Parents of estranged adults:
Awareness as a tool to handle emotions
The other day, on a long off-trail hike in the desert, my mind wandered to thoughts of my estranged son. Just as spiky offshoots of cholla, nicknamed “jumping” cactus, can spring out and stick to whatever encounters them, unexpected, unsettling feelings sometimes spring out to slice at me. The feelings can be so strong they appear to block my path.
In my day-to-day life, my mind is busy and preoccupied with the current goings-on. That’s why downtime can be a danger for me when it comes to feeling sad like it did on New Year’s Eve. Even when not thinking of any specific memories, simply experiencing the quiet serenity of an open area clears a space for thoughts and memories that can bring up unexpected emotions. Knowing that, I can be better prepared.
Parents of estranged adults: Your emotional landscape
(Your Emotions series)
In a recent article, we talked about how and why unexpected emotions can spring up when you’re not prepared. The emotional landscape for parents of estranged adults can be a tricky one, filled with landmines. Now, we’ll begin examining ways to accept and deal with sadness, anger, guilt, hopelessness, confusion, and other emotions present for parents of estranged adults.
Awareness: A handy tool for parents of estranged adults
How can you prepare ahead, so a wave of sudden emotion about your estranged adult child doesn’t ruin the day? This article will cover the first step: becoming aware of what prompts the emotions.
For parents of estranged adults, the child’s birthday may be the most difficult day of the year. But other special anniversaries, a particular activity, a certain television show . . . all of these can bring on confusion and upset. One mom remembers baking cookies with her estranged daughter, so baking brings up memories and can make her sad. Another shared golf with her estranged adult son, which has placed a shadow on golf outings with her husband.
The potential “trigger” lists for parents of estranged adults will be unique, and may even change over time.Still, actually making a list is a good way to develop awareness so you can plan ahead. If you’re not a physical list-maker, don’t worry — even thinking through the possibilities and devising a mental list of emotional upsets related to your estranged adult children will help.
As you consider the events, anniversaries, and even people that might remind you of your estranged adult children, be kind to yourself. This may be difficult work. Pause and consider any memories that come up. Also, although it sounds too simple to tell somebody to “focus on the positive,” attempting to focus on good memories can help. For some of us, that means digging back through several years’ of upsetting, hurtful behavior. But no matter what has happened more recently, those good times really happened, and can be cherished.
For me, remembering the special moments and pride I felt over my now estranged son’s successes throughout the years, and recalling activities we once enjoyed together, has become (at times) a haven. Other times, I feel as sad and helpless as ever, but overall, those sorrowful moments are becoming fewer and farther between. For most of us, this new role as an involuntary member of the parents of estranged adults group does get easier. As happens with most forms of loss and grief, the more hurtful parts of this experience can begin to disintegrate and fade when we’re not examining the hurts, or being faced with new ones daily.
Just a note about the above statement: All of our situations are unique. We’re in varying stages of hurting and recovery. Some of us do face new hurts each day. We may be suffering because a close family member or spouse, still in contact with our estranged adult child, tolerates or even excuses their bad behavior toward us. Or we may still have intermittent contact that makes us hopeful, but then get cut off again so the hurt is renewed. I can relate to this latter one in particular.
But in general, with effort, support, and the passage of time, parents of estranged adults can not only better cope, but can enjoy our lives.
Parents of estranged adults, empower yourself
In a future article, we’ll explore concrete strategies to handle emotional triggers and counteract them. For now, take some time to carefully consider what people, events, anniversaries and activities are likely to upset you. Take out the calendar and plan ahead. Looking ahead to possibly upsetting dates and holidays is helpful. Making a list, and even marking your calendar so you’ll know what’s potentially coming on the horizon, can help you feel in control, thus empowered.
What sorts of things are upsetting to you? I would love to hear from you in a reply comment to this post.
Also, take the survey to help other parents of estranged adult children, or comment in the forum, support for parents of estranged adult children.