I received the following feedback last week about an excerpt from my Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children, and I wanted to respond.
Unfortunately, the feedback was anonymous.
Surely this person is not alone. So I thought I’d respond with a blog post…
I read through your entire page on Estrangement and I’ve got to say that it all felt a bit like you’re condoning the behaviour of abusive parents; telling them they need not feel any remorse for the suffering they’ve caused and they need to practice more self-compassion.
Parents who abused their children are typically in denial about the destruction they’ve caused and they are looking for any excuse to place blame for the estrangement and any upsetting emotions they may be dealing with on their adult children… Your website gives them plenty of fodder for sidestepping responsibility for their behaviour.
As a victim of childhood abuse and an adult child who bravely initiated estrangement, I found your “wisdom” offensive and horrifying.
Offended and horrified is the last response I ever want to evoke, both as a person and especially as a therapist.
I am sincerely and terribly sorry to hear that you were abused by your parents.
You were deprived of the basic right to be protected from harm and cherished by the adults closest to you. There are no words to express how wrong that was, and how much it shouldn’t have happened.
Your suggestion that I condone child abuse is as mistaken as it is understandable for someone in your shoes.
I support your right to detach yourself from anyone who abuses you.
I also grieve for you, that you didn’t get to experience parents who knew how to nurture and support you, and that you don’t have parents you can now enjoy as an adult.
Child abuse robs a person of so much good in life.
There’s a reason I didn’t call it “a guide for parents who abused their children.” The Guide doesn’t assume abuse on the parent’s part.
Of course, child abuse does happen and yes, it’s one of the reasons adult children decide to end their relationships with parents.
It’s not the only reason, though.
There are many ways in which kids can feel let down by their parents. Abuse is simply the most extreme.
What I hear from many of my estranged adult-child therapy clients is that there was no outright abuse.
I’m not saying this to deny that child abuse happens, or to defend abusive parents.
I just want you to know that there are other reasons for estrangement, and these can be harder to quantify.
Many estranged parents are genuinely confused when their kids stop talking to them. They think, “I was good to my kids. Where is this coming from?”
It was in an effort to clarify some of these more mysterious reasons for estrangement that I wrote the Guide.
But let’s say that an outright abusive parent did look for guidance on how to repair that relationship all these years later…
How might they respond to a guide that verbally brow-beat them for what they did?
How long would they keep reading?
Lastly, what kind of “guide” tells you what you did wrong, instead of what to do now?
Telling someone they’re horrible is not an effective way to make them behave better.
People learn compassion and empathy by receiving these from someone else. Only then do they have something to work with. They can pay it forward.
My Guide is an attempt to fill the “emotional buckets” of parents so that they themselves can both heal, and become vehicles of compassion and understanding to pass along to their adult children … who can then fill the buckets of their own children, and so on.
As long as it’s “us against them,” there can be no healing from this devastating problem.
Self-compassion is where it all starts. We’re ALL adult children of human parents.
Anonymous, there’s no requirement that you forgive your parents’ abuse of you. That may be a tall order, especially without a heartfelt apology.
I hope you’ve learned, somehow, somewhere, to have compassion for the child you once were, who is still healing from what happened. S/he needs you.
I wish you every good thing under the sun.
Parents, check out the Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children