Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My adult only child, 34, has mental illness and has estranged herself completely for the last few years, rejecting all contact. I have done everything I possibly can and, with a lot of help, finally have accepted I can’t fix it, and must simply wait.
The anguish for the first few years was breathtaking but I am re-engaging in life again — even dating a little. My question is, how best to answer well-meaning queries from new friends who naturally expect we’ll trade info about our children? It is so painful to acknowledge the situation, and seeing others’ looks of shock (or worse, judgment) almost makes it not worth venturing out. Any ideas?
“Sadly, my child has estranged herself from family.” You don’t need to explain further. With those who take a judgmental position, be grateful you have this to weed out people you don’t want in your life.
For those who are shocked, I’d like to know what bubble they’re living in, but I guess that’s not the kindest possible response, either.
When pressed for details, don’t be afraid to say it’s a long story that you’re not ready to share just yet. Eventually it will be important to share more, but it’s OK to wait until you know and trust someone more.
To: Estranged: When I want to avoid a topic, I toss the conversation back at the questioner: “Unfortunately, I’m estranged from my child, but tell me more about your child.” Sometimes the questioner, having asked a question that bombed, doesn’t know how to move the conversation back along. So if you steer it back to them or their children (doesn’t everyone love to talk about themselves?), they’ll probably be glad to pick up the conversational ball.
Great point, thanks.
Re: Estrangement: Our adult daughter married someone we were pleasant to, but didn’t think was a good match. After speaking our piece, she stopped talking to us, yet invited us to the wedding. We went, and made a point of introducing ourselves to everyone (because our daughter barely acknowledged our presence, though her friends say she was glad we came).
We’ve sent her birthday cards and emails, but she has chosen to not reply. We too have made peace with her silence and can only hope she gets back in touch. But it is exceedingly painful when people raise their eyebrows when we say we haven’t heard from her in months. Please, people. Have some compassion for what others are going through, even if you don’t fully understand it.
You Are Not Alone
Re: Estrangement: “I’d like to know what bubble they’re living in” — why is that? None of my friends or their children are estranged from their families, nor do I know anyone at work or church facing those issues. I hope I would be sympathetic, but I would be shocked.
None of my friends or their children has lost a limb in the course of military service, nor do I know anyone at work facing those issues, but I know it happens sometimes despite the best precautions — so if I met someone who had lost a limb in battle, I would feel many things, but not shock. That’s why.
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