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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

Cancelled by Your Own Kid? When Families Are Estranged

It’s in the news almost daily – this speaker or author, that leader or candidate or celebrity who suddenly becomes persona non grata when the social media mob pounces upon something they’ve tweeted or posted and pronounces them “not good.” It’s called Cancel Culture.

Public figures who speak out on social issues are most at risk, but what about those of us who speak privately to our own families about lifestyle issues or choices loved ones have made that deeply concern us? Are we at risk of getting “cancelled,” too?

A recent article in Psychology Today describes what might happen:

“You may be accused of being a racist, transphobic, or a traitor. You may be accused of causing “harm,” of “traumatizing” people, of “denying people’s existence” or similarly ridiculous and histrionic charges. Their accusations are mostly or completely false, but social reality can take on a life of its own. If enough people repeat it, it must be true.”

So what exactly is Cancel Culture?

“It is the idea that people should be denounced, publicly humiliated, and punished for completely legitimate ideas or political positions, or for minor mistakes and missteps. The public humiliation, denunciation, and attempt to get you fired or punished is called a "cancellation attack." If it succeeds, you have been ‘canceled.’"

The ugliness that ensues is enough to make us grateful this isn’t happening to us.

Until it does.

Until our own family members are the ones firing us.

I sat down recently and made a list for my eyes only of friends who have been rejected by their adult children or other loved ones. It was a long list.

These are close friends. Women and men I’ve known for years – decades, even – whom I know to be loving, sacrificially giving individuals. Friends who are emotionally devastated because the family members they would give their lives for no longer want them in their lives.

Cancel culture is nothing new.

Absalom rejected his father, David. Joseph’s brothers left him to die and lied to their father. Jesus told his listeners about a young man who wanted his father’s wealth but not his affection.

And the reverse is also true. I’ve had friends tell me through tears of mentally ill or abusive parents who threw them or their belongings out of the house for imaginary infractions. In situations where relationships have become toxic and boundaries are disrespected, it may be necessary to keep relatives at a safe distance to protect both your emotional and physical health.

But what of the times when division arrives simply because of differing value systems?

What do we do when a teenager, young adult or even grown child demands that mom/dad/grandma not only accept but affirm a lifestyle or relational choice that the mature believer knows to be ill-advised at best or harmful at worst? How do we love without condition, accept without agreement, and forgive without resentment?

My longtime friend “Sabrina” (not her real name) financed four years of her child’s college education only to be denied entrance to the graduation ceremony. Why? Sabrina had lovingly but truthfully expressed deep reservations about the unhealthy relationship the young adult had begun. She’s been cancelled.

Another close friend, “Tricia,” told me that her eldest was no longer speaking to her and refuses to attend upcoming family gatherings. Why? Because Tricia and her husband hold beliefs deeply rooted in their faith that differ from their daughter’s. They’ve been cancelled.

Hard, hard pain with no easy answers. We watch and we wait and we weep with those who are suffering from estrangements they did not create and cannot cure.

But there are questions – two of them, in fact – contained in Scripture which remind us that the Father of us all is not unaware of the pain in his human family.

Following his resurrection, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, asking her, “Dear woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” (John 20:15) While Mary was grieving what she thought was the loss of her Savior and friend, Jesus’ compassionate question extends to us as well. He sees our tears; he cares about our search for those we love.

In the very first book of the Bible we discover a grieving parent, another loving query.

“What troubles you, Hagar?” inquires God’s representative. “Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Gen. 21:17b NIV

Two heartbroken women. Two divine questions. How can they speak into our lives today?

Mary’s grief was brought about by a separation she thought was permanent. It was not. Jesus returned to her that which she believed she lost – his presence.

Hagar’s despair arose from having been cast out by the very people she thought cared for her – Abraham and Sarah. Yet God saw her in the wilderness and sent his angel to reassure her that He heard the boy where he was.

Just as He sees, hears, and cares for our children wherever they might be, whether that’s in relationship with us or not.

In her essay “How to Carry the Weight of Rejection,” Simi John writes:

“You may do everything you possibly can to try and live at peace with another person, but they still may not desire to have a relationship with you. They may mistreat you or walk out of your life. In these instances you might not have closure, but you can have internal peace. Peace comes when you’re living out God’s will for your life. Regardless of how others respond, God will honor your commitment to live in harmony and to love them well.”

Last year, my mentor Gail texted me about a relational situation that deeply concerned us both.

“Once we have done all we can do, we wait as one at rest from fret,” she wrote. “We need to be expectant in hope without expectations of a desired result."

If you are currently grieving the loss of the once-close relationship you had with a family member and you’ve done all you can to love them despite disagreement, be at peace, my friend.

Continue to wait expectantly as one “at rest from fret.” Your loved one may have chosen to live in a place far from you physically, emotionally, or spiritually, but they are never out of sight of the God who loves them, who sees them right where they are.

We display our family resemblance to our heavenly Father when we love as we have been loved, comfort as we have been comforted, and forgive as we have been forgiven (Sharon Garlough Brown, paraphrase.)

And that’s a relationship no one can ever take from us.

- Maggie Wallem Rowe, 2023

Recommended Reading: Love, Pray, Listen: Parenting Your Wayward Adult Kids with Joy (Mary DeMuth, Bethany House Publishers, 2022)


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3. Taylor University Professional Writers ConferenceJuly 28-29, Upland, Indiana

Maggie Wallem Rowe lives and writes from Peace Ridge, her home in the mountains of western North Carolina, when she is not traipsing the world trying to be useful somewhere else. She is the author of This Life We Share and Life is Sweet, Y'all.


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