Am I Doing the Right Thing?
This made things worse by disrespecting boundaries, ignoring my need for normalcy for my children, and only proved my point that there was a need for this estrangement. After my pastor spoke to her, seeing her toxic behaviors for himself, he told me I was doing the right thing. That reassurance was so helpful, because it’s hard to know if you’re doing the right thing when you want to honor your parents as the Bible says, but you’ve always been the family peacekeeper. I was so used to taking the blame for my mother’s behavior, I had a hard time seeing this as her problem to fix and not mine.
A few years after my mother’s mental illness took her life, I was faced with an unwanted divorce. My divorce allowed me to spend years, which I’m still doing, working on my emotional health so I could clear my life of toxicity. I was done being used and abused by everyone. I had to take care of myself for once. This meant I had to narrow my inner circle and separate from a lot of people.
As I had experienced before, when toxic people are faced with boundaries and consequences for their unhealthy behaviors, they tend to lash out and pull everyone onto their side of the fence. This usually involves lies and a manipulation tactic called triangulation (telling lies to two different people to stop them from speaking to each other; gaslighting them both). They tell people that the healthier person is crazy or controlling for not allowing themselves to be walked on or treated poorly anymore.
I hear from hundreds of people every year who share that this is how they too became estranged from their children after a divorce. Because of the lies and triangulation told by ex-spouses and other family members, they were essentially erased from their children’s lives. To me, this is a different type of estrangement than what I experienced with my mother. Yet, here I am, estranged from two of my adult children too. And being blamed for it.
I’ve also talked to married couples who are estranged from their children for similar reasons. They’ve shared that other family members or friends have done the work that an ex-spouse had done in cases of divorce. As parents they had established rules that the teen or young adult didn’t like, and instead of trying to talk it out, they decided to cut the parents out of their lives because someone convinced the child that rules, boundaries, and parenting are bad things.
The reasons for estrangement do not matter, what we do about it does.
I know what it feels like to be a forgotten family member as well as an adult who’s made a life for themselves that they just want other family members to respect. These things have shaped what I believe about how to handle estrangement.
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