As an advocate for mental health awareness, I hear a lot of stories from a lot of people. Some of the most heartbreaking ones to me are those where parents and adult children are estranged from one another. Whatever the reasons or issues might be, these situations are likely to take a huge toll on all those involved: parents, children, siblings, and other family members, especially those who might feel “caught in the middle.”
How do we get to that point that none of us ever imagines being at? Where we have no contact with our adult children and they have nothing to do with us? While each set of circumstances is unique, some possible reasons might include:
- The child is dealing with an untreated brain disorder, substance abuse, personality disorder, or other mental health issues.
- The child feels angry and/or misunderstood by his or her family and believes having no contact is the best way for them to move forward.
- There are other unresolved issues such as abuse or trauma.
- The parent is dealing with an untreated brain disorder, substance abuse, personality disorder, or other mental health issues.
- The parent has given the child an ultimatum for continuing to live at home and when this is not met, the parent and child become estranged.
- Major personality clashes between parent and child leads to loss of contact.
No matter what the issues are, the best way to address each situation is with a competent therapist whenever possible. If there is even the slightest hope of reconciliation, then that avenue should always be pursued.
However, if it is clear that there is no hope for a relationship, at least in the foreseeable future, then both parents and children need to learn the best ways to cope and continue on with their lives.
I’ve always felt that the support of those who have gone through similar events is invaluable. Who else can better understand how we might be feeling? Knowing that anger, disbelief, shame, guilt, despair, anxiety, and embarrassment are all normal reactions to estrangement can go a long way in starting to heal. In her book, Done With the Crying, Sheri McGregor shares first-person stories, including her own, of parent-child estrangement. She makes it clear, however, that despite the emotional turmoil and pain we might be experiencing, we need to learn how to move forward in our lives. This is important, not only for ourselves, but for our loved ones as well.
I consider myself fortunate that I am not estranged from any of my children. However, when my son Dan was dealing with severe OCD and we disagreed on how best to move forward with treatment, I feared he would cut all ties with me. So I can easily imagine how it could happen and my heart goes out to those families who are in this position.
While there is always hope that a reconciliation will take place, we also need to accept the fact that some decisions are out of our control. It is a fine line we walk — wanting to be hopeful for the future and also needing to be realistic. In both cases, we need to move forward in our lives, for ourselves and for those we love.