what I want estranged parents to know

Understanding Estrangement: A Message to Parents from Their Adult Children

January 24, 2024

I have heard thousands of stories of estrangement. This is what I want parents to know.

Dear estranged parent,

Thousands of adult children have shared their stories of estrangement with me, and I believe there are some common threads running through each. This article aims to help you better understand your adult child's feelings and thoughts during this challenging time.

1. Your adult child likely struggled while making this decision.

Choosing estrangement is never easy. In my experience, most adult children have given this decision much thought and careful consideration, and it is never taken lightly.

2. Your adult child probably took a long time to make this decision.

Although it may seem sudden, estrangement is rarely an overnight decision. If you listen to your child, you may discover that the rift has been deepening over time. Understanding this can help you see the situation from their perspective.

3. They want you to listen to the child part of them.

While they are physically adults, their feelings may be rooted in their childhood experiences. It's essential to listen and acknowledge these feelings, as they often play a significant role in the estrangement.

4. The way you remember things may not be exactly how they remember it. It’s not helpful to get caught up in these details.

Memories can be subjective and vary depending on the person's age, developmental stage, and experiences at the time. Accepting that your memories may differ from your child's is an important step toward understanding and reconciliation.

5. This is painful for them.

Estrangement is not an easy path, and it often involves a lot of pain. While it may seem like they hold all the power, remember that this decision was likely painful for them, too.

6. Your adult child wants the best for you.

Many adult children wish for their parents to lead healthier lives, free from harmful substances or past traumas. Understand that they often make decisions with your well-being in mind.

7. This can likely be fixed.

Most adult children express a desire for sincere apologies and changed behavior. Strategies for reconciliation differ for every family, but the potential for healing is usually present.

8. Your adult child has a mind of their own and can usually make their own decisions.

It's crucial to respect your child's autonomy and trust in their ability to make decisions. Their choices may not align with your expectations, but understanding and accepting them as they are now can help bridge the gap.

9. You cannot force them to be the adult child you wish they were.

Attempting to control aspects of their life like their career, partner, identity, or beliefs can do more harm than good. Embrace who they are today and try to connect with them on that level.

10. If your child is struggling with mental health or substance use, their estrangement may be a consequence of this issue.

These challenges are painful for both them and you. During these times, being a reliable and understanding figure can make a significant difference. Establishing boundaries with love and maintaining a safe relationship within your limits can help them feel supported.

11. Your adult child doesn’t want it to be this way.

One sentiment I've heard repeatedly is, "I wish it was different. This is my only option." Understand that estrangement is often a last resort, a painful decision made in search of healing.

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