Being estranged from your adult child can be one of the most agonizing experiences in life. If your adult child has severed the connection, you undoubtedly have experienced pain and trauma.
The reasons for these breaks vary; sometimes it is never completely clear why such a hard loss occurs. If this is the case in your life, now is the time for self-reflection and examination. An exploration of the whys and hows of the estrangement.
Taking time for internal reflection is essential. Self-reflection leads to growth but often proves difficult. As famous Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung once commented, “There is no growth without pain.”
The pain is worth the bearing. Self-love, greater creativity and an expanded world view may be fruits of such exploration. The greater self-awareness could lead to a rebuilding of connections with children you thought were gone forever.
A good place to start: Reflect on whether there were painful themes that transpired in the relationship with your child. For example, when your child wanted to spend time with you, were you available — or were other responsibilities such as work that were prioritized too highly?
Perhaps the need to work was really an excuse made because of your fear of intimacy or feelings of inadequacy borne from neglect in your own childhood.
Perhaps your child reminded you too much of a divorced spouse — bringing painful memories of lost love. Was your child in some way aware of this, and experienced rejection as a result?
Did you and your child share similar interests, or did you have difficulty and confusion in relating to each other because you saw the world through other eyes? How did you bridge these differences? Was effort made? Was enough effort made?
Did you seek help back then? Or were you too isolated and embarrassed. When you had misunderstandings with your child how did you attempt to reconcile them? Were you tolerant of the child’s uniqueness? Did you reach out, try to communicate? Or did you wait for time to pass, hoping differences would blow over.
If the disconnect was not gradual from your perspective, was there one major event in your adult child’s life that caused such disruption that he or she walked away and never came back? Did you dislike the child’s choice in a life partner, vocalizing that at the expense of the relationship? Perhaps your child did something with which you deeply disagreed, and you vocalized your opinion in a harsh, non-supportive way. Were you using a substance during your child’s formative years?
Do you remain confused and confounded as to why your adult child has severed ties with you — or are you now able to “see” more clearly how ties became undone?
How to go forward
There are no easy simple answers as to why an adult child walks away from a parent and remains silent for years. No easy solutions. For many, the pain is excruciating on both sides. Do not underestimate how hard it is for adult children to sever ties with their parents; despite what they may say, they suffer too. Pride can be a dangerous commodity in the realm of healing and reconnection. The old phrase “swallow your pride” is very relevant in these often fragile and painful circumstances.
As a parent it is important — and it is your responsibility — to try to “see into” your contributions to this estrangement. You must bear the guilt of accountability that is yours.
Engage in this hard self-exploration with self-compassion. No childhood is perfect; in fact some are darn unbearable. Understanding the pain you may have experienced in your own childhood may help you be more understanding of your shortcomings.
With self-compassion much can be achieved in the restoring of relationships that truly matter in life. Hang in there!
Repairing a relationship takes time — sometimes a lifetime. What is the hurry? What matters are the steps to reparation. If you are wanting to make deep changes and begin a healing process, then this is your start: Write out how you see your part in the painful separation; plan alternative behaviors and communication styles that may create more of a connect than disconnect.
When you are ready, reach out to your estranged child with accountability, humility, compassion and interest. Most of all reach out without expectations — just be the evolving parent you would like to be and see what comes.
The best that will occur is that you will have grown. And the rest … well that’s the unknown territory you have had the courage to step into!
Wishing you peace and growth on your path of self-discovery and accountability.