The first year it happened, I was devastated.
It was Mother’s Day and both my son and daughter, then in their late 20s, were using drugs and alcohol. I waited and waited for the call. Like all day. Nothing.
I remember standing in the shower that night, my head pressed against the wet tile, sobbing convulsively. It hurt so bad. SO bad. There was a compressed knot in my gut. I felt forsaken. Abandoned.
I questioned… Was I that bad of a mother? Did they really hate me that much? What did I do wrong that they feel it’s okay to do this to me?
Once my reason returned, I knew I had been a conscientious mother; involved and nurturing. Not perfect, mind you, but I was confident in the fact that I gave them my all from my personal toolbox of loving and caring.
The next year it happened again. I didn’t cry as hard, but it still hurt.
I tried to be happy for the mothers around me whose grown children showered them with attention and gifts, but it was a double-edged sword of genuinely wanting to feel glad for them and yet feeling the sorrow and abandonment in my own heart.
Then… it became something that no mother should have to endure; it became normal.
Eventually, my son shared with me one Easter that at one point he felt like he was having a heart attack from using meth, and he stopped using drugs. He went back to church and turned his life around in a big way. His girlfriend at the time was a 9-year hardcore heroin addict, and she turned her life around as well. They’re now married and have a son. My son is 39 now, and we have a good relationship, calls and all.
My daughter, however, remains estranged. Sometimes she responds to my messages (when I don’t ask too many questions) and seems very reluctant to say “I love you” in response to my telling her often that I love her. That hurts, but I won’t stop saying it.
I endured a toxic relationship with my own mother, and I wanted desperately to flip the script on the pages of history and enjoy a close, fun relationship with my daughter, now 42. But, alas, the story isn’t over, and I still hold out hope that one day it’ll happen.
Over the years, I’ve learned four self-healing ways to manage an adult estranged child.
Through the decades of estrangement from my daughter, despite my attempts to foster a relationship, I’ve learned that wallowing or staying stuck in grief is pointless and serves no good purpose in my life. Yes, of course, we must fully grieve the story we held in our hearts and heads about what our relationships would look like. But wallowing year after year is not helpful for you, or your adult child. They’re going about their life, and you need to do the same.
Dr. John Delony, Ramsey personality and host of The Dr. John Delony Show, urges call-in listeners to buy a cinderblock at the local hardware store. He says to write the thing you’ve been carrying around for a long time on a piece of paper taped to the cinderblock. Carry that cinderblock around the house for as long as you can hold it, then rip the paper off and lay it down in the farthest back corner of your yard never to pick it up again.
There is value in his advice. We carry our grief until it gets so heavy we can’t manage it. Lay it down!
Instead of uber-focusing on your estranged adult child, create 2-3 new goals that you want to accomplish. This could mean you choose to volunteer a couple of hours per week at your favorite local non-profit. Women who are 60+ have a plethora of gifts and talents acquired and honed through the years.
Do you play the piano? Donate or “sell” your time teaching a youngster to play.
Are you a retired educator? Tutor.
Do you know a thing or two about painting? Take a budding artist under your wing.
Are you a writer? Help someone draft a book.
The point is: go outside yourself and invest in someone else. It really does help fill the gap that estrangement leaves.
It’s natural to feel angry as part of the grieving process. Your adult child is still living yet it feels like a death. Friends and family may attempt to be supportive in commiserating with you, but often they feed your feelings of betrayal and abandonment. Instead, take a mental step back and try to understand what led to the estrangement.
Does your family dance the dance of dysfunction in its core structure? Do patterns of toxic communication permeate conversations? Perhaps you view your family as whole and healthy. Looking at your family dynamics from a more objective vantage point may make the estrangement feel less personal.
The reason doesn’t matter as much as you have the willingness to slay the anger monster and adopt an open-door attitude. Note: this doesn’t mean hard conversations and boundaries won’t need addressing.
It seems so trite to say it is what it is but accepting circumstances as they are is part of your own healing process. Instead of fearing what the future holds with your estranged adult child, take several deep breaths, drop your shoulders, and simply accept that this is your story… for now.
I know a thing or two about those thoughts that race across your brain in frantic circles when you’re trying to go to sleep. Those revved up thoughts torment you while you toss and turn, wondering where your adult child is, what they’re doing, and if they’ll ever realize how much they’ve hurt you.
You dream of the day they race back into your life, throw their arms around you, apologize for their waywardness, and confess their undying love for you. Dreams are good, and continuing to hold out hope for reconciliation is noble, but acceptance for the present is necessary.
I understand the pain of an adult estranged child. I know it creates a gap during every holiday… heck every day, really. However, implementing these four self-healing strategies will help you move on with your own life while continuing to hold on to hope that one day reconciliation will come. And if it doesn’t? You will have continued building a life of meaning and purpose!
Is adult child estrangement part of your daily life? How do you handle it? Have you found reconciliation or is this still a hope for the future?