Help me, Chloe! My Son Won’t Call Me!

Good parenting is hard. Welcome to the part of the show where I share wisdom from my vast wealth of agonizing experiences parenting young adult children.

Today’s question comes from a longtime reader who lives in the Adirondacks. She asks:

Dear Chloe,

Please help me! My 22-year old son hasn’t called me in weeks. I’ve left messages on his cellphone, and even resorted to messages on his Facebook page, begging him to call his poor, old, grey-haired mother at least once more before I die, but all I’m getting back is silence. What can I do to get my son to call me?

Signed,

I Breastfed Until My Nipples Fell Off And Now I Can’t Get A Lousy Phone Call?

Dear Nippleless,

First, let me congratulate you on your great momming achievement. YOUR SON ISN’T LIVING IN YOUR BASEMENT!!! That right there should entitle you to a parade down Main Street.

Sadly, I know that even a parade, attended by everyone in the world, will not make up for the lack of one measly phone call from your kid, so I am here to help.

Let me begin by reassuring you that you aren’t alone. All of us moms whose children have left home have experienced The Silence at one time or another. And it hurts. It hurts real bad. But let’s take a moment to consider the matter from your son’s point of view.

Realize that your young adult child has a constant, as in 24/7, tape recording of your voice running through his head. He’s heard you yammer on for YEARS about every topic under the sun. He knows without asking what you think about this or how you feel about that. And part of being a young adult is learning to turn off your voice so he can hear himself think.

The reality of this constant playback of our nagging voices in our kids’  heads cannot be over-estimated.

Remember Kunta Kinte in Roots and how he needed to go live in his own hut after he became a man? That’s what is happening with your son right now. He’s like Kunta Kinte.

Unfortunately, you and I both know that Kunta Kinte was an idiot and, while off looking for parts to build his new drum, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery by evil doers. You’d like a freaking phone call once in a while reassuring you that your son isn’t being held against his will by modern-day evil doers somewhere!

How hard could that be!?!

Now, how to get that phone call.

Knowing that just the sound of your voice is laden with emotions for the young adult, you want to find ways to connect that reduce all that angst for your child. Especially if your child is doing something they know you’ll disapprove of–which, by the way, they probably are.

Facebook is a terrible way to connect. Kids do not want to see their parents on Facebook! It makes them feel sick inside. So whatever you do, DO NOT post requests for a phone call on Facebook.

Calling directly on the phone or leaving voice messages is also a terrible way to try to connect to your young adult if your kid is in a silent phase. Don’t even bother. It would be better to write a short letter and snail mail it instead, preferably with a $20 bill folded inside.

Texting is the best way to connect. Most people check their texts several times a day, and since texting is the least emotional means of connection, that’s where you’ll have your best shot getting some response back.

No matter what method you try, ABSTAIN FROM ANY GUILT-MONGERING IN YOUR MESSAGE.

Do not mention how long it has been since you last spoke. Do not mention that you don’t have much longer to live. Do not mention that you are worried they’ve been kidnapped by slavers.

Keep it short. Keep it sweet. Something like,

“Hey, I just drove by our favorite ice cream shop and was thinking of you. Hope your day is terrific!”

or

“Stumbled across your old Good Charlotte CD today. Good times! I love you!  Hope you are having a good day.”

Messages that bring up pleasant memories the two of you shared along with a short message that you simply love them are best.

And leave it at that.

Then go out to lunch with your girlfriends, or go take a walk. It is unlikely that your child has been abducted by slavers or killed in a gang-land shoot-out. They are just very busy learning to live without you.

Don’t worry.

They’ll be back.

You are the stupidest, uncoolest person in the world until your young adult child hits about 25. Before you know it you’ll be getting smarter by the day. I promise.

Love, Chloe

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  1. My Son is married and has 2 children he never phones me or comes to see me, I have phoned him and sent a text but no reply, we always got on and never had a row, the only time he phoned is when his wife walked out and he didn’t have anyone to mind the children. He has sorted out his marriage so he is ok. I love my grandchildren and they love me but I don’t know his children as I seldom see them, I cant just go and see them without arrangements in advance and it never seems to suite his wife. I was mother and father to him as his Dad had no time for him. He was not an only child as I also have four Daughters. Your advice please.

  2. Dear Chloe, My son is 26 and has been out of the house for a couple of years now. He doesn’t seem to be getting smarter by the day as far as calling his mom is concerned. I love him dearly and miss him. I don’t expect a weekly phone call but once a month would be nice and oh, by the way I have tried texting, needless to say a big NOTHING! Very sad :(.

  3. As uplifting as I found this article and comments, there are still some of us out there who aren’t so fortunate. My son, after years of living with me without paying rent, was fired from several jobs that he did get so otherwise was unemployed, smoked pot and reeked up my house, started bringing women in and sleeping with them in my house, even after I told him not to. The final straw was when he betrayed me and lied to me about something very hurtful, I threw him out. I had been saying for moths I wanted him to leave and get his own life in order, but he wouldn’t leave. Now, 4 + years later, he has bought a house less than 2 miles away and had 2 children with a woman I have never met. I do not consider myself a grandmother. Thanks to Facebook, which I am not on, everyone knows more about them than I do. I have tried to contact him several times over the years, but I have stopped because I was told he would never speak to me again. I have a sadness very deep. People used to say, don’t worry, he will grow up and come back. This may be true for others, but not me. I have to live with this.

    • Oh Donna, how very difficult and sad this must be for you. I guess I would suggest you keep trying, and don’t give up. I wonder if a counselor experienced in family dynamics might be able to help you and your son reunite. It sounds like there are very deep hurt feelings on both sides that need to be heard by both of you. Again, I am very sorry about this. I cannot imagine how sad this must make you.

  4. Wow, well said, AND THE TRUTH! And even with ALL MY GRADUATE LEVEL WORK IN PSYCH, even I benefited from your words! Its an awesome accurate reminder to bank on the positives, stress those points and BUILD A LIFE WITHOUT WAITING FOR THE ADULT CHILD TO GROW THROUGH THEIR NATURAL PHASES! Indeed, much harder to do than say, and hiw wonderful your reminder has been, IT’S NOT PERSONAL TO ME, MY WEIRD TRAITS OR WHATEVER, it is just the way the cookie crumbles, thanks so much, you lifted me today!

    Warmly,

    Michelle R
    of
    Portland, Oregon

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  6. As a mom of six who rarely receives phone calls from two of
    my young adult children and another who can go days
    without even saying’boo! ‘ though he lives in my house
    your encouragement has given me some hope along with
    Some much appreciated humor! Thanks.

  7. Hi Chloe,
    Mom in pain here. My baby left in august for the army
    And I have been missing him everyday since then.
    During boot camp he could only call twice and he wrote
    Me once. He’s not a big communicator.
    But now in his AIT training he has a computer,
    Cell phone, and weekends off so the time is there…
    But still very little. I did what you said for awhile.
    But being ignored is painful. Its rude! Isn’t my
    Continuing to just send happy texts saying that its
    Ok to ignore me ? (And his grandmothers who have
    Learned to text to keep in touch with him)
    No answers. I have resorted to stopping the texting
    And i simply send a card or care package from time
    To time… Is that harsh??? Am i a bad mom???
    Maybe if I raised him different he would call…?
    Argh!!!

  8. Wow! I just happened to come across your website and this really hit home for me. Great advice for yet another mother who can’t get a simple phone call from their 20 something sons. So glad I’m not alone and there really may be a simple reason why this happens!

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  10. Hi, I like your blog! I’m glad you went to Paris, fantastic place. I’m writing to ask you about the music you have on your “About Me” video-I love it. Will you please tell me the name of the musician/track? Thank you for your time.

    Colette

  11. I love it ~ yes, we are the ‘stupidest’ humans on the planet until our children hit 25. Funny, in a meeting the other day, we both said, 17 year olds – going on 30 and 2. That is what makes them 17. So SO hard, because they often crush our spirit, yet, if not for the Grace of God ~ and remembering that HE holds them close, even when our ‘kids’ push us away.
    Laura B. recently posted..Say NO! to GMO’S!My Profile

  12. That’s one of the reasons I love Facebook. I know what the kids and grandkids are up to without being obtrusive.

    • I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook where my kids are concerned. I’m sure someone is going to ask me for my advice about that very soon and I’ll talk more about adult kids and Facebook: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  13. Excellent advice, Chloe! I know I have 2 grown sons and I only know what’s going on with them through their wives. Boys are kind of like that! And you’re so right about the age 25. I always tell moms of teenage boys (the worst age and time ever!) that they will turn back into the boys they used to know at about age 25. So true!
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    • I know that when I hit 25 suddenly it is like my brain worked right. My husband was also 25 when it happened for him. I’ve seen it with so many kids that I think there much be something that happens to brain chemistry at 25. I’m hanging on for 25!

  14. Hi Chloe,

    I could SO relate to this, as my son is 25 and very involved in his own world. I rarely get a call from him. At the same time, when we DO communicate through facebook mostly or text, he showers me with loving words, and lets me know how important I am to him. I comment on his posts at least once a week, just to stay plugged in to his life, and I know he really appreciates that. It’s working for us, and it’s much better than me waiting and wondering why he has not called me. That never works. My grandmother did that and we always felt so terrible. Your advice is perfect.
    Laura Morris recently posted..Dr Shinya’s Menu for Good HealthMy Profile

    • My son is also very affectionate when we do communicate, but sometimes the long silences do get hard. I know he’s just very busy living his life and not thinking that he needs to call and reassure me that he’s not on a slave boat to the New World or anything.

    • The comments are pretty good, huh? We moms of adult kids need to get together more and talk this out. I sometimes feel very alone and think that everybody else’s kids are calling them all the time, and maybe there is something wrong with me. But then I read that I am not alone. It doesn’t make The Silence not hurt, but it does let me know that this is all perfectly normal.

  15. I so remember my phase of not calling because life was just too exciting. My mum once opined with ‘ so you’re not dead then’. Have been calling everyday for at least the last ten years and friendly before that so I know there will be hope at the end of the tunnel if I can just avoid pissing them off in the next ten years.

    • I remember it too. I think this is part of the weirdness of the Circle of Life that we seem to forget how we were when we were kids. I didn’t bother calling my mom when things were going well because, well…things were going well. I was busy and thinking about myself.

      When I hit 25 I started calling my mother a lot more and she and I talked at least once a week for an hour or more from then on. I know I set a good example, too. And that’s important.

  16. Great post! When I talk to my grown-up kids and they tell me not to worry, I tell them I have to–Gotta keep up my worry hours or I’ll lose my mom license. Two of my three are parents now and I think they get it.
    Texting always gets a response, especially if I add some emoji!

    • They just don’t understand until they are parents themselves, do they? We have to worry. For me, my children will always be my babies. There is a part of me that will always be very vulnerable where they are concerned. And that’s what they won’t get until they experience it for themselves.

    • Exactly. They don’t even bother listening. They look at missed calls.

      I have also been on the receiving end of TMI. I just smile. I prefer TMI to The Silence any day.

    • Thank you, Karen!!!

      This is what my daughter says ALL OF THE TIME! “Have parents forgotten what it’s like to be the kid?”

      Just think how you feel about your own mother’s guilt-fests and you’ll know just how unmotivating phone calls like that are.

      When someone starts a conversation with me by whining, “You haven’t called.” Everything in me thinks, “Yep, and I won’t be calling again any time soon after this either.”

  17. Chloe knows what she’s talking about. I’ve been texting my adult son for years. He still likes me. I even get a hug and a kiss on the top of my head when he says good-bye to me in person.

    • Absolutely everyone who reads my blog trying to parent teens or young adults NEEDS to read your blog, Jennifer. Texting is the way to communicate with this generation. And the sooner we learn how the better our relationships will be. Thanks for such a great comment. I appreciate an expert weighing in on the matter.

  18. I love the text thing, but with my child a simple text isn’t enough. If an actual questions hasn’t been ask-well there is no reason for him to even bother to text me back. So in order to check to see if he is still breathing, I drop at least one question. If he’s feeling generous, I’ll get a one word response with. Lov u. But hey, that makes my day. Glad to know I’m not alone.

  19. Seeing that son #2 is off to college in a week, this was a timely post. I may need you to remind me of this in a week and a few days….sigh.

    I’m so glad that you are ahead of me on the mommy trail so that I can learn from you!!

    • You are entering the darkest time. Sounds like you need a trip to the beach this winter with some really cool friends who will make you laugh and forget it all. I hope that happens for you.

  20. Chloe, I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, and I always love it. I’m pregnant with my fifth child, so Vagina Whispering is certainly welcome here, I’ve always been partial to really good love stories *especially* if they have warning labels, and I wasted my 20′s (my *20′s*, dammit!) in humorless deacon-wifery. Most of what you write is what I need to hear or is already bouncing around in my head, but this feels like you wrote it to me.

    My fifth child is probably going be my fifth son: one more male to hold 100% of my heart in his hands. My biggest fears are a) them forgetting how much I love them/never calling me and b) them marrying harpies who purposefully misinterpret everything I say and do, driving us to situation a). I always get hella weepy while I’m pregnant, and a ridiculous, probably unhealthy, portion of my tears are shed over that ambiguous, powerless stage when the boys will grow up and not need or want me around.

    Anyway, thank you. I needed something like this.

    • Hey Bethany! Thanks so much for letting me know that you’re here.

      Congratulations on Baby Boy #5. I have plenty of advice for dealing with those pesky harpies girlfriends that I promise will work. Well, at least they’ve worked up until now.

  21. Call him ~ keep calling him!! Eventually he will call you just to make you stop calling him, lol ~ But never give up on them! Call, Call, Call

  22. My brother has an app on his smartphone that reminds him to call our mom. The app shows when he lasted called and if it’s been over a set period of time it sends a reminder. Now if I could only get him to return my calls… but then I’m just his sister.

  23. I had that problem once and left this message (text wasn’t in then) for my son named Jonas who had the nick name Jonasty (he was a good kid and was not nasty, just so you know.)
    I wrote this in my best Snoop Dog fashion.
    This is said as a rap:
    “Now this is the mom of the man
    named Jonasty
    Women flock around him cause they
    think he’s fantastic
    Little do they know his charm they
    owe to me
    I’m the one that beat his butt and made
    him say please
    Uh huh, uh huh”
    Call me to get the next verse…Bye, love you
    Worked like a charm and he called two hours later.
    By the way, you gave great advice and I totally agree.

    • I like your style!!!

      That’s a great idea. If you can get them to associate you with something pleasant for them then you are more likely to get a call. You worked that perfectly!

  24. So then I’m guessing calling and leaving the following wasn’t a good choice…
    “Hi Baby, it’s Mom. I am just calling to give you my new phone number and address. Guess you aren’t home. Darn my luck. Love you Sweet Girl.” click

    or my number 2 best seller…

    “Hi Honey. If anyone calls you to see how I’m doing, please don’t give out any details. I don’t know what Dad has told you, but seriously, I don’t want my business out there, you know. I love you, ba-bye.”

    Those are not good? hhhrrrummmmph.

    Dang it.
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  25. I need to re-read this in about 5 years. At least I hope I’ll need to re-read it and said person isn’t in my basement!

  26. But I’m sooooo goooood at the whining and guilting…..c’mon. I’ve practiced too hard to not give it my best! Bah! :)

    • You don’t to have any fun if you want any phone calls. You gotta work it like a job. At least during this phase. If you work it right then you’ll be home free…once they realize that you are the wisest more wonderful person in the world.

      Which I’m afraid might not happen until you’re dead. But that’s another post for another day.
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