Parental Estrangement: One Of The Hardest Decisions You'll Ever Make

On some levels, it is unthinkable: turning away from the people who gave you life, raised you, and went through good and terrible times with you. But for many, it becomes a reality that the toxicity of the relationship between a grown child and a parent has reached a point when it is necessary to cut that bond entirely -- not from a place of hostility, but from a place of searching for peace.

Winter Blues Beckon As Daylight Hours Foreshorten
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It could be fueled by an abusive childhood, a difficult divorce, mental illness or substance abuse -- but often, the reason is that the grown child does not feel accepted by their parents for choices they have made. It is not always an easy dynamic to go from minor-child to adult-child and parent relationships, for one party or for both. Often boundaries are not clear, or decisions to stray from things the now-adult child was taught by the parent -- a religion, for example -- may cause extreme guilt and hostility. Other common reasons for ongoing contention in adult-child parent relationships may be constant criticism, or outright cruelty or favoritism of another child. It may include the disapproval of the child's occupation, spouse, or way the grandchildren are being raised, educated, or taught religion.

Sometimes it is because a child genuinely searches for a truth -- why a parent is distant and demeaning -- and the parent continually responds in anger. The same can happen in reverse. But for the majority of society, it is somewhat more acceptable to "divorce" your adult children -- you raised them, after all, and now they are doing something that greatly upsets you. You owe them nothing.

The adult child, however, receives much judgment from society, often viewed as selfish or cruel for "divorcing" the people who raised them, when doing so is difficult or too painful to publicly articulate. It's a silent burden than many adult children carry, and most don't take the decision lightly. It comes after years of unhealthy enmeshment, and an inability to find any peace when their parent's hurtful words or actions continue to reverberate in their minds.

Photo by Kevin Moloney
Photo by Kevin Moloney/Getty Images

It's very hard to find on-line support for adult children divorcing their parents; for parents divorcing their adult children, there is a plethora of support and information. Some psychologists believe it is not even possible to divorce your parents, no matter how horrible the situation. Many mental health workers urge adult children to forgive and reconcile even the most volatile of situations, citing that they believe that estrangement does not even help, according to Dr. Eleanor Mallarch Blomberg, according to Role Reboot.

"You can only be physically estranged from your parents; you can't feel psychologically free from them."
If this is true, does physical estrangement make the situation even more painful? The phenomenon is not well studied, though studies do show growing statistics in which adult children have divorced their parents. The reasons and results of such actions are not well-documented.

Dr. Gershenfeld says that there is a thought that divorcing your adult parents may cause them to "come back to haunt you" -- literally or physically -- in a way that may be seeking retribution for your decision to walk away from a relationship that no longer seems healthy, at best, and at worst, bitterly toxic.

"If you're estranged from your parents, the odds are your children will become estranged from you once they become adults. That's the model they're learning."
Many people in our society are agonizing over a decision to end a toxic relationship. Most people encourage the ending of toxic work situation, marriage, or friendship, but for ending an adult-child parent relationship, there seems to be very little information or support. Have you made this painful decision? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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