“Have kids,” they said. “It’ll be great.” While this may be true most of the time, there’s more to parenting than what meets the eye. Being a mom has been one of the best things to ever happen to me—and I know that so many of my friends would agree. This is why I was so surprised to find out that several people I know have an estranged child.
According to Donna Supitolov-Skora, the creator of Surrogate Grandparents USA, families separate because of death, distance, or differences. In the case of an estranged child, the separation is based on differences. When I look at my son, I ask myself, “what could possibly come between us? What could I ever do to drive him away? What would make me cut him out of my life?” While blood is thicker than water, there are some situations that might require you to distance yourself from one of your children. If you are ever in this situation, ask yourself these four questions, and then decide what to do.
1. Are you physically safe?
We can all agree that it’s not normal to be afraid of your own child. Parents want to continue to nurture and love their grown children, but sometimes, a grown child might have problems that lead them to violence. Now, in adulthood, the kid you used to pick up is taller, more muscular, and stronger than you are. Pairing this with a penchant for violence, an uncontrollable temper, substance abuse, or even mental health issues can create an unsafe situation for elderly parents. You need to feel safe around your child. While I don’t sanction you abandoning them, I do advocate for you to help them from a place of safety.
2. Are you financially safe?
Financial safety is just as important as physical safety. Grown children who constantly need money, or worse, take your money without asking, create a serious dilemma for parents. Should you continue to fund their lifestyle? What if they cut you off because you’ve blocked them from accessing your bank accounts? Sure, you want to help your children go through graduate school or buy their first home. However, exotic vacations and luxury vehicles are not necessities. It’s just not safe to fund their lifestyle at the risk of jeopardizing your own. This is when boundary setting is necessary. Early, healthy boundaries can prevent the relationship from deteriorating further. Boundaries can also prepare your child to be financially independent.
3. Do you feel respected?
Disrespect can come in several forms. Verbal abuse, gaslighting, profanity, and condescending speech are just a few forms of parental disrespect. If you feel negatively after every interaction with your child, it’s a red flag that you are being disrespected. Once again, early boundaries are better than late ultimatums. Look for early signs that your child is becoming upset and try to leave the discussion while the going is good. If they do not respect your stance or your presence in their life, then there’s very little you can do to fix it. They’re all grown up. You can’t protect them from themselves. You can, however, protect your own mental health and well-being.
4. Do you disagree with their life choices?
Sometimes grown children choose to stray from the values they were raised with. They may choose a different lifestyle or a vastly different religion from your own. Maybe their friends or even the spouse they choose is not to your liking. My fear is that my son will marry a woman who has no interest in a relationship with me. She might prefer that they draw closer to her family and leave me behind. It terrifies me. However, instead of living in fear, I choose to be the best parent I can be and to march forward with my life. He has his own life, and I have mine. Ultimately, you have to decide if you’re willing to sacrifice a relationship with your child based on these differences.
Can You Repair a Relationship with an Estranged Child?
There is so much you can do in an attempt to repair relationships with estranged children.
- Try to be supportive and available.
- Try to understand your child’s lifestyle choices.
- Reach out to them in a way that makes you comfortable.
- Send holiday cards or text messages and make phone calls to let him know that you love them.
But what you shouldn’t do is dwell on what cannot be changed. Your grown child is moving forward and living his life, so you must do the same. If or when they come back around, remember that they’re not kids anymore. So, it’s okay if you put yourself first. Any child who loves you will want you to be healthy and happy. If they choose to remain bitter or resentful, that’s their choice.