What do famous actresses like Demi Moore, Meg Ryan and Jennifer Aniston have in common?
At one point in their lives they were estranged from their mother. In 2010 a survey conducted by 20th Century Fox showed that 8 out of 10 people reported that the women in their families were responsible for ongoing family feuds; 4 out of 10 reported that they were currently going through it.
A fifth of the people polled admitted that a family member died before they could make peace. Thirty percent of women have been estranged from their moms. Imagine Jennifer Aniston’s mom seeing her daughter’s high profile marriage to Brad Pitt and she wasn’t invited to attend the wedding?
There are numerous chat rooms and blog sites most of them kept fairly under the radar where parents communicate their grief and their confusion over the loss of their adult children. Often it is learned behavior that passes from generation to generation.
When Amelia left home she was newly graduated from the Peabody School for the Arts. She was an honor student and gifted and talented concert pianist. She received a full honors scholarship to Harvard University that was academically based. In the months between graduating from Peabody and attending Harvard she would decide to move in with her teenaged boyfriend. Shortly thereafter she became a teen unwed mother and Harvard was no longer an option.
In her lifestyle choices she would also decide to dismiss her mother from her life. A mother she once seemed to adore; wrote her college essay about and by all outward signs had a close loving mother/daughter relationship. No one was more surprised by Amelia’s actions and life choices than her own mother. When her mother finally decided to go after Amelia, who was just shy of 18, Amelia retaliated with accusations of abuse. A nasty court battle ensued and the outcome was declared “unfounded” and further stated “Amelia has many mental health issues as a result of being sexually abused as a child.”
For many years Amelia’s mother grieved the loss of her daughter and her grandchild. For more than a decade she tried many times for reconciliation and all to no avail. It took many years and heartache and finally today her mother accepts that Amelia will never be a part of her life and she is okay with this conclusion. When asked how she finally came to peace? Mother responded with, “If Amelia wasn’t my daughter, I wouldn’t even like her. The person she has become is not someone I would want in my life. Then I started thinking that all relationships end, some end by divorce, some by death and some by choice. Finally I am free of her and accepting of her decision. I live a very full life and it just doesn’t include my daughter.”
Amelia claimed abuse by a man who married into the family, when uncovered and confronted the extended family chose not to believe or to support Amelia or her mother. Family members not only didn’t support by word but also by deed as they allowed the accused “child molester” unlimited access to their own babies. The declaration of sexual abuse would trigger decades of estrangement.
How does a mother go from giving birth, breast feeding her baby, nurturing her and providing her with the best educational opportunities, providing undying love and support for her daughter and then to acceptance of estrangement?
Like all loss it had to be a process with the stages of grief until acceptance. In many ways it is a death. For a parent it represents a death of the future, one that their child was expected to carry forward.
Chase and Beth’s Story
When Chase brought his new fiancée’ Beth home to meet his mother he didn’t expect the reaction he received. Chase was a successful African American male and Beth a blond blue-eyed gal, not the picture of what his mother believed was the right choice for her son. They didn’t speak for over a year. Finally as a result of the up and coming wedding mother met with son and they reconciled their differences. Today more than 4-children and 2 decades later all is well in this family. The love between mother and son was greater than any differences. Beth is openly embraced and loved by all family members.
When it comes to our children we see ourselves and our future, perhaps it is easier to let go of parents as most will outlive them. Parents may represent the past and adult children may decide they want a new life apart from parental feedback, input and influence.
In my research I have communicated with many parents, mostly mothers of estranged adult children. For the most part they have real difficulty letting go of their children even when they are fully developed functioning adults. What other relationships would we hang on so desperately for? Like divorce kids also decide at times to move away from parents both literally and figuratively. Sometimes they come back and sometimes they don’t.
Peggy and Her Son Dan
When Peggy’s son Dan left home he was bitter and angry over his parent’s decision to divorce and he began abusing drugs and alcohol. Peggy tried to get him help but because he was a legal adult her hands were tied. Initially Peggy told her neighbors and friends that Dan had gone away to college. Later she said he was living with his friends. Admitting to the truth was just so painful for Peggy. The truth was that Dan didn’t want his mother in his life. The hurt she experienced was by far the most personal cut; her own flesh and blood that she absolutely adored had denied her.
Through the years Peggy would hear about Dan, he had fathered a son but Social Services stepped in and removed the boy from both parents who were unable to care for him. He was adopted by a loving family. Dan was in and out of jail for years, often drug and alcohol related charges.
More than 9 years after leaving home Dan totaled his car as a result of drinking and driving. The accident resulted in a pedestrian hit and run that eventually lead to death. Dan was charged in this death and is now serving a prison sentence. Finally free of drugs and alcohol he has embraced the one person who never stopped caring for him, his mother.
Richie and “The Will”
When Richie died and his will was read, his assets were to be divided amongst his three adult children. His daughter Janet would receive 60 percent, his youngest daughter Jane 30 percent and his son Thomas the remaining 10 percent. This fueled years of sibling upset and estrangement and confirmed Thomas’s worst nightmare; he was the least favorite child. Father and son had not spoken in the last decade of Richie’s life.
Marlene died leaving behind 4 daughters and a messy state of affairs, her business was failing and she owed much more than her worth at the time of her death. Her funeral was delayed for weeks because not one of her children would take any of the financial responsibility. Two of her daughters would determine they were most worthy and would try and lay claim to an inheritance that Marlene believed she had coming to her. The daughters didn’t know that Marlene had mortgaged that inheritance long before her death. There was no money. The 4 sisters once close are now divided over money and possessions.
In my research the family dynamic often set in motion by a parent figure and even more often a female family member dictates estrangement. Mothers often have a difficult time seeing themselves apart from their children. But when they do take a healthy step back and away from their adult children and truly live for themselves this often allows the breathing room for a healthy adult relationship.
Estrangement would be a part of my life on both sides; my mother and me and my daughter and me. In my story it all pointed back to the same person and continues so today, although I initially blamed myself; it had to be me. As long as I remained “the scape goat” I remained the target. You could easily make the case that it was modeled behavior that carried on from generation to generation. My own mother was once estranged from her parents and her siblings. Later they did reconcile. My child witnessed my estrangement from my mother, perhaps it wasn’t such a big leap for her to follow my example.
I can honestly say that it was not what I wanted on either end and that I beat myself up for many years over these estrangements. My mother and I never had a fight, I was told that her husband was abusing and I chose to protect the child that confided in me. I also chose not to hurt my mother with these accusations and so I walked away. (Later an article, The Importance of An Investigation for All Parties will be published)
The last person I ever thought would leave my life was my daughter and she did. Through the years with many doctors, counselors, therapists, friends and research I would come to the universal conclusion that I was an easy target for manipulation. I allowed my desire to make up for the loss of a parent to death and accusation of abuse to make me that manipulated target. I wanted to make it all better, fix it and take the pain and loss away. I wanted to protect my children from further hurt and loss. All I really did was allow a “victim” mentality to grow and fester in my children. At that time I couldn’t see it.
My mother didn’t speak to me for the last 23 years she lived; I would go unmentioned in her obituary. I was the adult messenger who spoke out on a child’s behalf. Having lived through it and in retrospect I did the best I could with what I knew at that time. Today I would definitely have the police and detectives get to the bottom of it. “The story” needs to be documented and preserved legally. Fortunately for me I have all the documents from teachers, social workers, detectives and other adult parents who witnessed what a child declared and also what I personally lived through. Do keep good records as this information can make all the difference in “what really happened.” Abuse in all forms is often behind many family estrangements. Historically, and as the years pass, the story may change depending on who is manipulating it and why.
Today for me, it doesn’t really matter what I believe but rather what I know. Did a little girl lie? Maybe she did and maybe she didn’t either way my job was to protect her.
In 1998 I started my involvement in an online group where I received much comfort in the sharing of estrangement stories, clearly I wasn’t alone. P.E.A.C.E. parents of estranged adult children everywhere was a place we could openly communicate our loss, our feelings and our deepest hurts in losing our adult children. I was astonished at the real life stories of estrangement but no so today. It exists but most often is not talked about because of the shame and embarrassment and the pain associated with this incredible loss.
What did I learn?
- You are so much stronger than you think!
- There is comfort that comes from sharing with others who are also estranged from their adult children. Find a group that works for you. You are not alone.
- Forgive yourself. You did the best you could.
- Not all relationships last, some die, some divorce and some choose to leave for their own reasons.
- Do not allow your children or any single person to have so much power over your life, that without them you feel your life has no value.
- Get help! It is painful and not something you should have to go through alone.
- Let go in love, do it for yourself and for your adult child. You gave them life; let them have their life and let them live it their way, even if that means you are not included.
- People will acknowledge a broken arm but can’t see your broken heart. Take care of you!
- Even in the best scenario and intact families, there is life after raising children.
- Find “other mothers” and “other daughters” who lift you up and love you for who you are. Fill the void with healthy relationships that enhance your life not ones that hurt you.
- Give yourself time, in so many ways it is like a death and you will need to grieve your loss.
- Accept it! Not everyone is going to like you let alone love you and some of those who don’t like/love you; just may be your own biological child or family members.
- Surround yourself with love and life! You can never have enough people who love you and support you in your life.
- In the absence of people, I highly recommend bubble baths, fresh flowers, chocolates and beauty in all art forms. Pamper yourself.
- Have faith whether you believe in God, Angels or any higher power, take your hurts and your troubles and hand them over to God.
- LOVE YOURSELF! If you don’t why on earth would anyone else?
Just a few of the books that helped me …
How To Survive The Loss of a Love by Melba Colgrove, PH.D, Harold H. Bloomfield, M.D. and Peter McWilliams
The Dance Moving to the Deep Rhythms of Your Life ORIAH
Surviving Ophelia by Cheryl Dellasega, Ph.D
Women and The Blues Passions That Hurt, Passions That Heal by Jennifer James
My Mother Myself by Nancy Friday
When Parents Hurt by Joshua Coleman
A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson
I never ever thought I could live a happy healthy and whole life without my child. It seemed so unnatural to me. I truly couldn’t imagine it. Finally through hard work and many years I hear what so many professionals said to me, “You must save yourself!”
One of the best things I ever did was go to work in nonprofit for children’s causes. My child’s departure made me feel so devalued and that none of my efforts in parenting made a difference. After she left home and for twelve years that immediately followed, I worked as a professional fundraiser. First I worked for a special needs school for children and later a religious organization that served youth and young adults. During this time I raised more than a million dollars by writing grants, hosting special events and securing outright cash donations. In my abilities to raise funds for these children, I regained my sense of value. It was so healing for me to go on and to help so many other kids.
God gave me this child, and now all these years later, I have given this child back to God. When I could finally do this I found my whole heart again and my most peace-filled center, my own authentic place in my life.
If you would like to comment or to share your own story and experiences please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org