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Anything I've missed to prevent estrangement

(148 Posts)
Fenchurch Mon 10-Jul-23 13:28:31

I've been heading towards estrangement from my parents for years and desperately trying to prevent it. I just want to check if there's any magic thing I could say/do that would help them feel safe enough to accept they need help to change

Both parents have trauma in their childhood (although they'd deny it) and are very emotionally immature. Their inability to manage their own emotional world in a healthy way led them to be abusive and neglectful of their children. I forgive them that - they literally didn't have the skills to step outside their own heads and own anxiety/low self esteem. But they had so many opportunities to accept help and they have the ability/privilege to face their weaknesses and learn and grow. And they have consistently run away and ignored it. They have consistently put their fear of judgement/Discomfort above the needs of their children.

Leaving home obviously helped a lot but when I call/visit all I get is emotional abuse and emotional neglect. My friends and family cannot understand why I put up with it. And now that I have self esteem I can't either.

I have tried to speak with them about their childhoods and got shut down. I've suggested therapy for them (it saved my life) but they refused. I set up family therapy for us but they refused. I offered for them to sit in on one of my sessions but no. I've offered books, discussions, shared how I feel and asked how they feel.... All I get back is that I'm being hurtful, dramatic and demanding. My sister tried writing a very detailed letter but that didn't work either.

I've spent my whole life grieving the family I wanted - do I have to now grieve the family I can't even speak to anymore? Or is there something I've missed?

How did your children help you see the parts of your parenting you need to change? What made you feel safe enough to apologise and make changes? They can't seem to tolerate any discomfort at all.

All suggestions gratefully received

Fenchurch Mon 10-Jul-23 15:23:42

You're all quite right. And I feel a bit awkward for dumping my trauma on you all. Thank you for your thoughtful insights and advice

Summerfly Mon 10-Jul-23 15:32:06

It sounds as though you need to walk away from this and concentrate on your own wellbeing. Don’t keep going back for more. They’ll soon realise the error of their ways once you’ve taken yourself out of this awful situation.
You have your own family now. Focus on them and leave the pain behind. It will pass.
Good luck with the chemo’ and take care of yourself. 🌻

Hithere Mon 10-Jul-23 15:38:51

Repeat with me

I am not responsible for their feelings
It is not my job to solve their problems

Google "fog" - fear, obligation and guilt.

Marydoll Mon 10-Jul-23 15:39:55

Caramme, I don't agree with your post either.

Fenchurch, it has taken me my whole life to realise that it was not my fault the way my parents treated me and that my mother had her own demons.
My GP, who was also hers, told me to take a step back or she would be the death of me, but I just couldn't do it. Guilt got in the way.

I hope you find peace and good luck with your chemo.

Fenchurch Mon 10-Jul-23 15:42:20

Thank you. I'm listening and hearing what you're all saying, and it's giving me the strength to put myself first.

Hithere Mon 10-Jul-23 15:45:13

In the US, you can reach out "life with cancer" for support

Your relatives that also cut them off can be of help

VioletSky Mon 10-Jul-23 15:57:58

Your parents burdens were never yours to carry.

Even though you have come to a place where you can understand why they became the people they are, change has to come from them.

One of the hardest things to accept for any estranged child is why a parent didn't love you enough to heal themselves and stop the abuse. The truth is that they simply cannot face that shame and it is very rare for any abusive parent to shoulder the blame themselves.

You have done everything you could and the amount of love, patience and kindness you have shown trying to help them is enough. You have done enough.

If allowed to carry on this relationship will eventually destroy all your own hard work and you risk becoming mentally and physically ill.

It's time to stand up and take back your happiness, break this cycle.

Smileless2012 Mon 10-Jul-23 16:00:19

You need to ask yourself if despite the past, you want them in your life Fenchurch. If the answer is 'yes' then you have to ask yourself how much of a presence you want and can realistically cope with.

If the answer is 'no' then although you don't necessarily owe them an explanation, it wouldn't hurt to provide one even if you're saying once again, what's already been said. It might be better for you in the long run if you do tell them why, as I suspect you're going to have some feelings of guilt. Not because you've any reason to be, but because having tried so hard to keep them in your life, estranging them wont be easy for you.

Whatever decision you make, make it in terms of what's best for you and what you need.

I hope you find peace and are able to put your energy into coping with your chemotherapy and the toll it takes flowers.

TwiceAsNice Mon 10-Jul-23 16:17:30

I work as a therapist and have had many clients who have grieved for the parent they wished they had and kept looking for that parent in their own adulthood and kept getting disappointed because their parent or your parent isn’t ever going to change - and you cannot change another’s behaviour only your own.

You’re now at an extra vulnerable time in your life with the health treatment you are having which will stretch you to your limits physically mentally ad emotionally . Step back and concentrate on yourself , leave them be you owe them nothing . Enjoy your own family and love them. You have broken the pattern it is enough . Keep going with your therapy to heal yourself and do whatever you have to do to stop their treatment of you. Don’t visit, block phone numbers etc.

On a personal level I removed myself from an abusive mother for my own sanity many years ago . I am nothing like her .

TwiceAsNice Mon 10-Jul-23 16:18:07

Sorry posted just too soon. Neither are you like yours!

welbeck Mon 10-Jul-23 16:34:52

are you in uk, or usa ?
are there other sources of help and support for your parents, social services, voluntary groups ?

Spring20 Tue 11-Jul-23 08:00:43

Fenchurch it sounds as though things have been really tough and still are. I’m sure you are right when you say your parents probably can’t change…that they are damaged by their own childhoods and carry deep shame/ self esteem issues that make it impossible for them to have the honest conversation you crave. They are likely terrified of it. But you say clearly you love your parents which shows a great magnanimity on your part, and depth of character. For me love doesn’t mean walking away, it means setting good boundaries. Eg Maybe you need to say you can’t see them while going through your treatment as you need to conserve your energy. You are not obliged to fix their tech problems etc… And you are absolutely right to have left/put the phone down if they become abusive, doing it calmly but decisively as you have suggested you do. But estranging your parents completely will not be the perfect solution you hope for, and will bring a different source of pain. You grieve the loving parents you never had. In my experience, others come into our lives who fill such gaps….perhaps a work colleague, a good friend of a different generation. Of course it’s not the same, but it can help fill the hole. Have pity on your parents….their life sounds miserable and they lack the skill/motivation/emotional intelligence to change anything. I don’t say this to excuse them. They are trapped in/addicted to unhealthy and abusive patterns of behaviour. And I do think often it’s a behavioural addiction, rather than pure malice. Which doesn’t make it easy to manage for you, but as I said before, I don’t believe love equates to walking away completely. Heal yourself, go gently, preserve energy for your treatment….and if you can, hold onto the compassion you have for what are clearly 2 very damaged people who happen to be your parents. Sending love.

Smileless2012 Tue 11-Jul-23 08:07:29

A lovely response Spring smile.

Sara1954 Tue 11-Jul-23 08:13:14

I don’t agree with Caramme either. You sound to me like you have spent a lifetime trying to have a reasonable relationship with your parents.
Speaking as someone who threw the towel in years ago, I admire your persistence.
But I also think the time comes when you need to accept that you’re fighting a lost cause, the relief and the sense of freedom which came from estranging my mother was enormous.
I honestly wish I’d done it years ago.

Coronation Tue 11-Jul-23 08:36:28

I'm not an expert but I think some people just blame or criticise others as its easier than looking inside at themselves. Also, it may have become a habit which can be hard to change.

People can change, but they have to want to change. Whilst I understand you wanting to help them, your motives are out of kindness, you can't force them.

Fenchurch Tue 11-Jul-23 08:40:48

Thank you all. I think I just needed it confirmed from you all that I can't do anything to change their behaviour and that if they hurt themselves through their actions that's also not my fault.

It's a weird mix of a relief and un-enpowering to realise you can't help someone or make them happy. Thank you for introducing me to "fog" - fear, obligation and guilt - wow that's bang on! I've been so guilty and afraid that I'm somehow the bad person in all this.

I'm going to try and concentrate on my life now. As I should have been. I'm so lucky to have a wonderful life outside this, and I'm going to try and connect with my wider family who have reached out and see if maybe that will help me feel less orphaned (for want of a better word). My therapist said she will support me with the grief and guilt. Thank you all.

Spring20 Tue 11-Jul-23 09:06:11

You are not a bad person Fenchurch and have no reason to feel guilty. I hope your therapist/friends/wider family succeed in helping you with that. Many however will tell you that to heal you need to estrange your parents. Please be cautious of this advice. A good therapist is capable of helping you develop the tools/resilience to manage the relationship in a low contact way if necessary. Stay true to yourself and the loving person you are. Wishing you happiness and good health to come.

Smileless2012 Tue 11-Jul-23 11:06:41

It will I'm sure be extremely beneficial if you are able to get support from your wider family Fenchurch.

As Spring has posted, you might not need to estrange your parents if you're able to develop tools and coping mechanisms. Low contact, especially at this time as you're undergoing treatment, is well worth considering and you may find going forward, that you'll be able to retain a relationship with your parents with reduced contact and be able to avoid total estrangement.

Grammaretto Tue 11-Jul-23 12:38:13

Are you anywhere near a Maggie's centre?
If so I would get yourself there for support. It sounds as though you are in urgent need.

Trying to remedy your parent relationship is futile imo.

Grammaretto Tue 11-Jul-23 12:42:03

AmberSpyglass Tue 11-Jul-23 13:00:51

Cut them off. They’re not going to change and it’s not fair, but don’t subject yourself to their abuse any longer

Luckygirl3 Tue 11-Jul-23 13:30:37

Your parents are simply who they are - they will have their faults and their failings like any other human beings - and like you and I.

The feeling that parents have fallen short is almost universal, but as we mature we recognise that they probably did their best within their own limitations; just as we do our best within ours.

It is clear that you find visits very hard, so perhaps best to limit them to short visits on a timetable that you can manage. If things get uncomfortable, then just go - have an appointment you need to get to, or a friend you are meeting.

You are seeking to change them - that is not possible, nor is it your responsibility. You have sorted your life out in spite of what you are telling us was a difficult beginning - so well done for that. So .... just live that life and enjoy it and leave your parents be.

I am not surprised they are resistant to your suggestions - I can imagine my answer if my DDs rolled up and told me I needed therapy!

If they told me about my inability to manage their/my own emotional world in a healthy way or they/I have the ability/privilege to face their/my weaknesses and learn and grow I suspect I might tell them to sally forth.

I've spent my whole life grieving the family I wanted - that is your choice. You could choose to recognise that life is far from perfect; and that there is no such thing as ideal parenting. My upbringing was far from idea - my parents were locked in a perpetual psychological battle - but just as you believe you understand why your parents are as they are, I too could understand the forces at work that created their behaviours. I have not spent my whole life grieving this - I have too much living to do!

How did your children help you see the parts of your parenting you need to change? What made you feel safe enough to apologise and make changes? These are extraordinary questions and certainly ones of no relevance to my life or anyone else I know - why would you want to do that? It is, in many ways neither your business nor your responsibility. And I fear I have to say it sounds very patronising.

I hear that life as a child was hard, but I think you need to let your parents be themselves. You speak as if you have had therapy for these problems and this should allow you to move on - I hope it will bring you to that point eventually. It seems a little way off at the moment. Maybe you need some practical advice form your therapist about handling parental visits.

Concentrate on living your life and leave them to live theirs or you will have wasted a lot of jolly time you could be having and will regret that when you are old.

Leave them be and get on with enjoying your life. Definitely don't go round and lecture them!!

Smileless2012 Tue 11-Jul-23 14:00:13

Such a great post Luckygirl.

Wyllow3 Tue 11-Jul-23 14:19:06



You may unintentionally be giving the wrong impression here, but to me you are coming across as judgemental, intolerant, unsympathetic, controlling and patronising. Perhaps it is not just your parents who need a change of attitude.

I dont agree! 🤔

Neither do I!

I think you have a lot of insight and are still vulnerable. Especially with treatment, if you can afford it, definitely some more counselling support.

people have made useful comments about how to separate yourself off

Hithere is right about Dr Ramani on U tube I'd go to U tube and put in Dr Ramani and "parents" to start with. She helped me understand my Ex,

There is a very understanding Estrangement thread on Gransnetters with some very experienced people who have had to tread your path.

Lurah Tue 11-Jul-23 14:35:13

For me is was my in laws who were dysfunctional but thought they were the perfect pious Catholics. When our children were little we had short Sunday visits after lunch and left before supper. As they wore me down with their disinterest in the grandchildren I tried to ignore it and thought the kids wouldn’t feel it. Ahh but they did. So as the kids got older they didn’t care to have a relationship with them. We did more with my family to fulfill the void. My MIL became an argumentative widow & I chose to take long breaks from her. When was explained to me that she was a passive controller, I finally found peace with myself. Perhaps just having a reason or why they are that way is enough, try to make this work for you.