If I told you that many estranged moms cause their own suffering with thoughts like "How could she...," "After all I've done/given up/sacrificed...," and "He can't even acknowledge me?!" -- you might not appreciate it. You might even be offended. I get it.
Sometimes it helps to back up and look not at our story, but another's story from the outside.
A client told me about some of the history between her two daughters, Alison and Liz.
The time she described was when her younger daughter, Alison, was moving halfway across the country. Alison was low on money. She had just gone through a divorce.
The older of the two daughters, Liz, took weeks away from work, some of which was unpaid, to help her sister move and get situated. Liz loaned Alison money. Liz made a great effort to be there emotionally for her newly-divorced sister.
Months later it was Liz's birthday. Alison didn't acknowledge it - not even a text.
As expected, Liz was hurt and resentful. Their relationship suffered. While the sisters are still in contact, the relationship may not fully recover.
So here's the deal. Alison had circumstances - she was moving, she was not financially secure, she was newly divorced. Liz labeled Alison's circumstances, in her own mind, as "difficult." Alison had spoken about having money stress, but she was choosing to move and had some relief with the divorce. Alison was actually pretty optimistic about the changes in her life.
Liz heard some of Alison's optimism, but decided that Alison was just putting on a happy front that wasn't real. Liz felt she had to help Alison in what she saw as "Alison's time of need."
We can look at this story and say that Liz should have spoken and really listened to Alison. Liz could have taken her own thoughts and needs out of the situation. Sure, but let's give Liz a break: she was well-intended. And for all we know, perhaps Alison wasn't communicating clearly.
The problem I want to focus on is the aftermath, the fall-out. Their relationship suffered, unnecessarily, for two reasons:
1. Responsibility. Or not taking it. Liz isn't owning that she made choices. She told herself she had to help Alison, that it was "right" to be there for her sister. While that sounds pretty, it's just not true. We don't have to do anything. Had Liz told Alison that she can't help, that wouldn't be "wrong." By Liz thinking otherwise, she gives up responsibility. Liz doesn't take responsibility for her decision and desire to help. Which sets up great potential for later resentment.
Can you see how Liz's thinking contributed to their fall-out? If Liz looked at the situation with more thoughts of, "I chose to help Alison," or "I wanted to help Alison," how could things be different?
2. Expectations. Then Liz attached expectation to her helping Alison. We all do this! We do something we think is "nice" for another person, and then we expect to be treated with consideration in return. This just isn't how the world works. It would be kind of Alison to honor Liz's birthday. But she didn't. We don't know why. Maybe she was overwhelmed in her own life, maybe it was an oversight, maybe she was having thoughts about Liz that weren't so pleasant. There were any number of reasons, all of which were about what was going on in Alison's mind. It's extremely unlikely that Alison's thought was "my sister did so much for me, so now I'm going to intentionally neglect her birthday." That's Liz's thought.
While it's fine to have thoughts about how we'd like other people to behave, when we have expectations impossible to enforce, it sets us up to cause our own suffering. Can you see how Liz's opinions about what Alison should do contributes to the rift in their relationship? What if Liz decided that she chose to help Alison, without expecting anything in return? How would that change things?
The same concepts apply to our situations with our adult kids.
It's easy to think "I did so much..." What if we changed that to "I chose to do so much..."?
Instead of thinking, "We did ____ for him, the least he can do is ____," what if we took the perspective that we did ____ out of love, and that's enough?
Is one statement more true than the other?
Can you see how it eases our pain when we take responsibility for, and make peace with, our actions?
There's no judgement in any of this. People are not terrible when they don't meet others' expectations. People aren't wrong or bad for having thoughts that contribute to their suffering. They're all humans, doing as humans do.
Our thoughts have power. Our thoughts are our power. Our thoughts create our experiences of pain and disappointment. Our thoughts create our experiences in our relationship. Once we recognize this, we can decide if we want to keep those thoughts, or not.
We can make that our responsibility. We can make it our expectation of ourselves.
Choose to live forward, mamas....