Peak Oil Activists Cut off from Adult Daughter

9796482_sI got an interesting email from some of the sweetest people I know. These friends of mine call themselves “ecotherapists” and they devote their lives to helping people reconnect to the natural world and their truer place in it.

The email was a discussion of Elaine Kost’s article in Culture Change entitled: Mother’s Day Wishes During Peak Times. Kost is one of the Raging Grannies, a group of social justice activists, who do a lot of important acts of civil disobedience.

In this article, Kost tells us that she is estranged from her daughter, Jennifer, whom she hasn’t seen in two years. During that time, her daughter got married, and Kost celebrated her 30th wedding anniversary. She tells us: “We have so many memories without her and we don’t understand why.” Quickly, however, we begin to get clues:

She denies that things are as real as we tell her. She won’t begin to discuss the changes she might make to better prepare herself. Instead she would rather occupy her time by watching silly sitcoms, going to NASCAR races and most recently visiting Las Vegas for her one year wedding anniversary, where her My Space showed pictures of her with plastic gorillas.

Kost takes us through her political awakening, from politics, climate change, Peak Oil, and a rejection of media indoctrination. She began to grow her own food, scale down, pay off her mortgage, and, now retired, she lives on one car. She has, she tells us, “discovered a path to happiness, and it doesn’t cost money.” She raised Jennifer in the country, home-schooled her, “taught her what she needed to know,” and provided her “a strong foundation to survive in a world that’s as amazing as troubled.” “They [the children] questioned everything, but trusted our answers…We were honest in what we told her and felt this was our responsibility as parents, no matter what the outcome. I understand now it would have been much easier to tell her what she wanted to hear…As a mom I’ve tried hard not to enable, though at times I know I have.”

In an earlier article by her husband, David, he expresses a frustration familiar to many of us:

When we talk to people about peak oil/peak resources, climate and ecosystems collapsing, collapse of the financial system and our infrastructure, we find people think we’re nuts. Some are aware of these things, but they’re not concerned because they think they won’t be around to see it happen. Others know it but just won’t do anything and are too lazy, and then there are those who are in it for the money (capitalism with a smile).

Elaine’s children weren’t protected from an awareness of hardship. Both of Elaine’s parents lived through the Blitz in London during World War II, and spoke of it in detail to her grandchildren and “tears filled their eyes.” Her daughters, too, have acknowledged that “some of the best times where when we had the least.

Elaine loves her daughter, isn’t reconciled to this cut-off and finds it “hard to accept the relationship that I have with her now.” She states: “I wish there was a book on how to make my daughter talk to me, because I can’t learn from what I don’t know…I’m searching for answers to who my daughter is.” She attributes the cut-off to her candor: “I only hope that someday she will understand the reason for me telling her what I know. I believe we all gain from being armed with knowledge, as the earth will go on with or without us.

I would have loved a book this Mother’s Day on how to prepare our children for a very different future. Maybe if I believed she was happy, I could let her go. But my motherly instincts tell me otherwise.

I have much in common with this couple. I’m about their same age, and have had my daughter only a few years later than they did. We’ve read the same books, watched the same films, and I’m sure we both have bored our daughters to death with our “information.” Hopefully, I can offer this couple something they might find useful in their goal of reaching out and healing the disconnect between themselves and their daughter Jennifer:

Dear Elaine and David,

You’ve tried so hard to do right by your daughter. You’ve loved her, home-schooled her, taught her basic skills in a rural environment, and above all, you’ve been honest with her about the world she is living in, and she’s been touched by it. She’s listened, with tears in her eyes, to the stories of her grandparents hardship during World War II. She sounds like the smart and sensitive woman you’ve raised her to be.

You see her refusal to come around and accept how “real” things are, as the source of your cut-off from her, but I have a different idea I’d like to toss out. I’d like to suggest that, as hard as this is to hear, your own convictions about how things “should be,” and your own investment in wanting Jennifer to live the way you think she should be living, might be closer to the truth.

Elaine, you and I are both in our 50’s, and we’ve lived a life that we believed was going to work best for us. We grew up in a time of social optimism, and hope for a future that appeared full of possibilities. Your daughter is facing a future of dwindling resources, and increasingly limited life choices.

You decided to seek an alternative path in areas of child rearing (David was a “stay at home” Dad) and education (you home schooled). I hope you were able to get the support of your parents in making those decisions, because we all need support during those difficult early years. Jennifer’s living at a time when even deciding to have child(ren) might be seen as an act of selfishness on her part or cruelty to those child(ren.) My heart goes out to this generation, because we helped shaped the world we’re living in, and our generation took the best and biggest slice of the resources, leaving the next a breakdown historic in its proportions. It’s no surprise that they are looking for mindless distractions to relieve the enormous pressure they feel, coming from every angle.

It is clear that you’ve had a profound impact on your childrens’ lives, but now it is time to relax a bit and trust that whatever direction your adult children take, ultimately, they will never be separated from that loving education you provided. Because of that great dedication to that fundamental shift in your understanding of the world, (a vision I share with you, by the way), I can tell you, without reservations, that you are blowing it now. Perhaps I’m projecting my experience onto yours, so let me tell you about some of the mistakes I made with my own daughter, and see if any of it rings true.

One of the most difficult questions for social activist parents to ask their adult children is: “Do you want my opinion?” For a long time, I didn’t want to ask my daughter that question, because I knew what the answer was.

She didn’t.

She already knew what I thought, thank you very much, because I told her so often. I used to try and “sneak in” education by promising to “only play this tape for 10 minutes” or “only talk for 15 minutes” before I’d agree to change the subject (this worked best when she was in the car and couldn’t escape!). I knew she was listening with half an ear, and I knew she was resentful about it, too, but I told myself that this was “for her own good.”

She knew, however, what I refused to acknowledge: She had a right to her own opinion, even if she WAS my daughter.

I “woke up” when it got so bad, that I one day bribed her by offering to take her to dinner, on the condition that she’d listen to me “talk to her” (lecture at her) for some set period of time. She agreed, sullenly (…she wanted the meal out) but as I talked, I began to notice, really notice, the pained look on her face. Suddenly, deep in my gut, I realized that I had been a fool. What was I doing holding my daughter captive under the lure of a meal out? How effective did I believe I would be under this sort of “forced brainwashing?” Was this really the way to “win friends and influence people?” Of course not.

So I did an “about face.” I stopped my “educational seminar” short, and promised her that I’d never speak to her about any of it, again, unless she was willing to listen. I was losing “valuable learning opportunities,” but I solidified a different sort of relationship with my daughter, based upon more mutual respect.

Later on, a funny thing happened: She started hinting to me that she was following the doomer news. She’d be updating me about what was happening, and I could see she took great pride in “stumping the Peak Shrink.” She could see the delight I took in her, as well, but I still kept my mouth shut, unless she asked me. Later still, she told me that, despite her living in the city, and not “preparing” in any way, she fully expected that I would “keep a place” for her, at my house, should TSHTF. So THAT was her plan!

She totaled her car recently, and asked my opinion about what she should do, because she couldn’t afford to buy another one. Remember, she ASKED me, so I told her. She fought with me when I answered, and I reminded her that ultimately, it was her decision. She knew what I thought, but would have to make up her own mind, because it was her life.

She’s amazed herself by remaining car-free.

Later, she’s suggested some TV programs she thought I’d like, and you know what? She was right. They were enjoyable, (and yes, they were silly) and I told her so. Silly is sometimes good.

Elaine, trust yourself, and re-focus your attention on your relationship with your daughter, is my advice to you. The only way to know who your daughter truly is, is to ask questions, and be genuinely interested in the answers. Not the “Don’t you think you’d be better off…” kind of questions. Leave your judgments at the door.

In my opinion, nothing, including the “Big Bozo Carbon Footprint” (BBCF) Jennifer is leaving, is worth losing her warm connection to you and your husband. You had your chance to make your impression on her, during all of the years when you raised her, and now you have to trust that you succeeded, despite the “fossil fuel fiesta” she’s having now. I’m sure she “gets it.” I’m sure she “knows what you think,” and this might be a big part of the problem.

She knows you don’t respect her, Elaine, no matter how much you may love her. You’ve publicly ridiculed her, calling her interests “silly,” and despite the social approval you got for doing so, by people like me, who agree with you, you’ve also paid a tremendous price for your convictions. It isn’t a price anyone should have to pay. What kind of price?

You weren’t there to stand by her, and promise to support the couple when she married. She needed you to be part of her team, to knock down the door if you had to, and you didn’t. She needed you to congratulate her on surviving that first trying year of being married, and to laugh at, instead of mock that ridiculous gorilla picture. And she’ll need you a lot more, if she decides to contribute to our overpopulation problem in the future.

Your grandchildren will need their Grannie to show them how to raise crops, jump in puddles without caring, and keep their BBFP small. They’ll listen with complete rapture to your stories, and even tears, without ever judging you. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the chance to spend long vacations with them, to give the young couple a break from their parenting responsibilities, and everyone will have a blast–kids, grandparents, and (alone at last!) parents.

But before any of that happens, Elaine, you have to learn to bend real low, for a higher cause. You’ve made the greatest and most common mistake all parents of adult children make: You needed to be right, rather than to be happy.

Despite the fact that you are sure that your daughter is not happy, (and how could she be, estranged from her mother?) Elaine, you aren’t happy either. How could you be? Despite your clear and un-ambivalent declarations of love, I kept reading a stronger subtext of emotion: Pride.

“I only hope that someday she will understand the reason for me telling her what I know. I believe we all gain from being armed with knowledge…” In other words: “I did it for her own good (whether she likes it or not!”) You are certain of your rightness and that pride and certainty is hurting you, Elaine, and alienating you from your own daughter. Don’t let it block you from reaching out and taking a new tact.

Admit that you are a Bozo (we are ALL Bozos on this bus), and make plans to mend your ways. Look for areas where you can stretch and reach out to her. Leave long, apologetic messages on Jennifer’s line, telling her what a jerk you’ve been and telling her how much you miss her and want to make up. Maybe you’ll promise to go to NASCAR with her, drink lots of beer and digest hot dogs with nitrates. (Okay, that would be a lot to ask, I admit…) Get your sense of humor back, and ask your daughter to suggest the funniest sit com on television and watch it over a friend’s house, if you don’t own a television. If she won’t talk to you, ask your other daughter to find out what shows she enjoys. Leave her weekly messages about what parts you thought were the funniest. Tell her you were “lame.” Tell her that you love her more than you need her to save the planet. Tell her that you only have one planet to live on, and you’d rather live on it with her in your life. Tell her you’ll keep a place for her and her hubbie, even if you won’t ‘keep the light on’ for them. Chances are, you and your husband have more time and resources than Jennifer and her husband do anyway. You are part of the Boomer generation, and we’ve been deeply blessed. It might be helpful to acknowledge to her just how lucky we’ve been, and just how screwed that has left her.

Believe me, her “BBFP” isn’t going to bring the planet tumbling down, all by itself, but your “Bozo Pride” will bring your mother-daughter bond to a painful low. Don’t let it. Swallow your pride, make the connection now, and go see her, if the 3 dozen messages don’t work.

This is my belated Mothers’ Day present to you, both, and I hope you find it helpful. If you decide to try it, let me know what happens.

Fond regards from a fellow Boomer Doomer,

Dr. Kathy

About Kathy McMahon

Kathy McMahon Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist who is internationally known for her writing about the psychological impacts of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic collapse. She's written for Honda Motors, and has been featured in American Prospect, Greenpeace International, the Vancouver Sun, Freakonomics, Itulip, Ecoshock Radio, and Peak Moments Television.


  1. That was a great post.

  2. As an adult child on the receiving end of my parents’ relentless barrage of political opinion, so relentless that I too sometimes withdraw from them for extended periods of time… there really is only one thing I wish they’d understand. I wish they’d understand that I am not a robot in need of programming. There’s a person in here.

    If I do not withdraw from my parents periodically, I begin to think of myself as something less than human… a robot to be programmed, a pet to be trained, a servant whose job is to file the information and comply, a receptacle perhaps. It takes a while to recover enough sense of self to go back and re-subject myself to the relentless opinionating. I desperately wish having a relationship with them did not come with the condition that I must accept a less than human role in their presence. It’s terrible. And I’d bet any money Kost’s daughter feels exactly the same way. It’s okay to be personal without being political.

  3. Dear Paula,
    I don’t look at my daughters as robots to be programmed, we always taught them to think outside the box and let them decide for themselves. This is one of the problems with society as a whole wanting people to believe what is being sold to them. Our job as parents is to tell the other side and then let our children develop on their own. My daughter Jennifer has made the choice to shut off all contact with her Mom and Dad and has made little effort on keeping in touch with her sister whom she was very close to growing up. We have all respected her choices including not telling us of her marriage, and other important happenings in her life. I will not barrage her with phone calls and make her decision more difficult. I was only expressing my feelings of love for her and wishes that she would discuss with me her feelings as I’ve always been here to listen. Unfortunately, you believe much of what I said in my essay as well as what your parents have told you, are opinions. What my husband and I have shared with her are facts about our future that can no longer be denied. Three of these are: Our climate is changing which we will have to adapt to, the planet is finite and we’re running out of natural resources, and our country is financially insolvent. These are facts and not opinions, how this all plays out is anyones guess. I hope that someday you too will see the wonderful opportunities that you have to make a difference in this world. A good read is Sharon Asyck’s
    As You Go Out Into The World.

    In Peace,

  4. Elaine Kost says:

    Dear Kathy,

    It’s now been 3+ years since I spoke to Jennifer. Nothing has changed, except the fact that she moved and I have no way to reach her. Some people don’t want to be bothered by people like us, so I continue to respect her and her feelings as I always will—because I do love her —unconditionally.

    This essay was never about me. My parents knew more than they shared with me, maybe had I known some things when I was younger it would of helped me understand the fear that my Mom lived with until just before she died. This was not fair to either of us as we both could of learned and moved forward. Instead now Jen’s and my relationship stopped 3+ years ago and we’ve only lost precious time. I can’t force someone to talk to me.



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