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Annie’s mailbox: Many parents and children estranged

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Dear Annie: I read the letter from "Mrs. G. in Virginia," who wondered why elderly parents lose contact with their children. Not until I read your response did I consider that the problem between my child and me could be anything other than my failure as a parent.

I tried several times to understand the estrangement, wondering what I did (real or imagined) and asking for forgiveness, but my child won't address the subject. I receive only rude comments. I used to phone but was always told it "wasn't a good time." So I just decided to wait for a call, and I'm still waiting — years later.

When you said some children may lack the emotional wherewithal to make the adjustments and compromises necessary for a good relationship, it gave me a new perspective. You have lifted a burden I have carried for far too many years. I now will be able to think of my child with greater understanding. —Another Elderly Mrs.

Dear Another Elderly Mrs.: We're glad you found comfort, but many of our readers still blame one another, and some with good reason. Read on:

From West Virginia: My mother lives two miles from me, and I rarely speak to her because of years of emotional abuse. She has the ability to be the most charming person, so her neighbors think her children are terrible. If Mom said "I'm sorry" and sincerely tried to change her destructive ways, I'd be back in a heartbeat.

Midwest: My mother is overbearing, prickly and difficult. It has taken me years of therapy to understand how her behavior affected me. We speak on the phone every few weeks, but for my own emotional well-being, I keep my distance.

California: I have a grown son whose conversations were loaded with barbs. His contentious spirit left me with sleepless nights and many tears. I became unable to cope with those visits and made the difficult decision to ask him to stay away until we can have a loving relationship.

Florida: My mother is in a nursing home where the staff thinks she's a sweet old lady whose kids don't visit. Growing up, we were slapped, slugged with a fist, hit with broomsticks and knocked down stairs. She told us we were stupid and useless. I have no desire to see her.

North Carolina: When my wife's mother passed away, my father-in-law made it clear that he was beginning a new life that didn't include his grown children. Five years ago, he married a lady slightly older than his granddaughter.

Florida: My parents were abusive and critical. As a child, they told me I was worthless and dumb. As an adult, they said I spent too much money and was too lenient with my children. I couldn't win, so I quit playing.

California: I just returned from visiting my grandmother on her 99th birthday. When one grandchild, whom she hadn't seen in months, entered, Grandma remarked, "You've certainly put on a lot of weight." It doesn't take a genius to figure out why we don't hurry back.

New York: I am now 60 years old, and I can never remember my mother giving me a hug or telling me she loved me. My only memories are of criticism. When I do see her, she tells me she's lonely and would rather be dead. I've been in therapy for years trying to overcome the emotional problems from my childhood, and I doubt I'll ever reach a point where I actually want to spend time with Mother.

Nevada: My mother is past 90 but has not mellowed with age. Everyone has to do everything the way she demands or they are worthless, rotten ingrates. She's racist and insensitive, and I see no reason to subject myself or my wife to her abuse.

Los Angeles: My mother is a prescription drug addict and compulsive spender. Her favorite bumper sticker when we were growing up was, "Live long enough to be a burden for your children," and she has.

Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to anniesmailbox@comcast.net, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611. © Creators Syndicate Inc