Monthly Archives: March 2014

Estrangement between parents and adult children: Feeling stuck

estrangement between parents and adult childrenParents of estranged adults wonder: Is the relationship over for good? Will our son or daughter ever return to us? Or even (whether you want it or not): Will my estranged adult son show up on my death bed?

The painful ambiguity that goes with estrangement between parents and adult children can cause parents to remain in a holding pattern, with their lives in limbo.

Physical estrangement, psychological presence

Your adult child is estranged but present in your thoughts. So much time, energy and love goes into raising a child that we’re bound to think of them. That’s why family gatherings, holidays, and other special times can hold an odd tension between present and past.

My husband and I still live in the home where we raised all of our children, so reminders of our estranged adult child abound. When my family is together, the psychological presence of our estranged adult son looms, kind of like the proverbial 400-pound gorilla. Much of the time, we pretend it’s not there, but it sits in the corner nonetheless, beating its chest.

Estrangement between parents and adult children: common feelings

In a 2011 article in the journal, Families in Society, University of Newcastle research discusses estrangement between parents and adult children. Parents can feel stuck, not knowing whether their adult son or daughter will return or not. The ambiguous nature of estrangement can complicate the experience. But the questions and feelings shared by many parents of estranged adult children are normal.

You are not alone. Still, knowing that other parents have a similar experience doesn’t automatically make the feelings any easier to deal with. So, in light of the ambiguous nature of estrangement between parents and adult children, how do you manage the uncertainty? You can find help with this article: Dealing with Uncertainty.

Dealing with uncertainty

dealing with life's uncertaintyUncertainty: Help for parents estranged from adult children

Because parents of estranged adult children experience uncertainty about the relationship’s future, they can feel as if their lives are on hold. They find themselves in a sort of limbo between the past they shared and their uncertain future.

Help for parents of estranged adult children: Take control of now

While experiencing a sense of waiting, parents can begin to feel proactive and empowered if they take control in the present. Depending on each unique situation, taking control might include working toward reconciliation by reaching out to the estranged adult child. But don’t put your life on hold for an uncertain outcome. Embrace the present. Get involved. Take a class. Learn a new hobby.

Mr. Rogers used to sing a catchy tune telling kids to think of something to do while waiting. Mr. Rogers’ wise advice gets at taking control and driving your own happiness now.

Follows are three tips for handling life’s uncertainties.

Handling life’s uncertainties: Lose control

As parents, protecting our kids from pain comes naturally. That’s why parents of estranged adult children may ponder what-if scenarios. What if our estranged daughter doesn’t meet her new nephew until he’s ten? She’ll regret not knowing him sooner. And then there’s the other extreme. What if a death occurs? What if our estranged son waits until it’s too late? He’ll suffer guilt.

The more we speculate on what-ifs, the more we can get caught up in feelings – – for scenarios that haven’t occurred, and ones we can’t control anyway. Adults steer their own lives. Make a decision to let the thoughts and feelings go.

In my work as a life coach, clients devise short statements that help. Out loud or in your head, try something like this: Bottom line, I can’t control my adult child’s actions. Regret, guilt, or any other emotion will be his to live with.

Handling life’s uncertainties: Think better

Work through negative thoughts. Think more constructively. First, start listening to your inner monologue. When you hear a defeating thought, turn it around. Instead of thinking, “I can’t handle not knowing how all this will turn out,” switch to something more positive. Try, “I don’t like not knowing, but I can accept it for now.” Or, “This isn’t what I expected to happen, but it’s tolerable.”

Notice these aren’t giant leaps at joy and positivity. You wouldn’t jump to the top of a 50-foot ladder. Take realistic steps in the right direction. Over time, you can train your thoughts toward constructive and empowering ones.

Accepting uncertainty

In a 2009 article in the publication, Journal of Women & Aging, research focused on the reflections of older women. Stressful events in their histories included The Great Depression, and World Wars I and II. These events caused disruption of family life, economic hardship, significant loss, fears and uncertainties. The women’s resilience was demonstrated by frugality, reliance on social supports, and acceptance of their situation. These attitudes and actions can also be help for parents of estranged adult children.

None of us have had smooth life roads without a single bump or detour. For many of us, losing a child by estrangement is the most significant obstacle we have faced. Strength gained through past difficulties has helped prepare us. With support, encouragement, and the passage of time – – along with a little mental gymnastics, taking control, and acceptance – – we can get through this too.

As is explored in the article on resilient people listed in “Related articles,” below, one thing that is known to help people facing obstacles is to make purpose of the experience. What we do with our adversity, how we lead our lives despite our obstacles, can be powerful.

Consider getting involved to help parents of estranged adults. This might mean joining the forum where you can give and receive support. And you can take the survey to help parents of estranged adult children.

Related articles:

Estrangement between parents and adult children: Feeling Stuck

The Paradoxical traits of resilient people