Updated: Dec 15, 2022
An opinion piece highlights the constraints and stigmas surrounding parental estrangement and why it is far worse when parents sever ties with their children.
Helen is an adult woman faced with the near impossible task of severing the ties with her 31 year old, adult son.
Details you should know:
1. Her son is a constantly relapsing heroin addict with a history of property damage and theft. 2. Her worth as a person (combined with her capitol worth) is dramatically depreciated through the behaviours and actions of another fully grown human being.
3.There is a younger child involved (the daughter of her son). She is the primary caregiver of her granddaughter and remains an active parent while her genetic offspring is incapable of doing so due to incarceration. This legislatively cements any remaining familial ties with a person from whom she has already been directly abused by in more ways than one. Then there is Jack: Jack is an adult male and was informed by his 14 year old daughter, following an argument, that she “hated the weekends” she had to spend with him. So he decided to suggest cease visitation with her. Details you should know: 1. He is a divorced father of 4. 2.The 14 year old was 1 when the family separated and she has been predominantly raised by her step-father whom she showed preference to. 3. He insisted at the time that his daughter would be welcomed back if she chose in the future.
4. Jack was lying. Jack goes on to express a lack of desire to reconnect with his daughter regardless of her willingness to reconnect at any point. He talks about the “drama” she would bring with her, a disinterest in the time required to build a relationship with her, and that her continued absence feels like a death to him, and that he has moved on.
These details gleaned from a BBC article in December 2022 are a stark contrast to the dominant commentary surrounding parent-adult child relationships where the general consensus is that blood might be thicker than water, but it still leaves specifically the child thirsty, and they should not be forced to drink something toxic for the rest of their life- if they don’t want to. The impact of child-trauma on developing adults consolidating pre-formative experiences is coming to the forefront at an alarming rate. One of the most essential elements to note here is that shared experience is valuable and educational; we are seeing long hidden impactors on adult mental illness and it is becoming apparent that we must learn how to mitigate those issues. But what this BBC Article also reveals is that parents in the developed world are struggling with the insurmountable guilt caused by parenting with the misguided societal notion that the words and acts of parents is God. When a parent decides to estrange themselves from child, they are subjected to similar arguments of “but they are your family”, “they didn’t ask you to be their parent, but you chose to have sex and have a child”, And as is most pertinent today: What about Christmas?! As time goes on it is becoming more and more apparent to parents that their omnipotent trancendence in a child’s life is not only a falsehood, but also a dangerous ingredient for the poor mental-health and wellbeing of both parent and offspring. The article features a study that demonstrates the average age of estrangement and insists on the demonstrative level of culpability and responsibility to the offspring; full estrangement is, at least legislatively, the responsibility of the child to initiate either through disclosure to an adult or formal request. When you look at the study, it is clear that a large amount of estrangements take place in the pre-formative years of adulthood increasing until what we understand to be the beginnings of true adulthood (25 to 30 years old) where the peak of estrangement occurs and then there is a rapid decline in estrangement over the next decade into seniority. The article suggests that these outcomes might be more challenging for parents than for children. When we draw comparisons between child and adult experiences of estrangement, we are talking about similar emotions and similar outcomes however it could be suggested that while we have wrongly emboldened parents to perceive themselves as “Gods” in their children’s lives, we have also wrongly enfranchised children to the level of CEO in theirs long before they have demonstrated or gained the experience requires to manage the role automatically putting children on the backfoot.
We already know that children without primary care-givers have less financial stability, less access to the type of relationships that would enable upward social-motility, and less cognitive stability or acquired autonomy to make truly informed choices on matters deemed ‘adult’ including sexual exploits or risk-taking behaviours. Hell, it even confuses most well-adjusted adults. We also know that parental emotional neglect and abandonment increases relationship instability and self-esteem overall in adulthood. And yet it seems that a large quantity of parents are checking-out before their child has the opportunity to even acquire that knowledge and understanding...then proceeding to blame the child.
This article highlights that parents feel the financial, emotional and physical responsibility of parenting, however, as Jack heavily relies upon, children have power to release them of this. So perhaps it goes in hand that children, themselves, also bear the burden of the same decisions. Some would argue that children have a far more detrimental difficulty, with less social standing to execute their choices effectively. It stands to reason that someone should teach them: Parents. And they must acquire a greater understanding of their rapidly changing roles in a child’s life beyond the belief or insistance that they are God rather than simply discarding their children as a lost cause. Regardless of ‘who hurts most’, if we are willing to uphold these polarised values of responsibility in childhood, they will continue to trickle down into the ongoing adult relationships within and out with families. Some may survive and some may even thrive but it is becoming clearer that these particular attitudes towards responsibility for the parent-child relationship is throwing all relationships into turmoil marked by resentment, harsh judgement, and misunderstanding, limiting access to support systems, and perpetuating that same dangerous stigma: Family is bond…and woe betide all who deny this. No parent is god, and no child is either. The contrast to this is Helen. Helen is forced to sustain and maintain a connection with an abuser that just so happens to be her adult offspring. Despite the clear need for her to be separate from this individual as a matter of safety, her impact as active participant in the life of her child and her familial outcomes are limited through the combined stigma and the involvement of a different child. Her role as defacto-parent to her son is being enforced by the will of a consenting adult who will cause her harm. Legislatively, she will have to jump through more hoops in order to preserve an adequate quality of life for herself. On this, the article is bringing to light a clear need; Helens experience is extreme, it is not spoken of enought, and it is exceptionally real. And should not be ignored. Services supporting adult parents must be implemented to combat that stigma with Helen being the main focus.
But the stigma towards parents and their responsibility for it should not be removed entirely: The article suggests that ‘who-did-what’ to sever the familial ties can often be "murky". And I don’t deny that this is sometimes the case. However it uses Jack as an example which is poorly misguided.
It takes time to fully grasp that a parent is a person first, that is the “murk” that families have to explore as they age. A childhood development professional especially would hazard that these two specific situations are clear cut and dried: In the case of Helen, we can see that her constant tussle with the emotional and societal implications of parenthood are intrinsically linked to the enjoyment of a child. While expressing her desire to see the Christmas lights with her grandchild, she likens it to memories shared with her son when he was a younger, less destructive offspring. Though she is tinged with guilt and sorrow borne through loss, she at least is capable of making those emotional connections as a person. The stigmas are not for Helen but she has been forced to internalise them which reinforces a cycle of reunification and estrangement that is counterintuitive to her overall wellbeing. It also endangers the development and wellbeing of an actual child, present- though the impact of drug usage on the development of said child is too vast to explore here. She demonstrates her instinctive capacity to parent effectively every day not because of her treatment of her own offspring but the treatment of his offspring. Helen is not a bad parent. Helen, though often miserable, it a good person for doing so. Jack, on the other hand, has been given an out with the alleged ‘murky’ experience excuse. Baring in mind the general understanding that men have difficulty expressing emotions, Jack reports something that can only be likened to jealousy and an internal feeling of inferiority as a parent to his younger daughter in comparison to another man. Though he initially upheld that this was for his daughters own good and along with her wishes, he reveals that really he has no interest in parenting her at all. And he did this while wrongly insisting that the ball was firmly in her court being ignorant too or ignoring the statutory limitations on the realms of a child under the age of 18, and denying clearly established cognitive limitations she has until she turns 25. Jack thought he was God, and when he realised there was an alternative idol, he fully excommunicated his child even going so far as to essentially murder her: He, himself, perceives her as “dead”. Jack deserves the stigma; He took a near impossible decision for a parent to make and gave it to a teenage girl with limited power of influence, and a higher level of risk in her outcomes. Not unlike a God.
The fact that Helen and Jack are parents is where the comparison ends in their sense of victimhood. Jack was a bad parent to his daughter; and he continues to be a pretty rubbish person.