Parent-Child Estrangement – A follow-up on responses

          A few weeks ago we posted an article on the disappointment of estrangement between parents and their grown children. We received some interesting responses to that post.

          Before we get to that, we want to relate the story of some dear friends of ours. The dynamics of Carl and Toni’s estrangement from their younger daughter Caroline took many twists and turns.

          She had become unreasonable, irrational and irascible. Carl and Toni could no longer determine whether she was rational, responsible or reasonable. At times they did not even know where she was living. They had, for all intents and purposes, given up on her.

          Long story short, they eventually learned that the mutual estrangement was due to mental illness when they received a call from a mental hospital clear across the country where Caroline was confined and receiving treatment. The diagnosis was that she suffered from schizo-affective disorder with the possibility of bipolar disorder as well. Her dysfunction was typically erratic. And while her parents knew there was something wrong with their daughter, her resistance to seeking help led to Carl’s and Toni’s giving up on Caroline, as she had on them.

          Parent-child estrangement can take many incarnations, not the least of which can be the results of emotional maladies. In Caroline’s case, the relationship between her and her parents is on the mend. Its success will depend upon her continuing treatments and probable lifelong reliance on drug therapy.

          But usually disaffections are not clinically explainable. Take the experience of Sadie Epps, in which the parent estranged herself from her offspring. “My mother and I have been somewhat estranged for several years. We speak and email but we have found that being in the same place to be too difficult. There are many reasons for this, but most of them come down to my mother not approving of my life. My mother abandoned my entire family over the past two years, saying we caused her too much stress. We apparently were a burden to her. Never mind that the four of us have all moved out of the house and have successful lives and careers of our own . . . In December she finally divorced my father, cutting all ties to us. I’m a bit bitter about Mother’s Day. I try not to let it show to friends who want to enjoy the holiday. But I do bite my tongue a lot.”

          In our book, Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we discuss at length the reasons people have kids and the expectations they have for their offspring, including the nature of their relationships. We point out that frequently those great expectations lead to dashed dreams.

          Carl Jerome writes that he too is bitter about Mother’s Day. In referring to Sadie Epps’s resentments, he says, “Especially when people post inane things on Facebook about how you’ll never know another love like the love for a child.” We think the question is, “How long will that love last when the emotional return on investment wanes?”

          Wilma Dandridge takes a step farther when she writes: “I’m the same about ‘The family always supports you and are there for you,’ and similar claims. I grew up in an abusive (physical and emotionally/mentally) home with my father being the main abuser but also my brother (part of my father’s abuse was to give my brother certain power over me that enabled that abuse).”

          Wilma goes on: “Last year all of my family except my parents severed contact with me. I know that when my parents are gone I will be alone in that regard.”

          Estrangement can go in three basic directions, it seems: upward from child to parent; downward from parent to child, and laterally between siblings. In any case, making children often leaves parents in very disappointing, if not heartbreaking, relationships.


  1. I walked away from my mother 29 years ago, and haven’t looked back. I reached the point where I knew it was the only way to deal with a narcissist. For a long time, I was criticized by those who told me that I was wrong to do so, all of which eventually boiled down to “well, she’s your mother” – which in my mind is not a sufficient reason to not protect myself. I’ve also had people tell me that I should forgive her. I’ll be happy to forgive someone who realizes they’ve done something wrong and admits it. However, she doesn’t – a narcissist doesn’t – get it. They don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. It’s taken me a couple of years to get to the point where I can say “okay, I forgive her, but that doesn’t mean I have to ever see or hear from her again in my life”, which is where I am now. I’ve checked, there doesn’t seem to be a requirement that you have to interact again with anyone you’ve forgiven 😉

    I do miss having a mother. I’ve missed having one all of my life. I’m still pissed off that after 25 years with her around it took me a couple of years to get my act together and treat people decently (a lifetime of no other example tends to make you pretty nearsighted). I envy the relationships that some of my friends have with their mothers, imperfect as they are. (My father died when I was a young adult, he was okay but there’s still an issue around his checking out and not protecting me from her craziness.)

    Really though, what it boils down to is this: Two of the most radical things a woman can do are to refuse to bear children, and to abandon her mother. I’ve done both. Both were a matter of self-preservation.

    • Ellis Levinson says:

      We are sorry to hear of your dysfunctional “relationship” with your mother. As far as deciding to not have kids, it’s not radical at all. You’re among tens of millions who have made a sensible choice. And considering your own history, you have made a sensitive one as well.

  2. Childfree Woman says:

    My mother is a narcissist too and one cannot associate with her safely as she also tries to harm me, usually in subtle ways. I believe she is a psychopath/sociopath as well; but, regardless, it is amazing how many people will always tell you to associate with your mother no matter what she has done. It boggles the mind that this often happens when one has just told them exactly specifically what she has done that required the estrangement.

    I was fortunate to have many good mother-type role model examples. I have grown to believe that my grandmothers both knew at some level that I needed extra mothering and they were overbearingly attentive to be sure I got attention. My father was a great person except that as in Meagn’s case he died too young and really had a responsiblity to see through her though he didn’t.

    Ellis and Cheryl, I am glad you are covering estrangement issues. I learned there are many more cases than I knew of. When people know of one’s problem, they often share theirs and mention others with problems.

  3. Childfree Woman says:

    I should add that it was — in retrospect — rather interesting the ways in which one person can make a difference in holding manipulative narcissistic psychopaths like my mother in check. She wasn’t as bad a mother in my childhood as you would think she would have been because she had my father and grandparents watching her closely. But as each one of them died she became (and showed) more and more of her true self. The movie “The Thing” terrified me behind all measure when I was a child and I was a child who didn’t mind most horror movies. I think that it was because my mother was one of the pod people and I knew it at some level. (I had already noticed her glee in wanting to inflict pain though she didn’t really have the guts to do it fortunately for me. She told me one day when she was bathing me at about age 4 if I did such and such again she would slap me with a wet hand. Well, I was an obedient kid who wasn’t going to be disobedient anyway but I always remembered that look of malicious glee at some level and when in my 30s I finally realized what she was fully I saw that that was an early sign and perhaps one reason I was always anxious to go visiting around with my father which was always fun and subtly avoided staying home alone with her.

  4. I’m on the “malicious mom” and “no kids” boat. My mother had 2 kids from another marriage and I was a late-in-life accident. I don’t think she wanted another one and my siblings had been atrocious teenagers so she was determined to have a “good” kid to prove she could mother. I can still remember the glares and all of the little comments and looks meant to shame and silence. The silent treatments that lasted for days, the pushing me away and refusing to see me when I all but demanded she acknowledge my existence. My mother ran a daycare out of our family home the whole time I was growing up and it was sickening and disgusting how she could be so fond of some children but not me, and how she could croon and make nice to all of the parents who didn’t ever get to see the real her. My father still refuses to see it. We’ve been estranged for almost a year now and while I am mourning the loss of parents, it’s not THOSE parents, it’s the parents I should have had. I will NEVER have children. Who only knows what awfulness is lurking in me should I end up in the boat of unwanted kids like my mother.

Speak Your Mind