and personality traits that didn't match theirs," she says. She also never lived up to the demands of her father, who above all wanted "something sensitive" for his daughter's life. She tried to study economics, even if that went against her real interests. "I lived a compromise and became more and more unhappy." The contact with her parents caused her increasing stress. Again and again there were violent rebellion scenes, which ended in - for both sides nerve-wracking - arguments.

There was also no stability in Katharina's relationship life. Sometimes she also saw her parents to blame for this, and so depression and suicidal thoughts made their way. "The separation from my parents was absolutely necessary," the now 36-year-old is convinced. "This was the only way I could break out of old patterns, find out what I want, live my life without consideration for my parents and grow up." The contact ban lasted five years. A time in which Katharina managed, not least thanks to good psychotherapy, to "take responsibility for her life herself for the first time and not attribute everything to my parents". She managed to find her own way and to establish herself - for example professionally in the social sector.

Trapped in shock

For Katharina's mother, 61-year-old Agnes, the break was the worst experience of her life. In the initial phase, she was “trapped in a total paralysis”, she reports. Despair, helplessness and horror alternated. The total breakdown came when one day she "accidentally" saw a family video from earlier days. "I still cry now when I think about how the pain completely overwhelmed me back then." Whenever these happy pictures caught up with her, "I had to tell myself that this has nothing to do with Katharina of today, so as not to break".

Agnes had to say goodbye to her “little” daughter and all expectations of her and to endure the separation - this was the only way she could meet her “grown up” daughter later. Because Agnes and Katharina are in contact again today. The parents let their daughter go without dropping her.

In order to show her daughter that she is still part of her life, at some point Agnes began to write “little emails” in which she mainly told anecdotes about her granddaughter - Katharina's niece. On the birthday there were greetings and small gifts. "I think the therapy contributed to Katharina being able to accept that again," her mother believes today.

First phone calls after years

After five years, Katharina was ready to respond to her parents' regular tentative advances. She answered by phone. A meeting was arranged. And so daughter, mother and father faced each other after such a long separation in 2012 "for the first time as adults in a new role distribution", Katharina describes the experience. "It was strange. Stiff. Not reproachful and not overly emotional. The joy of seeing each other again definitely outweighed it," says the daughter. "The time was there to build on something new."

New traditions replace the old ones

They never talked about the separation phase. Today they both have a good relationship that is characterized by mutual appreciation and respect. However, they have not resumed old traditions, such as a Christmas together. Instead, they have created new traditions, such as an annual meeting at the end of August on Vienna's Rathausplatz and weekly phone calls.

Nevertheless, the experience has left traces on both sides. Mother and daughter still cry today when they talk about the past, but both are happy about what they have achieved: to develop further, to leave patterns and demands behind and to meet again. When asked what advice she would give to other affected parents, Agnes said: "Above all, don't give up. Never react with bitterness and reproach. And don't list everything you've done for your child, but keep showing with small gestures that you still love your child. "

Info and contacts

Those affected and interested can find more information and further reading here:



Epikurs blog: zeitgeistlos.de/zgblog, “Children in Germany; Part 27: Lost Contact, ”published September 3, 2013

Tina Soliman: “Radio silence. When people break off contact "(Klett-Cotta, 2011)

Tina Soliman: “The storm before the silence. Why people break off contact "(Klett-Cotta, 2014)

Sabine Standenat holds from March 4, 2015 a seven-part seminar on the topic of “Learn to love yourself, then life will love you!”, In which, among other things, the experiences of parent-child relationships are discussed.

("Die Presse", print edition, January 18, 2015)