My husband and I are the parents of two estranged adult children. I consider us both survivors and warriors of a war that had lasted a very long time. We had put up with this serial estrangement - this on-again, off-again bullshit for almost 38 years - so long, in fact we didn't know which end was up anymore.
These are the biological children of my husband and my stepchildren. Our ED and ES are both in their 50’s. Our youngest daughter had passed away 5 years ago at the age of 44. Our granddaughter – the self-absorbed daughter of our ED is 23. She is very bright but, having been schooled at the knee of her mother, she is as indifferent to us as our daughter is. Needless to say, she has learned well. Our grandson is about 11 now, and since our son stopped talking to us 6 years ago without any explanation, we haven't seen him in 6 years (except for at the funeral) And so we can say most assuredly that we don’t know him at all.
I guess my husband and I have come from a place where there has been much trouble and pain and so few rewards. Over the past years, we tried and tried to make it work with our EC, however our efforts were usually met with disdain and indifference under the gloss of their duplicitous superficiality. Fueled by the parental alienation of their quasi-psychotic biological mother, these children maintained almost an obsessive attachment to her while they treated their father like the next door neighbor – all the while denying that they favored “MOMMY”.
What has always perplexed me is if these children really didn't want a relationship with us - all they had to do was say so. But our EC generated all this fake we love you, we're a family stuff, while under the surface, there was such terrible unhappiness. And while it never really ever surfaced, it did morph into some very dysfunctional behavior that went on and on for almost 40 years! It was such a complicated dicotomy that left us confused and unbalanced most of the time.
It was difficult (impossible really), for us not to place blame. We had been betrayed, lied to, fooled into thinking that these people loved us and yet treated us so cruelly. We simply could not forgive or forget this kind of treatment - we simply are not wired that way.
Our ED always talked about wanting us to forget the past - sure - why wouldn't she? She basically created all the chaos and problems - and then, when things calmed down and we tried to forget, she'd create even more. To have continued to forget about what happened would only benefit her. The cousin to this particular narcissistic behavior is avoiding talk about "blame". Of course! With no accountability, this dysfunction and misbehavior could continue indefinitely. We felt that our EC’s past behavior was our window into their future behavior – unfortunately, it turned out that we were too right.
Several years ago, we were tired of being endlessly jerked around by our ED, and so I wrote her a letter which outlined the nearly 4 decades of mistreatment and hurt that she and her brother had visited upon us. In it, I also told her we no longer could deal with the way things were and that things really needed to change. She replied – how our inability to forget the “past” would render us utterly alone and asked us not to contact her again. This was just fine with us - as we were not looking continue the duplicitous and highly superficial nature of our relationship with her. Dumping all of them - and all the drama that went with them, was actually a total relief. Life just seems so much better without all that anxiety and pain.
Whenever we would have yet another altracation with our children - a thought was always in the back of my mind - who would be there to help my husband if something happened to me? How could we depend on them to help us out when they blinsided and manipulated us at every turn.. Here was the potential for the ultimate victimization or the ultimate abandonment. It was a nagging premonition of the future - a future I just could not picture with them in it.
My husband is 76 and I am 61 this year - we are both in excellent health and, hopefully, we will both die simultaneously in our sleep! But sometimes - at night - before I go to sleep - the thought would occasionally cross my mind - What If......Who would my husband turn to? If his own children don't respect him now, what would happen if he became sick - if he was frail and helpless. Who would protect him from them?
Our nephews turned out to be our new heroes - my brother’s children - are 38, 36 and 34 years and they are fine young men - each and every one of them. We are quite proud of them and we named the 2 living closer to us our DPAs for finance and health. (The oldest lives in Las Vegas and I didn't think it would be convenient for him).
These are men who get along with one another and with their parents and who cannot really grasp the concept that our children would disrespect us – especially their biological dad. You can just tell that they love and respect their family and they are happy and well-adjusted. They weren't evasive and snide or sarcastic. They are open and honest and straightforward. They are real men.
The comparison is so glaringly obvious - it made me sort of sad (and angry) to think that our own children - at least 14 - 16 years older then my nephews, have been such disappointments and so unreliable. It was really disheartening to realize that if my husband or myself were left all alone and too sick to do for ourselves, we had to resort to bothering our nephews to help us out. But when I asked them, they both just said - "anything you need Auntie." It felt great and by terminating our relationship with our EC, we were able to rest assured that there was no longer the threat of predators – they will never know if there was a problem or if we were dead.
I do believe that, over the years we have learned a lot about our children. We learned that they lied, manipulated, cheated and betrayed us many many times – without any conscience at all. We learned that their duplicity was unending. And we learned that they visited these traits on their own children to create a new generation of ill-mannered, indifferent, obnoxious know-it-alls who have little interest in anything but themselves.
Yes, we learned our lesson well but now, we simply chose to NOT learn anymore. I know that honest and loving relationships should never have to end. What my husband and I had wasn’t a family – it was a delusion. We believe that a family is FOREVER - it simply has to be - because of the very nature of its make up and because of it's reason for being. In a family, one generation follows the next. Each generation honors the past one while looking forward to creating the future. That is the purest meaning of the word forever.
They say insanity is repeating the same action over and over expecting a different outcome. So we figure that we had saved ourselves a LOT of time, money and heartache when we stopped the insanity and just walked away. In fact, our only regret was that we didn’t do this 35 years earlier.
We finally started asking the question – What do we want our lives to be? And we finally determined that how things were not acceptable – definitely not what they should be.
As we started to unravel the answers to these questions – We finally started giving some thought to how we needed to save our selves and our sanity. Life as we know it now has its focus on those who love and respect us. We are people who want our lives to be rich in love and kindness. Our lives should be filled with happiness and self-respect. And this is not only what we had wanted or even what it should have been…It is quite simply, what we deserved.
I woke up this morning and realized that I was not finished yet in talking about Being Wrong. There is another important question that we can ask ourselves as we examine our ability to be wrong and how our errors impact ourselves and others. Going back to the description of what occurred between Carol and Tim in Part Five of this series, what if we are Tim? What if we are wrong about someone? What if we are seeing someone through some very dark filter?
I don't know why Tim saw Carol the way that he saw her. I doubt that Tim could give me a good reason if I asked him. I suspect that Tim doesn't know the answer. In fact it wouldn't surprise me if Tim always sees Carol that way and never changes his mind. But I do know that sometimes the Tims of the world go through a transformation and lose that dark filter through which they had been seeing someone that they had spent years disliking, fearing, and even hating. Claiborne Paul Ellis did it. I've done it myself when I've gone from having a deep dislike of someone to becoming very good friends with them.
That sure was a long seven days since I last posted an entry on this topic of being wrong! That delay occurred despite my best intentions to do what I said that I was going to do. It has been difficult for me to finish this piece. My goal is to make a point but I want to make the point in a particular way. I want to make a point about us all as humans and about our human nature. I am not saying that I am somehow free from being wrong as I am not. That is part of the point too.
I was inspired to write on the subject of being wrong by several things. They are as follows: the book: Being Wrong, Adventures in the Margin of Error, my reading of numerous blogs and discussion groups on the experience of family estrangement, my personal experience with being wrong, and my observations of events in the lives and relationships of friends and acquaintances and in my own life.
Funny how things change. In that first post on Being Wrong that I wrote in May 2011, I talked about a couple that I knew, "Bob" and "Janice" and how I had gone from initially disliking them a lot to becoming good friends with them. I was using that transformation as an example of how I felt I had been wrong about them and that I thought I had been unfair. Since I wrote that post, Bob and Janice both did things that felt so unfair that I made some important decisions later in 2011 due to their actions. I make a brief reference to what the wife did in my New Year's Resolutions post of January 5, 2012.
Over a year ago I wrote two posts on the subject of "Being Wrong" inspired by a book titled "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error" by Kathryn Schulz. I said that I would write more on the subject of being wrong but till now, I hadn't written another word. However, I continue to think about the subject a lot.
I hadn't written more since then for several reasons. One was that I felt that the topic was so important that I felt overwhelmed by it, afraid that I wouldn't be able to express my thoughts well enough to give it justice. I have been so busy with the usual sorts of things that go into living a life that I haven't felt as though I had the time to sit down, look through the book again, gather the threads of my thoughts on the subject, and put it all together in a coherent post. I've been so busy that when I had down time, I didn't want to spend it on putting together my thoughts on why that book had impressed me so much. Impressed is not the right word but it is the best one that I can come up with at this moment. I have thought about the subject of "being wrong" again and again. Things that happen in my life remind me of what I read in this book. The things that I see myself and other people doing remind me of this book.
Late last year for example I began hearing about the movie Hugo. I heard about the plot line and I thought that it was odd that nowhere was it mentioned that there had been an animated movie that was based on the very same plot line. That seemed unfair. Every time I heard about the movie Hugo, I had these images in my head from the animated movie. I could see the scenes, remember what the characters looked like. I could remember what they did and said. I thought it was outrageous that no one was mentioning that fantastic animated movie. I spoke about it with my husband and he said that he remembered the movie too. Although he might have recalled seeing the movie after I had kept talking about it for a while. He did not remember the movie's name or where we had seen it.
I thought that Scorsese had ripped off the plot lines, character and story of the animated movie that I remembered and I was so puzzled that no one else was mentioning this obvious ripoff. I did online searches for the animation version and could not find it. It was such a cool movie that I couldn't imagine that it wouldn't be in the online databases of movies.
Then I had an epiphany! It was not a movie that I had seen. Even though I remembered the scenes of the animation vividly in my mind, it was not a movie that I was remembering! It was the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret that I had read and was remembering as though it was an animated movie! There had never been an animated movie that existed before the movie Hugo! My memory was entirely incorrect! I had seen the book on which the movie was based before the movie was made. That person who had the book had recommended it to me and had lent it to me. I had read it and returned the book to them. All the pictures in the book and the story line had combined together in my memory so that I was remembering it as a movie!
I was stunned to realize how deceived I had been by my memory. Not only stunned by that but also stunned to realize that my own account of having seen a movie that didn't exist had influenced my husband to believe that he had seen the movie too! He hadn't even read the book!
It was a perfect example of feeling "right" but being wrong about something. Absolutely unarguably wrong. Both of us were wrong. When I recognized the untruthfulness of my memory, I thought back on Schulz's book, Being Wrong, and how this experience of remembering something that had never happened fit so perfectly with what is talked about in the book. People do this all the time. They believe that they are right even when they are absolutely wrong. It happens all the time. We don't like to think that we are capable of being 100% wrong but sometimes we are, no matter how much we'd like think that it doesn't happen.
I've been collecting examples of that experience in my own life. There are a lot more than one. It teaches me humility among other things. It teaches me how others can do the same things as I do. That book talks about these kinds of experiences.
Generally we don't go around thinking about the times that we are wrong, whether we are wrong now, whether we've been wrong in the past, why we are sometimes so wrong, and what might we do so that we can be less wrong.
Why is it important to know if we are right or wrong? Why give the subject any space in our minds? I know I am stating the obvious when I say that being right or wrong can have serious consequences in our personal lives and in our culture. If the worst thing that I've ever been wrong about was whether I'd seen a movie or not, I'd be fortunate. More serious consequences involve decisions that we make in our lives regarding relationships, politics, guilt or innocence, issues of fairness, whether our decisions and acts are perpetrating good or evil. It is entirely possible to be on the wrong side of a line while believing that we are entirely in the right. It is possible to commit abuse and believe that we are doing the right thing. That is what struck me about the writings in that book. How abuse is committed in the name of doing the right thing.
I will write more on this subject and I promise that I won't procrastinate for over a year before writing that next post. I have too many thoughts on the subject of Being Wrong to express them in two or three posts. I intend to write another post on the subject within the next week. Stating a timeline might help me to get this next post written.
Wishing you all less of being wrong and more of being right and if you've made errors, please know that we all make them!
- March 9, 2012 Estranged from my mum on Mother's Day
- May 11, 2012 Kelly Pickler, article, song & video: "Mother's Day" Is Gift of Closure
- My Mother
- Mother's Day: To Estranged Mother Greeting Card
- Father's Day Cards to Estranged Father Greeting Card
Interestingly, there are several choices of cards for estranged fathers but only one for estranged mothers.
- May 11, 2012 by Theresa Froehlich, Transition Coach Mothers Who Can't Celebrate Mother's Day
- Nov. 20, 2010 Estranged Adult Children
- May 8, 2011 Mother's Day's Dirty Little Secret: Estrangement
- May 12, 2012 Mother's Day Guest Columnist Deborah Kennedy: What I never got to tell my mother
- April 28, 2012 Broken Bonds Healing Hearts: Advice on Surviving Mother's Day
- May 10, 2012 The Last Mother's Day by Timothy Egan
Happy Mother's Day!
(Or as one dear friend calls it: Stupid F'ing Mother's Day! -- SFMD! for short)
As the new year begins, some of us make resolutions. I visited Fiona McColl's E-stranged blog this week and found two superb posts that she wrote that resonate with me and that I am linking below along with the thoughts that those posts inspire. The first linked post is on her New Year's resolution. The second is on the pursuit of happiness.
Emotions being what they are (in other words difficult creatures to control) the goal of caring less may seem daunting. It might make it easier if you can give yourself permission to care less. Many of us feel as though caring less would be a terrible thing to do but when you are in the habit of caring more than is good for you, caring less can be freeing. It is okay to care less. Unless you are the sort of person who never cared at all and then, if you are, the concept of caring less is not something you are going to be making any New Year's resolutions about and you are probably wondering why someone would even write such a post!
This post resonated with me as I found myself in a situation as a volunteer where I had misplaced my priorities and was putting an organization's needs as a higher priority than my own personal, family and business needs. I knew this but was having a hard time figuring out what to do about it. And then someone who is inextricably involved in that organization treated me badly. She chose a day that was particularly awful to do that to me as it was a day that I and others had worked really hard to make successful.
The last thing that I or anyone involved needed on that day was to be treated badly. After that, I had the choice of continuing to keep that organization at the top of my priority list or let them find someone else to take over my volunteer work. If I stayed, I would be forced to interact with the person who had treated me horribly. If I stayed, I would be continuing to put the organization's needs higher than my own. If I stayed, I would be in a situation that was getting worse despite the input and warnings from myself and others. Or I could let it go, choose to be happier doing more of the things I needed to do for myself and my husband, and let them find another volunteer. I am choosing happiness. I resigned. That was a bit of a shock to them but my friends are still my friends and it may all work out for the best in the long run anyway. It wasn't reasonable to expect someone to do as much work as I was doing as a volunteer. Organizations will take whatever you offer, even if it is more than you can afford to give.
I am giving them some opportunity to find someone else before I am completely out of there. So I am still doing work for them but not giving it my all any more. I am looking forward to being out.
I am a little bit worried that I won't have the strength to get myself completely out. It will be one more learning experience for me to extricate myself. I guess the worst that can happen as far as I am concerned is that I might continue to do some things for them that I particularly enjoy doing. And do those things at a pace and time frame that doesn't conflict with other things that are more important.
Going back to Fiona's "Care Less" post, I wish that I could care a lot less when I put myself in this kind of situation. For the future, I know myself better now and I intend to be far more cautious when offering my services as a volunteer. It is not happiness when I have no time for my own things but only time for others. Volunteering is a good thing which I like to do but, like so many things, it can take up 100% of my time if I let it.
I feel sure that my life experiences had a lot to do with how I ended up doing too much of a good thing for a good cause to the point that it was not good for me. I am aware of that. I know it is up to me to make decisions that are healthier so that I don't find myself in that same kind of situation again. Now I see "red flags" in certain situations that I might have jumped into too quickly. I see other people putting themselves into tough situations. I don't try to talk them out of what they are doing because it isn't any of my business and they would not appreciate my butting in but seeing them do the same kinds of things that I have done makes me realize that it isn't just me who does these things. A lot of us do them and then eventually we figure out where we've gotten out of balance with what we're doing and how to get back on track. And then allow ourselves to make decisions that let us live happier lives.
Happy New Year everyone!
Here is Estranged Children Part 2, created by Nigella4me on YouTube.
Estranged Adult Children Part 1 created by nigella4me.
I don't know nigella4 me. Today is the first time I've heard of her. She sounds like a pretty common sense person. This is the first one of two that she made. I am posting both here. The 2nd one will be up right after this one.
I haven't yet read this book, Former Things, by Gail Lowe but I am going to order it and read it.
The author has a blog, Former Things - Planting a Seed Called Forgiveness, that I am linking to right here. She writes beautifully. From what I have read on her blog, I expect that her novel is an excellent read. I am recommending it without having read it.
This is a belated Mother's Day present to visitors. I just found a reference to this novel this morning, the day after Mother's Day.
Dr. Joshua Coleman is conducting another teleseminar series on Parental Estrangement. The first one of the second series was held on April 21 and was free. You might still be able to download the audio of that one from his site. I'm not sure what the prices are for the other five as prices are quoted to be one amount if paid by a certain date but if you click through to order, the prices are still quoted at the lower amount. So perhaps if you are interested but only at the lower price, you might want to see what occurs if you go to the registration page and see what price is being quoted rather than assume that you'll have to pay the higher price.
I'd love to hear from anyone who has listened to the full series or to individual seminars in the series. I've listened to the first one that was free in the first series and thought that it was quite good. He mentioned a few new things about family estrangements that I hadn't encountered elsewhere. He is quite well informed on the topic. This comes through in his writings and in the teleseminar that I heard.
I am late in posting a link to Dr. Joshua Coleman's page on his seven session series of teleseminars for estranged parents. The series started with a free teleseminar on Thursday, February 17, 2011. There is a link on his page to the audio of that session.
The next six sessions were scheduled for the next six Thursday evenings at 5:30 PM PST which is 8:30 PM EST.
Session # 3, "Should I Keep Trying or Just Give Up", is coming up on Thursday, March 3. Please note the time difference for whatever area you are in. Also, a download is made available of the sessions for those who are signed up so you can hear them later even if you can't listen to them at the scheduled time.
The prices are quoted on the linked information page.
Those who have participated have reported that they got a lot out of them. There are some questions that came up and have been answered that might occur to you also when you listen to the first one. He does answer some of the questions in the information emails that he sends out.
Compared to the costs of individual therapy and considering that Dr. Coleman has considerable experience working with both estranged parents and estranged adult children in therapy, it is a pretty reasonable cost for the teleseminars. He is also offering group coaching sessions for estranged parents.
I don't usually post things where someone is selling something but in this case, I feel that the teleseminars might well be worthwhile for many people and that many would want to know about them and make up their own mind about whether they want to participate or not.
This week I found a post that was about something that can make or break a relationship: the need to be right. The post is at: The Wrong Stuff: Those Three Little Words: ("Honey, You're right!"): Harville Hendrix on Being Wrong. On Slate, August 9, 2010.
Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want, is interviewed by writer & blogger Kathryn Schulz on her blog, The Wrong Stuff. Hendrix talks about couples in romantic relationships but his ideas can be extrapolated to cover many other kinds of relationships.
Being able to admit when we're wrong can be a strength for anyone in a relationship but especially in our relationships with the people for whom we feel affection and love. Relationships between parents and children, between siblings, between friends. So often relationships break apart when one or both people feel that they are right and that backing down or seeing things from a different perspective feels like giving in or being put in a bad position.
Blogger Kathryn Schulz is the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. (I am going to order this book!) On her blog, The Wrong Stuff, she features Q&As in which notable people discuss their relationship with being wrong.
As I wrote this post, I remembered with great pleasure a segment of the TV series, Mad About You, where the characters played by Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser got to wear virtual reality headpieces and to see the virtual reality of their choosing. Helen Hunt's character chose a virtual reality where her husband tells her over and over again, "You are right!" "You are right!" "You are right!" "You are right!" I laughed until I cried!
After Dr. Barker's article last week that touched on estrangement, she received so many responses that she continued on that topic today:
December 20, 2010: Learning to Love from Afar by Dr. Cara Barker
(I particularly liked what one of her readers said: "Don't trip on what's behind you.")
Thanksgiving is in the subject title but Gould writes about the entire holiday season, not only Thanksgiving, in this article that touches on the more difficult situations that we deal with at this time of year. Including estrangement:
November 23, 2010: Thanksgiving - - Sink or Swim by Roger Gould, author of Shrink Yourself: End Emotional Eating
Put away the feelings of victimization. Read what Fiona has to say about feeling like a victim:
December 20, 2010 Have Yourself a Very Merry, Victim Free, Christmas by Fiona McColl
Fiona McColl has been writing excellent posts on family estrangement and the holidays on her blog E-stranged. I am linking the posts below by dates and subject titles so that these posts can be found easily in the future since what she writes will remain true for future holidays as well as the current one.
December 17, 2010 Theme of the Week: Christmas
December 18, 2010 - Holiday State of Mind . . .
December 19, 2010 The Etiquette of Christmas Estrangement
December 20, 2010 Estranged at Christmas? Love the One You're With.
Are you looking for advice on how to cope through the holidays despite being estranged? I found an excellent article today on that topic on the Huffington Post. The title is misleading. It is more about how to heal and cope despite being estranged rather than how to mend bridges. Be sure not to miss the Comments section which you find by scrolling way down below the article. The link is as follows:
How to Mend Bridges with Estranged Family Members During the Holidays by Dr. Cara Barker
Dr. Barker makes a reference to a poem by Howard Thurman. The link to the poem online is as follows:
I will light candles this Christmas, a poem by Howard Thurman
I didn't know who Howard Thurman was. So I looked him up. Links are as follows:
Howard Thurman on Wikipedia
Wishing you Peace in the holiday season,
Dr. Joshua Coleman's discussion forum is a place that is particularly helpful for parents who are trying to come to grips with estrangements by their children.
At this time of year I know that many people are looking for support to get them through the holidays. I do recommend this discussion forum. It has been around for a few years but has gone through major improvements. It is much easier to use than it was a few years ago when it was one long window of over 1,000 posts.
After the interview with the Debby, an estranged mom, and author and psychologist Joshua Coleman, on the Today Show on July 6, 2010, there has been a discussion set up on the topic of the interview. The link above is to a page with the video of the interview and also a discussion of the interview.
Joshua Coleman and Debby were on this morning's Today Show on NBC. Joshua Coleman is the author of When Parents Hurt. Debby is a mother who has been estranged by her daughter for seven years. I am providing a link to the interview. I don't know how long the link will be good as the Today Show might not provide these links for permanent access. So if the link doesn't work at some point and I realize that, then I will remove it. It should remain good for a while.
BTW the url for the discussion group, Estranged Stories, has been changed to http://www.estrangedstories.com
The old url will still take you to the site but there is a new permanent url.
When the Ties that Bind Unravel, May 3, 2010, by Tara Parker-Pope
As of mid-day May 6, there are 768 comments in response to this article.
You might wonder why, if I went to the trouble of setting up a website and a blog, I haven’t been writing about estrangement for a long time now. I’ve been thinking of how to explain that. I have been asked that question by a few visitors and I have responded to them. If you are among those who visit and wonder about the lack of fresh new posts, this post is my answer to that question.
Outside of what I wrote in my Guidelines for how to cope with being estranged I don't have any great answers on what to do about estrangements. But sometimes I see something written that rings a bell for me about things that have helped me. I saw an article like that the other day in the New York Times online.
Something that has helped me is to get involved in helping other people. In fact I do that a lot. Sometimes I do it so much that I don't have time to get other things done. So be warned! But it is a great way to get your brain going in a different direction and removing all the worries and preoccupations about things you can do nothing about. Also, you will make new friends and develop a whole new set of things to do that you never thought of doing before!
The article that I found was along the lines of curing what ails you by taking your viewpoint off of yourself and directing it outward towards the world. The article is about what one woman did and learned after she was told that she had multiple sclerosis. I think that the words "multiple sclerosis" would be mighty scary words to hear!
This is what Cami Walker did: In Month of Giving, a Healthy Reward by Tara Parker-Pope, Nov. 30, 2009.
That link is my gift to you today. Use it well!
Wishing everyone a peaceful holiday season,
My friend who is working on a documentary about Family Estrangements has prepared two surveys on the topic. She asks both parents estranged from their children and children estranged from their parents to respond to the survey. Here is what she says:
"Finally.. surveys are ready.
There is a survey for Parents that are Estranged from their Adult Children and there is a a survey for Adult Children. I urge all of you to take the time to answer honestly! If there are ever going to be answers or help for this issue, we need everyone's participation! Thank you in advance for your time!"
She also says, "Please know that this is totally confidential!!!!!
I am hopeful that everyone will take the time to answer these questions. The results will be used to continue to try to get the attention of therapists and the psychology community that this is a real problem that really exists.
The only way this will make a difference is to have your participation .... adult children as well as parents."