Child Estrangement: How to Let Go & Move On as a Parent

Thứ bảy - 27/04/2024 01:10
Learn to love and let go after your child has cut ties Saying goodbye to an estranged child can be painful, but it's a necessary step for you both to move on. Even if you don't fully understand their decision, respecting their choice is...
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Saying goodbye to an estranged child can be painful, but it’s a necessary step for you both to move on. Even if you don’t fully understand their decision, respecting their choice is essential to providing closure and leading a healthier, more fulfilled life in the future. But how do you take care of your needs too? In this article, we’ll offer expert insight on how to say goodbye to an estranged child in the kindest, most respectful way possible. We’ll also provide tips for coping with the loss, and a few reasons to contextualize why they may have cut ties. Remember, you are not alone and you will get through this…even if it’s one day at a time.

Things You Should Know

  • Write your child a letter to get everything you need off your chest. Express that you love them and support their decision, even if you don’t understand it.
  • Hold a goodbye ritual to help provide closure. You can sage your home, hold a memorial service, or hold a bonfire.
  • Give yourself time to grieve. Let your feelings wash over you and lean on your loved ones.
Section 1 of 3:

How to Say Goodbye

  1. Step 1 Set realistic expectations for how your goodbye will go.
    Emotionally prepare yourself for no contact with your child, even after reaching out to them. Estranged children often don’t have intentions of reconciliation. In fact, some messages from family are ignored altogether. These are harsh realities, but being ready for them will help ease the pain of how they handle (or don’t handle) your farewell.[1]
    • If you plan on apologizing to your child, be prepared for the fact that they may not fully forgive you. Expressing remorse is healing personally, but it may not heal the relationship.
    • It might help to journal your expectations beforehand. This way, you can reflect and have tangible written reminders of what your goodbye may look like before you initiate.
    • You can decide to say goodbye at any time: immediately after the estrangement, a few months or years down the line, or even towards the end of your life. All of these are valid moments to seek closure.
  2. Step 2 Reach out with a simple message first.
    Send a brief handwritten note or leave a short voicemail that opens the door for communication. Don’t plead your case, re-hash the past, or try to bargain your child back into your life. Apologize if you feel you need to, but keep it light. Make it clear you’d like to talk, but acknowledge that they have the right to refuse.[2]
    • You might say “Hey, I’m just checking in to say I miss you and that I’m sorry. I’d love to see you in person again, but I respect that you may not want that.”
    • If you’re apologizing in your message, be specific about what you’re sorry for. Avoid language like “I’m sorry you felt” and use actionable terms that take responsibility for your behavior. (“I’m sorry I neglected you,” “I’m sorry I had that outburst,” etc.)
    • Consider the timing of when you decide to reach out, too. Deciding to connect at the beginning of the estrangement might be less successful, because the wound is still fresh. Meanwhile, contact after a major tragedy can feel manipulative. Try to find a happy medium. Give them time to be independent and don’t use another life event as an excuse.
  3. Step 3 Write your child a letter.
    You don’t want to say goodbye with important things left unsaid. Handwriting a thoughtful missive to your kid can help you organize everything you need to say and aid with closure. In your child’s letter, share significant memories and conversations you wish you’d had. Express your unconditional love for them, regardless of their reply.[3]
    • Share warm wishes for your child’s future at the end of the letter. Make it clear you hope they live a happy, fulfilling life, even if it doesn’t include you.
    • Avoid guilting language like “If only…” or “I just wish you’d…” This can be manipulative and undermine your respect for their decision.
    • Don’t insist upon them reaching out, no matter the circumstance. They need to know you will honor their decision to leave in order to heal properly.
    • You might say something like:
      • "Dear Carolyn, I know we’ve had our differences, but I still love you unconditionally. No matter what happens, please remember that.”
      • “Dear Matthew, I recognize I was in the wrong. I didn’t uphold my responsibilities as a parent. I’m truly sorry.”
      • “Dear Carson, I recognize that you’ve chosen a life without me. Even if I am not a part of it, I hope it is filled with joy and abundance.”
  4. Step 4 Ask other loved ones to deliver your letter, if necessary.
    If your child wants no contact with you, talk to a neutral friend or family member who loves you both and communicates with each of you regularly. Request that they deliver your letter next time they see your child. Your letter may not be read, but at least you’ll know it’s been received and you’ve done everything you can.[4]
    • Be clear that you’re just asking for this person to deliver your letter. Don’t pressure them into saying anything on your behalf or taking sides.
  5. Step 5 Hold a goodbye ritual if it will help with closure.
    Estrangement is a form of grief. It can help to hold a funeral-like ceremony for your estranged child to cleanse the negative energy you two have left behind. You can burn an item that brings bad memories, hold a memorial service for them and invite other people they don’t have contact with, or sage your home. Do something that will help you feel more resolved.[5]
    • Your ceremony can involve other loved ones or be totally private. Choose an activity that makes you feel most comfortable.
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Section 2 of 3:

Coping & Self-Care Advice

  1. Step 1 Give yourself time to let go.
    Remind yourself that letting go is a long process (and not always a linear one). While you will feel okay eventually, it may take a while, and you’ll have days when you slip up (which is nothing to be ashamed of). Give yourself space as you learn to live without and reflect on your past regularly. For a healthy way to do this, try meditating and use each exhale as a way to release your regrets.[6]
    • Create a positive mantra to help counter the victimizing thoughts. Any time you hear yourself saying “I can’t believe this happened to me,” try saying “this could happen to anyone” or “I am given the opportunity to learn from my mistakes to create a better future.”
  2. Step 2 Acknowledge your feelings of pain and grief.
    Let the negative emotions flow over you instead of ignoring the hurt or insisting you’re okay. You may feel like crying, screaming, or not doing anything at all. Everybody grieves a little differently. Don’t compare yourself to others; instead, focus on allowing yourself to accept every feeling fully. There is a light at the end of the mourning tunnel, but the only way out is through.[7]
    • Remember to take care of your body too. Grieving can lead to feelings of depression, which can lead to insomnia, dehydration, and other health problems. Drink lots of water, get at least 8 hours of sleep, and try to get some exercise when you can.
      • Going for a walk is a great way to get out in nature and move your body without overexerting yourself during a tough time.
  3. Step 3 Connect with loved ones regularly.
    Reach out for emotional support and lean on other family members for help. Make a habit of spending quality time with your friends in relaxed, low-stakes settings. Watch a movie at a buddy’s house, go to the park, or take up a gentle hobby like knitting. All of these can keep your mind occupied if you need distractions, but provide an space to talk if you feel like sharing your feelings.[8]
    • Be clear when you need help. People expect and respect that you’re in pain, so the more honest you are, the easier it is for others to support you. For example, your grief may kill your appetite for a little while. You could ask your friends to help you cook or take you out to dinner.
  4. Step 4 Find ways to look towards the future.
    Stop dwelling on the past by creating things to look forward to. Plan a vacation, set a goal for yourself over the next few weeks, or schedule a time every so often to treat yourself. You might buy yourself a nice meal, a new outfit, or a video game you’ve always wanted to play. You can even treat yourself to alone time or a good nap![9]
    • When you’re goal setting, be specific and use realistic timetables. For example, “I’ll get back in shape” and “I’ll be happier” can be vague and hard to measure. Instead, try “I’ll do 15 push-ups by November” or “I will make a list of 5 things I appreciate every day.”
  5. Step 5 Stop yourself from questioning or replaying it in your head.
    Avoid obsessing over the woulda, coulda, shoulda by embracing the here and now. Distract yourself with healthy activities like exercise and music. Focus on sensory details in your current situation. What does your environment look, sound, feel like? If there’s triggering items that cause you to spiral down the path of replay (a song, a word, a smell), avoid places where that trigger might come up. [10]
    • It can also help to set a timer each day that allows you to question and replay scenarios. This way, you’re giving yourself a healthy amount of time to feel and reflect, but it’s not consuming your entire day or life.
  6. Step 6 Cut out toxic or judgemental people.
    Some people may condemn you for your child’s estrangement. Don’t give into their criticisms. They don’t know the relationship and, quite frankly, it’s none of their business. Set healthy boundaries between you two and explain that their attempts to guilt you are inappropriate. If they maintain a condemning attitude, it’s okay to walk away or end contact with them.[11]
    • There’s a difference between judgment and constructive criticism. To tell this difference, listen for specificity, tone, and positive language.
      • For example, “I think your son felt humiliated by you when he was a teen, even though I know you didn’t mean it” is constructive. It gives a specific timetable, uses an “I feel statement,” and acknowledges your feelings.
      • “You just embarrassed him; no wonder he left” is not a constructive example. It’s vague, dismissive of your feelings, and uses absolute language so it’s impossible to improve from.
  7. Step 7 Work on yourself, even if your child doesn’t come back.
    Odds are, if your child left, they felt some part of your relationship was dysfunctional. While blaming yourself is unhelpful, take some time to reflect on your kid’s comments and see where there’s validity. Make a list of criticisms you agree with and look for healthy ways to improve those traits. This will not only help improve future relationships; it opens the door for a healthier dynamic if your child decides to reconcile.[12]
    • For example, if your child felt you weren’t supportive enough, you might voice ways you appreciate people more. If they feel you invaded their privacy, you might work on giving your loved ones space and asking clarifying questions to ensure you’re not crossing a boundary.
    • If you’re unsure what to work on, talk to friends and family members. They know you well and can offer constructive insight into your behavior.
  8. Step 8 Talk to a therapist to help you work through it.
    Seek out a therapist who specializes in family and relationships. They’ll be able to offer you expert guidance and give context on the core issues of family estrangement. You might want to practice what you aim to say beforehand, so you’re getting the most out of each therapy session.[13]
    • Think of your therapist like your closest confidante. When you talk to them, you can let your feelings flow freely. It’s their job not to judge and validate your emotions.
  9. Step 9 Find a support group to remind you that you’re not alone.
    Being estranged can lead to feelings of loneliness, guilt, or shame, but it happens to parents all over the world every day. In fact, research shows that about 1 in 4 American families have at least 1 estranged parent.[14] Look online for chat forums and support groups who understand the pain of estranged children firsthand and can help guide you through your loss. [15]
    • Rejected Parents of Estranged Children is a popular support group for fellow estranged parents. They offer wonderful counseling and other resources to those who are struggling.
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Section 3 of 3:

Possible Causes of Estrangement

  1. Step 1 Communication in your family might be somewhat dysfunctional.
    Arguably the biggest cause of all failed relationships (parents, spouses, friends) is a lack of quality communication. If you got defensive or critical when your child expressed a concern (even though you didn’t mean to), or you ignored them altogether, they may feel misunderstood and like keeping in contact with you is too emotionally difficult.[16]
    • Fortunately, communication has the power to save relationships, too. Work on your communication skills by actively listening more, asking clarifying questions on things you don’t understand, and stating people’s feelings back to them so it’s clear you empathize.
  2. Step 2 They may feel unloved or mistreated.
    If you ever got verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive with your child, that can be difficult for them to overlook. Some signs of mistreatment are major and obvious (breaking things, intimidating people). Others are smaller and more subtle (using sarcasm to demean someone, dismissing them as “too sensitive”). Whether or not your child wants to forgive is entirely up to them, but know that, no matter what, it’s never too late to make a change and be more loving in the future.[17]
    • Oftentimes, mistreatment is a cycle. If you experienced abuse in the past, you may have become desensitized to it and hurt your child without realizing it. Look into support groups, talk to your loved ones, and spend time reflecting to end this cycle.
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