Thankfully, I am not estranged from my children. But there is no doubt that my relationship with them has changed over time. As they graduated college and began to become more independent. As they married and started their own families. It was difficult for me to recognize, accept and respect that I was no longer the most important person in their lives.
Unfortunately, there are other members of my family that are experiencing estrangement. I have watched the pain and anger and confusion and hurt this has caused. That is why I found my most recent episode on Navigating Estrangement so important.
The Silent Epidemic
Family estrangement is being called a silent epidemic. Silent because of the shame and guilt that the parent experiences. Epidemic because the numbers of estranged families are growing. More adult children are choosing to cut off contact with their parents for any number of reasons.
Estrangement is a complex and multifaceted issue that can have a profound impact on individuals and their relationships. In this blog post, I will attempt to unpack the topic of estrangement and delve into some key points raised in an episode of the podcast Hey, Boomer! titled “Family Estrangement: Healing the Unseen Wounds” with special guest, Dr. Joshua Coleman.
Estrangement refers to the breakdown of a relationship between family members, typically between parents and their adult children. This breakdown results in the ending of communication between the individuals. While conflicts and disagreements within families have always been a part of human interaction, the phenomenon of estrangement has become more prevalent in recent times.
Factors Contributing to Estrangement
Many factors contribute to an adult child choosing to sever ties with their parent. It may be the impact of an acrimonious divorce or not connecting with stepfamilies. It may be that the adult child’s partner feels threatened by the parents and wants them to cut ties. There may be mental health issues, either the parent’s or the adult childs. It could also be more serious issues like neglect or abuse.
In our generation, we may not have liked what our parents said or did, but we were raised with the idea of “honor thy mother and father” and most of us never thought about cutting them off. As we raised our children, there was more of an emphasis on their personal happiness, mental health, self-growth, and self-development. This cultural shift seems to have become so much a part of our adult children’s mentality that they sometimes believe their only path to happiness is to cut off contact with us. Sometimes adult children see this as a time for them to find their own identity, outside of their parents’ influence.
Another factor is a conflict in the kind of relationship the parent wants and the kind of relationship the adult child wants. Parents expected that they would be one of their adult children’s best friends. This can create conflicts when these expectations don’t align with the child’s wishes or values.
Increased parental anxiety
Additionally, advancements in technology have led to increased anxiety and intrusiveness from parents. Think about when we grew up. We could get on our bike in the morning, be gone all day, get home in time for dinner. No cell phones to stay in touch. Our parents were not overly involved in our lives.
Today, in their attempt to protect and guide, parents now use technology to track where their children are and track their work at school. This can lead to children feeling overwhelmed and in need of space.
This kind of surveillance of adult children can drive them away. Boundaries are crucial in any relationship, and when they are not respected, estrangement becomes a possible outcome.
The Role of Therapists
Therapists play a significant role in the dynamics of estrangement. While therapy can be immensely helpful for individuals, the podcast episode shed light on how some therapists may inadvertently contribute to the estrangement between parents and adult children.
Many therapists are not trained on estrangement, and they may jump to faulty conclusions of causality. While some cases may involve real trauma, not all parents accused of abuse or neglect are guilty. Sometimes, therapists influence adult children by labeling their parents as narcissists or borderlines.
As parents reach out to try to reconcile, an adult child may not be open to even family therapy if they have become convinced that their parent is harmful to their well-being.
Steps Towards Healing
While healing broken relationships may be possible, it requires respecting boundaries and making repairs. In the episode, Dr. Coleman emphasized the importance of taking responsibility as a parent and showing empathy towards the estranged adult child. It is crucial to acknowledge the truth in their complaints rather than defending oneself. The key factor in rebuilding trust, as emphasized by letters from estranged adult children, is respecting their boundaries. As parents, we need to understand that this is not about us but about their need for space and autonomy.
However, healing and reconciliation can be a long and challenging journey. Even with the best efforts from parents, some adult children may not be open to reconciliation. If reaching out to your adult child doesn’t yield a response after the second attempt, consider giving them the space they need. This shows respect for their limits, earns you more respect, and may prompt them to reflect on their own behavior.
In conclusion, family estrangement is a complex and deeply emotional issue. Healing estrangement is not about placing blame. It will require parents to be as empathetic as possible. To accept that their adult child is hurting and be willing to accept responsibility for their part in the relationship.
Hopefully both parents and adult children will be able to engage in open and empathetic dialogue. Sadly, this does not always happen.
Dr. Coleman offers support groups for parents that can be found on his website. https://drjoshuacoleman.com