‘My adult son lives at home, but I still struggle to connect with him’

‘We pass like ships in the night and I am upset I’ll never have a relationship with him’

Try to build small moments of better daily communication with your son. Photograph: iStock

Try to build small moments of better daily communication with your son. Photograph: iStock


Question: I am a mid-50s, married, dad with three kids. I’ve struggled to find closeness in my relationship with my son for years. The teen years were a real struggle. Now he’s past mid-20s, still living at home, but we pass like ships in the night where my “hellos” are met with silence or a grunt. He cooks and eats separately. He’ll talk a bit to his mam, but most often it’s about giving out about the past or things now at home.

Any of my attempts to connect with him are met with, “I don’t want to talk”. I feel the hard moments in our lives were years ago and feel we’re stuck in past stories that were 15 years ago.

I am not the most emotionally intelligent person, I’m probably very much in my head, and not good at sharing my feelings.

I’m seeing a therapist and have worked to improve my own understanding of my upbringing and so improve the relationship with my wife. I am stuck, though, when it comes to my son and upset I’ll never have a relationship with him.

How might I begin to turn this around?

Ask the Expert: Send your questions to John Sharry

Answer: I firmly believe that it is never too late to improve family relationships and frequently it is in the latter half of our lives that we achieve healing with our nearest and dearest. It is great that you are engaging in therapy and it is very helpful that you are willing to take responsibility for the your part in the problems of the past. However, it is important to be very patient. While you are in a process of reflection, gaining insight and making changes your son is not yet engaged in this process. Further he might take time to be convinced of your genuine intentions and your willingness to make changes.

Also, the current challenge of Covid restrictions can make these problems worse. Often parents develop better relationships with their adult children when they live apart (rather than in a forced lockdown), which allows for more planned meeting times and shared activities.

Below are some ideas that might help.

1) As well as telling him verbally, consider writing him an email/ letter to explain how you are feeling. Be prepared to ask for forgiveness for the past and reaffirm your intention to develop a good relationship going forward. Say you are there to talk whenever he is ready but remove any pressure that he has to talk with you.

2) Try to build small moments of better daily communication with your son. Is there any way you could extend the “grunts” into slightly longer moments of conversation. Could you orchestrate a situation that you have a meal, watch TV or go out somewhere together? Could you respond positively when he needs a lift or anything else from you? Avoid starting with heavy conversation and instead focus on ordinary simple conversation and small talk. The key is to slowly build the communication channel between you.

3) Ask your wife to help you with building your relationship. She may have some good ideas as to what might work and she might be able to act a positive bridge or even mediator between the two of you.

4) Finally, keep going to your therapy and making progress in your own personal development. The more you become self-aware of your own feelings and behaviours the easier it will be to relate to and understand your son.

- John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He will be presenting a workshop on ‘Helping Your Children and Teenagers Bounce Back after Covid’ on June 14th. See solutiontalk.ie