This morning the Today Show featured a story about parents who are estranged from their adult children. All day long I have had this story rattling around inside my head. I am a child estranged from a parent. Have been since I was 13. That means that this year will mark the 20th year without having my father in my life.
It’s a strange thing to know that you have a parent out there that just doesn’t want anything to do with you. I think that’s partially why the Today Show segment really sparked something in my head. The professional they had on had some interesting tips for parents who want to reconnect.
While I didn’t become estranged as an adult, the fact that I was 13 was still a tough thing. Listening to the story they had on the news segment really just seemed silly to me. The mother had set rules and the 19-year-old son didn’t seem to like them. Maybe there was more to it but to me, it just seemed silly. Maybe that’s really what being estranged is – I honestly don’t know? For me, my situation was more like being thrown away.
The professional said he thought it was a silent epidemic, that neither the parents or the children didn’t speak of it because of the shame brought on by it. My first thought was, no – I’ll talk about it. It’s part of who I am. People notice that I NEVER mention my father. If I didn’t talk about it from time to time, then that would just be ignoring it. Not having a father had an impact on my life, in some ways it was good, in other ways it wasn’t good. I’ll talk about it if people ask. I have no shame. The shame is not mine. I was 13, he was 37. If there is any shame, it should be his. I did nothing to be ashamed of.
The psychologist on the segment said that it was very common that estrangement would follow after a divorce. I suppose when I look back on it, that might be the catalyst. However, the difference between me and the family on the segment is that I don’t think there was ever a second thought after that back was turned on me. I also am not sure that what happened to me was total estrangement or that I want it to be that because estrangement is not as ugly as being thrown away.
The psychologist offered a set of “tips” for parents who want to reconnect.
1) Accept responsibility. While I sometimes wonder what I did wrong at 13 that caused an entire half of my family to just pretend I no longer existed, I have to accept that I was a child. The adult needs to take some of that responsibility and own up to the fact that they might have done things differently and remember that I was a child. It was not my fault what happened. It’s hard to swallow that one for some reason.
2) Don’t defend yourself. I’m not interested in a defense any way. I know what life would have been like and I’m grateful that my life was the way it was, well aside from the whole emotional eating thing. That kind of sucked that I picked up that coping skill. The psychologist said, “’It’s about your kid, it’s not about you,’ Coleman said. ‘If you defend yourself you get into the right and wrong, it’s just going to escalate.’” This basically implies that there needs to be some acknowledgement that you are the parent and that means it’s not about you.
3) Have empathy and don’t give up. This one made me laugh. I guess part of me wishes I could contact this psychologist because I’d love to hear his take on my situation (free of charge, of course only because I know I’ve paid my fair share of therapy bills). He stated that the parents show keep making attempts unless they are getting restraining orders or the kid is sending back gifts. So, what happens when the parent sues the child over their college tuition? Does that mean the kid needs to give up hope too? I mean, obviously I have given up all hope and to be honest, at this point, we have entered a point of no return.
I do wonder though if there are ever any regrets with how things were handled. I mean, really, who subpoenas their own kid? I got into my top choice school. I was doing pretty well until I got sued, ended up with severe depression and flunked out. Funny how getting sued by your own father can do that to you. I guess I have to give up on ever having a relationship with that man.
I used to wonder what he thought when he sees his other daughter, the one from the second marriage, the one he threw away four children for. I wonder if he ever thought about what he missed with us. I wonder if he ever hears a song or see something and remembers that 13-year-old girl who just wanted her father to be proud of her and tell her she was good enough.
Whether or not this was estrangement or was just plain old a father walking away from a family, I’m not sure. I know that I haven’t spoken to the man since 1994. Does that mean we are estranged? Who knows. All I know is that these tips are a day late and a dollar short.
Parents have an obligation to their children. An obligation to take care of them and to put their children ahead of themselves. When a divorce happens, it should not victimize the children. It should not make a parent choose the children over their new spouse. If the estrangement happens, yes, parents should do everything they can to fix it, that is unless they really weren’t meant to be parents but really were nothing more than a biological materials donor.