On New Year’s Eve, near a roaring campfire in the desert, I leaned back in my anti-gravity chair and looked up at the night sky. As cold winter air settled into the valley, the hoots and hollers of partiers at scattered campsites faded, and then stopped.
My husband and I pulled our caps down against the cold, and sat back to enjoy the thick silence that now filled the open space. Above me, the night sky spread, a starry blanket, and sudden tears rolled into my ears. The calendar page may be turning, but when it came to my estranged adult son, the New Year with all its blank-slate opportunity, wouldn’t change things.
Feeling insignificant beneath the vast canopy of stars, I imagined the possibility that loved ones lost in death looked down from above. At least with them I can remember good times and speak openly about missing them. No one would accuse me of causing their passing. With my estranged adult son, the situation holds a similar grief, yet I’m often stuck in a pit of silence.
Understanding parents of estranged adult children
My closest friends are sympathetic. They know I am a good mom, but they can’t relate (and I wouldn’t wish this on them). Others judge – – a response I understand. After our son split off from the family, I remembered a few stories people had told me over the years – – about disappointing relationships with their adult children.
One father had related that he never hears from his adult son unless he needs money. A mother confided that on the rare occasions she has seen her estranged adult son during the last 20-odd years, he picked fights and denigrated her beliefs. The meetings with her son, who is now into his forties, always end on a sour note – – and then another long period of silence and unreturned phone calls ensues. And another man confided that he doesn’t even know the whereabouts of his adult son. They haven’t spoken in over a decade.
These parents’ pain was deep, but at the time they shared their hurt, I couldn’t relate. Back then, my family was intact. I had no inkling that one of my five grown children would choose estrangement. I wasn’t insensitive to those parents’ feelings, but will admit to a sliver of accusation in my thoughts. Like most people, at that time I believed good parents just didn’t have grown children who are estranged.
Family rifts and a hopeful future
Despite the hope of a brand new year, many rejected parents have no chance to mend a rift. Some of us have tried, but have been repeatedly hurt. Some parents hear a litany of complaints that make no sense. Others of us can’t figure out what caused the indifference from our adult children. Even so, we may blame ourselves. Some rejected parents have identified and admitted potential mistakes, and then tried to fix things, but their efforts have been met with silence or anger. Some parents have occasional, distant contact with grown children who are estranged (an occasional text, say), but it’s not a real or satisfying relationship. Yet our grown children who are estranged don’t want more.
Accepting an adult child’s estrangement
For me, as I reclined beneath the stars, I decided not to set any record-setting New Year’s resolutions with regard to my adult son who is estranged. For now, my resolutions revolve more around no longer allowing the situation he has chosen to define me, or to sour my day-to-day life. Regardless of his choices (which are beyond my control anyway), I remain a good mother who is fortunate to enjoy close relationships with my other grown children and my grandchildren. Does that mean I’m giving up? No. My decision is more giving in than giving up. Giving in to what is. Giving in, and accepting the reality of the estrangement, at least for now. Acceptance brings some peace.
I start 2014 with renewed energy toward regaining more of the happy me who enjoyed life prior to the estrangement. There will likely be bad days. Just as I cried beneath the desert sky on New Year’s Eve, I will allow myself to pause and reexamine things when the dark feelings hit. But I resolve not to wallow for long. Despite my grief that matches many, many other parents whose grown children are estranged, there is a good and rewarding life to live.
Supporting parents of estranged adult children
Increasingly, I realize that part of my life must continue to include calling attention to the isolation felt by many good parents whose grown children are estranged. According to some experts, parents of estranged adult children are an increasing number. We need and deserve support rather than the automatic judgment we often receive – – and which isolates us.
On New Year’s Eve, as the clock struck midnight, the haunting yips and yowls of coyotes echoed across the desert night. As their calls faded, I enjoyed the moment, fully present, and looking forward to 2014.