by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
There’s an old saying: What a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive.
In raising our five children, my funny husband recited an altered version: What a tangled web we weave, when we practice to conceive! He infused humor into the trials and tribulations of parenting. We never imagined estrangement, but here we are. The saying still fits.
Another spider saying comes from parents with estranged or alienated adult children whose extended family gets involved—sometimes for malicious reasons. They say that meddlers weave a “web” of deceit.
After hearing their stories, I feel the term is appropriate.
A Finely tuned trap
Spiders tighten and tune individual web strands like guitar strings so that other spiders and prey can be easily distinguished. Spiders are adept at attracting the prey they want. Some lure the unsuspecting with sweetly scented silk. A finely tuned web provides varying feedback from individual insect types, so the spider knows just how to snag the unsuspecting. Plus, spiders are adept at positioning their trap, and know just when to weave it.
Of course, I’m not writing about spiders. This is about meddlers and others who interfere. They say they want to help, but sometimes spin a web of deceit.
One mother of an estranged adult son said her husband’s brother called to say her son was having a baby. This man is still in contact with the estranged adult son.
“This might be the perfect time to reconcile,” he told the mother, who was mortified to hear from him about her first grandchild. He advised the parents to get in touch. But when they did, their son called it harassment.
“My husband’s brother has meddled in the past,” says this mother. “Always with bad results.”
Other parents with estranged or alienated adult children tell similar stories. Unfortunately, just as spiders are adept at spinning webs for malicious purpose, people can be just as cunning.
Many parents of estranged adults have come to accept the reasons their son or daughter makes contact and then disappears again. For you, it may be a third party who lures you back into the web of emotional pain just when you’re moving forward in your life. Learn to trust your gut instincts. “I knew it was wrong to listen,” says this mother, who wishes she’d have trusted herself.
On early fall mornings, spider webs are a lovely sight. Pearls of dew. Rainbow prisms in the light. The sheer magnificence of the intricate engineering is wonderful to behold.
Meddlers can be just as adept. Often, they have had lifetimes to perfect their weaving. They know just when to call and what words to say to take advantage of your vulnerability.
A change of perspective
Next time someone wants to help you reconcile or calls with news about the son or daughter who doesn’t want you in his/her life, be wary. Pause and reflect. It may be that this individual truly does want to help. Not everyone who meddles is purposely manipulative or hurtful. Some people just don’t understand estrangement.
One thing to keep in mind is that it’s often a wise course of action to try and gain information rather than be the one to talk. If you’re feeling ill at ease about a meddler for any reason, stay quiet and ask questions.
Depending on the circumstances, you could:
- Ask them why they’re getting involved.
- Change the subject.
- Thank them for wanting to help, but explain that it’s not something they can fix.
- Explain that you’re letting a little time go by right now.
- Tell them you’re doing research or seeking counseling before taking any further action.
- Ask them not to interfere.
If these suggestions are not helpful, consider the situation more closely. If interference is common, you’ll have time to reflect. Be honest and write out your thoughts. Then answer these questions:
- Does this person truly want to help me?
- Can this person really help?
- Do I have misgivings about this person? And if so, could taking his or her advice hurt more than help with regard to the estrangement?
- Has this individual steered me wrong in the past?
- Does what this person says seem too good to be true?
- Is this person attempting to make me feel guilty?
- Have I heard my words to this person come back to me, only altered (even ever so slightly) in a way that made me feel uncomfortable?
Your answers can help you detect potential or actual manipulation so you can steer clear of the web.
In order to move forward in their own lives (whether hoping to reconcile or not), parents who are estranged or alienated from adult children must gather their strength, choose support wisely, and view their circumstances with clarity.
If you don’t already have my book, Done With The Crying, consider getting it. The examples and exercises in the book can help.
Estranged or alienated adult children can have effects on the family overall. I’m doing research to learn more about these effects. You can help. Please consider filling in my survey. If you have other children who have been hurt by a sibling or step-sibling’s estrangement, the survey works for them as well (if they’re over the age of 18). Consider asking them to complete the survey, too. Here’s the link.
Too busy right now, or need a quick way to refer someone to the survey? You can find this one, as well as a few others, on a page all their own: RejectedParents.NET/surveys
Adult children who reject parents: Why do they make contact now?
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Wow. This is almost our identical situation. Our ED just had a baby so we are being painted as evil, cold-hearted, disinterested monsters for not crawling to the ED and begging to have a relationship – on her terms, of course.
We’ve struggled with our ED for years now, including attended her wedding and being ignored (she invited us just so her father could witness someone else walking her down the aisle. Who does this?!). We know this child would only be used as another tool to hurt us… Meanwhile, she’s begun texting with her grandmother (who she’s ignored until now) and uses her as a medium to hurt us. The unwitting Pollyanna grandmother is playing her role perfectly. What a mess.
What should be done when your estranged children take pains to garner support and form an alliance with a close family member at your expense?
My mother has begun to ask repeatedly why we don’t pursue seeing our daughter and reconciling with her i.e. making amends, apologizing, begging her to see us, etc. We’ve told my mother most of what has happened and that it’s been a hard, painful road to accepting that our ED doesn’t want a relationship but my mother is the kind of person who wants everyone to be close and “happy” at any cost.
She has always been the fun loving kind of grandmother who has never disciplined our children but showered them with gifts and adulation. Further, she has always lived in another state and never experienced any conflicts with our ED.
I had felt that she understood the impact on us from the events that have taken place and never asked her to take sides but to just accept what is but lately I am being assailed with comments that sound critical, that even cast doubt on the validity of what we have struggled with and shared. Why? Because when asked by her our ED says that she loves us and that “everything is fine” between us! Now we look like the heartless people who aren’t embracing a loving child!
When I have asked my mother why she is putting herself in the middle, she says, “I can’t stand it!” (the estrangement)
Honestly Sheri, I am bereft about this situation. Asking my mother to please not interfere is useless. I hate feeling caught in this web of deceit orchestrated by our ED, and am genuinely worried about how far ED will go to slander us, use my mother to manipulate us and destroy what has been my most cherished bond.