by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Recently, some mothers of estranged adults brought up an article in a major publication that pegged meddling mothers-in-law as the main cause of estrangement. It’s a simplistic view. Having studied the topic of estranged adult children in depth, I know the problem is much more complex and varied. A long chapter in my book covers the causes at length. But our society has been conditioned to believe that kids wouldn’t reject decent, loving folks. So when it comes to parents cut off by adult children, it’s fair to say that most people wonder what the parent must have done to cause the break.
Unfortunately, kind, supportive parents cut off by adult children often feel a sense of shame or guilt, even when they know they did their best (often explained by the concept of innocent guilt). That, and the fear of being judged by others, can keep them suffering in silence. They may have even brought up the topic, seeking support, and received judgment instead. So parents cut off by adult children may stop talking and start to isolate themselves. Even in small communities where most people know about the estrangement, these parents veer away from the proverbial elephant in the room.
Every estrangement situation is different. For some of us, it may be possible and desirable to meet the estrangement topic head on. Doing so may educate others about the growing phenomenon of caring, supportive parents cut off by adult children.
If we remain silent and fearful of gossip, it’s possible that our silence feeds into the idea that we as parents are at fault or did something horrible to cause the estrangement. Also, by remaining silent on the matter, or keeping social connections superficial, we don’t provide the opportunity for another person to be our friend.
I know how incredibly painful estrangement is. Parents cut off by adult children can, without good reason, end up feeling very small. It’s like having your legs lopped off at the knees! But walking around with our heads bowed in undeserved shame isn’t wise or fair to ourselves. Oh, how the neck can hurt when we’re always holding our heads low!
Having authored my book on the topic to help parents cut off by adult children move forward and find happiness again, I am forever in a position to talk about the subject of estrangement. I’ve grown used to doing so. Still, I’m occasionally hit with one of those looks, odd questions, or rude responses—and sometimes it even bothers me. I’m human after all. For the most part, I refuse to participate in someone else’s warped view of me. I’m a good person. I’m a decent human being. I’m a good mother and wife, a stable, accomplished person.
Talking about the experience is easier if you steer another person’s responses. It’s about making the other person more comfortable with the truth. It’s about saying, well gosh, here’s this cruddy thing in my life, and I get that you probably wonder what I did, but you know, I’m not so horrible. It happens to the best of us.
In fact, I’ve met all sorts of really, really kind, caring people from all over the world who find themselves in shock, in a situation they would have never expected. Either there’s a phenomenon of some sort, or we’re an army of monsters wearing aprons, spending time with the kids, and looking through old albums of photographs we somehow altered to make it look like our families were happy.
Parents cut off by adult children: Some food for thought
I understand that the people reading this blog have experienced estrangement for different amounts of time. Some of you have been estranged for many years. Others for only a few months. I get that you may not want to talk to people about the experience, maybe for fear others will judge your son or daughter (with whom you’re sure you’ll eventually reconcile).
But for those who have come to accept that estrangement is long term, perhaps forever, by confronting the subject head on, you shed light. You shed light on just how many of us there are. And there are multitudes. In the article mentioned earlier, the writer said there was an estimated 75,000 grandparents cut off from their grandchildren in the Ontario area. I’m not sure if that figure is accurate. Statistics about the actual numbers of parents cut off by adult children (thus their grandchildren) are hard to come by. But I can say that this website is busy. To date, more than 16,000 parents of estranged adults have answered the survey about being estranged from adult children.
You are not alone in your estrangement. As much of the world celebrates holidays centered on renewal and rebirth, and as spring unfolds to tell the story of another season, consider how you can personally grow in a new and more self-compassionate attitude about the situation of estrangement.
Maybe one way is by beginning to talk a bit more openly about what has happened to you, even online. At articles like the one mentioned in the opening above, consider leaving thoughtful comments that enlighten others. I left a comment at the article I hope accomplishes just that. A few others also did.
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