7 Ways Therapy Can Help Parents of Estranged Adult Children
I truly believed I could handle my adult child’s estrangement on my own. After all, I had dealt with countless personal and family issues: my spouse’s cancer, infertility, kids with learning issues, my own struggle with depression, and more. While I coped, these all took their toll.
Like many other stories, my child’s issues began to surface when she was in her late teens. Because she was my first child, I was ill-equipped to distinguish between normal teen behavior and something more serious. I also chalked things up to “adoption issues” and immaturity, while in truth, they should have raised red flags.
When life was spinning out of control with simultaneous family bombs exploding all around me, my depression and anxiety became too much to bear. I checked myself into a three-week day program available in my area at Meier Clinics, a Christian counseling service.
I spent those three weeks learning concepts that were new to me.
We Need Boundaries with Other People
Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend are authors who have done a series of books on boundaries. In sum, a boundary helps me to define what is me, and what is not me. They say, “A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.”
A good boundary established in a relationship makes clear what I am responsible for, and what the other person is responsible for. Our children want to constantly push those boundaries.
When an adult child nags or guilts us into assuming responsibility for their problems or issues, then we may have a boundary issue.
Unclear Boundaries Are Unhealthy for Both Sides
In my efforts to “fix” my adult child, I was making myself sick. While I was doing what I thought “good moms” do, I was violating both my boundaries and my child’s boundaries. The result? We each got unhealthier.
In addition to working on boundaries, that intensive therapy helped me to remember that I was not defined by the choices of my children or my spouse. In fact, the more I sought to change, help or fix them, the more I lost of myself.
Many wonderful mothers may run into trouble when they have sought to be good moms and have defined themselves by being a mom.
The reality for each of us is that we are so much more than just a mom. We are unique women with our own interests, talents, desires, dreams, hopes and fears.
When we focus solely on our identity as a mom, and being a mom turns out to be challenging or we are outright rejected by our child, we are bereft because we have not developed all those wonderful aspects of ourselves and our lives.
Other Outcomes of Intensive Therapy
My three weeks of intensive therapy did me a lot of good, no doubt. But as the high-stress years of challenging parenting dragged on, I became really good at handling crises.
Unfortunately, I also developed some behaviors and symptoms that represented the pain I was carrying. When coping on my own and stuffing my feelings inside became less effective, I stopped being able to sleep.
Remember the infant years when you felt at loose ends because your baby kept you up all night? When your child is troubled or estranged, they can still keep you up at night! At the height of my struggle with insomnia, I was taking three sleeping meds every night and still only got a few hours of restless sleep.
At this point, I had learned about boundaries and understood more about my own depression. But the insomnia was rearing its head to tell me there was more to be dealt with. If we listen to our bodies and our minds, they will tell us when something is wrong.
If we get professional help to delve deeper into what our bodies and minds are telling us, and explore that territory freely and fearlessly, we will encounter deeper issues. Dealt with, the work can lead to deep healing and health.
When the Conventional Doesn’t Work
My psychiatrist’s solution to insomnia was to give me three sleeping meds. When I found myself living in a daze in my waking hours and still not sleeping, I realized the conventional method was no longer acceptable to me. So, I decided to try something different.
I chose hypnosis. Hypnosis has a proven record of helping people quit smoking, lose weight, become better speakers – and learn to sleep without medication.
I didn’t like it at first. It felt so foreign to my in-control coping mechanisms. But I made a decision to enter into the process wholeheartedly, and I found great healing therein.
I chose to consult with Ryan Elliott, MSW, a parent of an estranged child himself, who is also active in our Facebook group, Parents of Estranged Adult Children. Through my work with him, I have completely changed my life, and I am eternally grateful.
Take a Leap
If you are drowning in pain over your child’s estrangement, it is time to try something new. If you are led to therapy, find someone you connect with and enter fully into the process. Don’t hide, minimize, rationalize or deny.
This pain sucks. If you don’t take it out and look at it, it will destroy you.
I want to assure you – there is life beyond the pain. You will always love your child, but letting their estrangement ruin your life serves no one and does not solve the problem.
The solution for you might be found in therapy. It could be the most important step you take for yourself.
Be bold and courageous. Make a better life for yourself beyond the pain.
Do you know anyone who is dealing with estranged children? Have you found that your own individual therapy has helped you to deal with your child’s estrangement? What are some of the things you have learned and can share with other moms? Please join the discussion below.