Abandoned parents: Comparing doesn’t help

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

abandoned parentsSome 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 judgeabandoned parents

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).

abandoned parentsSuccess stories

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 atabandoned parents 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!).


Related reading:

Adult child’s rejection: Emotional and social fallout

Cut off by adult children: What do you prescribe for yourself?

Spreading happiness

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5 thoughts on “Abandoned parents: Comparing doesn’t help

  1. cheryl

    I have an unestranged child that I am able to spend time with. My son recently moved back to our city and it’s been the best thing to happen to me in putting this estrangement in perspective. The more time I’m able to spend with he and his friends who drop by, or invite me to join them because they enjoy being with me, the more confident I am that it’s my ED and her husband that have the problem. It always makes me smile after spending a fun evening cooking dinner, talking, laughing and generally just enjoying each other’s company that I think if we can have this much fun spending time together, I can’t possibly be as bad as my ED and her husband think I am. I appreciate and am thankful for my son and his friends who are kind and caring and have made me stronger.

    1. Lynne

      Hi Cheryl, I wanted to say that I also have a similar situation to yours. I also have a new relationship with my once estranged son. But still none with my ED. I share your feelings that I can’t be as bad as my daughter thinks that I am. I always hope someday she will accept me but never go backward to the dark days that I have survived. I am enjoying my new relationship with my son. I am feeling very, very blessed. So happy for you that you are enjoying your son. Best wishes, Lynne

  2. Diane

    Hi,I have been estranged from my eldest daughter for almost 8yrs.when I felt it happening,I lashed out at her husband and his family,it felt like she wanted her children only with them I have made many mistakes frying to rectify this issue Recently the pain has led me to drinking,my other 2 daughters are quite upset with me I love all my family,but I live with the fear that my other 2 daughters will follow

  3. cathy b.

    my daughter is in town from another state, she and I remain on good terms. Her bad sister, the one who has cut me off from my only, beloved granddaughter, has invited the out of town sister to her home and I was not invited. What can you do? Especially since this might have been a chance to see my beloved grandchild. No one likes to say it, but my adult child is vindictive, hateful, punitive and mentally unbalanced to take away the beloved grandma from her only child. She has caused a huge amount of harm both to me and to the 7 year old child. Now I am supposed to do what? sit back and act like its just fine?

  4. Marie

    No it’s not fine and I valadate your feelings. Our daughter and her wife cut everyone from the family except my in laws who tell us nothing. My husband and I played the blame game which I still think he blames me . Now your daughter is going to visit and that would make me nervous. My daughter told my mother and my sisters they had a choice pick her or me. When they refused explaining they loved all of us and would never do that, she crossed them off 8 months no communication. People in our community Always admired how all of our family how close we all were. Our son will not talk to her and thinks she is on drugs or brainwashed by her wife. Reality check my husband and I raised our children the same maybe overindulged with love . We never saw this coming. Do you feel betrayed by your daughter who is going ? I’m sorry you are going they thus it’s like a nightmare and has placed a huge strain on our marriage 27 years. We do not talk to his parents because they give her money and keep us in the dark. I received a insurance bill stating she was in a psych unit. I called of course they would not tell me anything. I screamed how can I help what do we do ?


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