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Arrested Development
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Arrested Development

By Bernadette A. Moyer

Arrested development has been defined as “an abnormal state which development has stopped prematurely.”  To me that is exactly what estrangement does, it is an abnormal premature ending to both the development of the relationship and the stopping prematurely of the relationship.

My relationship with my mother ended abruptly when she was in her early 50’s the age where I am at in my life now. I would never know her in her sixties and her seventies until when she died. We lost decades of interacting and history that was never to be. I have health questions and as I face my own “change of life” it would have been nice to have that family perspective and family history.  Obviously I know my birth date but not the time of my birth. There are pieces missing from the puzzle. There are pieces that only a mother would know and would have within her to share.

My kids would miss out on their grandmother and in knowing and seeing my family and our roots and history.  My daughter estranged at just shy of her 18th birthday, she will have voids in her life as well.  

We often replace that which has been lost to us; I have “other mothers” and “other daughters” that have filled many of the voids. Those relationships are highly valued loving relationships. However, nothing can truly take the place of the woman who gave you your life or who you gave life.

Today I read a piece about “Things That Will Disappear In Our Lifetime” the list included; the post office, the check, the newspaper, the book, the land line telephone, music, television and even privacy. We all grew up with these things.  But is family on its way out too?

Many of us will face our futures without our adult children, kids that we raised that decided we weren’t important or worthy. My estrangement support groups continue to grow in numbers. Parents are sharing their stories and many are no longer embarrassed by the estrangement of their adult children.

Some parents have been forced to live without ever having an adult relationship with their children. The most common things you hear is that the kid’s state 1) abuse 2) control 3) no control 4) stalking and 5) disagreements over issues. The adult children feel justified in dismissing mom and dad from their life.  Often taking the next generation with them, and leaving the next generation without ever knowing their grandparents and therefore their family history and their roots.

I’ve heard stories where parents call to tell their adult children that they” love” them and days later receive a legal “no contact” order in the mail. There are adult children that regularly use the law to distance themselves from the very people who gave them life and raised them, their own parents. It is surprisingly common in estrangement. Family courts where children literally want a “divorce” from mom and dad.  Kids accuse mom and dad of all sorts of things to justify their choice of estrangement. Some are founded and many are deemed unfounded.

What is the real cost though to “abnormal premature ending” of family relationships, namely parental?

How does that adult child continue with normal maturation and life experience when they have chosen a form of “arrested development?”  How well adjusted can you possibly be when you don’t have peace, love or any relationship with the people that raised you, cared for you and parented you?

I really believe that to hate your mother, is to hate yourself because that is where you came from. Anyone that has the power to disregard their past will disregard most anything in life. If you don’t value your own mother, what will and do you value?  

As a daughter who felt I had no choice due to sexual abuse in the family to sever ties with my mother, I was acutely aware of the cost. I knew the voids I had and I did my best to fill them with healthy relationships. Some voids would never become filled. What I did have though was a husband that always loved me. And a desire to forgive and move past it, learn from it and continue on without adding any more hurts.

I have often said, “I had to do so much more that most people just to feel normal.” That was my response when people told me “you are so accomplished” or “your life is so interesting.”  I knew the holes I had and all the wounds that I suffered. I did my best to heal and to minimize any “arrested development.”

Many parents have lost a big piece of themselves when their children have made the choice to exit their life. Some talk about the loss of a “will to live.”

But what about those adult children, what have they lost? All their reasons and the rationale, their stories and excuses aren’t going to make up for the abnormal premature loss of parents. Somewhere “arrested development” is sure to show itself.

What will they use to fill their voids? Will they make healthy choices? Or will they medicate their feelings away? Could these same adult children hold up to the yardstick they have chosen to use to measure their own parents?

It is in many ways a throw- away society with disposable everything, sadly many have chosen to devalue and throw mom and dad away too. It will be interesting to see what history does with these adult children and how their own relationships with their children will fare for them when they themselves have set the example.

How many of them will have children that will follow this parent and model those same behaviors. How many will suffer from some sort of “arrested development?”

Only time and history will tell …