By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Some abandoned parents say: It’s more difficult to move beyond the pain of estrangement when you’ve lost your only child and/or grandchildren.
Other parents say: It’s more difficult to move beyond the pain of estrangement when you have other adult children and/or grandchildren to worry about.
Which assertion is right? Both.
There are a few old sayings about whatever you think being true. In this case, if you believe your situation is more difficult than someone else’s, it will be.
Comparing keeps you stuck
Healing from emotional pain isn’t helped along by comparing your situation to another person’s. It’s about realistically looking at your own situation, and then devising constructive ways to move forward.
When we compare, we’re comparing an imagined reality rather than what’s real. Below are a couple of examples.
Parents whose only child is estranged may imagine a remaining family in solidarity and support, but they’re overlooking what it can really be like for emotionally devastated abandoned parents to:
- try and provide support to an estranged adult child’s siblings who are also suffering emotional pain.
- parent younger siblings in a way that’s sound and wise, while wondering where they went wrong with the estranged one.
- know their other adult children interact with the estranged one, while fearful they will be influenced to also estrange.
- to encounter troubles with another child and struggle to remain patient and fair, rather than become defensive (perhaps taking on a “why bother?” attitude since this child will only hurt me too).
Obviously, there are struggles and complexities for parents who have other minor and/or adult children—often not considered by those who envy them. The converse is also true.
Parents who have other children and grandchildren may envy what they see as a sort of freedom. They imagine that parents whose only child is estranged have the time and energy to focus on themselves and their healing. But they may overlook the magnitude of what it’s really like to feel all alone and:
- faced with forging a way forward when your entire history and everything you’ve ever worked for is ripped away.
- try to form a “family” of unrelated friends.
- faced with forming a new identity when you’re no Mom or Dad to anyone.
- have no one left in your inner circle to turn to for help or support.
- wondering if you’ll remain alone until the end.
Abandoned parents: Please don’t judge
In the introductory pages of Done With The Crying, I ask that readers be kind and fair to the parents whose stories are shared in the book. I wanted readers to remain open to learn from the shared experiences, to find similarities that help them apply others’ experiences to their own.
Our stories are unique, but we’re united in the common bond of estrangement. We can help each other rather than compare (or judge).
Recently several parents whose only children are estranged (some with grandchildren they also miss) have taken advantage of their newfound freedom to pursue goals they put off to care for the family. Several grandmothers are off to earn graduate degrees, or finish ones they started. One is focusing on her art, another her writing. Others are pursuing volunteer and civic projects, or joining in social movements. Some parents speak of never remarrying after divorce or a spouse’s death because of the children, but have now tackled fears of being judged for their situation. They have sought and found partners with whom to share their lives.
Parents with other children and grandchildren have broadened their horizons, too. Some conclude that pursuing their own goals and dreams is a healthy investment, and are doing so now rather than leaning as much on their other children/grandchildren for happiness. This includes educational and career goals, as well as developing other interests and friendships outside the family—and encouraging their remaining children to also spread their wings. Others have learned to ask for support, which helps them in turn to provide support for the rest of the family.
See the weak spots and do what helps
Rather than comparing your life in a way that puts you at odds with other abandoned parents of estranged adult children and keeps you feeling stuck, focus on what will help. Take an honest look at your life. Then get started at helping yourself.
Find constructive help in Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children (which is for fathers too!).
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