So many moms I speak with want to map their way through estrangement - to fix it and see when it will end.
Oh, how I understand. I was totally sure there had to be a tried and true way.
From one who's been there: you don't need to waste all the time searching like I did.
I know it's not what you want to hear, but there's no map. There are theories. People can make well-meaning and rational-sounding suggestions. You may find some of it helpful.
But here's the truth: your situation is 100% uniquely yours. Your history is uniquely yours. There are unique family dynamics and personalities involved.
There are advocates for not giving up and making numerous attempts to reach out.
Others advise silence to respect the estranger's boundaries - including unspoken boundaries, believing that actions speak louder than words.
Some say we must tell our adult children the pain they've caused, and how wrong they are.
And still others tell us to stay away to protect ourselves from being used and more hurt.
It can be so confusing, right? Especially when you want to fix the situation.
Here's what I'd offer:
You can look for answers and listen to others' ideas and try different strategies with the hope that one might work. Totally an option.
But check your motivation. If you're trying anything and everything to fix a relationship that is not entirely in your control - it takes two, after all - you're headed in the wrong direction. Our actions have to be sincere. We have to believe in what we're doing and why.
Here's what I mean: Moms will apologize for things that they're not really sorry about. Or give money to kids not because they want to, but to try and hold on. Or send their estranged young adult angry, blaming texts for cutting off contact.
None of these responses are right or wrong, they're human. But in my work, I see the importance of being intentional. When we're not, we take actions because we feel we "should" or they might "work," or impulsively from emotions like desperation or anger. When we don't act intentionally - in integrity with who we are or want to be as an estranged mom - the result is resentment, blame, and increased negativity. Ultimately more feeling like a victim.
So how do you figure out what to do? How to create your own roadmap?
Here are some initial steps that have worked for my clients:
Recognize what you can and can't control. To me, this is always step 1. If you can really accept that you can't fix the situation, that you can't control another adult, you don't have to spend so much time trying to "solve the problem." Intellectually you probably get this. But if you find you're trying to change reality - it can show up in sneaky ways - you're resisting the fact that you can't.
Decide that you don't have to repair the estrangement to feel better. I get that it might seem a little harsh to think you don't need your child back. But needing is different from wanting. Give up the belief that you need estrangement to end and you'll no longer have that must-fix-it pressure.
Make peace with who you are as a mom. Estrangement shakes the confidence of the most self-assured mother, it's normal. It's rare for a mom to not question how she's parented. This totally hinders our ability to make confident decisions going forward. If you can make real peace with the fact that none of us are perfect - past, present, or future - and find ways to have compassion and accept yourself, you'll eventually be able to trust yourself again.
Once you've mastered these concepts, you'll have greater freedom to make clear decisions and find your own path. Decisions that make sense for you and your unique estrangement.
Here's what you can try next:
Take a step back. Think. When we're so emotionally invested in our estrangement it's a challenge to think and see clearly. There may be times when you feel an urgent push to take action. The ideas above provide space to be able to step back. To ride out the urges and detach a bit emotionally for the sake of clarity.
By stepping back we can make intentional decisions. Not be reactive in ways that provide relief in the moment, but we later regret. Not follow advice that's not true for us, that we can't stand behind with conviction, or that we're "faking" to try and manipulate a response. Ideally we choose our actions. And when we take action we know why we're doing it. And we like the reasons.
Trust that you have the answers you need. Personally, this has been so impactful. The answers don't come immediately, but they're there. If you ask your brain a question, it wants to answer. That's proven science and I'm sure you've had first-hand experience! If you sit with a question and ask yourself the same question over a period of days or weeks, eventually you'll tap in to that wisdom of yours.
For me, and I'd recommend for most, writing thoughts is so important. This isn't something easily done in our heads. Writing lets you see your questions and what your brain comes up with. If you're not a writer, voice recording helps, too.
Some questions I asked myself: "Who do I want to be as a person right now?" "Do I want to reach out or stand back?" "Do I need to know exactly where this is headed to be happy? - Do I even want that stipulation for myself?" "What are my values that can guide me through this?"
You'll have your own questions. And like me, you'll find your own answers.
Know that you can change your mind. Whatever answers you find don't have to be permanent. To end indecision, make a decision. Commit to not second-guessing for a set amount of time. You could even mark the calendar on a future date and see if your thoughts have changed.
When you look for someone else to show you a map through estrangement you block your own wisdom. You shut off your brain. Believing that everyone else has answers and knows things you don't - about your situation - you feed a lack of confidence in yourself.
The very idea that there's a clear "right" path through estrangement is painful - then we're somehow failing if we don't see the way, we think we "should" be able to control something we can't, and we believe that nothing will be right without seeing the endpoint on the map.
It may seem strange that here I am, a coach, telling you there are no answers. I say this because it's true - there is no map through estrangement. We can't know the end destination. When there's reconciliation, it's not because of one "right" action or because a mom figured out how to "make" it happen. There was a change in the estranged adult child. If not, reconciliation won't last.
When we accept that we can't control or change what is, that leaves us with changing ourselves. Adapting, growing, learning to be resilient and how to thrive in times of adversity. That's really what the steps above are about. Notice I'm not talking about fixing estrangement, I'm talking about helping you. Helping you find answers for your life. It's up to you to decide what you want and how to live. As a coach I walk alongside you and help you see the options that are available, through all of the concepts I've listed above. Well - and more!
So much love to you. I know these decisions can be agonizing, but they don't have to be. Here to help if you need it. Click this link to schedule a free consultation.