How to Deal with Having an Estranged Adult Child
Another Mother’s Day has come and gone. It was filled with both blessings and pain.
Mothering is like that. Not too long ago, one of my children was estranged from me. It was not how I envisioned a relationship with an adult child. At the time, I wasn’t completely sure where she was living and had no reliable way to contact her.
Even the word “estranged” was foreign to me. I had invested my life into mothering. And this child turned away from me. It was not easy to admit. I’m the one who has written books about parenting. In the depth of this situation, those books mocked me. I was humbled and laid low in the dust.
Some things have healed. The lost sheep has returned home and even more issues have surfaced. Most days, I am again both saddened and gladdened. She chose to be “missing” once again this Mother’s Day. As I am now in the process of writing a book about my experience, I am learning that there are many of us wounded mamas. Our numbers are legion. You are not alone!
You Did Not Cause Your Adult Child to Turn Away
One parenting expert, Debbie Pincus, offers these soothing words: “Cutting off is a way people manage anxiety when they don’t know a better way. The love and caring is there; the ability to solve differences is not. You did not cause your child to turn away. That was her decision.”
Yet we admit we all made so many mistakes, took so many missteps. She has come home and gone again more times than I can count. Will we be estranged again in the future? The horror and the certainty of it hang over my heart. In her mind, the distance lessened the conflict. She didn’t have to deal with me or the rest of the family. In reality, it has caused far more damage for everyone.
The best thing I can do as a parent is to own what I own – recognize the mistakes I have made – and try to seek my own healing from the wound. I remind myself – it was her choice to leave.
When a Relationship Becomes Unmanageable
I tried to move on with my life. I moved with a limp that constantly reminded me of how much I missed her and what a hole she left. There are many more of us mamas who live with this pain. You may not know them because they are silent. The shame and embarrassment of the situation is too much to bear.
Dealing with an Estranged Adult Child? You Are Not Alone
It would be one thing if the estranged parent had abused the child. Then the adult disengagement would be a healthy move. But with no such backdrop, I don’t think fleeing adult children understand or appreciate the heartbreak caused by their actions. Or if they do understand, there is a lack of feeling or empathy for the other.
Through thick and thin in life, your mother is your mother. You can merely tolerate her, or you can treasure her. The worst thing you can do is discard her.
If you are one of us hurting mamas, the wisest thing you can do comes from author Sheri McGregor. She says to tend to your heartache, noting that, “In acknowledging and tending to our hurt, we honor ourselves. That might then free us up to enjoy the way our loved ones want to honor us. Or to simply enjoy the day.”
Put another way, don’t let one empty chair make you neglect your full table. It’s okay to switch up your Mother’s Day traditions. Spend the time you need to work with your emotions, but then get on with the day.
McGregor says we have to do what’s right for us. “If that means you didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day this year, that’s okay. Recognize what you need and honor yourself in that way.”
Then treat yourself to a manicure, haircut, massage or new outfit. Soon the day will be over and you can go another year before having to see those upsetting greeting card commercials on television.
Until then, take care of yourself. Know that you are not alone. Life can still be good. It might be time for you to move on.
Are you a mother with an estranged adult child? What do you do to deal with anniversaries and days that highlight the loss? What have you found helps you move forward? Please join the conversation.