Estranged adult children…I see you.
I never would have imagined I’d be walking this road in my 30s. I can honestly say I did not see it coming, but as I love to say, “The more emotionally healthy you become, the easier it is for you to be more aware of the dysfunction in others.”
This sentiment has been reflective of my own journey on the road to maintaining emotional and mental health. May I just add, ‘Where was the disclaimer, in big flashing red lights, that bettering yourself can mean distancing yourself from people who have been fundamental in your life?’
According to Dictionary.com, estrangement is defined as, “(1) the state of being alienated or separated in feeling or affection; a state of hostility or unfriendliness (2) the state of being separated or removed”. Estrangement crept in like a lioness on the prowl, and before I knew it, I looked up to find the relationship I once had was no more. It was a heartbreaking experience after what I deemed a pretty ‘normal’ non-conflictual mother-daughter relationship. We were never besties, but if I needed something, anything – tangible or emotionally – she was there. That’s what moms are for right? Unfortunately, now I question if I am only now able to observe my mother from an emotionally healthy adult vantage point, exposing her own failings?
We are about 17 months into the commencement of this new reality, and it truly sucks. I hurt for myself, for my little family, for my kids, and for what I thought would be our future.
I thought my kids would grow up having their Gigi, as she is so affectionately called, very present in their lives. Alas, now those expectations seem as fragile as the princess fairytales I grew up loving to believe in. Grief plays a huge role when we experience estrangement. Kubler-Ross describes the stages of grief as Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These stages are commonly experienced several times, and NOT in a linear or neat progression.
Estrangement is messy and painful and is commonly misunderstood by those looking into your situation. Culture tells us that if people are in your family, they have a free ticket to remain in, and have full access to, your life. This idea could not be more dysfunctional.
No one deserves to be lied to or have their feelings minimized or made to feel guilty about how they feel. My spouse and I have spoken several times about how we will not normalize dysfunction in our home, but work to create environments of mental and emotional health, honest communication, respect, and vulnerability.
Generational dysfunction ends with us.
How did I conclude that estrangement would be the best option, you ask? Well, it started with my own personal work in therapy. I had to acknowledge the facts of what has transpired in the last 17 months – not he said, she said, but rather, what has tangibly happened or not happened. This was really hard for me, because I initially made excuses for her. I was not in a place where I was ready to accept the reality that my mother was harming me even after I was open, honest, and vulnerable with her.
I had to observe power & control games at play in our relationship. I had to (and am continuing to) choose to keep my environment emotionally healthy, and to stand firm in my dedication towards my personal journey to positive self-worth. Once you truly know and believe your self-worth you CANNOT live in a way that negates that, and you most certainly can’t maintain relationships that are in conflict with the preciousness of who you are. I’d be lying if I said it was not a grief-stricken horse pill to swallow – it has been.
For those estranged adult children out there, find comfort in having the ability to build your own family. My husband once said, “Friends are the family you choose.” I believe that is a wise idea in which to anchor yourself.
Know that there are estranged adult children support groups available in our community, where you can learn that you aren’t alone and that your journey in estrangement is not unique.
Today, I choose to be hopeful that one day our relationship will be mended into something new, honest, and true, but until then – I keep choosing to maintain healthy boundaries for the sake of myself, my family, and my well-being. All while knowing that things may never change and estrangement can be lifelong.