Welcome to Estranged Mom 101.
If you’re one of the walking wounded, I’m really sorry you found me because you’re one of us.
At the same time, if you’re looking for others who are going through it, you can know you’re not alone. Like a lot of other situations, people who have never experienced it can’t relate. Trust me, you’re also not alone when those well-meaning others say some of the most ridiculous and hurtful things in the name of “being helpful” that you’ve ever heard.
“Move on?” “Get over it?” “Don’t give up?”
Thanks for that. Really.
We all have unique and individual experiences. There is no blanket, standard way to deal with it or have a life outside of trying to process what happened or how to be/feel/act “normal,” when our normal looks nothing like intact families’ normal. They don’t get it. They never will.
What we do is the best we can.
The beginning of my estrangement happened seven years ago, with what is now known as parental alienation. My kids were teenagers at the time, but it happens often with much younger children, when one parent engages in trying to turn the kids against the other parent, usually during a divorce. That was my case. Despite the ages of my children, my now ex made it clear that any contact with me meant quick and awful retribution. I never saw it coming. To this day, I am stunned about how effective it was, and how it continues.
It can also happen with adult children when they end up in relationships with abusive/controlling partners who isolate them from their families. Through threats, intimidation, manipulation, and a host of other emotional/psychological devices, they turn the adult against family members with whom they might have had perfectly healthy relationships in the past. If they have children together, this often extends to the grandchildren.
The ironic thing is that in cases where there was any kind of verbal, psychological, emotional, or physical abuse in the former family that now experiences estrangement, it’s the healthy, non-abusive parent who is now viewed as having done something so egregious, they “deserve” the estrangement and bashing that goes along with it. It is also typical for an otherwise healthy parent to experience the alienation/estrangement, because the abusive parent is skilled in using manipulation, verbal abuse, and smear campaigns to gain the “loyalty” of the children. Same with controlling new adult partners.
In the beginning, we’re just trying to figure out what the heck happened, what we did wrong, how this could happen. We try to fix it. We try to change it. Nothing seems to work. In fact, it only seems to make the problem worse. Next we might begin to ruminate about all of the above. We’re emotionally injured, hurt, confused, frustrated, angry.
At some point we are either told by the (adult or older) child that the situation is permanent, or we realize we’ve done all we can and nothing is helping. Months go by, then years.
Here we are with all our memories, all our pictures, all our boxes of kid things we thought we were going to talk about at holiday gatherings after the nest is empty, or share with grandchildren someday. They’re constant reminders of what went wrong — that we still can’t grasp or fathom — and bring up the pain, confusion, frustration, anger, every time our eyes fall on them.
Some people engage in some kind of recovery work — therapy, meetings, groups, etc. Some muddle through. I have seen some people seize some aspect of the recovery work and go the opposite extreme — they write books or start life coaching businesses. It doesn’t mean they still don’t grapple with their pain privately, but they are determined to construct new lives out of the ashes of the old and help as many people as possible along the way.
I’m somewhere in the middle of all that.
I have been an active advocate for domestic violence survivors and for estranged parents. There is no way to not be affected by having children we raised not only turn their backs on us, but explain to us — in some extremely callous and hurtful ways — that they “hate” us and “never” want anything to do with us again.
I’m a professional writer, meaning I have a degree in journalism and have worked in that profession for a lot of my adult life. (I went to college at age 36 and got my first check for a story the next year. I began working for two regional newspapers the year after that, and have since written for newspapers and magazines. I still do.) Over the years, I have opened a handful of blogs related to different aspects of my life and work. Research and writing is pretty much my go-to for major life events. I survived a life-threatening illness and wrote about that. I’ve owned businesses and wrote about that. I experienced domestic abuse and wrote about that as well. I write about writing. I’m from Jersey and I live in the South now. (That could be a book, seriously.)
Now I’m an estranged mom. Igh. Of all the things I’ve done and experienced, I honestly think this is the hardest one of all. I didn’t give birth to these kids. I adopted them. They belonged to my ex, but I stepped in as the instant mom when the youngest was three years old. The oldest at that time, my (now) daughter, had just turned eight. I was a full-time, live-in, stay-at-home mom for most of their lives. They are now 21, 24, and 26.
My ex walked out — on all of us — in 2010. The next year, when my sons were in high school and my daughter was in college, he took the boys to where he was living in another state, saying it was for a vacation. What none of us knew was that he had un-enrolled them from their current high school and enrolled them in a new school. That began the odyssey to where we are now.
I have been in touch on and off with my sons over the years. What happened most recently was that my youngest, who is now in the Army, reached out to me. We were excited about reconnecting. We were making plans. When his sister found out, she was determined to put the kibosh on our reunion. Sadly, it worked.
In one way, it’s difficult for some people to understand how a 21-year-old soldier could be influenced in that way. However, if you’re familiar at all with the dynamics of manipulation and control, it’s not that alien a concept. It goes back to that twisted kind of “loyalty” that is more powerful than the concept of someone you haven’t seen in a number of years and is painted as the bad guy who needs to be avoided for the entirety of that time.
Many of us in the estranged seat suffer from emotional injury, whether we are aware of it or not. I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD all the way back in 2009, so I already knew. I actively engaged in intensive recovery work from that time to the present. It helps, and I have learned a lot, obviously.
With the recent events, I have had to pull out and bolster my bag of tricks to deal with the effects of having my son yanked from me for the third time in five years. I also know from my advocacy work with domestic violence survivors and estranged parents that estrangement can be a living thing, where verbal abuse by the now adult children and others in their lives can tend to come and go.
As a writer, as a person who is having to pursue active recovery yet again, I decided I’d do this — another blog — to navigate my recovery publicly to hopefully connect with others as they go through theirs. Sometimes blogs have been the biggest help to me at various stages.
So once again, welcome, and if you’re one of us, I’m so sorry you’re in this, too. Hopefully you can glean something you can use for your own recovery, and maybe smile a time or two as a Jersey mom in the South goes on occasional rants.
Off we go.