As a parent over 60, you may have thought your relationship with your adult children was solid and unbreakable. However, estrangement can happen to anyone, regardless of age or circumstances. If you find yourself estranged from your adult child, it can be a confusing and painful experience.
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be particularly challenging for parents estranged from their adult children. Such holidays are in place to celebrate the bond between parents and their children, but for those who are estranged, they can serve as a painful reminder of the broken relationship.
Estrangement can complicate feelings of loss and grief, and it’s not uncommon for parents to feel a range of emotions that negatively affect their well-being.
Estrangement significantly impacts mental well-being and can be a challenging experience for older parents, who may rely more heavily on family relationships for a sense of belonging and purpose. Losing contact and communication with an adult child can leave you feeling isolated, rejected, and alone, triggering emotions like sadness, anger, guilt, shame, and anxiety. You may wonder where things went wrong and what you could have done differently.
The stress of losing a close relationship can trigger a range of physical symptoms that can disrupt your daily life. For example, you may have trouble sleeping or experiencing insomnia, leaving you tired and irritable during the day. Chronic stress and tension can also lead to headaches and migraines, debilitating and interfering with your ability to function normally.
The stress of estrangement can also affect your digestive system, leading to gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, stomach pain, and irritable bowel syndrome. Chronic stress can also exacerbate existing health conditions such as chronic pain, arthritis, and fibromyalgia, making it more challenging to manage these conditions.
Furthermore, chronic stress associated with estrangement can weaken your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to illness and disease. Over time, this can increase your risk of developing chronic health conditions.
As an older parent, the pain of estrangement may feel particularly acute due to the significant time and energy invested in the relationship with your adult child. If you have limited social support or are experiencing other life changes, such as retirement or health issues, the loss of family support can be even more impactful.
It’s essential to recognize that your emotions are valid and understandable and that seeking support and self-care is a powerful tool to help you navigate this difficult time.
You may feel like you’re the only one going through estrangement, but connecting with others can provide you with empathy and support. It could be a friend, family member, support group, or mental health professional. A therapist can help you develop coping strategies and provide tools to manage emotions.
It’s also important to practice self-compassion. When you’re going through a difficult time, it’s easy to blame yourself and feel like you’re the cause of the estrangement. It’s often a complex issue involving multiple factors. Be gentle and avoid negative self-talk.
Engaging in activities that bring you joy is another crucial step in coping with estrangement. You may feel like you’re in a dark place, but participating in activities you enjoy can help you find moments of happiness and fulfillment. Some activities include gardening, painting, hiking, or listening to your favorite music. It’s important to prioritize self-care and make time for activities that bring a sense of joy.
Focusing on the present moment and practicing mindfulness can help you manage your emotions. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, can help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Mindful practices can help you let go of rumination and worry, allowing you to focus on the present moment and find moments of peace and calm.
Finally, setting boundaries is an essential step in protecting your mental health. If the estrangement is causing you significant distress, setting boundaries with your adult child is okay. This may mean limiting contact or communication until you feel ready to re-engage. Prioritizing your mental health and well-being is essential, even if it means making difficult decisions. Remember that you are not alone; support can help you get through it.
As mental health clinician and wellness coach, my perspective is complex but not uncommon. I estranged my sister due to our inability to communicate for many years without intense fighting. I was emotionally estranged from my mom for most of my adult life. I know the sting of adult children cutting off emotionally or physically estranging, leaving me pining to see my beloved grandchildren.
Some days I was so hurt and angry with my kids I didn’t want to hear from them. I was mad at myself, with waves of complicated emotions flying everywhere.
During my practice as a therapist and wellness coach, I have listened to the broken hearts of mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, and brothers. I could empathize, validate, and support, but I needed to know and give more. I was compelled to dive head-first into what was happening in families and, ideally, find ways to bring relief to others and myself.
I have learned most of which I am sure you know as well. As we age, we get to know more about suffering. We can’t escape the grief of someone we love dying and the loss inflicted by estrangement for many of us.
The research, while sparse, is brutal. At least 27 percent of the United States is estranged from one or more family members. Cultural changes have reflected a dramatic rise in adult children cutting off their parents and often siblings as well.
Research reports that the most common contributors cited by adult children are abuse, betrayal, and poor parenting. Professionals and authors report on the trend for adult children to assess their experience by a standard where abuse includes high family conflicts.
I know some parents did their best and now suffer the pain of being cut off. There are parents who, by the accounts of their adult children, hurt them terribly, and yet they still care for them. The rise in individualism has contributed to people considering their well-being against familial obligations. This rise has assisted individuals who have suffered from harm’s impacts to step away to gain relief. In their stories, one can witness the anguish and hope they can live with less distress.
On the other hand, the spectrum of parents whose pain is palpable to those who are fiercely angry is equally heartbreaking. Between the weeping and regrets to the anger of “How could he or she do this to me?” Some parents are unjustly accused of being pushed to admit what never occurred. Most have given their love, attention, devotion, and resources, dumfounded that their child who was given their heart and opportunities now shuns them.
What is going on with families? The more I study and speak to hurting adult children, parents, and siblings, the more I know that the universal disbelief and heartache of estrangement cases continue to increase.
I share this because it will help others. Expanding our perspectives gives us a more robust understanding. When we understand more, we gain insight. Does it help us to walk in another’s shoes? I believe it helps.
The research reports findings often do not resonate with those feeling kicked to the curb. I hope we find our way to thrive despite our grief about our families. I pray that you can find peace and joy again, no matter what has happened and what your kids say or do.
Estrangement can be a difficult and painful experience for parents over 60 who are cut off from their adult children. However, it’s important to remember that you are not alone and that there are steps you can take to prioritize your mental and physical health.
Seeking support, practicing self-compassion, engaging in activities that bring you joy, focusing on the present moment, and setting boundaries that work for you can all help you navigate your circumstance.
What helps you to move forward after estrangement? Are you presently getting support? How are you dealing with the pain of being cut off or needing to cut off a loved one?