Who “Owns” the Problem of Estrangement?

If your adult child has distanced himself from you and/or other family members, it’s tempting to think of this as a problem that belongs to him. After all, he’s the one who created the estrangement by refusing contact. So doesn’t he, in some sense, “own” what’s happening?

That thinking is understandable, and it makes sense on a certain level. But it isn’t a very effective mindset for rejected parents who wish to reconnect.

If the estrangement is your child’s problem, then she can either try to solve it or not; it’s entirely up to her. All you can do is cross your fingers and hope for the best.

But if it bothers you at all, then the estrangement is not just your child’s problem, it’s yours, too. No matter who initiated it.

A family of mice might decide to move in with you, whether you like it or not. If they succeed, then you have a problem. Even though it was the mice who created the situation.

You’ve Got the Power

Assuming ownership of a problem you didn’t want is effective because it means – as I suggested in last month’s newsletter – that you’re not powerless. Once you take ownership of any problem, your brain starts to think differently about it. More creatively, and more proactively.

Taking ownership is not the same as taking blame. The two are not related. I’m using the word “own” simply to mean acknowledging that estrangement is a problem in your life, and therefore you’re in a position to seek or create solutions. Not to wait around, wishing and hoping for something to change.

If you’ve been feeling powerless, frustrated and even hopeless at times, these feelings can be subtle clues that it’s time to take ownership of the problem.

You’ve been viewing the estrangement as belonging to your child, and therefore – this is important – you’ve been thinking of him as the expert on how to fix it.

He’s not.

Make a Plan

Your child doesn’t know how to fix the estrangement. He’s relying on you, the senior adult in the relationship, to figure that out. To take charge of the situation. To own the problem.

If your child is a young adult or recently launched, this might not be the right time to come back together. A temporary separation may be the right solution for your relationship in the immediate future.

But let’s say there’s more to it than a developmental need for space. Let’s say your child estranged herself “for cause.” Meaning she had some problem with the relationship, and that’s why she retreated.

If you don’t make the mental shift toward owning the problem, you’re in danger of getting stuck in an eddy, swirling aimlessly, relying on your child to fix things when in reality, neither of you has a plan.

So make a plan. Take ownership, and then take action.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that you reach out your child. In fact, contact is the right move far less often than you might think. There are many other ways for parents to be proactive during estrangement.

Educate Yourself

The best action you can take may be to immediately attend to your emotional healing, personal growth and, if necessary, education.

Become more knowledgeable about issues that are part of your history. Common examples are trauma, emotional abuse, addiction, blended families, triangulation, highly sensitive people, sibling rivalry, the black sheep phenomenon, mother-in-law/daughter-in-law issues, adoption, etc.

All of these affect family relationships – not to mention your own emotional health and well-being – in ways that are largely invisible until they’re consciously examined.

We have resources in the Reconnection Club library that address many of these topics. Just log in and go to the Library to peruse our ever-expanding collection of helpful materials.

By making the small mental shift toward owning the problem, you’ll be motivated to take thoughtful, meaningful actions. Thus you’ll reclaim your power in the relationship, regardless of your child’s current behavior.

You Can Do It

There’s always something proactive you can be doing to help your relationship heal. Much of it can be done without your child’s participation or knowledge. But you won’t do anything as long as you’re waiting for your child to solve “his” or “her” problem.

Use the small mental tweak of taking ownership of the problem to create big, positive changes in your relationship and your own well-being.

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