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.