If your adult child is currently estranged, how you spend your time and attention right now matters. In fact, how you spend your time today, this week, and this month may be critical in the long run for a successful, permanent reconciliation.
As a therapist and estrangement consultant, I often see hurting parents unfortunately squandering precious mental and emotional energy in fruitless directions. Time that could have been spent productively is sadly wasted.
I’ve witnessed enough by now that I’ve come up with a list of 7 common time-wasters for unwillingly estranged parents.
If you’re experiencing the heartache of separation from your adult child(ren), please don’t spend another minute of your time in any of the following ways.
1. Taking in too much scary or depressing information
Most of my clients don’t read estrangement research papers. Instead, they search the internet for anything and everything on estrangement. They end up in online chat rooms and rage-filled forums, homing in on negative information and scaring themselves half to death.
This is not just a waste of time, it’s damaging to your attitude, your health, and your ability to solve the problem of estrangement. So stop seeking (or allowing in) any information that makes you feel anything other than empowered and optimistic.
2. Trying to figure out how to let your child know you’ve changed
The changes you’re working on deserve your full attention. You might not have as much time as you need to effect those changes if your child comes back unexpectedly. Practice new behaviors and you’ll have a harder time hiding those changes than proving them.
If letting your child know you’ve changed is your priority, it means that change itself is not. But it’s perfectly okay to spend some time figuring out how you will know you’ve changed. That’s part of having a goal that’s measurable.
For more on this topic, review The Reconnection Club Podcast Episode #91: How to Let Them Know You’ve Changed.
3. Focusing on forces beyond your control
In-laws, social trends, friends and other family members, mental illness and so on all have their effects on estranged adult children, as they do on all of us. The waste of time here is simply that you have no power to change those influences. It’s like cursing the weather.
But at the same time, there might be something within the parent-child relationship that needs your attention. Something you’ve missed in the past, or been a bit scared to look at directly. It takes strength and courage to focus in here, instead of “out there.” But woe betide the parent who declines the invitation to do so, which is often what estrangement represents.
4. Becoming an expert on a mental illness you suspect in your adult child
There are, of course, legitimate reasons to educate yourself about a loved one’s condition. If your child has suffered a break with reality and isn’t able to function, understanding the medical basis of behavior may be part of recovery for the whole family.
Addiction, too, benefits from education and knowledge in a person’s support network. And if your child wants you to learn about her diagnosis, whatever it may be, then absolutely do so.
But if your estranged adult child claims other reasons for her estrangement, then your time is better spent getting to know those reasons from her perspective. Also (here it is again), there’s nothing you can do about a mental illness. Focus where your power lies, not where it doesn’t.
Remember, if there are other people with your child’s diagnosis in the world who are not estranged from their parents, the diagnosed condition is not the cause of estrangement.
5. Failing to do anything besides strategize about contact
The desire for contact with one’s own child(ren) is natural and understandable. Contact feels like the end of estrangement and all of this hellish pain.
But because the lack of contact is not the problem but rather a symptom, contact with your child is not the solution. Hence it’s a big time-waster to think about contact all the time.
Most of the parents I work with are scared, worried, confused, angry, desperate, sad, and/or exhausted. That’s not a good place from which to reach out to someone who’s indicated a need for distance.
That’s why contact from parents is so often problematic, why it can complicate and prolong estrangement, and why reaching out to your child is a Step 3 activity on our Road Map to Reconnection. You won’t see it in Steps 1 or 2. (Reconnection Club members, check out the members-only Road Map page with links and suggestions.)
6. Constantly gathering information
If you’re anything like me, you prefer learning to practicing. I notice parents devouring every resource they can get their hands on, reading one thing and watching one video and listening to one podcast after another. But they can’t possibly retain it all — or any of it, really –because of the rate of consumption.
If you find material that makes sense to apply, give yourself time to digest the information. Rushing is counterproductive when it comes to reconnecting with your estranged adult child. Like the professional glass blower who must work carefully at all times, you have to spend more time than you want to on your project, in order not to waste any.
7. Beating yourself up over past mistakes
It’s a cliché that everyone makes mistakes, but it’s true. Remorse may be unavoidable but shame is never necessary about parenting mistakes. Everyone does the best they know how to do at the time, with the tools they have at their disposal.
Assuming your adult child is estranged for reasons beyond a simple need for space, it’s not the mistakes you made in the past that created this; however, it’s possible that repairs were not sufficient following those mistakes.
Beating yourself up is a useless waste of time and energy. It’s not at all constructive. And it’s mean, to do that to someone who’s already down. So if you’re beating yourself up, decide right now to try to stop it for the sake of your time and your quality of life.
Focus instead on making repairs today and tomorrow. For many parents, that starts with inside repairs to their own hearts from wounds that predated their adult child(ren)’s estrangement.
If you have trauma, seek therapy with a competent trauma-trained mental health professional. If you see troublesome relationship patterns in your life, seek therapy to heal whatever it was that created those patterns.
With support for healing and a bit of knowledge, most parents can repair their relationships with their estranged adult children. The key is not to waste time with any of the dead ends above.
– Tina Gilbertson
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