I have been avoiding writing this post in my blog because I realize that many acods maintain a relationship with their parents or even the “offending” parent after a late life divorce occurs. I want to encourage that and hope and pray that many grey divorces do not end with estrangement of parent and child. But in my own experience and in the lives of other acods who have written to me, or whom I have met, that is not always the case. Often the adult child or the parent chooses estrangement for many reasons.
“Offense”, “sin”, “hurt” …call it what you will, but when an adult child has one parent who has made a conscious decision for months or years to betray the other parent, the adult child learning of the situation is often in disbelief. Hoping to understand, they talk to the “offending” parent, only to receive defensive language and behavior and the acknowledgment of hurt and pain caused is denied. Often a lack of personal responsibility and lack of feeling family members severe grief is evident.
In his book Bold Love, Dr. Dan Allendar and Dr. Tremper Longman III address the issues of the lack of sadness or sorrow on the part of the one who has hurt others by their actions or words or both. Before a meaningful conversation can occur, there needs to be signs of sadness or sorrow over what has been done. If the person in the wrong is not broken and humbled and not wanting to see his/her wrongs made right , there are choices for others to make. If the person in the wrong is not willing to ask for forgiveness and go through the long process of rebuilding trust in the relationship, then there are decisions for others to make.
In her article The Difference Between Estrangement and Parental Alienation Syndrome ,
Cathy Meyer states “The father who leaves the family for another woman, neglects time with his children and dismisses the harm done to his children is likely to become "estranged" from them. It is fair to say that no one responds positively to poor treatment, least of all children.” “Estrangement results from a parent behaving badly toward his/her children which, in return causes the children to cut off contact.
It isn't uncommon for a parent who is estranged from his/her children to blame the other parent of PAS. It is easier to blame others for bad behavior than to accept and acknowledge bad behavior.”
When my father’s affair was first discovered and when the events and conversations of the first months after that ensued, I had to often ask myself what information I was hearing was first, true, and then what information was an attempt of one parent to sway me or influence my thinking. I doubted truth on each side, although I had to look at their “track records” and weigh that. I sought counseling on how to process the information and I also sought out information about both of my parents from friends and relatives at that time.
Phone calls and letters to different people shed some light on the information I was hearing and the secrets that were being brought to light. As an adult I began to make my own decisions as to what was truth and what was manipulation. As an adult I began to choose my boundaries very carefully. The only thing about being an adult child of divorce that was a blessing, was that I WAS an adult. I WAS able to choose and to process with an adult mind . I was able to see more clearly and be more objective than a child may be. Still, it was excruciating to look into my parents lives in this way and to choose to make choices of how I would relate to them now separately, given the behavior and information I now had concerning them as individuals.
I had to wonder if I was being alienated by my mother, or choosing to be alienated to my father by my own choice. Cathy Meyer explains it well in her article as she says that the parent’s behavior helps us know what is going on.
Parents who are becoming or who are estranged ( in contrast to those who are being alienated) think the child is responsible for fixing the relationship. The parent can not see things from the child’s point of view.
Things became very clear to me as I processed all of this , with the help of counselors and clergy. I had choices to make. Boundaries to set. It was something I did NOT take lightly, and I had to examine my motives. I had to ask myself if it was a way to take away my pain, or limit my future hurts, and if I was slamming the door on the relationship with my father, or just leaving a crack open. Was estrangement to some degree extending a wake up call and a warning that the continuing of this behavior and thinking on his part would only bring more hurt and distance? Dan Allendar in his book Bold Love calls estrangement a “final good gift”. He acknowledges that it is not always clear and is not to be done in hate, fear, or arrogance. It is serious business.
Dan also talks about tears. The tears of ours, the tears of the offender and the tears of God. We shed tears for years after we lose a parent or both parents, but he says it is not loving to the other person to allow them to sin against us and continue to accept that with out repentance and change. ( p. 253)
At some point the “offender” may have tears. The tears can be from regret, remorse or repentance. That makes a difference ( I will be writing a future post on this!) . And then we have God’s tears. Allendar presents a beautiful picture of all of our tears combining over the grief of living in a fallen world. There is a necessity , he says, to apply a “radical surgery to the advanced cancer of sin”.
Dan Allendar tells of his own realization that he was estranged from God. He realized that he played a part in that. He took responsibility, felt broken and humbled, and knew that things were not right with God. He repented, acknowledged the hurt he had caused God and was willing to do what he could to make things right with his maker. That was his way out of estrangement with God. It is a process, he states. For a relationship to become un-estranged, the offender needs to take responsibility and see the other person’s side. The process of any relationship: Communication, listening, talking, trust, love, feeling ……
By the offender feeling the shame , and acknowledging the loss of relationship due to his/her actions/thoughts/behaviors, a choice can be made by the offender to repent and work on a better relationship. In our relationship with God, as with others , we can see a contrast in the deepest feelings of estrangement and the deepest feelings of relationship. Allendar’s list of contrast is this : Estrangement based on self-love, betrayal, lies, unhealthy communication verses the Deep Relationship based on unselfish love, trust, truth, honesty , healthy communication.
In God’s estrangement from us, based on our “offense”, he waits for us to respond and desire to have a “new” relationship with Him. In Adult Children of Divorce’s estrangement from our parent(s) , based on their “offense”, we often wait for the parent to respond and desire a “new” relationship with us.
Feelings and evidence of estrangement with our parents, as adult children of divorce, is common. It is a vivid reminder that things are not right between us. We are not willing to settle for “fake”. That is not the way of true , loving relationships. Let’s examine our hearts, and motives, when we enter into the withholding of relationship. May it be for the good of all. May it be for the restoring of a better, real relationship. May the effect of distance and loss of relationship produce a great examination of self , that possibly can lead to restoration of the relationships at some time in the future. This may or may not possible, but may it be our continued prayer as we consider estrangement from a parent or parents, as adult children of divorce.