How does a family estrangement get started?
If you’ve been blogging for more than about, ooh, five minutes, chances are you’ve offended someone with your blog.
Me too, friends, me too.
Except in my case I have really, really offended someone with my blog. It’s pretty bad. So bad that I haven’t had any contact with a big chunk of my adopted family for three months.
If you’re wondering what the HELL happened, well, you’re not the only one.
As best as I can understand, I made a remark in a blog post that someone thought was about them. They thought I’d written something that basically eviscerated them in a public forum.
The blog post was supposed to be about families in general.
However, I’m massively self-involved so it included a few lines about me, and my feelings.
Specifically I shared my feelings of not measuring up to a family where everyone has their sh1t together. My feeling of being the only one without a husband, with a degenerate dog and a slightly weird job that defies definition. I said families are lovely and supportive but they’re also the people who keep it real and tell you when you make mistakes.
I thought it would be the sort of thing anyone with a family would relate to. My relative interpreted it as me calling their family out for being judgmental.
There’s no point me saying, “That’s not what I meant!” or “It wasn’t about you!” What matters is that someone was hurt, and I should have taken more care, and written my post in a way that wasn’t open to a hurtful interpretation. That’s entirely on me.
I apologised and said I was horrified and I changed the post. My relative said that they were furious that I could be so disrespectful to their family, especially considering they had always been nothing but kind to me.
And that was it. End of story.
The charity Stand Alone estimates that at any given time, one in five British families have someone who is estranged from another family member. Additionally, one in 10 mothers is said to be estranged from at least one of their adult children. I suspect the figures are even higher in the case of families where children are adopted.
I used to be good friends with a smart, funny woman, who was divorced, then remarried. Her new mother-in-law didn’t speak to her for years. This was a woman most sane people would be THRILLED to have in their family.
Family estrangements are common, I think. But they’re also tough.
I obviously can’t speak for anyone else in my family, but I know it’s been hard for me and Flea. She’s lost contact with most of her extended family in one fell swoop, for an issue that’s nothing to do with her. My parents (who are remaining resolutely neutral and ignoring the situation in the most British way you can imagine) have lost the joy of having all their grandchildren around them on special occasions. And I’ve lost a huge chunk of family, including my only surviving sibling.
While I hope and pray that the situation in my family gets resolved sooner rather than later, I have to accept that’s not my decision, and it’s not something that’s in my power to fix.
I have great friends and parents who are supportive (and know that I can be thoughtless, but rarely malicious). But it makes me think about how tough it must be when family estrangement lasts for years. It must be devastating to be estranged from your parents, or your children. So why don’t we talk about this more? There’s so little insight into why these family estrangements happen, and how they get resolved. Or, if they can’t be resolved, how do we put them into the proper perspective, and move forward?
For what it’s worth, I think I’ve learned three things through this process:
- Perhaps some people find it easier to cut off contact with someone rather than deal with a difficult confrontation. That’s especially true if they’re struggling with their own issues. They just might not have the mental or emotional capacity to deal with ANOTHER hard thing.
- What seems like a dramatic reaction to one small event probably isn’t. It’s more likely to be the result of an unhealthy dynamic that’s built up over time, perhaps with unspoken resentments. Rather than this split being about that one disagreement, it’s more likely been the final straw in a longstanding issue, or difference of opinion.
- You CAN apologise, you CAN try to make amends, but you CAN’T make someone want to be part of your life. What you should do is forgive yourself for making a mistake, learn from it, and use that knowledge to have better relationships with people who do want to be in your life.
Families are complicated things, because they’re made up of people, and people are weird. We all have triggers and soft spots and are inclined to react poorly to things that hurt us.
If you have apologised and tried to make amends, then it’s time to forgive yourself. You made a mistake, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be happy or have people in your life who will cherish you. And if you can manage it, try to forgive the other party. They might make mistakes too, and they’re probably doing their best to do the right thing, just as you are. Nobody wins if you let yourself be consumed by bitterness.
Be kind to yourself and try to keep an open heart. You never know when it might be possible to have a healthier, happier relationship with your family in the future.
Estranged from your family? These posts might help
If you’re dealing with family estrangement you might find these posts from other bloggers helpful: