Taking Control of the Estrangement from Your Adult Child

One of the worst things about being estranged from your adult child(ren), besides the terrifying uncertainty of the outcome, is feeling like you have no control over the situation.

You text your child, but she doesn’t text back. You issue invitations, and there’s no response.  All contact seems to be on your child’s terms, not yours.

Having a degree of control is important. When we feel we have no influence over things that matter to us, we quickly become depressed, anxious, and desperate. We may start to lose hope, and our lives become dull and gray.

Know the Difference

When you’re unwillingly estranged from your adult child(ren), there is a lot that’s beyond your control. You don’t get to decide when you hear from them. You don’t even get to choose whether you hear from them at all.

You can’t make your child feel differently about being close. You can’t force her to reconcile — not with you, or anyone else.

All of these — contact, communication, reconciliation — are important pieces of the estrangement puzzle. But they’re not the only ones. And that’s a fact that rejected parents sometimes fail to appreciate.

By focusing on your child’s refusal to put those pieces in place, you lose sight of the pieces over which you have control. And the ones you control are just as important, if not more so, than the others.

You have a far greater influence than you may realize over the outcome of estrangement. But you must have what experts call an internal locus of control. (Locus = place)

When you have an internal locus of control, you tend to concentrate on areas where you actually have power and influence.

On the other hand, an external locus of control means you spend most of your time worrying about things that affect you, but that you can’t do anything about.

What’s within your circle of control during an unwanted estrangement? Plenty.

Choose Your Focus

You are the only one who controls certain aspects of this estrangement. Not your child. Not your child’s spouse. Not your own spouse or siblings or parents.

Your mindset is one of those aspects. Your mindset during estrangement will determine your experience of it, and possibly the outcome as well.

No one can get your mindset right but you.

A productive mindset for rejected parents is curiosity. Why is this happening? What were the causes, both recent and in the past, that led to my child’s desire for distance?

And most important: Where did I have input that I can and should revisit?

A hopeless mindset asks, “Why is this happening?” but doesn’t want real answers.

A curious mindset seeks information that, although it may hurt to hear it, will empower the asker to take effective action.

Your mindset affects not only how you feel during estrangement, but how you behave. And parents’ behavior may be the most crucial ingredient in solving parent-adult child estrangement.

You have control over the most important thing. What will you do with that knowledge?

Take Control

There are many things that can go wrong between even the most loving, well-meaning parents and their children. As a parent who’s been cut off, it’s up to you now to decide whether you want to do the work of figuring out what happened, and why.

That’s a necessary step if you want to make repairs. And repairs may be needed before your child feels safe to reconcile.

For some parents, it may simply be a matter of letting go (for now!). Your child might just need more room to grow, apart from family, before resuming closeness.

For others, damage was done that may have been unintentional. But an informed, intentional apology may be needed before healing can take place.

Still others may realize on reflection that the relationship was built on a shaky foundation. It will take thoughtful work and time to figure out how to rebuild something stronger.

Parental healing is often a significant part of this rebuilding. For more, listen to Episode 52 of the Reconnection Club Podcast: Re-Parenting From the Inside Out.

Whatever the circumstances, educating yourself about parent-adult child estrangement is a wonderful way to take control of what’s within your power. Same with turning your attention to personal growth during this trying time.

When a parent actively grows, heals, and evolves, so does her relationship with her child(ren).

Focus only on what you control to reclaim your power during the difficult passage of estrangement. Because controlling what you can is the only way to change the picture.

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