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How to handle family estrangement

Heidi Simmons

Certified Life Coach

There is an elephant in the room, and it is called family estrangement. Others refer to it as the silent epidemic. Today, we talk about a tough topic, “When adult children walk away from their mothers.”

Statistics are very “sketchy” on this subject, because the number of mothers who have experienced this (past or present) is “under” reported. The reason for this is shame and embarrassment. One statistic I found to be quite disheartening was that 40% of all mothers (at one time) have experienced alienation from their child.

In my Life Coaching practice right now, I am talking with five women, who are estranged from their own children. (*names have been changed to protect privacy)

One of them, Jackie, is a retired woman who has been estranged from her only child, a son, for 30 years. When working at a high paying job, she continually supported any endeavor that came up. A new apartment? No problem! A car? No problem! Vacation? No problem!

But when her funds dwindled did he. When she reached out to him to try and reconcile the situation, he cut off all ties, claiming she had not been a good mother to him.

Another one is Rita, a soft spoken, kind, spiritual woman. The mother of three children also. She lost her only son to drugs several years ago. Wanting to devote the rest of her life to helping her youngest, unmarried daughter raise two sons, she moved out of state to become their primary support system.

Before this happened, each daughter would take turns not speaking to their mother. The oldest did this for three years once, the other distancing herself for months at a time. As I write this, the oldest has cut her out of her life, again.

These women have several things in common, profound sadness, feelings of rejection, guilt and shame. Though different circumstances have precipitated these “estrangements,” what is left for each one is “unending” grief.

In coaching different clients going through this, I have found some tools that, when

incorporated into their daily lives, can have a profound effect on their wellbeing.

One picture is worth a thousand words

In the beginning, when the alienation is “raw,” it is best to put away all photographs of your child. Why? Because when looking at them, it will inevitably evoke unbearable sadness, and at times, inconsolable crying. The wound is still fresh and, like “ripping” off the preverbal Band-Aid, you start to bleed all over again.

Whether you choose counseling, coaching, support groups, prayer, books, family, friends (or all the above), there is a way to test your progress. After a length of time (that you feel comfortable with), display the photo of your estranged child and see what feelings surface. If it is one of gratitude and love and elicits a smile or fond memory, you are now on the way to healing.

Write, read and mail a letter

When someone dies, as tragic as that is, as the years pass, you get some type of closure. Unlike a death, with “family estrangement,” there is never any real closure because we still have hope for a reconciliation.

How do you say “good-by” to someone you love, who is not dead but very much alive? Paramount to your “survival” is a release of all these emotions. You want to tell your child how you feel about what happened, how it has affected you, that you will always love that child, that you miss them deeply, and pray for a possible phone call, meeting, etc.

You write a letter from your heart; it is not so much the words but your feelings; let them pour out of you onto the pages. Then read the letter (without) correcting it. If what you wrote was heartfelt, it will come across as such. Mail it. You might never know if your child ever reads it, but you will know you sent the words that stayed captive in your heart until you released them.

Buy a wire cutter and cut the chains

In the Christmas movie “Scrooge,” there is the ghost of Christmas past that arrives dragging along a heavy chain behind him. This chain represents regret, pain, guilt and mistakes. Everywhere the ghost goes, he takes it with him. Mothers of estranged children do the same thing.

They play over and over in their minds, what they could have done differently.

The “self-talk” is punishment enough. Each day, a word, a memory, a decision is “replayed” non-stop.

This cycle (chains) can only be broken by grabbing a wire cutter (your respect) and breaking free of the abuse! Yes, you have made yourself a victim, by inflicting pain continually upon yourself. By reliving the pain, you perpetuate it. Once you cut the chains that bind, you start to look at yourself differently; with patience you can release yourself from your accuser, you!

Feel the love

During this time, it is especially important you console yourself. Touch and giving love can resuscitate a broken heart. From petting a dog or cat, the act of giving love makes you feel loved. No pets? Just holding a soft, stuffed animal can be a source of connection.

Missing your grandchildren? Volunteer at a daycare or take a job babysitting. All that love now has somewhere to go. Give love where you can, a neighbor, a friend, just start giving and the residual effect will comfort you.

There is an old saying, “This too shall pass.” Well, maybe it will, or maybe it won’t. We cannot control what our children do, however we can control how we treat ourselves. Remember mom, you gave birth to your children, which means you gave them life. You loved them the best you knew how and that alone is enough!

Heidi Simmons resides in Temecula; she can be contacted through or [email protected].


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