Effects of estrangement from adult children:
Are you still carrying the weight?
by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
As a mother of five, I learned to do almost everything with a toddler on my hip. That’s probably why, all these years later, if I’m tired or extra stressed, my hip might ache. The repeated use and past abuse took its toll.
That connection formed for me one day while pulling weeds. Kneeling in the grass near the flower bed, I disturbed a wolf spider, and watched as she scurried away carrying her egg sac. Later, research revealed that, unlike many arachnids, wolf spiders take care of their young. I’ll stop short of humanizing them but as mothers, they’re a bit like us.
In the spider photo, you’ll notice the offspring clustered on their mother’s back. She carts the tiny babies around until they can fend for themselves—and I’m sure she must have residual effects. Do spiders feel pain? Apparently, there’s a controversy over that question (see links at below), but even without physical pain, the mothering experience must have changed her. Parenting has effects—good and bad—and you can probably relate. Estrangement also causes change. This begs the question: What effects of estrangement do you carry?
In Beyond Done (2021), the physical results of estrangement stress are discussed at length. You’re wise to note the physical toll and work at taking kind care of your body. You belong to you! Here, let’s consider the subtler effects of estrangement. The bits of hurt you hold onto and carry. The thoughts that keep you awake at night, and that affect how you interact, how you see the world, and even how you see yourself.
Estrangement from your own adult child is like a sucker punch to the gut that bruises the core of everything we believed in. We thought if we loved, supported, and nurtured our kids, they’d grow into kind, effective adults who would love us back. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to go? So, if something so basic goes so wrong, then we must have failed. And as if beating ourselves up isn’t bad enough, the devastating sentiment gets echoed repeatedly and almost everywhere. Neighbors, family, friends, pastors, therapists, and society at large clamor with the message that the responsibility for the fracture lies with us—and that we can fix it.
For many of us, maybe even millions or billions of us, neither is true.
So, why all the gas lighting? Because, as discussed in my books, to think for an instant that this can happen to good parents threatens entrenched beliefs and precious values. Not to mention the expected return on investments of time, love, and energy that can cause estranged parents to look at all their efforts like a wasted life. What was it all for? Why did I even bother? I did my best, and now, I’m blamed.
With the whole world gas lighting us, waning self-confidence is no surprise. And the first way to get that back is to tell the truth—to yourself. You’ve been a good parent? Own that. Claim it. Stamp it on your chest and refuse to let someone who is uninformed, misinformed, invested in you being wrong, or who is just plain delusional take that truth away.
That doesn’t mean you have to go around talking about estrangement all the time. In Done With The Crying, I recount my first foray into public disclosure and include help to talk about estrangement in a disarming way that conveys an understanding of the other person’s discomfort. If you’re not ready for such openness, no worries. Use the “ready answers” in the book. We each come to levels of acceptance and strength in our own time and on our own terms. And, if you’re open to the idea, your estrangement can be a doorway to growth.
As an example of self-growth, let’s think of people you may admire or respect. When they persist in discussion, opinions, or unwanted advice about your kids, it’s like threads of a spider’s web. Sticky history anchored in cultural patterns, familial roles, and beliefs about how to act. Things like respect for elders, or behavioral patterns with a sibling you’ve revered (or have been subservient to). Estrangement from one’s children can create an atmosphere that demands for you to change. One way is to set and enforce a boundary (maybe for the first time ever).
Our adult children’s generation may have invented boundaries as one comedian says, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use them too. That might mean keeping out an unwelcome spider (external boundary), shutting down our own unhelpful thinking (internal boundary), or politely setting and enforcing limits with someone else (external boundary). I talk a bit more about boundaries in Beyond Done (2021) and plan to share more in the future (subscribe to the newsletter so you won’t miss out).
If drawing lines in the sand and putting certain people off is difficult, then consider your newly minted noncompliance with others’ agendas a helpful learning curve. One you can use in other areas of your life. In that way, estrangement holds a gift. Counterintuitive maybe, but the effects of estrangement aren’t all bad. In fact, learning to have your own back, protect or assert yourself can be freeing—and builds confidence.
What residual effects of estrangement from adult children do you carry? Who’s got your back?
Whatever your resulting fears, concerns, worries, effects of estrangement from adult children, help yourself by looking at them differently. Within and beyond the challenges, possibilities exist. Huge trauma, such as estrangement, creates a stage for equally huge leaps of growth. With an open mind and a curious attitude, doors once hidden can reveal themselves and open.
Effects of estrangement from adult children: Are you ready to take them on?
I dare you to dig deep, muster up the courage, and venture beyond the thresholds of want, wishes, and despair. Beyond the negative effects of estrangement lie vast interior rooms to explore. Folded within the depths of a broken heart and a shattered soul is untapped potential that I know firsthand can be nurtured to bloom into rich new experiences filled with meaning, fulfillment, and joy.
Sound a little gooey-sweet? Impossible? Too good to be true? I hear you.
Estrangement from our own children pushes us into dark corners where bits of ourselves get gnawed away. Our strength, confidence, faith, and more. I understand the loss of identity, the worry, and the utter despair that a child you so loved has changed. But … as I say in Done With The Crying … the landscape of life is fertile ground for growth.
You get to make choices. Start with some boundaries inside your head. No more failure-centric thinking. No more I’m to blame. No more listening to authority figures, family members, or society telling kind, decent parents that the responsibility—for the fracture and for the repair—lies with them. Refuse the gas lighting, reconcile to the facts, and step courageously forward for yourself.
The residual effects of such a journey? Strength, confidence, and joy. (And after all that’s transpired, you’ll need those—with or without your child.)
Hugs to all of you from Sheri McGregor
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