When an adult child estranges, it's more than just family that's effected.
Friends, we know it may be hard for you, too. We hate that for you. Maybe you've watched our child grow up, maybe you've treated them as your own, provided rides, meals, and hosted sleepovers. Or maybe we're just that close that you feel like you're a part of it all.
Working with parents, and in my own experience, there are ways to help.
I offer this list with a disclaimer. Some days are harder for us than others. That's because of where we're at emotionally - it's not you. So don't feel badly if you've made "mistakes" based on what's written here. We know you're well-intentioned. That's why we're friends!
Here we go:
Acknowledge the estrangement. A lot of estranged moms carry shame. When we know that you know, but act like you don't, our shame grows. I'm not saying that we can't take responsibility and just put it out there ourselves. But if you want to help, and you feel like we can talk openly in our friendship, don't be afraid to "talk estrangement." For us who are estranged, shame can prevent us from talking about it, along with fear of being judged, or uncertainty about putting another person through a pity party with us. Bringing it up won't upset us - we've got that part covered. It can actually be a relief for someone to bring it up. It can be seen as caring. It can help us question if shame is all that necessary.
Acknowledge the pain. People say "oh, she'll be back" or "well, at least he's healthy." We know you're trying to help. And you may not know what else to say. But I'm here to tell you, it can come off as dismissive. There's no way to know if these statements are true. And when you're hurting, truth matters. A simple acknowledgement totally works: "It must be really hard," "I know and I'm sorry," "How are you managing today." Asking how other family members are doing is thoughtful, too.
Demonstrate faith in your friend. Being an estranged mom can feel like you're under a microscope. People want to find what you've "done wrong". And sometimes, you're questioned. Even by friends who watched you love and care for your kids. So while that's their prerogative, know that estranged parents spend enormous amounts of time searching their minds for what "went wrong." They can judge themselves harshly for being human parents who made mistakes, as we all do. When an adult child estranges, it shakes your identity and confidence. Friends do a great service when they demonstrate faith in their friend instead of question their integrity.
Listen. This is one of those times when listening helps, giving advice doesn't. Estrangement is confusing. It can be a struggle to sort out our thoughts. Insisting "if she were my daughter I'd tell her exactly what I think about what's she doing" or "can't you just go spend the day at his work so he'll have to talk" is not helpful. Talking through options can help, but ultimately we need to find our own way. Advice can muddy the waters at a time when we're trying to have wisdom and clarity in our thinking.
Remain neutral. Any time I spoke about my daughter's choice to estrange, I would start off by defending her. "She's a good person," and "she's working hard." In part I did this to stop any potential negative commentary. Many parents are not comfortable bad-mouthing their child. Even asking a "how could she do this to you" type question doesn't help. It makes the estranged child the villain. Which makes the parent the victim. And that's never useful.
Keep your eyes open. Estrangement is one of those things that you can't really understand unless you've been there. It might look like your friend is coping, but I'd encourage you to keep your eyes open. Parents can become very depressed, even to the point of considering suicide. Familiarize yourself with the signs and don't hesitate to talk with your friend and advocate for her if needed.
Friends, I hope this might be of some help. Estrangement can be a difficult situation to navigate even if you're indirectly involved. We all go through tough times, and that's usually when we see who will show up for us. If you've read this far, you are one of those people. So much love and thanks!
And if you think your friend might benefit from some coaching, don't hesitate to send her my way! I will consult, for free, to see if I can be of help. Click here to learn more.
Live forward as friends, beautiful humans!