Last Updated on April 12, 2018

A recent comment came from Elaine, who wrote to say:

Right now the “when-then” in my life is “when our oldest son decides to include us in his life again, then I will be happy.”

She wrote with an obvious sense of loss and pain over this changed relationship. I am so grateful for her honesty with us, and I understand. Though her situation and mine may be very different in terms of the particulars, I, too, experienced a profound loss with both of my sons after they married. I knew they needed to transfer their allegiance to their new wives. I wanted that and encouraged it. I even thought I was prepared for it.

But I quickly discovered a new reality of being not just second place in their lives but of feeling unnecessary. They would have never said this if asked, but it was how I felt. They were busy learning how to do marriage. They were busy learning how to do business and work. Their learning curve was steep, and whereas I had been a part of previous learning curves in their lives when they lived at home, now I was not included or needed. I knew it was right, but it didn’t lessen my sense of loss.

And to make matters worse, when they did call home—rather infrequently from my perspective—they seemed to always want to talk to their dad. Somehow he always was near the phone when they called. And then they would talk “men talk” and my son would hang up without even asking to say hi to me. I knew it wasn’t intentional, but for a time, I felt like I didn’t exist anymore.

I have worked through my mother-adult son relationships in two ways. One is that my husband gently mentioned to both of our sons how much I missed having a relationship with them and suggested that when we came to visit that they take me out for breakfast. My sons had no idea the loss I was feeling. How could they? I felt so honored to have them invite me to go out for breakfast even just a few times over the last five years. And I knew it was their dad’s suggestion, but it didn’t matter to me. I was grateful for even a small amount of time with them one-on-one.

The second solution for me has been to give thanks to God for them and to grow in my own contentment with the kind of relationship we do have. And both relationships are different, I might add. Would I like more time with them? Sure, but I have learned to be at peace with our different kind of relationship now that they are adults. It’s okay now. And I’m okay now, too.

They both have so much on their plates with work, wives, and three and four kids each. So I pray for them, watch them from a distance, and rejoice when I get even little snippets of time with them, whether it is in person, though an email, or through a phone call. The last thing I want is for my sons to feel they have a needy mother they have to worry about and can’t satisfy!

And I remember the days when I was number one in their lives and am grateful for those days of influence and involvement. I treasure it now more than I did then.

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  1. Barbara,
    I was researching blogs and came across yours. Wow! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and encouragement on adult sons. I am a mom of four girls, all of whom are in their early 20s but not yet married. God has been preparing me for the time when I won't be as important in their lives as I now am. You really ministered to me in this area as I continue to grow into this new phase of my life.
    Thanks again and may God continue to be glorified in your life and ministry!

    1. you are so welcome. it’s an honor to share what God has taught me with others like you!

  2. tammy terrell says:

    I enjoyed reading your articial on this subject; I am mother of 4 children. We have a son who is 21 and out on his own; has turned out well we have a few concerns with our family relationship but know he .us. I know to put it in Gods hands, and to allow God to do his work in our sons heart and his future wife’s heart also.For me to pray,pray. With God’s help and my husbands and my mom I am learning to adjust to this new chapter in my life. Thank you your ministry and sharing your real life experinces.

    1. You are most welcome. God will guide.

  3. When my son calls on the telephone, my husband always says to my married son, “Do you want to say hi to mom?” Only when my son is rushed does he ever decline. What a smart man I am married to.

  4. I am an adult daughter and it was/is a great struggle for me to keep up with my parents, work full time (not by choice), take care of two children, and work on a marriage…especially when the children are school age and participate in activities and friends. I LOVE MY PARENTS and am so thankful for everything they provided, taught, and shared. However, it was physically impossible for me to keep them up to date on day to day activities much less weekly! Everyone is different and some people may have ease at fulfilling, I did not. I always felt guilty because I would hear “you haven’t called”, “wow, this is the first time I have seen you all in forever”, or “no one told me child x did this”. Although we live 30 minutes apart, it is really hard to visit every weekend when the weekend is the only time you have for cleaning, paying bills, school projects, yard work, grocery shopping, etc. Especially, since we were the ones expected to visit their house or keep up the lines of communication.

    It is a hard for both sides, but that doesn’t mean either side loves the other any less. I believe we just have to focus on giving each other grace and understanding and keep open communication from both sides.

    Hopefully, when I am the Adult Parent, I will remember my Adult Children are gong through the same obstacles!!

    1. I totally get what you are saying in regards to being an adult daughter with her own family. It is hard when parents give you the guilt trip. Mine live out of state but mom says i dont care if u just call to say” hi mom, im alive and well, im going to the store now, love u bye. We communicate via text and i send pictures to her. That i can do and she does feel like that is making a bigger effort. She loves pictures! My dad its more complicated but that goes way back! I also have a 22 year old son who my mommy heart aches for! He has a steady girlfriend of 3 years and sometimes i will just text her and him to come this way she makes sure to get him here. Lol! (He has a room he rents).
      He calls when he needs a suggestion or say Hi . Not as often as i would like but this article made me realize its normal, it’s a different stage now, and its healthy. Uncomfortable but healthy.

      1. I love your summary. “uncomfortable but healthy.” change usually is uncomfortable but necessary. way to go for recognizing that. Your son sounds very normal!

  5. Oh Barbara! Thank you for this post ! I am reading your “Empty Nest” book right now and it is such a blessing as well! This season of having grown children is by far the hardest for me, as they are not needing me as much. Reading your book, and this post, causes me to want to pray even more that God would prepare my heart for all these transitions that are ahead! THANKYOU!

    1. you are welcome my friend!

  6. I enjoyed your article. Very encouraging at this time in my life. My last (daughter)of 3 will now enter the college years. My oldest(son) has been married to a precious gal for 2 years. They are living in her home town, 4 hours away from us. Her whole family is there, and I mean 4 generations of them! It’s been difficult for me to hear of birthday parties, and just gatherings for anything and everything that they are always at. Needless to say it is easier for them to be there for all, than always travel here for our family functions. Now if I stop and think, I am so grateful that they all love my son, and have welcomed him in. I just wish they could stop in here for cookies and a quick visit sometimes.

  7. As a mother of 4 sons & 1 daughter, reading this makes me a bit teary eyed. I’m not there yet. Our nest is still full, but at ages 20, twin 18 year olds, 16 & 10, I know it’s coming. My boys all still need me and there are days I wish it wasn’t quite so much! However, wonder how that’s going to feel on down the road and just what the relationships will look like.

    And I’m awfully glad for my little late in life gift who’s only 10. He still lets me do a lot of “mothering”. 😉

  8. Marianne Gum says:

    What a helpful article! Thank you! I am the mother of 3 sons, no daughters, 2 of whom are happily married. Our middle son is unmarried as yet. You really expressed my mixed emotions beautifully. love the breakfast idea!

  9. Thank you for sharing the article. I especially related to the part about feeling unnecessary. Since our son and his family, which includes our 2 beautiful granddaughters, moved 3000 miles away my sense of loss and feeling unnecessary has consumed me. We don’t get to see them much and they don’t call us much either. There is a 4 hr time difference and as a young family they are extremely busy. But I can’t help feeling that its more… “Out of site, out of mind” Our son and his wife are not walking in fellowship with Christ right now and that grieves me too. Although they are responsible and take good care of our granddaughters. I just feel so lost at times and confused as to why God took them away from us. I don’t call them too much, because they are always busy or going to bed or something and I feel like I’m bothering them. I love my son so much and now I love my daughter in law and granddaughters, but ,my heart is constantly aching because I miss them so much and wonder if I could have done somthing different to make them stay here.
    I know I’m rambling, but my heart is heavy and full. I pray and talk to my husband but it still hurts so much. Thank you for reading this. I appreciate your prayers.