The Nightmare of Estrangement
How can you live with the nightmare of estrangement from your own child? Estrangement in any relationship is tough, but from a child that you raised, or did your best to raise, it is excruciating hell. I initially wrote this as a response to comment on the article “How to deal with the silent treatment” but I thought it might have value to a wider audience, to anyone suffering from the pain of estrangement. This was my response to ‘Joseph' who was in suicidal pain due to estrangement from his daughter for ten years following his divorce. If you ever wondered why men suicide after divorce, look no further than estrangement from their children. And it is not only fathers, but mothers too have to endure painful estrangements.
The Silent Treatment
It is natural for a parent to yearn for the best for their child. That is why you are in pain and that is why you care. It is part of nature the same way that we breathe air. I know that there are many approaches to dealing with the silent treatment from a child.
Some people say to keep contacting, even to the point of every day. Some say to not contact, that it is up to the person giving you the silent treatment to make a choice to speak with you. It is always their choice. Some say what I think is the compromise, to contact them on their birthdays and holidays to show that you still care.
Of course everyone has to make their own decision. Every circumstance is different and all the events that have led up the pain you are feeling are unique.
I hear your lament and I understand the feeling of emptiness, sadness, remorse, guilt and hope that runs through your mind like an endless stream.
My question to you, to anyone who has had their dreams shattered, is how are we going to respond? What do we want? We had hopes that our children would always be there with us, and that as much as we love them, they will sense it and appreciate it and have the same natural love for us.
How Do You Live With the Pain of Estrangement?
We know this is not the case for many families. So now what are we going to do? We all want happiness and I think that the loss of connection with children is a huge mountain to scale. We think, how can I be happy when my son or daughter does not acknowledge me, does not contact me or maybe will not even respond when I contact them?
And you said it very succinctly, that your life is only pain now. You see no way around this mountain. The feeling of being a slave and a nothing are powerful images which definitely damage our minds and make it impossible to enjoy life.
You asked “if anyone out there knows how to deal with this weird feeling of still wanting things to work out” and your last statement was “I don’t know how to live like this”.
1. You care because it is natural as we said above.
2. I think you believe that your kids do not care for you. Especially when they are in their teens and twenties, kids are establishing their own identities and are trying to assert their independence. How many ‘rebel without a cause’ stories have we all heard about. We did it ourselves. Sometimes they are upset and if you ask them, they could not even tell you why.
Be Accurate – You Cannot Know Exactly What They are Thinking/Feeling
But to believe that they do not care is not accurate. It is more than possible that they care very much but cannot express or they think that you as the parent are older, more mature, wiser and that you have the responsibility to keep reaching out to them no matter how long it takes.
3. They have their own perspectives. We mourn our loss and cannot understand why they put us through this pain. They have their own suffering. They mourn the things that they feel we caused for their life, the things which made them uncomfortable, the things which made them unhappy. I cannot judge whether their unhappiness is reasonable or not, but the reality is that they are. So unhappy that they blame and accuse, rightfully or wrongly, their parents for causing them this unhappiness.
4. How to live with this situation? I think the first thing is for us to go back to the basics. By that I mean is that parents have a basic, innate desire for their children's health and happiness. But you are NOT only a parent. You have many roles. You are someone’s friend, you might be someone’s aunt, teacher, confidante or rummy partner.
5. You have to magnify the good you have in your life.
What Other Roles Can You Control?
You have to magnify in your mind what you can control. And you have to reduce this aspect of your life that is causing you pain. You have to invest your thoughts and energy in something else. Being a parent is not your only role. What other roles do you have in your life that you can pay attention to? If you have no other roles, then it is time to create them. Become a volunteer, become a big sister or mother for a kid that is an orphan. What else in your life can you be thankful for? Have you heard or seen the story of Sergeant Joey Jones? You can see it at http://abcnews.go.com/Health/marines-story-recovery-inspiration/story?id=13970663 .
He lost both of his legs in Afghanistan. It is an inspirational story because he is rebuilding his life even without his legs. He is doing his best. He is going to school and he is working to console and inspire other soldiers in the same tragic situation.
I think the answer to your question lies in your own words “How to live like this”. The answer is in the ‘this’. You cannot live like ‘this’ with this reality of your estrangement being your only role in life. You are MORE than ‘this’. Don’t let yourself be defined in that role of parent only.
That is the answer. Find new roles that go beyond ‘this’. Become an athlete, read classics, review books, knit, become a Doctor, find another passion. All of your passion is for your kids to release or acknowledge you.
Dont put that burden on them, put it on yourself. Shoulder the shoulds, whatever you think that they should be doing, you shoulder it and do it for yourself. Release yourself. You can release yourself.
You are in your own mental jail. Let yourself out. No more solitary confinement. No more prison. You did your best and now you can pursue another passion in your life.
Rebuild Your Life
Shrink ‘this’ issue of your kids down. Enlarge the rest of your life. Whatever you can do which inspires you and makes you feel better is how I think that you can start to rebuild and create a new life with new roles and new friends and new goals.
If you do that, you will start to feel better, because you will have control in these new roles and you can really make a difference in the lives of other people and your own.
Start to swim every day or run or walk, just get moving so you can metaphorically and really move past this mountain of an issue and leave it far behind you in the distance.
And as far as your kids are concerned, you can think of some basic thoughts, like being grateful that they are healthy and also being grateful of your own integrity in honoring their wishes. If their wish is to be left alone, fine, leave them alone.
Be happy for them that they have their independence and freedom and of course hope in a better future, that at some point they will realize that you are as human as them and that you did the best you could in the past with the awareness that you had.
And when they do reconnect with you in the future, they will be shocked at the great life that you built for yourself. You win in this scenario either way, when they do reconnect with you, they will find a happy you, a person who moved beyond the role of ‘this’, the role of an estranged parent, someone who is actually happy with a passion for something other than mourning the past, they will find a you that is not estranged from yourself.