Friday, September 13, 2019

Parent/Child Estrangement -- Among the Most Painful Experiences

Research out of the United Kingdom has presented some interesting findings regarding estrangement in families. Estrangement is defined as the breakdown of a supportive relationship between family members. Broadly speaking, it is when one or more relatives intentionally chooses to end contact because of an ongoing negative relationship. The UK research participants included parents estranged from their children and children estranged from their parents, casting light on generational estrangement from two different perspectives. Over 50% of those estranged from a parent say that they cut off contact.

More respondents reported being estranged from mothers than from fathers or from both parents. More parents reported being estranged from daughters than from sons. Estrangement from males tended to be longer lasting than estrangement from females. Estrangement from fathers averaged 8 years, whereas estrangement from mothers averaged slightly more than 5 years.

Why do relationships between adult children and their parents break down? It depends on which group you ask. Based on the UK research, those estranged from their parents reported four issues that affected their relationships with both mothers and fathers: emotional abuse; differing expectations about family roles; clashes based on personalities or value systems; and, neglect. Those estranged from their mothers also cited mental health problems, while those estranged from fathers cited a traumatic family event.

Those estranged from their children cited three causes that were common to both sons and daughters: differing expectations about family roles; divorce-related issues; and, a traumatic event. Those estranged from daughters also reported mental health problems and emotional abuse. Those estranged from sons reported issues relating to marriage and issues relating to in-laws.

In another section of the survey, participants were asked to respond to the statement, "We could never have a functional relationship again." Adult children estranged from parents overwhelmingly agreed with the statement. With regard to estrangement from mothers, 79% of those responding either agreed or strongly agreed. With regard to fathers, 71% agreed or strongly agreed. Parents estranged from their adult children presented a rather different picture. Those estranged from daughters agreed or strongly agreed only 14% of the time. Those estranged from sons agreed or strongly agreed just 13% of the time.

When questioned about what they wanted from their parents, adult children said they wanted relationships that were closer, more positive and more loving. Also, they wished that their mothers would be less critical and judgmental, and would acknowledge when they have engaged in hurtful behavior. Adult children wished that their fathers would take more interest in their lives and also stand up to other family members, including their spouses or partners.

Psychology Today printed in 2015 that sometimes an adolescent’s irritability and frustration becomes the adult daughter’s or son’s ruminating anger and resentment -- and the son or daughter opts for absolute distance (physically, emotionally and verbally) from one or both parents. Some studies indicate that 8 percent of adults have ceased communicating with a family member. A 2017 study found that as much as 27 percent of adult children report having strained relationships or no contact with one or both parents. However, family estrangements do not need to be permanent. Even though adult children may say they are unwilling to renew a relationship, statistics show that they are usually willing to give their parents another chance.

There is one fact that is certain -- estrangement from family is among the most painful human experiences.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso