Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reflections on Accepting Estrangement versus Understanding It

I read this quote recently and pondered, can there be recovery without understanding.

“Understanding is the first step to acceptance
and only with acceptance can there be recovery.”
― J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

As a parent that has been estranged, I constantly battle with the questions of how my children could have grown up to be the kind of adults that they are.

I thought I had taught them the values I have for communication, for resolving and working through issues.  

I thought I had shared with them my belief that it is important to be kind, to not ridicule others for their failings, to have empathy. 
I thought I had raised them to be compassionate and caring and forgiving people.

And I think I was successful.  

My son is a kind of person who reflects my values.  My younger daughter is reevaluating her concept of what family means.  And my other daughter treat others in her life with kindness and compassion.   So in that sense I did not fail to pass on my values.

I did not raise my children to be hard hearted people.
I did not teach them that shunning is an acceptable way to handle difficult relationships.
I did not teach them to be judgmental and critical and without compassion for the mistakes of others.

And yet this is exactly how my estranging daughter treats me.  Toward me she bears a grudge and her heart is hardened against me.   It is me she shuns and she truly believes she has chosen the best way to handle the situation.  It is me she is judging, and me she is critical of and it is my mistakes for which she finds no compassion. 

In the course of my healing journey, I may have come to the place of “accepting” that she is who she is.  I do not however accept that her actions are acceptable.  No matter how much I offer her the right to choose her actions, it does not make the choice of action (silent treatment) the correct action.  She has chosen this action as her preferred way of handling a disagreement.  She has chosen this way of treating me to try to coerce me into agreeing with her on an issue which I see quite differently.   I accept her right to choose, but I do not condone nor accept that she has made the right choice.  I see a very clear distinction between those two thoughts. I also doubt I will ever understand it; simply because it is in my nature to try to resolve issues not to run away from them.  I am also very patient in that I give time for people to work out their own feelings before working on conflict resolution. 

Another thing that I cannot understand is;  how she can live at peace with what she has done. Her actions destroyed not just our mother daughter relationship but the whole family. Also her actions are a complete contradiction to everything I believe in and everything I thought I had taught her.  That we communicate to work out differences, that we accept that it is not necessary to agree to get along etc.

I know I taught my children the golden rule “do onto others as you would have them do onto you”.  And I wonder is this how she wishes others to treat her?

I taught my children to speak kindly of others “if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all”.   And yet she says horrible things about me behind my back.

I know I taught my children that love is unconditional and means accepting a person as they are.  And yet she feels she has the right to tell me how I need to change before she will find me acceptable.  (I am under no delusion whatsoever, the silent treatment is a tactic used to coerce the victim of the shunning to conform.  The silent treatment says in effect "until you conform to what I want you will be punished".) 

I also know I taught my children that you stand by your friends when they are in need or in trouble.  And yet she feels that rejecting me when I needed her help was acceptable. 

By her actions toward me, and the subsequent destruction of the family, she shows that she feels the rules do not apply to her relationship with me.

She somehow feels it is acceptable to be judgmental of my failings, and she feels she has the right to be critical and to withhold her time, to shun me, to prove her point.  She feels that it is acceptable to break up a family to show her disapproval.  There is no compassion in her heart towards me.  She has no empathy for how I am feeling. There is no forgiving and no acceptance and no unconditional love  in her vocabulary about our relationship. 

These are not the values that I taught.  These actions make her a virtual stranger to me.

So while I accept what she has chosen to do and while I accept her right to make her own choices, I have no understanding of how she could have made those choices, or how she can possibly feel that she has chosen correctly and how she can in good conscience live with those choices.

And yet she does! 

  • She lives her life with her “new adopted family” and pretends we don’t exist. 
  • She smiles and laughs and lives and celebrates as if her actions have no consequences.
  • She turns a blind eye to the suffering she has caused to all the members of the family 
  • And worse, she doesn't see her actions as inappropriate or extreme.

She baffles me. 

And so yes, I accept the situation I find myself in as a consequence of what she has done, not because I want to, but because I must in order to heal.   I face the reality of what is.

Facing it, always facing it. 
That's the way to get through. 
Face it.
-- Joseph Conrad

However, I don’t think I will ever understand why she felt this was the right choice for her.  It is like my daughter has become a stranger that I no longer understand.  It is like she has taken on the values of the others that now influence her. 

So after much reflection and soul searching, I have come to the conclusion that it is possible to accept a situation even though there is no way to understand the choices made by another. 

When I choose to be very clear within myself about categorizing
wrong behaviour as wrong; when I instead focus on accepting a situation I have now power to change; I can find a way towards healing and recovery.

There are other questions that I sometimes ponder:
  • What other influences were in her life to teach her this type of behavior?
  • When and where was she exposed to this estrangement concept?
  • Who taught her this style of conflict resolution?
  • Where is this type of action against family found to be acceptable?

However as more and more time passes I realize; not only do I have no answers but that answers no longer really matter. The answers to those questions are her burdens to bear at some future time.  We all sooner or later come face to face with past choices that we made.  

I truly believe that is the nature of Karma, when at some future time we have to face the consequences of our past choices.  My beloved daughter will some day have to face the choice she made to destroy her family.  That will be a difficult time for her and I feel compassion for what she will have to experience in that moment of confrontation with her past.                           

Renate Dundys Marrello
updated 2016 - 11 - 04 

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  1. It was like those words came out of my own mouth. That's exactly what my daughter are doing to me. For over 5 years now. And it rips me apart.

  2. It's been four years for me and my daughter. This Christmas was the worst one yet. Renate, thank God I only have one, I can't imagine two treating me that. God bless you with these prayers I'm sending you.

  3. It's been well over 10 year for me and the third one has started. This is not a reflection on you, it's a reflection on them. We all have a choice and this is the choice they made. Their loss. And your kidding yourselves if you think all the other relationships in their life are hunky dory. They're not. Enjoy you life. Forget your kids. You raised them and did the best you good with what you had. I was an incredible mother but I was a single mother. But they are not in the right mindset to reconcile but forgive them and move on. Ther is a whole life out there. Plenty of parents had kids they didn't like. Pray for them and be done.

  4. What other influences were in their lives to teach them this type of behavior? The culture for one. For me it was ex-husband and MY family who alienated them against me. There's personality disorders of a selfish nature. But make no mistake you kids capitalized on this.
    When were they exposed to this estrangement concept? That is a personal question but you must make your kids responsible for their behavior. It is not ok or good parenting to allow yourself to be treated that way.
    Who taught them this style of conflict resolution? They aren't interested in conflict resolution and I don't think that's an appropriate concept here. I think that concept applies more to a workplace. The concept I think you're going for is reconciliation. Forgiveness only requires one but reconciliation requires two. And reconciliation requires both parties taking responsibility for their behavior. Not one person taking all the blame (unless that applies).
    What other influences were in their lives to teach them this type of behavior? School, tv who else is personal.
    Where is this type of action against family found to be acceptable? Because they are entitled, selfish and horrible people. Does not bode well for them.

    Let go

  5. I am so thankful that a friend recommended you Facebook page to me. I have been reading your posts for several weeks now and am encouraged through them. While I do not have understanding of the 'why' pertaining to the level of disdain aimed at me, I am coming to the point of letting go. It is not easy but since I was told 'we'll never be friends' when she was 18 and had moved out of the home with a classmate - those were the first tears I shed. This past Mother's Day was the last I will invite her and her daughters to lunch. Her daughters have adopted her attitude. Just the other day I got a very anger-filled email of her expressing what a rotten mother I was and every time we talk it turns into a pity party (news to me!). This has been extremely painful. I can only share the truth of the past when asked about it. But if that person has already formulated their view based on vague childhood memories (she has often stated she doesn't remember much of her childhood) there is nothing I can say that will get through that fog. The best, and most comforting to me, 'thing' I can do is pray for her. I MUST get on with the end of my days. I MUST not focus on the damaged relationship as it will affect every other relationship I have. A wise woman once told me 'what you focus on becomes BIG in you' ... I must choose well.

  6. Thank you for your comments; all of you. My husband and I moved from CA to RI, after retirement, thinking we could FINALLY enjoy our family to the fullest! We have one daughter and 4 grandsons in RI and another daughter and 2 granddaughters in TN.
    We moved to RI because we knew they needed financial help and we wanted to build a bond with our youngest, 13 yr old grandson. WHAT A MISTAKE! She found us this big expensive house, close to the beach. We spoke of fun times together. Four years later, we have spent a fortune but getting ANYONE to want to spend time with us is not possible.
    I have spent the last two weeks unable to function. I can't stop wailing about the loss of a daughter I love so much and 4 grandsons, none of whom care about us at all... except the money and college education we provide.
    We don't want pity, we want LOVE.