Carolyn Hax: ‘Devastated’ estranged mother seeks answers


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Dear Caroline: Again, I see a story in your column about parent-child estrangement. It’s truly sad. My husband and I are in this situation with our daughter. We haven’t seen our three grandchildren in almost two years and they live 10 minutes from our house. Going through therapists until one gives her the answer she wants to hear – cut your parents off – is awful.

Ironically, we still don’t know what the issues are. We had a therapy session together, and she refused to go back to this therapist, because she felt the therapist was okay with me, her mother. So now she’s going alone to a therapist who obviously sides with my daughter, and she flatly refuses to let us join her to work out the issues that need to be resolved. Very sad.

There are always two sides to a story, and believe it or not, there are loving parents who have done nothing wrong but are dealing with an adult child who is dealing with something else. But we, the parents, have become the scapegoats. It’s the easy way out. Very sad.

So, I wonder, are you getting letters from the other side of the story, or is it still the right decision to just cut the parents? Because not every decision is a good decision.

Devastated parents: I get letters from “the other side”, of course.

I don’t run them as often, as I have little advice to give at this point. As you know and clarified here, when someone decides to interrupt you, you cannot make them see you. When someone doesn’t tell you why, you can’t make them explain. When someone refuses to listen, you cannot plead your case.

The only advice left for someone facing a brick wall is to accept and move on – best suited to ongoing therapeutic support.

Another reason why I spend more time advising those who are drifting away than those who have drifted away? Because it’s impossible for me to know who is being abused and who “goes through therapists until she gets the answer she wants to hear.”

Or which people “still don’t know what the issues are” and which have been given enough warning, but stubbornly refuse to believe that they are anything but blameless victims.

Or which people married someone who helped them get healthy and set boundaries with a dysfunctional family, and which married a controlling, abusive person who now isolates them from their loving, supportive family.

The reality of each couldn’t be more different from the other, of course – but the perceptions, nothing more than written accounts, told by parents/by children, can be identical. This is true on both sides, but the outsider usually has less to report first-hand.

So I don’t want to post letters like yours, with “I’m so sorry” type responses that are at best unsatisfactory and at worst grotesquely untrue.

Instead, I address those who are considering moving away:

Have you articulated your concerns and preferences with “I” statements and evidence? Have you tried setting and enforcing smaller limits and gradually increasing them as needed? Have you subjected your own choices to the same scrutiny as others? With the help of a disinterested third party (therapist, etc.)?

Remoteness isn’t always good or bad. It is usually painful and is therefore a last resort.

It is also, by its nature, opaque.

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