Every week or so, I receive emails The Coleman Report, which offers advice on parenting and relationships from Dr. Joshua Coleman in San Francisco. If you go to his website, you can find out more about the web seminars that he offers on on parental estrangement and other parenting issues.
This week, his report addressed Mother's Day, a hard day for many hurting mothers who are separated from their children:
Holidays such as Mother's Day present special challenges for parents who have been cut off by their grown children. What should I say to my friends or co-workers when they ask about my children or grandchildren? How do I deal with memories of the past when we were still close? How do I forgive myself for whatever ways I blame myself, rightly or wrongly, for the estrangement? How do I cope with my intense feelings of anger, sadness, and loneliness?The following suggestions are written with Mother's Day in mind:
What do I say when people ask about my children or grandchildren?
First of all, you don't owe anyone any kind of response. If you're talking to someone who you're either not close to or who doesn't know your situation, feel free to give a short, vague response and change the subject. Some people find it helpful to decide exactly what they're going to say before going to a party or anywhere else where they're likely to be asked about their children or grandchildren. If it's someone who you're close to and you don't want to talk about it, say, "Thank you for asking. Hasn't changed much and it's hard for me to talk about so I'd rather not. I'm sure you understand." If they push, I would repeat the above statement again.
How do I deal with memories of the past when we were still close?
Positive memories of the past don't always feel positive. In fact, most estranged parents feel as tormented by the good memories as they do by the painful ones. However positive memories can be useful reminders that despite however miserably you're being treated now, and whatever your regrets, you were a good parent and no one can take that away from you.
How do I forgive myself for whatever ways I blame myself, rightly or wrongly, for the estrangement?
This is an ongoing struggle for many parents, especially those who believe that they deserve a lot of the blame for their child's estrangement. If you did make mistakes, and every parent does, and you have made a serious attempt at making amends, then it's time to forgive yourself and move on. Ongoing guilt and regret can be unconscious ways to punish yourself unnecessarily. Those feelings can make it hard to engage in the kinds of activities that make life meaningful such as hobbies, exercise, and time with people who love you and see you more clearly than your child does.
How do I cope with my intense feelings of anger, sadness, and loneliness?
The most important action is to get support and not to isolate. If you haven't yet visited the When Parents Hurt forum at my website, go there now and post something. It's a wonderful group of supportive and caring people and I am constantly touched by people's kindness and empathy. While I don't typically respond, I do read every post. And while people don't always respond to every post, most of the time they do.
It's also important that you work on developing self-compassion. Psychologist Kristin Neff has a great site developed on the topic of self-compassion. You can find it at http://www.self-compassion.org.