A New Start

Make a fresh start this yearWell, you made it.

You survived the holidays, and now the blank canvas of a new year awaits your brush.

Some parents estranged from their adult children feel depressed at this time of the year. They think, ‘Oh, great. Another year of estrangement to look forward to. What’s the point?’

While those feelings are understandable, I want to assure you that there is a point to celebrating the new year, estrangement notwithstanding.

This is your life. There’s more to it — and to you — than the pain of estrangement.

Live In This Moment

I know your thoughts are often with your estranged adult child or children. And I would never, ever suggest that you try to forget them, or pretend they don’t exist.

(If you want to do that, that’s okay. But you certainly don’t have to.)

What I DO want very much is for you to also pay attention to yourself. After all, you’re the one living this life of yours. You’re at the center of everything that happens to you.

We all need to be present for our lives. If we’re not, then when we get to the end we’ll look back and see only fleeting, empty years.

Please don’t let that to happen to you.

It’s natural to think about a problem you’re trying to solve. Family estrangement is one of the most complex and painful problems a person can experience. Of course you’re going to think about it.

The meta-problem is that whenever your attention is on the estrangement, you’re not living the one life you have.

In those moments, you’re not making plans, not expressing your talents, not enjoying this moment or the people you have access to.

The challenge is to honor your need to solve the estrangement puzzle, while also making the most of each day — and this shiny new year.

The Way Out is Through

I hope we can agree that you deserve to have as rich a life as possible, no matter what the state of your relationship with your child(ren).

If so, that means bringing your attention back to yourself and your current life as often as you can.

You might find that when you bring your focus all the way into yourself, the first thing you notice is a frightening level of emotional pain.

Most estranged parents I work with carry more heartache than just that associated with their children. The pain is older. It runs deep.

If focusing on your experience of the present brings up difficult feelings from the past, that’s not a reason to avoid yourself.

There’s a natural tendency to back away from pain, to distract oneself with other thoughts, or activities, so as not to feel so bad.

But it doesn’t work in the long run.

That pain is always there, whether you focus on it or not. And it will stay there until you give it the time and attention it needs.

Healing the pain requires self-compassion and the will to tolerate whatever comes up. The only way out of difficult feelings like grief, regret, or despair is through them.

That means allowing yourself to experience them.

Please see my book Constructive Wallowing for a guided method for healing emotional pain.

A local therapist can also be helpful in this process. There’s a chapter in Constructive Wallowing on how to choose a feelings-friendly therapist.

What to Focus on When You Focus on Yourself

Once you cross the emotional pain barrier that typically discourages self-focus, you’re free to think about life-affirming questions like these:

– Apart from my child(ren), what is important to me?

– What do I want my life to be about?

– What have I been spending time/money/energy on that I’d rather not?

– What would I like to spend my time/money/energy on instead?

– How can I improve my marriage or partnership?

– How can I deepen my friendships?

– How can I better express my gifts and talents?

– What do I want to be able to say about myself at the end of this year?

– What step can I take today towards making that a reality?

If reading the list above makes you feel exhausted or disinterested, you might instead ask yourself the following questions:

– Could I be depressed?

– Am I depressed?

If the answer is “yes” or “maybe,” please talk to someone you trust and ask them to help you find treatment.

The only time we have is now. Live this moment to the fullest. Let the next moment take care of itself.

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