Estranged parents, are you really estranged?
One mom mentioned receiving an email from her daughter. Although this was the first contact in a very long time, the mom wondered, “Am I still estranged?”
Her question echoes that of many estranged parents. If you finally get a response from an adult child who has ignored you, are you still “estranged”? Does receiving a phone call, a letter, a birthday card, or some other contact, change everything? What if you get a birthday card and a Christmas card? Do two cards mean you are no longer estranged? What about two phone calls plus a text? Let’s see.
Estranged parents, how ya’ feeling?
At Dictionary.com, the word “estranged” is defined like this: displaying or evincing a feeling of alienation; alienated. It’s an adjective that describes a way of feeling.
If you feel estranged, then you are. There are no hard and fast definition rules that rely on technicalities.
Am I an estranged parent, or maybe just a semi-estranged parent?
Some people define limited contact such as an occasional call or email as “semi-estranged.” If that works for you, use it. But if occasional contact is the standard, who’s to decide what’s “occasional”? Again, there are no rules here.
If describing yourself as “only” or “just” semi-estranged makes you feel as if your pain from estrangement should be less hurtful than a parent’s “full” estrangement with absolutely no contact, then don’t qualify your definition of estrangement.
Estranged parents, period.
Some parents with no contact say they prefer complete silence than having some contact with an estranged adult child. I know, I know. . . . Some estranged parents can’t imagine saying that. Well, for parents who have received a couple of calls or texts, only to get excited about the possibility of more communication – – which doesn’t come – – the high of hope followed by the crashing let down is just too painful. In some families, estranged parents are drained of cash from giving and giving and giving. They recognize a need to replenish their stores for their retirement phase, so cringe at the thought of their estranged adult child making contact and asking for even more.
Each situation is unique, so comparing our situation to another estranged parent’s circumstances, feelings or solutions may not be helpful.
Estranged parents, you’re on both sides of the estrangement equation
While “estranged” describes feelings, the word “estrange” is a verb, so denotes action. To “estrange” is defined as follows: to remove, to keep at a distance.
Despite some form of contact, you may still feel as if you’re kept at a distance or removed from your adult child’s life. To define yourself, your feelings, therefore, are also important on this side of the equation.
So, where does your estranged adult child fit into the equation? It’s something many of us wonder. Would my estranged adult son consider us “estranged”? I think he would, but then he did recently send a text. Does that mean he doesn’t feel as if we’re estranged? If he doesn’t feel estranged, then am I really an estranged parent?
Simply put, this site exists to help and support estranged parents. Although in many situations estranged adult children are also hurting, for now we’ll leave out the adult child’s definitions.
Estranged parents, determine your own definition (if it helps)
Parents use a lot of words to describe their feelings about a distant relationship with an adult child. You may feel rejected, abandoned, forsaken, alienated, dismissed, discarded, or kept at a distance. In some situations, terms like “cash cow,” or “on call” even come up as parents describe themselves as related to the parent and adult child relationship. Again, if you feel distanced, you can call yourself “distanced,” or put another word in its place.
Some parents describe the experience as feeling betrayed. One way to move toward recovery after a betrayal is to no longer allow the betrayer to define you, your feelings or your thoughts about yourself.
Estranged, abandoned, rejected, discarded, neglected parents – welcome. At this site, many estranged parent scenarios, with some or no contact, will be explored.
Help other parents. Take the confidential 8-question survey.
Parents of estranged adults:
Awareness as a tool to handle emotions
The other day, on a long off-trail hike in the desert, my mind wandered to thoughts of my estranged son. Just as spiky offshoots of cholla, nicknamed “jumping” cactus, can spring out and stick to whatever encounters them, unexpected, unsettling feelings sometimes spring out to slice at me. The feelings can be so strong they appear to block my path.
In my day-to-day life, my mind is busy and preoccupied with the current goings-on. That’s why downtime can be a danger for me when it comes to feeling sad like it did on New Year’s Eve. Even when not thinking of any specific memories, simply experiencing the quiet serenity of an open area clears a space for thoughts and memories that can bring up unexpected emotions. Knowing that, I can be better prepared.
Parents of estranged adults: Your emotional landscape
(Your Emotions series)
In a recent article, we talked about how and why unexpected emotions can spring up when you’re not prepared. The emotional landscape for parents of estranged adults can be a tricky one, filled with landmines. Now, we’ll begin examining ways to accept and deal with sadness, anger, guilt, hopelessness, confusion, and other emotions present for parents of estranged adults.
Awareness: A handy tool for parents of estranged adults
How can you prepare ahead, so a wave of sudden emotion about your estranged adult child doesn’t ruin the day? This article will cover the first step: becoming aware of what prompts the emotions.
For parents of estranged adults, the child’s birthday may be the most difficult day of the year. But other special anniversaries, a particular activity, a certain television show . . . all of these can bring on confusion and upset. One mom remembers baking cookies with her estranged daughter, so baking brings up memories and can make her sad. Another shared golf with her estranged adult son, which has placed a shadow on golf outings with her husband.
The potential “trigger” lists for parents of estranged adults will be unique, and may even change over time.Still, actually making a list is a good way to develop awareness so you can plan ahead. If you’re not a physical list-maker, don’t worry — even thinking through the possibilities and devising a mental list of emotional upsets related to your estranged adult children will help.
As you consider the events, anniversaries, and even people that might remind you of your estranged adult children, be kind to yourself. This may be difficult work. Pause and consider any memories that come up. Also, although it sounds too simple to tell somebody to “focus on the positive,” attempting to focus on good memories can help. For some of us, that means digging back through several years’ of upsetting, hurtful behavior. But no matter what has happened more recently, those good times really happened, and can be cherished.
For me, remembering the special moments and pride I felt over my now estranged son’s successes throughout the years, and recalling activities we once enjoyed together, has become (at times) a haven. Other times, I feel as sad and helpless as ever, but overall, those sorrowful moments are becoming fewer and farther between. For most of us, this new role as an involuntary member of the parents of estranged adults group does get easier. As happens with most forms of loss and grief, the more hurtful parts of this experience can begin to disintegrate and fade when we’re not examining the hurts, or being faced with new ones daily.
Just a note about the above statement: All of our situations are unique. We’re in varying stages of hurting and recovery. Some of us do face new hurts each day. We may be suffering because a close family member or spouse, still in contact with our estranged adult child, tolerates or even excuses their bad behavior toward us. Or we may still have intermittent contact that makes us hopeful, but then get cut off again so the hurt is renewed. I can relate to this latter one in particular.
But in general, with effort, support, and the passage of time, parents of estranged adults can not only better cope, but can enjoy our lives.
Parents of estranged adults, empower yourself
In a future article, we’ll explore concrete strategies to handle emotional triggers and counteract them. For now, take some time to carefully consider what people, events, anniversaries and activities are likely to upset you. Take out the calendar and plan ahead. Looking ahead to possibly upsetting dates and holidays is helpful. Making a list, and even marking your calendar so you’ll know what’s potentially coming on the horizon, can help you feel in control, thus empowered.
What sorts of things are upsetting to you? I would love to hear from you in a reply comment to this post.
Also, take the survey to help other parents of estranged adult children, or comment in the forum, support for parents of estranged adult children.
The other day, when my family was together, my adult children reminisced about their childhood years here. The fun things they did around our place, the secrets they kept, the forts they built. . . . Specific good memories included their estranged brother, and for a few seconds, silence fell over the room.
Estrangement and confusion
While my family has moved forward, we are all still confused and hurt. To some extent, we may always be. An adult child’s rejection is confusing. We received no hard and fast reason for estrangement – – and from what I hear, lack of clarity is common. But even with clear reasons, memories would likely come up from time-to-time, and bring on emotional pain.
The loss of an estranged adult child can be similar to grief over loved ones lost in death. Grief is often described as a series of stages. That’s based upon stages described by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, author of the 1969 book, On Death and Dying. In 2012 though, researchers in the journal, Mental Health Practice, describe grieving more like a pinball machine. Events and anniversaries can trigger emotions related to the loss – – like the way my adult children’s memories bumped into their experiences of childhood spent with their now estranged brother.
Estrangement: Handling sudden emotions
Because feelings of loss can come up at unexpected moments, thinking ahead to positive responses helps. When my kids talked about memories of their now estranged brother, it made sense to draw attention to our emotions with a simple question: “It’s still confusing why he left, isn’t it?”
As a mom, pausing on the hurt allowed me to hold up a figurative thermometer, take an emotional temperature reading, and see whether anyone needed to address the loss more specifically. I got some nods from everyone, but the conversation swiftly moved on. We were all fine, but acknowledging our feelings in that moment may have made it easier for one of my other children to bring up the subject of her estranged brother a few days later when she felt the need – – and with loss of any kind, the ongoing freedom to express feelings is necessary.
Finding supportive persons with whom you can talk, as well as providing a safe space for others in the family hurt by your adult child’s estrangement are important aspects of healing. How might you handle unexpected emotions as they occur?
Find support in the community forum: Support for parents of estranged adult children.
Emotional Well-Being Series
Estranged from adult children: Taking care of yourself
In a recent post, we explored the question: Why? and how it can be helpful to parents who are estranged from adult children
It’s important to note that in order to deal with the loss, the why questions must be coupled with another set of questions, the crux of which is: How? How will I move forward? How can I keep up my strength? How can I get over this?
Answering all of these how questions involves taking care of yourself. It’s s natural to ask why after any traumatic emotional experience. When you are hurting because you are estranged from adult children, figuring out how you can get through the emotional roller coaster, move forward, and enjoy life is absolutely necessary.
After my adult child’s rejection, eating healthfully, resting, and recreation took a backseat. And sometimes, I comforted myself with unhealthy choices – – which was not helpful. I added extra weight, and exercised less. That meant having to re-start good habits, backtrack and lose the weight, etc. It was like digging deeper, so climbing out was even more difficult.
When estranged from adult children, take control, take care of yourself
When we become estranged from adult children, taking care of ourselves is necessary to deal with the stress, sadness, loss, and eventually heal. Getting into a self-care routine really helped me to feel better overall. I was better able to take control of my attitude, and my feelings about my life.
When we take good care of ourselves, we’re more likely to try new activities. We’re more likely to get up off the couch and get out into fresh air, participate in hobbies that bring us joy, and associate with friends. All of these things help us feel connected, and studies have shown that connections aid health as well as promote longevity and happiness.
Even when we’re estranged from adult children, we need to live our lives. Doing so empowers us — whether that means feeling strong enough to reach out more to an estranged child despite the possibility of disappointment, or fostering an attitude of acceptance for the time being.
Estranged from adult children: Assess your self-care
When short and quick, assessments can be useful tools to determine how well we’re taking care of ourselves. An assessment increases self-awareness and helps identify areas where we can be kinder to ourselves. If you take an assessment today, utilize the results to make changes where you see weaknesses in your self-care. Then take the assessment again. You will have a concrete picture of how you’re progressing.
Sometimes, when traumatic, emotionally unsettling events occur – – becoming estranged from adult children falls into this category! – – we can feel so out of sorts that we don’t know where to begin in caring for ourselves. Simply by its listings, a good assessment tool can help you think of ways to help yourself
Consider also sharing your results, or how you feel about how well (or not) you’ve taken care of yourself once you became estranged from your adult children. You can leave a reply below, or post in the help for parents of estranged adult children forum.
Your Adult Child is Estranged, Parents ask, “Why?”
When something as momentous as an adult child leaving the family occurs, it’s completely natural to ask, “Why?”
Asking the question over and over again is normal after an adult child is estranged. After all, for most of us, asking why? has always been a way to find answers, connect with other people, and explore the world. Asking why? is a fundamental part of the human experience.
But the question can be tiring for the people who stand by us as we go through the emotional trauma. Our adult child is estranged, and we can’t understand why this happened, why our adult child left, and why he or she won’t let us in to try and solve the puzzle.
Our loved ones may not have any answers, and they may want us to accept that there simply is no way to explain the estrangement. They might worry we’re blaming ourselves. And in time, they may grow tired of hearing about our pain. In our continual quest for answers as to why our adult child is estranged, we may even tire ourselves out.
But embracing the question, Why?, can be part of the healing process that goes along with human nature and our need to find meaning. Ignoring the need for an answer may be more stressful than examining the responses that come up as you attempt to find reasons.
For a much more complete discussion about how asking why? can help, see the article,
Help for parents of estranged adult children – An Adult Child’s Rejection: Asking Why?, which is filed under the “What Parents Can Do” navigation category.
Help for parents of estranged adult children
An adult child’s rejection: Asking why?
An adult child’s rejection is momentous. So it’s natural to ask: Why? Unfortunately, parents may not have a clear answer. The child may offer nonsensical reasons, or cut parents off in a sudden, bewildering manner.
Speculating on why? has helped me, but can frustrate those around me. Yesterday, an idea struck about how my encouraging my son’s interests might have played into the eventual estrangement.
When I voiced my thoughts, a friend stopped me. “Will you ever stop beating yourself up over this?” she asked.
She meant well, but didn’t understand that I was not beating myself up. She also doesn’t fully understand the depth of hurt and confusion that go with an adult child’s rejection. And she wants me to stop – – stop wondering why, stop hurting myself with the questions, and stop talking about it. She hates that I have been hurt.
Beating yourself up after an adult child’s rejection
I no longer talk about my estranged son every day, but now, nearly three years after the break, I still think of him daily–partially because of running this site. I’m no longer beating myself up with blame, but I still don’t understand. I’ve examined my son’s childhood, and have compared how he was raised to how my other four children were treated, which was about the same. So why did he leave? And why does the rest of the family remain so close? For the most part, I’ve made peace with the uncertainty. But from-time-to-time, the questioning returns. Asking is normal.
Some experts believe that asking “why?” is counterproductive to recovery after emotional distress. In my experience, asking leads to partial answers that help me move forward. Even bits of clarity help my mind to rest, if not forever, at least for a little while.
Research reported in the Journal of Social Psychological & Personality Science in 2013, found that clarity about the cause of a traumatic event helped study participants feel more certain. Certainty helps defuse negative emotions. After an adult child’s rejection, examining events and memories that occurred throughout the years may offer a big picture view, as well as provide some distance – – both of which the study found helpful.
Some examples of how answers can help:
Concluding that an adult daughter’s rejection stemmed from drug use helps a mother realize: My daughter’s drug use is out of my control. The realization allows her to begin to release the pain of the gaping wound from her adult child’s rejection. Though still disappointed and hurting, she can rest with that reason, and move on with other relationships and in her life. This wasn’t her fault.
Even parents who conclude their actions contributed to their adult child’s rejection can find a settling point in the answer. Parents may identify how family strife or tragic events hampered communication at a vulnerable time in their child’s development. Okay, so I was preoccupied with this other horrible hurting, and my child felt alone at the time. Empathy gleaned by stepping into the child’s shoes can promote acceptance and peace after an adult child’s rejection. All parents make mistakes. Looking for, and finding potential answers may eventually lead to conversation that opens an adult child’s heart – – if not now, perhaps in the future. For the moment, a parent has at least some answer on which to lean.
A mother who recognizes a starting point that eventually led to her adult child’s rejection has the beginnings of an answer. That girlfriend didn’t want to share my son. Or: That boyfriend’s family swept my daughter off her feet and turned her against me. Other questions may follow, but a small piece to the puzzle can allow a mom to feel settled – – for a day, for a week, for a month….
Perhaps most helpful is accepting that there’s no real answer. This doesn’t make sense becomes a placeholder, a pausing point that provides peace (or can later be returned to and picked up again).
An adult child’s rejection: Why? The universal question
Unique scenarios involving an adult child’s rejection are endless, but parents asking, “Why?” is universal. Why did my child leave? Why did he get involved with drugs? Why was my adult child so vulnerable to that individual’s influence? Why didn’t I see this coming? Why did this happen?
Seeking answers is a natural part of the human experience. For me, trying to stop the questions added a secondary burden to an already traumatic experience. For a time, asking why? was the only question that made sense.
Over time, my questioning has led to several conclusions. Some involve my estranged adult child’s personality and decisions. Some involve the influence of other people, and how they may have added to problems. Others take in my own parenting style, and how my actions might have contributed. Alone, none of these provides the entire answer. But they have been clues at least, small, sunny beaches of understanding where I could rest and collect my strength. Eventually, those partial answers connected with other ideas and began to gather, like fallen leaves caught in a stream, collecting to form a sort of raft. I’m afloat and moving forward.
Dealing with others’ feelings after an adult child’s rejection
I understand why my friend is weary of me talking about my estranged adult son. She doesn’t want to see me hurting. She believes that by reexamining, I’m beating myself up. But seeking and finding answers helps. Just as my outlook changed when I first held my tiny babies, my outlook is affected by this unexpected disappointment and hurt. I’m no longer blaming myself, but may always, at least at times, try to better understand.
For me, discussing the situation with others, studying society and history, as well writing out my thoughts, helped my understanding of the situation grow clearer. But I’ve learned to moderate my words, and to choose carefully with whom I share. A forum has recently been added at this site, for parents to share their thoughts, join discussions, post new topics, and help ourselves and other parents of estranged adult children in the process. The forum discussions will be moderated lightly to avoid any issues of spam, etc. Users must also register, to promote a safe, helpful environment – – although user names will be cloaked, and email addresses will not appear in the discussion forum. You are invited to register for the Help for parents of estranged adult children discussion forum here.
Also consider leaving a comment to this post.
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