When adult children won’t talk to you: What does it mean to cope?by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Often, parents of estranged adults tell me that they’re managing to “cope.”
Some associate the word, with a fight. They say it’s a constant struggle to get through the days, or refer to coping with emotional and social fallout as a daily battle.
Some sound resigned, or even defeated. “I’m enduring,” they might say. Or, “I’m carrying on but just barely.”
Synonyms for cope
After hearing so many variations in how parents of estranged adult children define the word “cope,” I decided to do a little research. In a thesaurus, there are words that represent all of the uses I’ve heard from parents.
In an effort to help you see where your definition falls, I’ve grouped some of the synonyms (words and phrases) for cope into three categories by type. The categories I created are as follows:
Active participation: struggle, battle, tussle, wrestle, tangle
Passive participation: endure, suffer, live with, get by
Successful participation: confront, handle, dispatch
Which of these categories best fits how you think about yourself and the situation of estrangement? There’s no right or wrong answer—only gained insight into where you stand right now.
In coping with estrangement, if you see yourself in the “active participation” category, then you’re actively engaging with the fact that your adult child won’t talk to you. You’re grappling with the estrangement’s effects in your life, on your relationships, and on your outlook. I see this as a positive.
While I’ve called the second category “passive,” that’s not necessarily a negative. Once parents consider how estrangement affects them and move past the initial shock, they might very well enter a stage of resignation or acceptance.
In my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, one of the tools helps parents reflect in detail upon just how far-reaching the effects of estrangement has been for them. Taking a realistic look at ourselves after an emotional trauma (such as when an adult children won’t talk to us), can allow us to begin to make changes toward recovering our old self—or even a new and better self.
Unfortunately, people sometimes get stuck in that passive phase. I routinely hear from parents who have been estranged for many years, or who have reconciled, only to be estranged again, sometimes repeatedly. And some of these parents seem resigned to stay in that passive phase. They tell themselves they’ll never get past the hurt, that the pain will never go away, and that there are no answers to help them.
Are you a victim? Do you want to stay that way?
While it’s true that many parents of estranged adults have been victimized, that doesn’t mean a parent must remain a victim. This moves us to the third category of coping I’ve created here: Successful participation.
None of these conscious coping strategies is wrong, but consider which one appeals to you. How have you coped in the past? How do you want to cope?
It’s up to each of us to decide whether we will learn to cope in practical ways that help us get past the pain, foster our growth, and advance us forward in our own happy lives.