“We live in a culture that assumes if there is an estrangement, the parents must have done something really terrible,” said Dr. Coleman, whose book “When Parents Hurt” (William Morrow, 2007) focuses on estrangement. “But this is not a story of adult children cutting off parents who made egregious mistakes. It’s about parents who were good parents, who made mistakes that were certainly within normal limits.”
Dr. Coleman himself experienced several years of estrangement with his adult daughter, with whom he has reconciled. Mending the relationship took time and a persistent effort by Dr. Coleman to stay in contact. It also meant listening to his daughter’s complaints and accepting responsibility for his mistakes. “I tried to really get what her feelings were and tried to make amends and repair,” he said. “Over the course of several years, it came back slowly.”
Therapists for years have listened to patients blame parents for their problems
This article reports on qualitative research that examined the experiences of 25 Australian participants aged over 60 years who were estranged from at least one adult child. When participants were asked about their perceptions of the cause of the estrangement they described events prior to and at the time of the estrangement, possibly perceived as a form of parental rejection or relational devaluation by the estranged children. Findings suggested a complex interplay of long-term factors that appeared to contribute to an eroded relationship between parents and children, including divorce, third-party alienation, and multiple family stressors. Ultimately participants said that the adult children responded by: (1) choosing what they perceived to be a less rejecting or less dangerous relationship over a relationship with their parent; (2) choosing to stop contact or reduce emotional interactions with their parent; or (3) using estrangement to punish their parent for the perceived rejection.