I am an estrangement clinician primarily working with parents who are estranged from their adult
sons or daughters. My lived experience as an estranged parent is a far greater credential than
my degree in psychology and my training as a life coach combined. Like many of my clients, I
made some critical mistakes throughout my children’s childhood. Estrangement is now the price
I am paying for those mistakes. When I stopped berating myself, I grew to “make my mess my
message” (in the words of the co-host of Good Morning America, Robin Roberts) or turn my pain
into a purpose.

My clients’ ages range from approximately 20 to 90, literally, as I work with estranged parents,
grandparents, sons, and daughters. Ironically or sensibly, I have several clients who have
peaceful relationships with their adult sons and daughters, but they work with me to improve
those bonds. Although my observations are aimed at supporting estranged parents, they can
apply to any difficult relationship.


Estranged parents are not the only parents who are hurting.
Some estranged parents have limited contact with their adult sons and daughters as
estrangement is on a continuum from complete cut-off to intermittent communication to
abusive behavior as well as points in between directed at the parent. What I have seen in my
clinical practice is that parents who do not fit the estrangement spectrum also suffer from their
relationships with their adult offspring. The suffering is a result of several common occurrences

• A pattern of infrequent calls by the son/daughter to the parents.
• A pattern of calls to request money or some other form of assistance from parents.
• A pattern of calls made only when the time to talk is limited.
• A pattern of calls during which the parent receives rude or abusive behavior.

These behavioral patterns force non-estranged parents to walk on eggshells, weighing and
measuring every syllable that comes out of their mouths. Before, during, and after the call, the
parent’s mind will be trapped in a self-abusive cycle of thoughts:

• Maybe I should not have used the word _______.
• Maybe I should not have asked that question.
• I should have _______.
• I shouldn’t have _______.
• Did I make the situation worse?
• And the cycle repeats itself.

If non-estranged parents walk on eggshells, estranged parents walk on broken glass

Perhaps this prison of self-loathing will hijack the parent’s mind until the next conversation,
possibly weeks or months down the road, if there is a call at all. During a coaching session,
parents will recall their part of the conversation, often verbatim, in a desperate search for
validation from me that their words did not violate the “rules” established by Dr. Joshua Coleman
author of The Rules of Estrangement. When warranted, my validation brings about a tremendous
sense of relief. However, if I make any suggestions for improvement, a parent’s depression or
anxiety can often spiral. This is why many parents will make a list of topics they can discuss with
their son or daughter and a list of topics to avoid. Despite this necessary staging of conversations,
parents still feel a heightened sense of angst as if they are continually auditioning for their role
of parent and awaiting rejection.

If non-estranged parents walk on eggshells, estranged parents walk on broken glass. For both
groups, conversations can be painful to have and equally painful to not have. In the
estrangement support group that I run, parents often express their fear of losing their adult son
and/or daughter forever rendering them immobilized. However, there are strategies that
parents have at their disposal.

What Parents Can Do

1. Own their part of the relationship difficulty or estrangement and only their part, no
more and no less.
2. Realize that whether they are walking on glass or on eggshells, parents are not alone.
3. Understand that the perfection they are seeking in their part of the conversation is
neither realistic nor sustainable. Being mindful is one way to address this concern.
4. Seek support through coaching, counseling, and/or attending support groups.
5. Compliment yourself whenever you witness your own progress.
6. Accept that what you perceive as mistakes may actually be your humanness.
7. Make internal and external self-care a priority. Internal self-care can be journaling,
writing a letter, or meditating. External self-care might include walking, jogging, or
buying a new outfit.
8. Lastly, create a team that includes family, friends, healthcare providers, and faith. Give
your team your name: Team Lynn, Team Joe, etc. Your team is made up of people who
have consistently shown up for you in good times and in not-so-good.

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash


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