We ache alone, agonize alone and relive and rehash the past alone when our children break our hearts. We writhe in guilt alone, defend ourselves and cry and rage and grieve alone, as well -- whether or not we're working parents.
It's our best-kept, most painful secret. We're sure that we're the only parents in the world who have failed so miserably, for one thing, and the whole subject seems too painful to talk about, for another.
"I've never known pain like this -- never," said a dear friend, finally, when she could keep silent no longer. "I've lost both my parents and been through a terrible divorce, but that pain was nothing compared to the pain I feel over my daughter's addiction to cocaine.
"She won't admit it. I don't know how to help her. She's going to die. I know it! I don't know what to do . . ." she added, as the secret she'd kept for too long tumbled forth and the tears she'd held in for too long poured down her face.
In Boston not long ago, a woman who had come to hear me speak grabbed my sleeve afterward and said, "I liked what you said about not feeling guilty just because you're a working parent, but what if your own child tells you that you've been a terrible mother?
"My oldest son and I got into a terrible fight five years ago because I wouldn't lend him my car, and he screamed names at me and told me I'd always been a terrible mother, and said he never wanted to see me again.
"Then he stormed out of the house and went to his father's -- my ex-husband's -- house. And he has never returned. Or called. Or sent a Christmas present. Or a Mother's Day card.
"He was 18 years old," she added, "and he just disappeared from my life. There's nothing I can do about it. I feel so helpless. And so guilty. And so alone . . ."
And a neighbor whose daughter ran away six years ago at the age of 16 has just started telling her terrible secret. "I thought that I would die after Cindy left," she said matter-of-factly during a discussion about climbing roses.
"It just didn't seem possible that anyone could hurt as much as I did and survive it. But now I know that I'm not going to die. I'm going to have to live with this pain for the rest of my life instead."
Now hear this: You're not alone if you're in pain over an adult child -- and you don't have to suffer alone, either. There's help available right now in nearly every community in the country.
If you can't talk to a friend, check with your mental health center and local hospital for nearby family counselors, so-called "tough love" groups and other parental support groups.
Call Alanon or the Alcoholics Anonymous chapter listed in the white pages of your telephone book, as well, if your child is alcohol and/or drug addicted.
"My daughter and I had a terrible fight about this no-good boy she'd taken up with, and she flounced out of the house that very day and moved in with him. I haven't laid eyes on her since," said a member of a "tough love" support group in Bangor, Maine.
"I'll never stop asking why," she added, "but at least I don't ask 'Where did I go wrong?' anymore. I know now that my daughter went wrong -- not me."
And a friend who's a longstanding member of Alanon said, "It never goes away, this hurt. A night never goes by that I don't miss my son, and cry for him, and pray for him.
"But it helps to share this hurt with other parents who understand what I'm going through. I know now that I don't have to live alone with this kind of pain. All I have to do is stop hiding and reach out."
Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.