The Plagued Parent

posts about surviving our children, the Baby Boomers who raised us, and everyone else with an opinion...

People are Strange

People are strange and becoming stranger

And I don’t just mean in terms of acting strange, but more in the sense that we are becoming strangers to one another.

Perhaps this was always the case but we just didn’t share or talk about being estranged or how we got that way.

Estrangement seems a matter of blame. Separation and distance result from something else: drugs and alcohol, wild behavior, the friends you ran with, the in-laws (pick one: mother, daughter, son, brother or sister-in-law). Reasons and rationales lurk around the fringes of solitude. Whether people distance themselves out of spite or salvation, older generations rarely talked too much about why estrangement occurs and what to do if and when it happens.

A recent NY Times article “Debunking Myths About Estrangement” focuses on how many families are becoming fragmented as a means for individual survival. In other words some family members willfully distance themselves so they can operate in the world without unnecessary emotional and psychological crap heaped on by their families

Much has been and is being made about how in this social and political moment our nation, and maybe even the world, is “the most divided it has ever been”.

Frankly, I dispute this.  There have always been divisions. However we’ve been afforded greater opportunities to share these conversations about who we are estranged from, why we’re estranged and how we’re coping.

On display are the stories of families, communities, and countries that face the weight of external consequences which seem to stem from internal divisions.

I think this feels “new” because more people are talking about it.

Beyond the Black Sheep

Growing up we’ve all had family members who were “black sheep” — the ones nobody discussed except in hushed tones and only when certain people left the room. Rarely if ever did we hear straight from the sheep’s own mouth

Sometimes– we were told —  these “black sheep” suffered from addiction or in rare cases mental illness. More often than not these “sheep” were at odds over how to live their lives relative to the expectations of their family. As such they went their own way.

Yet, it seems as though something has taken the place of the “Black Sheep Syndrome”. When I consider our own story there’s a more frantic storm brewing one that may have been years in the making.

At least that’s what the Times article suggests: estrangement rarely happens on a whim.

Estrangements result from a culmination of forces. While, in our instance for example, there may be a single 1,000 pound straw that breaks the camel’s back, that camel’s back was already sore, tired and worn to begin with — he had no interest in carrying the load any further.

Rarely is it ever just one thing.

Interestingly enough, both “sides” of the estranged coin can attempt to claim victim status: Grandma is victim because she’s deprived the company of her grandchildren; Adult Son/Daughter is a victim of overbearing, intrusive and judgmental parents and so they limit or eliminate contact for their own sanity.

The Struggle Continues…

I can say that being estranged from my family has not been an easy ride after almost three years. Questions remain, doubts emerge, anger flares all of which is normal I suppose. It can get tough during holidays or other sentimentally significant moments.

I am perpetually reminded that life is here, right in front of us and that life must be lived. Sometimes easier said than done, as with most things.

Intellectually, I comprehend that the distance is a necessary requirement for survival. Emotionally, there is baggage that occassionally floats to the surface as if from a sunken cruise ship. Steamer trunks pasted with all sorts of labels bobbing on the water’s of memory serving as reminders that connection and obligation are what matters.

But connection to what and obligation to whom?

Learning Curve

Inside that two part question is a learning curve. I’ve learned a lot observing the wreckage that litters the territory surrounding my household and my extended family. Denial, delusion, obstinate obstruction… I could go on.

Sanity rests in finding ways to embrace the simple notion that “I am enough”. Admittedly, I struggle with this because that’s not how I was programmed. I was not raised to consider myself as existing “apart from” but as a integral “part of”.

On the surface this sounds positive, yet I guess it depends on perception as much as practice. In measured balance these tendencies complement one another, but in practice knock them out of whack and shit goes sideways real fast especially in unpredictable situations which no one has actually trained for.

We are not unique

I suppose this is the most valuable insight I’ve taken from our family’s experience — we’re not alone. There are so many families who have similar stories to tell. Families dissolve; people survive.

Families held together as a result of familial coercion and emotional blackmail will fragment at some point — and chances are it will get ugly. Chances are it will be something small that sets things in motion: someone brought the wrong dessert to dinner, a snide comment made at a wedding or funeral, everyone voted for Trump except you.

BAM! Armagedeon ensues.

Families remain intact out of mutual respect, open lines of communication and realistic expectations regarding what every member can (and cannot) contribute to the whole. No scorecards, no hidden agendas, no investment in an inventory of resentments.

This is harder for some than for others. As a parent, I want my children to write their rules for their Game of Life. I refuse to tell others what they must do. I certainly don’t know best. 

Maybe, as a culture and as individuals, we’d all be better off if we remember that we don’t know everything and stop pretending we’ve cornered the market on right-ness.

 

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Updated: January 29, 2018 — 6:56 am

20 Comments

  1. Sorry you are still going through this. Losing a child or parent because of a death, terrible as that is, might even be easier than this type of situation. Thinking positive thoughts for you all.

    1. I have speculated that such a loss would be more definitive and perhaps force a type of “closure”. Again not having experienced this I cannot say. It is hard, for me at least, to know I have a child loose in the world who has become a total mystery with little to no chance of unravelling that mystery. I suppose this is where the positive thoughts might help, so thank you for those. Sometimes in the absence of knowing, anger takes root and this has been dangerous and painful to say the least.

      1. Yes, there must be such a range of emotions. Anger, frustration, hurt, fear, sadness…so many people affected by just one illness.

    2. Sadly, I think you might be right. Thank you for the positive thoughts!

  2. It must be so difficult not only being cut off from your child but the rest of the family as well. I think there are various stages of estrangement such as people who move away from their family not because they have to but because they want to be distant in order to keep the peace. Then they only visit at holidays or other times, but are not part of the day to day or even month to month of the family. I think I’ve seen this play out more than full ruptures.

    1. Yes Jennifer it is difficult. But they made their choices, so we need to find ways to accept it. Mostly we have, but it’s still hard to swallow what they have all done to our youngest. She does not deserve their alienation.

      1. That’s so true. Your youngest doesn’t deserve it. But what would happen if she still had contact? Would they always be “working” on her to get her to their side? When I got divorced my ex was horrible and kept trying to put our son in the middle. At 15, he had a mind of his own and cut off all contact after his father yelled some pretty horrible things with him. We had to go to court over this rupture, but my son got his way and didn’t have contact with him again for 5 years. Now, he is 30 and has limited contact mostly by location, his father is in Florida, but still does stay in touch. It might be hard for her to see, but perhaps that alienation is best for her now and when she’s older it’s something that she can take control over.

        1. You are probably right, yet still hard to watch.

  3. Difficult situation.I’ve had to take breaks from my mother who is mentally ill. In fact one of my biggest struggles is finding the sweet spot between compassion for her and my own self-preservation. I’m sorry this has extended to your parents. Perhaps in some ways it is better than her being on her own or stumbling into an abusive relationship or worse. I know it isn’t the scenario you envisioned or want. I hope there is a path to healing for everyone.

    1. It’s a delicate balance between compassion and self-preservation. I suppose we all must find a way to be there for others while at the same time practicing self-care. This is not an easy task but at least you are trying. Thank you Bryce for taking the time to read and comment. It is appreciated.

  4. This one hits pretty close to home.

    1. Because of that I appreciate you taking the time with the post. I thank you Carol…

  5. I think you’re right about it not being a new phenomenon. Just like the world seems like a more dangerous place, when in actuality, it’s the same or safer than ever. In a world where we have 24 hour news channels and social media galore, those feelings just seem heightened because it’s always in your face. Great post!

    1. Yes, Emily, I think as you suggest everything comes down to perception. We all need to keep an eye on that.

  6. It’s sad when family members become estranged. We’ve had to deal with this situation in recent years and sometimes the only thing you can do is distance yourself. Good post.

    1. Thank you for reading the post. It seems, as I mentioned, more and more people are experiencing this phenomenon to the point where I hazard a guess we’ll soon consider estrangement a new norm.

  7. very insightful and well thought out, as always. Our teen is recently gone again and even though I hate where she is now, I’ve come to terms with the fact that although she runs off for selfish reasons, there is also a self-preservation aspect to it as well. I honestly don’t think her and her mom are good for each others mental health

    1. Thank you for the comment Jeremy and I am sorry to hear how the struggles with your daughter persist. That fight or flight response is a powerful and confusing thing.

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