July 19, 2011
Dennis Prager: Adults who do not speak to a parent
For two decades I have been on a crusade: to convince adults who have cut off all communication with a parent to re-establish contact.
Through my radio show, which deals as much with personal issues as with politics, I became aware of something that, as a parent, I view as a nightmare: children who voluntarily disappear from a parent’s life.
The pain I heard in the voices of parents whose son or daughter had ceased speaking to them broke my heart. In some ways, I would imagine, the pain can be more difficult to handle than the death of a child. It is, after all, a form of death, but it has the added pain of having been deliberately inflicted upon the parent. And in the case of grandparents whose adult children have severed all communication, they not only lose all contact with their child, but with their grandchildren as well — something that is not the case when an adult child dies.
While I can imagine situations in which there is a moral justification for cutting off all contact with a parent, those situations are rare. Beyond the parent who presents a physical threat to the child or who has a history — a real history, not a “recovered memory” induced by a psychotherapist — of sexual molestation or serious physical abuse, it is very difficult to imagine a situation in which never communicating with a parent is justifiable.
On one of my radio shows on this topic, I asked adults who have ceased speaking to a parent to call in. One woman in her late 20s, a resident of Santa Monica, told me that she had not contacted her mother in nearly 10 years. I asked the woman if her mother had molested or beaten her. On the contrary, she told me — not only had her mother never done such things, she had always shown her love.
I was, needless to say, mystified.
“So why don’t you talk to her?” I asked
“Because she has a very dominating personality,” the caller responded. “And if I let her in my life, she will dominate it.”
I suspected the influence of another person in her life, so I asked if she was seeing a psychotherapist. When she answered yes, I asked her what her therapist thought of her not speaking to her mother; she responded that her therapist was completely supportive of this decision.
Having dealt with this issue for so long, here are some conclusions I have reached.
In the majority of cases, children who have cut off all contact with a parent are engaged in an act that is so hurtful, it borders on evil.
And if this decision is abetted by one’s psychotherapist, that therapist is an accessory to a moral crime. He or she is also probably an incompetent therapist. The easiest things for a therapist to do are to affirm a patient’s sense of victimhood and to approve of selfish decisions of the patient, even when those decisions hurt others.
Just as good religion makes people better people and bad religion makes people worse people, good therapy makes people better and bad therapy makes people worse. Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad religion and there is a lot of bad therapy.
There is an additional danger to cutting off all contact with a parent: How will people who do this feel after their parent dies? The importance of having made some peace with a parent before he or she dies is difficult to overstate. I know women who were sexually abused by their father but who, as adults, have not completely cut themselves off from him — solely to ensure their own inner peace after he dies.
Also, parents who do not speak with their own parent(s) might consider what sort of model they present to their children about how to treat a parent.
This painful subject is one of the many reasons I so strongly affirm a God-based and Torah-based values system. The great majority of human beings go through a difficult period with one or both of their parents, a period when anger or even hatred is greater than love for a parent. I am convinced that it is for that reason — the complex nature of many people’s feelings toward their parents — that the Torah avoids commanding that we love our father and mother. We are commanded to love the stranger, to love God and to love our neighbor, but we are not commanded to love our parents.
But we are commanded to honor our parents. In other words, even if we hate our parents, with rare exceptions, we must still honor them. Honoring them means, at the very least, staying in contact with them.
I wish a study would be conducted of a thousand adult children who have chosen to break off all contact with a parent to reveal how many of them believe in the Ten Commandments as a God-given document. My suspicion is that very few of them do. If I am wrong, however, if religious Jews and religious Christians are just as likely to cut off all contact with a parent as are irreligious people, then I would have to conclude that Judaism and Christianity, whatever benefits they may offer the individual, are morally largely worthless.
The greatest message of Judaism is to act nobly even when one doesn’t feel like doing so. If one cannot do this with regard to one of the Ten Commandments, that message has truly been lost.
And, speaking Jewishly, it is better to eat pork on Yom Kippur than to destroy a mother or father.