Sometimes parents and adult children become estranged. Perhaps there was a divorce, the parent or children may have moved, their common interests may have changed with age, or there may have been an event that one or all parties could not get past. The following presentation examines parent and adult child estrangement, which includes some of the reasons and issues involved as well as how healing occurs.
People Who Have Had Estranged Relationships
- Drew Barrymore and her parents, Jaid and John Drew Barrymore
- Meg Ryan and her mother, Susan Ryan Jordan
- Patty Davis and her parents, Nancy and Ronald Reagan
- Jennifer Aniston and her mother, Nancy Anniston
- Angelina Jolie and her father, Jon Voight
- Substance abuse and mental health issues
- Move away
- Delay or resistance to navigating the normal transitions in the parent-child relationship
- Common interests have changed with age
- An event one or both parties cannot get past
- Lifestyle choices
- Sexual orientation or gender identity
- Children or family members dating, cohabitating, marrying outside their culture. Cultural differences include:
- End of life issues (e.g., wills, trusts, power of attorney)
- “We are a throw-away, disposable society”
- Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
- The parent has more money.
- “I have no money – the kids are scared they will have to take care of me, so they distance themselves”
- The media – it exposes, and normalizes, estrangement
Normal Transitions in the Parent-Child Relationship
- Leaving home: single young adults (accepting emotional and financial responsibility for self)
- Joining families through marriage – the new couple (commitment to new system)
- Families with young children (accepting new members into the system)
- Families with adolescents (increasing flexibility of family boundaries to permit children’s independence and grandparents frailties)
- Launching children and moving on (accepting a multitude of exits from and entries into the family system)
- Families in later life (accepting the shifting generational roles)
Carter, B. & McGoldrick M. (1999). Overview: The expanded family life cycle: Individual, family and social perspectives. In B. Carter & M. Goldrick (Eds.), The expanded family life cycle: Individual, family, and social perspectives (pp. 1-26). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Issues to Consider
- Domestic Violence
- Family Patterns/Relationships/Dynamics
- Mental Illness
- Communication Patterns
- Parenting Style
- Relationship between the parents
- High conflict divorce proceedings
- State of litigation
- Parental alienation
- Its effects on the parent-child relationship
- The dynamics of domestic violence
- Grief and guilt
- Longing and yearning
- Emotion management
- Coping skills
Family Patterns – Relationships – Dynamics
- Family constellation
- Personality priorities
- Types of parent child relationships
- Estrangement and its effect on other relationships
– Grandparents (the interruption in the continuity of the generations)
- Arlene Harder’s 5 Stages (recognition that expectations have not been met, trying to get the other person to change, taking a look at yourself, grieve what is not possible and let go, acceptance of the relationship)
Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Birthdays, Anniversaries
- Building resources all year
- Preparing for the occasion
- Learning to cope and manage emotions
Mental Health Issues
- Substance Abuse
- Preparing for reconciliation
- Consider whether your expectations are too high
- Be as prepared as you can for whatever your child’s reaction/response may be – positive or negative
- Plan ahead.
- Practice what you want to say.
- Consider how initial contact will be made (e.g., phone call, e-mail, text, face-to-face meeting – in public or private)
- Obstacles to reconciliation
- Unrealistically high expectations
- Wanting something specific (e.g., apology, explanation)
- Allowing negative emotions to hijack the moment
- Don’t expect fast and great change.
- Set limits. If you haven’t talked to your child in a while, try limiting the conversation to a time length that is comfortable and manageable.
- If past contact with your child has been intense, arrange for a less intense contact – be in public, plan an activity that will keep you from talking about sensitive topics, or drop off a card in the mail and keep the message light.
- Don’t flood the child with the “new you.”
- Let your child know you heard him/her. Practice reflexive listening.
- Your timetable might not be your child’s. Respect your child’s timetable.
- Create (new) traditions with your child.
- Focus on the positive aspects of the relationship.
How Healing Occurs
- Talking, sharing, listening, and being with others.
- Realizing that one is not alone.
- Learning new information.
- Turning inward to self-assess – focusing on the self.
- Working towards:
– Forgiveness (self and others)
– Acceptance (self and others)
- Parents have a sense of pride in their children and love them deeply.
- There is a great deal of pain, suffering, hurt, longing, yearning, shame, and guilt.
- Parents do not want to “go public “ with the estrangement.
Parent-adult child estrangement has been called the “silent epidemic.” With the proliferation of information about parent-adult child estrangement in recent years, it is becoming clear that families who suffer estrangement are not alone in their quest for understanding, reconciliation and healing.