Estrangement from an adult child is what author Pauline Boss called an “ambiguous loss.” She wrote a book by that name in 1999, and although she didn’t talk specifically about estrangement, the circumstance definitely qualifies as similar to a familiar member being missing in action, or having a disease like Alzheimer’s, in which case they’re “there but not there.” These are losses that aren’t complete, and so can’t quite be grieved.
Boss recommends two things for people experiencing ambiguous loss:
1. Holding the ambiguity of the situation consciously in your mind, and
2. Finding meaning, even in what seems senseless or meaningless
On this episode I talk about both of these, what they look like, and how practicing them can help you cope from day to day.
You’re already making meaning from your child’s estrangement, but you’re probably thinking it means something very depressing to you, such as that you’re a failure, that you continually experience rejection for some reason, or some other equally unflattering meaning. I offer two possible alternative meanings for estrangement that might feel better and actually be more factual.
One is that your child simply needs room to exist in the world without parents at the moment for his own developmental purposes. Nothing personal. The other is that there’s something within the relationship you share that your child experiences as harmful. Neither of these is fatal, and both may be at play.
I talk about a few common examples of relationship dynamics that can cause distress to an adult child without the parent even being aware of it.
The more you can spend the time you have on personal development, the easier it will be to understand the meaning of what happens between you and your child, and to make any necessary repairs to your relationship.
Use the player below to listen to this episode: