April is Stress Awareness Month – Part 3

The 8 Stages of Estrangement
Looking at Both Sides of a Coin

From a Parent’s Perspective

Stage 2 | Acceptance Part 1

Once the denial phase is over, a parent begins to accept the concept of estrangement. A parent first seeks to understand the growing number of estranged parent-child relationships by scouring the internet for possible resources. A parent may not even know how commonplace it is and can quickly become an expert on the topic realizing other parents have encountered a similar situation. In this Acceptance Part 1 step, a parent acknowledges that the parent-child relationship has changed. Often, family and friends ask why did this happen? Or, what caused this estrangement?

I’m starting to realize that my child is not speaking to me. At all. He won’t even look at me from afar. What have I done to deserve this punishment? I take a deep breath and I start to believe that my child has deliberately estranged from me. I don’t know why. But I have to come to terms with it. I am so sad for my child that they think this is the only course of action. What makes them so afraid of me that they can’t even talk to me?

A parent’s perspective

This stage is confusing for all parties because the estranged parent is just starting to come to terms with the reality of the lost relationship. Parents need clarification. They don’t know the answers. And these questions may very well trigger sadness. Anger. Emotions come out of nowhere. Accepting the estrangement, even on a superficial level, exposes it, which leads to feeling very vulnerable. Daily living becomes muddled. Parents feel a sense of imbalance and try to come to face the loss. This can invoke feelings of worthlessness.

It is best to support parents going through this experience at this stage. Sit with them. Hold their hand. Give them a hug. Silence may be golden. At this point, reconnection can become an obsession. A parent attempts to discover the reasons for the estrangement and remains hopeful for reconciliation. During this stage, a parent realizes that the relationship that once was is no longer. Coming to terms with this acceptance leads to rejection. Furthermore, feeling both accepting of the situation and rejection by it simultaneously is quite common.

The ghost of a loved one by Chirila Corina fineart.com

From a Child’s Perspective

Stage 2 | Rejection

Children reject a parent. Maybe both parents. This is the stage where a child shuts down. They are rejecting life as they know it. Whether it is from a misperceived conversation, different ideologies, divorce, or a loss of a parent. They want to be alone. They retreat. They start having trouble focusing on work or school. They really want to be somewhere else. They feel trapped because there may be no other place to turn. Children at this stage may look forward to becoming more independent, so they can further reject their current situation.

To put it simply: the emotional exhaustion of trying to reason with someone who isn’t existing on the same page as I am. Trying to reason or share or grow with someone who cannot or will not see outside of their own perspective is like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer over and over; you know it isn’t good, but you feel stuck. Until you get tired of being stuck. You begin to reject the relationship because it is too much of an emotional drain.

A child’s perspective

At this stage, a child may be influenced by the other parent, a peer, their spouse, or another significant person. The third-party encourages the estrangement. The person who is doing the estranging feels guilty. At the same time, they feel rejected. In other words, they feel abandoned by the parent; therefore, they are leaving the parent. Most children do not verbalize these feelings, so it catches the parent off-guard. The child may have been thinking about estrangement for many years. It gradually does become a reality.

Author’s Note: Estrangement caused me to feel unloved, and I knew I needed to love myself before I could love others again. From my experience in participating in support groups with other estranged parents, there is a choice to make. You can choose to blame, distrust, and be bitter. Or, you can choose to love and heal yourself, from this incredibly harrowing experience, by opening up to others. It’s up to you. A special thank you to Kathryn Kollowa, EdD, MSN, RN for her feedback and added insights incorporated in this most recent update.

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Thanks so much for your support!

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