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When People Ask About My Estranged Children… What Can I Say?

By Linda Ward December 06, 2022 Family

Being an abandoned mom is more widespread than most people think. When asked about estranged children (parents, or family members), we are put in the awkward position of what to say. Saying too much, not saying enough, or lying can bring up all sorts of questions or guilt, added to how you already feel about this emotional situation.

It’s helpful to figure out what you will say ahead of this question being posed to you. When you’ve rehearsed what you could say, you’re ready when the question comes out of the blue. Your brain will help you by reminding you of your rehearsed answer. We do have options to choose how to answer this question.

Open-Up and Tell the Whole Story

Share incidents that may have caused the division and details of how long it’s been since you’ve been in touch. In doing so be sure you’re ready for intense questions that come back to you from curious people!

Some people related that when sharing details, those who ask, don’t know what to say, and end up giving them the cold shoulder. They may have drawn false conclusions that something must be wrong with you if your kids don’t talk to you now. You must have done something bad.

You could experience this reaction so be ready for the pain it could bring. First, the rejection from the child, then the rejection from those you thought would comfort you.

I have a friend who does this. She shares the whole story, stating that each time she does, she feels better, even if others don’t know what to say back to her. For her, it helps her continue to realize the reality of the estrangement. She has made sharing more about her own mental health, than about the other’s reaction.

Lie and Say Everything’s Just Fine

This does get the person off your radar. They move on to other topics. But do we feel right that we just lied? Maybe. The heart is already hurting and getting the heat off the question feels better.

I don’t advocate this one. Mostly because lying about anything isn’t the path I would want. There are choices you have in answering people, and the choices you make are your personal decision.

Give a Bird’s Eye View of the Child’s Life

“They live in Minnesota, just bought a home, and have a new puppy.” These details need to be honest things you have learned from their friends, other family members or from Facebook. Follow up this bird’s eye view with deflection.

Deflect the conversation by switching it to them or something else. “How’s your son Mark doing?” “What great veggies did you get from your garden this year?” People love talking about themselves and talking about their kids who are succeeding. You have answered their question to the best of your ability and now moved on to something in their world.

Deflecting is a skill for many personal conversations we encounter in life. Whenever someone crosses over into something personal to you, turn it around quickly to something about them.

Briefly Tell Them That You Are Not in Contact and Aren’t Ready to Talk About It

In the syndicated column called Ask Carolyn, she offered this to say to a mom who wanted to know what to do when someone asks about her estranged daughter: “Sadly, my daughter has estranged herself from the family.” Then follow up with, “I’m not ready to share more than that.”

Carolyn goes on to say that negative reactions from people help you weed out those who are not sincere friends to you.

If You Are an Abandoned Parent, Work on Forgiving Yourself

There is no perfect parent. In reflection, I made so many mistakes! I remember a therapist saying to me, the statute of limitations is past for that. You can’t keep bringing your parenting mistakes into the present.

I needed to get to a place of forgiving myself for painful perceived mistakes I made in the parenting job. I try to live this quote, “Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.”

Try Not to Isolate

If you can, invite new friends and experiences into your life. Keep life exciting in small or big ways. Living under guilt or shame of a child’s estrangement can seep the joy out of the present.

Let Joy Balance the Pain in Your Life

Think about this tip in 50+ Life online magazine. “Nonstop suffering will not bring reconciliation with your adult child, and it certainly impairs the quality of your life. Allow love, fun, and joy into your life – to soothe and strengthen you.”

Below are a few resources that you may want to check out. Be sure that support groups truly support rather than do harm by amplifying agony, fear, or pain. As in any situation, carefully choose your support.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How do you respond to questions about your estranged adult child? Are you healing over estrangement? Do you have suggestions that would help others heal? What are some of the things you do to feel joy even though you have pain?

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K M

Isn’t the whole point of raising kids ……to be independent,self directed, productive members of society? Why take on the burden of the term “astrangement” as a personal loss. You did your job…they obviously are independent and self directed. Ya it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that as adults they choose something you don’t like. It’s their journey they are living it..and will live with their choices. I think of my great grandparents who encouraged all of their children to hop on ships to America knowing full well they would never see them again or talk to them again. Interestingly the kept up-to-date through mail..words form others and an occasional picture. No guilt, no blame, no remorse or self questioning. I have 2 sons I have not seen or heard from for 10 years….if anyone asks how the kids are…”All is well” is my answer. I can assume that because knowone has knocked on my door to inform me they are dead.

Gypsy

Estrangement is not just leaving home.

Linda Ward

Hello KM,
So many things you said are true. We have raised them to be independent, to find their own way and make choices for their path in life.
At the same time, so many moms have trouble with distancing themselves from the pain of not being connected to their adult kids as they choose to eliminate the mom from their life path. The purpose of this writing is to reach those women who struggle, and help them deal with the estrangement.
I liked your “all is well” answer, which may help others who find it helpful.

Connie Casey

I don’t think it is anyone’s business and I would not honor the question with an answer.

C Hinton

Sometimes these relationships are to complicated to explain. It may be a situation that has been going on for many years. The best answer, “We have decided to love one another from a distance”.

Linda Ward

Agreed, sometimes it’s just too complicated to explain. Your answer may help others when they search for what to say. Thanks.

Becca

My son isn’t physically estranged, but emotionally distant. Painful at times. When asked how he is, I try to deflect as much as possible. I have no answers to how he really is.

Bev

I have done all those things suggested, shared my story (which provokes pity and I really don’t want that), gave a one line description of what I know of my ES’s life and deflected. Depends on the day, the situation and my mood. . Never easy.

Wendy Abbott

My son is estranged from his sister & I over childhood grievances
He could not help us during my granddaughters cancer treatments
I am embarrassed for the 1st time in my life
of his behavior both my son & I can ghost easily not sure if we will ever forgive each other

Linda Ward

Hi Wendy,
I’m sorry for the pain and embarrassment your son has caused you. I hope this situation changes in the future. If not, I hope you find a way to distance yourself from the emotional pain and find forgiveness.

Deb

I understand… Many years of practice. Over the years I’ve gone through many varied stages of reconciling my own feelings over it. Still not what I would prefer, but as in some things in life, I tell myself to live my best life in spite of it. As this article says, some people get it, maybe share the estrangement in their life, and some just stare blankly having no understanding. Life….

The Author

Linda Ward is a Writer and Life Coach living in Minnesota. She specializes in helping mature women find everyday happiness and a satisfying life. She zeroes in on life after divorce, retirement transitions, and finding courage no matter what the circumstances. Her inspiring new eBook is called, Crazy Simple Steps to Feeling Happier. Linda’s Professional background is Social Work and Counseling.

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