I’ve often wondered if my worsening health problems were the reason for my adult daughter’s estrangement OR if her estrangement made my health problems worse? Hmm… Sort of like asking which came first? The chicken or the egg? Regardless, it has taken me years to come to accept my adult daughter’s decision to cut off ties with her family of origin. This decision of hers and the signs/problems leading up to her total estrangement was a decision she made that broke my heart!
Initially, it was our family’s “dirty little secret”. How do you tell someone the problems you are having with your child; a child you carefully planned when you could commit a life-time in meeting the needs of that child throughout her life? A child that was given every advantage sometimes before she even knew what she wanted?
According to Sharon Waters in her book “Estrangement of Parents by Their Adult Children”:
“Adult children suddenly decide their parent has abused them to the point that their only recourse is to break off all relationship. They abandon the parent and deny grandchildren a relationship with their grandparent. This is called Estrangement or Alienation of Parents by Adult Children, and it’s far more common than most realize.”
Before reading Sharon Waters book, and other books like this book, I believed my daughter’s actions were somehow my fault. That I must have been a terrible parent to cause my daughter’s actions? Now I’m not saying I’m a perfect person nor was I a “perfect” parent but I did devote my life to raising my two children often ignoring things I might have wanted or dropping whatever I was doing to come to their aid whenever I was called upon. Not that long ago, I was told I was “toxic” by my now adult daughter? Stunned by all that I’ve given this child throughout her life, I couldn’t fathom her use of that word to describe her mother! Again, according to Sharon Waters:
In the language of estrangement, one overworked term stands out: Toxic. It is used everywhere and applied to everything that is perceived negatively–politically, socially, in the media, in a multitude of self-help books, and in blogs and articles. From a term originally used to describe harmful substances, it is now applied to individuals and to relationships. It has a double edge of ills. The person it’s applied to is deemed “bad”, “hateful”, and “purposefully hurtful”. The person on the receiving end of this toxic individual’s behavior claims unmitigated emotional suffering.”
Thinking back, I’ve often wondered if I gave “too much” to both of my children? Perhaps I didn’t make them responsible enough for their actions instead using my influence to “fix” their problems? The signs of problems with my daughter were apparent long before her estrangement; I chalked it up to “growing pains” and that of being a teenager. I remember way back when the vehemence and anger my daughter had at people who attempted to discipline her… Her first boss who corrected her when she didn’t do her job correctly. She seethed with anger at this person complaining to me of her reprimand. I gently reminded my daughter that she did, in fact, work for this person and as such, was to do as they requested. In turn, that was what she was being paid to do… the job description. She argued back with me angry for not “taking her side”; that SHE should and could do what the “boss” did better? Encouraged to attend school so that she could someday be her own boss was my response. I would never have dreamed that someday this arrogant, angry attitude would be directed at me!
Maybe because I changed my life around to accommodate my children, my daughter felt this was my “role”? I was once told by my daughter that IF I wanted something to happen, I would make it happen. That certainly was true for years whenever either of my children requested my help with anything in their lives. But when my daughter planned her wedding, according to her future in-laws wishes, in a remote area and at a time when my health problems were first beginning to worsen, I told her the difficulty I would have in attending her “planned elopement”. No one on either side of her family were invited to her wedding. It would be just her girlfriends who were in the wedding party and her future husband’s family at this remote location. I explained MONTHS in advance that after two spine surgeries, I couldn’t travel to this location. Her response was that no matter the pain it might cause me, I could do it if I wanted! When I tried to explain EXACTLY what was going on with me physically, I was told to NOT curse her with my problems! And she was well aware that I was scheduled for spine fusion surgery a week after her wedding date… yet I still should have been able to travel across the country by plane, then rent a car and drive several hours longer to reach her remote venue. Because that venue, supposedly so meaningful to her and her future in-laws, was the only location she wanted to have her wedding… with or without her family present. My inability to attend her wedding, which broke my heart, and my husband’s decision to NOT leave me alone when I was struggling physically, was the reason she quit talking to either of us.
I’ve struggled for the last few years on how this “estrangement” could have happened in our “perfect family”? And what could “I” do to “fix” this problem? I am finally coming out the other side of healing recognizing that this family problem is not my shame or guilt for my adult daughter’s actions. I’m done living two lives… the one life I’ve created celebrating my values and giving to others and the second life of torment and heartache on how this person has treated her parents. I’m NOT the things she has said about me/us!
This morning as I read anothers’ post, I’m moved by Erika K. Rothwell’s words in “Hope – In Ashes of Love” (Writing From The Kitchen; February 4, 2019. WordPress https://writingfromthekitchen.com/2019/02/04/hope-in-ashes-of-love/):
It is only by letting go of the illusion of what could be, allowing what is, and accepting we are powerless over another’s choices in life that heals what is left of a suffering relationship. We can make a choice. When we stop responding to the narratives of the past, we find strength within the power of adversity. As the poet Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
Thank you, Erika, for your powerful post! As I move forward in this life recognizing and accepting my new physical limitations, I will not apologize for the life I created and nurtured for twenty plus years. If this Mother-Daughter relationship is not “enough” for my daughter, then that is HER decision she has made. I’ve slowly “let go” of my future dreams in accepting what is and what may forever be. That reality is the only thing I have control over is being the person I am in the one life I have to live.