There is a little talked about, silent epidemic that is growing among families-parental estrangement from adult children. No matter the reasons or how it initially happened one thing is clear, it is the child’s reality and nothing you can do or say will convince them otherwise. Dr. Joshua Coleman has done much work on the topic and regularly conducts workshops for parents. Dr. Joshua Coleman is Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families and is a psychologist with a private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on 20/20, Good Morning America, America Online Coaches, PBS Life Part 2, and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television.(www.drjoshuacoleman.com/about/bio/)
As a parent experiencing the same challenges, I know all too well the difficulties, confusion, and painful emotions that come with the journey. As a nurse I am also privileged to the painful stories of both sides. One of the most painful things a parent can experience is the severing of a relationship by a child that wants nothing to do with them. We cannot change the way they feel, but we can change the way we respond to them given the opportunity. Whatever you do, do not try to convince them they are wrong, remember, this is all about feelings and the way they feel is their reality. How they feel is their truth.
At some point in their lives something we did, something happened that hit them so deeply, that staying in the relationship for them, is far more painful than leaving. All we can do is honor their journey, for it is not about us, it is about them. As painful as it is we must give them their space. We can send an occasional message or phone call letting them know we are here if they need us. We can validate how they feel, and most importantly we can accept the decision they have made. This is a dynamic that is born out of grief. Grief is a process and we all grieve differently. Grieving is very personal and has no time limit, nor one “right” way to do it. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross taught us about the fives stage of loss and grief in the 80’s. We all experience the stages differently and can weave in and out of them many times over for many years.
In the book “When Parents Hurt” by Dr. Colman (William Morrow, 2007) he points out some key issues to remember if you are going through this. “This is not a story of adult children cutting off parents who made egregarious mistakes. It’s about parents who were good parents, who make mistakes that were certainly within normal limits.” The stigma comes from a culture that makes assumptions and passes the judgment that if there is an estrangement with your child you must have dome something awful to them. Know that you did your best and resist the urge to make this about you.
If you are an estranged parent of an adult child please help add to the growing body of evidence by taking this short 15 question survey. At the end of the survey is an opportunity to leave your email address if you would like to be notified of the results. All of your info is always confidential and only a summary will be released. To participate, please click on the following link:
Thank you in advance and as always I would love to hear your thoughts. Blessings to you on your journey!