Feeling Powerless in the Face of Estrangement

Prefer listening to reading? For more on feeling powerless as a rejected parent, listen to the Reconnection Club Podcast episodes 68 and 71.

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Many parents of estranged adult children feel powerless. They can’t make the child call them. They can’t force her to respond to texts.

He won’t tell them where he lives, let alone let them see the grandchildren…

It’s no wonder parents feel powerless. But that’s a painful way to live.

All adults need to have some power over their lives. Even very young children fail to thrive when they have absolutely no power over anything.

So if you’ve been feeling powerless during the estrangement more often than not, you’re probably also depressed. A least a little, if not a lot.

But I want to suggest that parents’ powerlessness is an illusion.

While you can’t make another adult do anything they don’t want to do, you do have control over yourself. You have total control, and all the power, to make your own choices. Will you react to your child’s behavior emotionally? Or will you adopt a strategic, well-timed approach?

Will you educate yourself about parent-adult child issues, and use your knowledge to change behavior? Or will you allow powerlessness and depression to convince you that there’s nothing you can do?

In addition to your power to control yourself, you have far more power than you may realize as a parent. In fact, your child sees you as powerful. Have you ever thought of that?

That’s why your child is estranged. His greatest power if the relationship isn’t working is to retreat from you. He perceives you as too powerful to confront in person.

Your child knows you’re powerful, but if you’re not convinced, here are some tips for taking that power back:

Think strategically about the estrangement. Remember your objectives, and execute the actions that will move you closer to them.

Remind yourself that your child isn’t your peer. As a parent, you have a different relationship to your child than she has to you. You will always be older and more experienced. You have an instinct to protect her, but she doesn’t necessarily have that instinct toward you. You are protector and guide in your relationship.

Take action to get your needs met. If you don’t have someone in your life you can lean on, be that person for yourself. Also, start cultivating deeper relationships. We all have needs. To the best of your ability, make sure that yours are met.

Never let emotion dictate your behavior. Powerful people think before they act. Powerless people can only react to whatever comes at them.

Claim responsibility for the state of all your relationships. If a friend is taking advantage of you, ask yourself whether to continue allowing it. If your child is unwilling to be close, ask yourself what you can do to invite closeness.

Be accountable to yourself. What’s on your agenda today? What will you do to improve your own or someone else’s life? It may be a tiny step toward healthier eating. Maybe you want to go through that corner of the garage and get rid of some old gear. Perhaps the lawn of your elderly neighbor has been calling to you and your mower…

Who are you when your child isn’t around? Are you the person you want to be? Don’t give your adult child the power to define and shape you. Or the quality of your life. Not today, and not ever. No one should do that but you.

You have way more power than you think. And no one but you can decide whether to use it.

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