Tag Archives: grief over estrangement

Parents of estranged adults: Awareness, a tool to handle emotions

Parents of estranged adults:
Awareness as a tool to handle emotions

parents of estranged adultsThe 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.

DSCF2512For 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 thparents of estranged adultseir 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.

 

Unexpected emotions over an estranged adult child

estranged brother, estranged adult sonMemories can spring up, bounce down when you least expect them, and bring on emotions.

The other day, when my family was together, my adult children reminisced about their childhood years here. The fun things they did around our place, the secrets they kept, the forts they built. . . . Specific good memories included their estranged brother, and for a few seconds, silence fell over the room.

Estrangement and confusion

While my family has moved forward, we are all still confused and hurt. To some extent, we may always be. An adult child’s rejection is confusing. We received no hard and fast reason for estrangement – – and from what I hear, lack of clarity is common. But even with clear reasons, memories would likely come up from time-to-time, and bring on emotional pain.

The loss of an estranged adult child  can be similar to grief over loved ones lost in death. Grief is often described as a series of stages. That’s based upon stages described by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, author of the 1969 book, On Death and Dying. In 2012 though, researchers in the journal, Mental Health Practice, describe grieving more like a pinball machine.  Events and anniversaries can trigger emotions related to the loss – – like the way my adult children’s memories bumped into their experiences of childhood spent with their now estranged brother.

Estrangement:  Handling sudden emotions

Because feelings of loss can come up at unexpected moments, thinking ahead to positive responses helps. When my kids talked about memories of their now estranged brother, it made sense to draw attention to our emotions with a simple question: “It’s still confusing why he left, isn’t it?”

As a mom, pausing on the hurt allowed me to hold up a figurative thermometer, take an emotional temperature reading, and see whether anyone needed to address the loss more specifically. I got some nods from everyone, but the conversation swiftly moved on. We were all fine, but acknowledging our feelings in that moment may have made it easier for one of my other children to bring up the subject of her estranged brother a few days later when she felt the need – – and with loss of any kind, the ongoing freedom to express feelings is necessary.

Finding supportive persons with whom you can talk, as well as providing a safe space for others in the family hurt by your adult child’s estrangement are important aspects of healing. How might you handle unexpected emotions as they occur?

Find support in the membership community: Support for parents of estranged adult children.

Related articles:

5 Ways to move on after an adult child’s rejection