Nothing can create more feelings of shame than to be rejected by your own child.  One parent described it this way, “It’s like she died, only worse — my adult daughter lives here in town, but she won’t have anything to do with me — and places all the blame for the estrangement on me.”

Even “nice kids” estrange themselves from their parents.  Even “good parents” that have invested time, love and money in attempting to help their children succeed and be happy may find that, instead of the closeness they expected to enjoy with their adult children, they are excluded from their children’s lives.

mother21.com

mother21.wordpress.com

When an adult child cuts you off, it can evoke powerful feelings of guilt, regret, confusion, anxiety, helplessness, and rage.  But more than anything, the shame associated with being rejected by an adult child causes many parents to suffer in silence and isolation, believing that “I must be a terrible person if my own child would reject me.”

Estranged parents struggling at the sight of other people enjoying a good relationship with their adult children and worrying about “What do I say when others ask me about my children or grandchildren?” may withdraw socially and come to dread holidays and birthdays.  Because our identifies are closely tied to our perceptions of ourselves as parents, a high percentage of estranged parents become depressed, some even suicidal, as a result of being cut off by their adult children.

“We have also socialized [our children] to believe that they should prioritize their well-being, be assertive, and not let anything or anyone interfere with their happiness. Sadly, we didn’t realize that we would one day be one of the items on the menu that interferes with their happiness.”

Joshua Coleman, psychologist and author of When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along says, “We have also socialized [our children] to believe that they should prioritize their well-being, be assertive, and not let anything or anyone interfere with their happiness. Sadly, we didn’t realize that we would one day be one of the items on the menu that interferes with their happiness.”

Although divorce and the negative influence of an ex-spouse is one of the most common reasons children estrange themselves from a parent, a difficult spouse that remains in the marriage can also alienate an adult child from the other parent.  Other common contributors to estrangement are temperamental mismatches between a parent and child, a difficult son-in-law or daughter-in-law, and the child’s need for autonomy.  Even some therapists contribute to an estrangement.

Just as the causes of estrangement are complex, how to respond to this profoundly painful dilemma is not simple. Parents struggle with questions such as “Should I defend myself, explain myself or just listen?  Should I apologize for past mistakes?  What’s the best way to make amends?  How do I respond to my estranged child’s hostility and contempt?  Requests for money?”

As Dr. Coleman points out, “You can’t be a parent and not make mistakes. This does not mean that your mistakes are the reason for your estrangement or that you deserve it. But I have never seen a reconciliation happen without the parent at least being willing to look at their own part in why the adult child has created such a powerful form of distance between themselves and the parent.”

theinvisiblescar.wordpress.com

theinvisiblescar.wordpress.com

If you know someone estranged from an adult child or if you are experiencing estrangement yourself, begin the healing process with three simple steps:

1.  Seek support. Healing from the psychological challenge of estrangement involves dealing with feelings of profound vulnerability.  Shore up your psychological strength by seeking the support of those that understand estrangement and can help.  If close friends and relatives don’t have the skills to help you or simply aren’t able to provide the degree of emotional support you need, seek professional help or join an online support group such as www.dailystrength.org/groups.

2.  Seek connection.  Invest in people and activities that can help you restore a sense of your identity as a person and meaning in your life. Some parents put their life on hold or hope that letting their child know they how much they are suffering will bring the child back into their orbit.  Actually, the opposite is often true.  Going on with your life and doing well can relieve the estranged child from the guilt and worry that he or she may be experiencing. (Yes, estranged adult children are often in significant pain themselves.)  Doing well in your life lets your child know that you are resilient and creates your best chance of reconnecting at some point in the future.

3.  Seek forgiveness. Your child may not forgive you, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t deserving of forgiveness for your mistakes as a parent.  Put the focus on learning to forgive yourself as you make amends for your mistakes. Don’t expect the self-forgiveness process to go quickly or easily — it is actually preceded by processing hurt, anger and regret — but the resulting peace of mind will be worth it.  And forgiving yourself will also make it easier to forgive your adult child, whether or not you reconnect.