My successful only son is miserable to me. Am I wrong to feel unappreciated?

Being a parent plunges you into a sort of unrequited love, writes Eleanor Gordon-Smith, but that doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong

My only son is very successful. He owns five properties, is self-employed, and due to inherit from a family member soon. He buys top-brand watches and cars. But l feel he is quite miserable towards me, his hard-working mum. I’ve never had big bunch flowers from him or wee present off the cuff. Am l wrong? It upsets me to not be appreciated.


I heard a story not too long ago about a father talking to his daughter. She was on the edge of the decision about whether she would have children and he was talking to her about what he’d learned when he became a dad. He told her that if he had his time again he wasn’t sure he’d have children. He wasn’t being unkind; it wasn’t because he didn’t adore her. It was because he hadn’t understood the way that being a parent plunges you permanently into unrequited love. Your whole life and heart become structured around someone who won’t return your calls; you would take a bullet for someone who forgets your birthday.

So no, you’re not wrong. He’s wrong. He’s wrong to take you for granted, though for him, you are the only thing that has ever been totally granted. You are the constant from his first day on Earth. The cruel twist is the better a parent you are, the more constantly and immovably you show up and provide love and reassurance, the easier it is for him to see your constancy as a metaphysical fact about the universe instead of the product of your effort and love. And who thinks to be grateful for the things we see as natural order?

You mustn’t take it to heart. It’s not a referendum on you or your value as a parent. It’s just the betrayal all of us ultimately level at our parents, which is to leave them behind. It’s a betrayal we have to move through on the way to adulthood, but if our parents have been good to us we could at least buy some flowers on the way out.

I wonder whether there are people in his life who could quietly have a word. You could be explicit with his sibling or spouse or father – or even with him. The “dear old mum” card is a tough one to resist. In the meantime, or if he doesn’t shape up, perhaps there’s some comfort in knowing that your hurt is the proof that you’re still a loving and hopeful person. Being able to be wounded by another person is the sign that we’re still vulnerable and open to them, that we’re living a life that’s awake and soft and full of hope. Not all those hopes get repaid, but I hope for your sake this one does. And Mum, I’ll call you soon.

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