Friday, January 16, 2015

Reclaiming Life After Being Estranged - A Healing Story Part 3

Over and over again I hear that "change is possible".  There are so many messages out there about this.  The challenge really is in believing that change is possible. 

When I first started recovering from the shock and trauma of being estranged by my Adult Child, (versus living in the shock and trauma) I had to remember that I was somebody before I became a mother and now I just have to rediscover who that somebody was.  I had to give up fighting the old and embrace the new.  

JUST!   Makes it Sound simple enough right?   But the journey toward that goal was (and sometimes even continues to be) so wrapped up in my perception of myself as mother that it was incredibly hard to disentangle all the bits of my life that predate motherhood.  

I kept coming up against these questions:

“Who am I when I am not a mother?”
"Who am I when I am not focused on trying to do everything in my power to make my children happy?" 
"Who was I before?"
And "Does that person still exist somewhere hidden deep inside?"

And one of the things that I came face to face with was that my need to make others happy was tied to my need to be appreciated.  It was something I felt as a teen, you know that feeling of needing to fit in, to be accepted.  It was like I transmuted that need into “pleasing my family and making others happy was a fundamental extension of that old me. Something that I never resolved in all the "business" of parenting.  Something that has come back to haunt me.

When I was confronted with no longer being able to please my adult child, I lost way more than just a relationship with her; I also lost a relationship with myself.  For if my need to be appreciated can’t come from making her happy how will I fill that void?  How will I find acceptance?  How will I fit in?

Therefore, the first change I had to address was my need for validation / appreciation.  The questions I was left facing were “why do I need outside validation? And why have I never learnt how to validate myself?"

That led me into a whole bunch of research into building self-esteem and self-worth.  My challenge was to change the way I spoke to myself and the way I treated myself. I had to change my reasons for doing things for others from

“If I do good things for them, they I will feel and show their appreciation to me”


“If I do good things I will appreciate myself for doing good things, and being a good person.”

I learnt that as long as I felt the former I was giving control to others.  They could withhold their appreciation or validation and thus destroy and devalue me, leaving me devastated and empty.

When I learnt to appreciate myself for my good qualities, even when others do not appreciate those actions I retain my value because my self-worth now is linked with my own appreciation for the good things that I do.

This was one of the first fundamental changes that I made in my thinking and it was a pivotal part of my healing journey. 

This change in attitude allowed me to say:   I did a good job as a parent and just because my estranging adult child does not appreciate nor recognize it, does not mean that it is untrue.  I am still a good parent.  I did good things as a parent.  I am a good person. Whether I am recognized by others for this quality or not, does not change the truth of the fact.  Empowering thoughts!

These are new and healthier thinking habits.  I now realize that I have fundamentally changed in quite a profound way. This is good!

Along with a change in fundamental thinking habits I have had to re-examine what I invest my time into.

Parenting takes up so much of our time over so many years.  Many of our interests and hobbies were sublimated to make room for parenting.  And then there naturally was the anticipation that at some point in time there would be grandchildren to devote time to.  So when this future is taken away we are left with these enormous chunks of time that now stand empty of purpose.

That is a huge gap to fill. And when the empty time gets filled with backward reflections inevitably we get stuck in the past. Or sometimes we get stuck in the unprofitable place of "what could have been".  Neither of these is a healthy place to live for it robs us of enthusiasm for today and the joyful anticipation of tomorrow that we fundamentally deserve.

One day I found myself reflecting upon this notion and thought back to being a child myself, and then a teenager and young adult.  I never lacked for creative ideas of things to do.  My days were chock full of my many and varied interests.

I determined that it was time to get back to that frame of mind.  Here was my opportunity to make a major change; to re-embrace that vitality and enthusiastic outlook on life.  This was the second challenge I embraced in my path toward change.

My goal became to bring a childlike quality into my days.  I decided to start looking for things that I could take pleasure in.  For example, I took up sky watching and learnt about the lunar cycle.  I started doing research into any topic that caught my fancy.  I started to participate in various challenges (example “rewild your life”).  I tried to learn how to play again!  Actually I worked very hard at learning how to play again!

It sometimes felt foreign, like I was trying to be something I wasn't.  
But gradually I got into the spirit of things.  

Now when I feel foolish (like the time I climbed on the wall and walked along the stones) I recognize that I don’t so much "feel foolish" as much as I fear that others will look at me like I am foolish. 

And slowly I have accepted that I have to let go of my fear of what others think, because they are going to think something anyways, regardless of what I do!  So they might as well make fun of me for having fun over any of the other things they could find fault with!  I slowly am regaining my "spark of madness".

A third fundamental change that I made was in my changing awareness of what is important.  I decided that this moment, the now, this minute in my journey is more important than the goal or the destination. I had to come to terms with and accept that too much of my life was spent in “doing something now for some future benefit”.

Even parenting had this kind of “goal” attached to it.  If I am a good parent then my children will be happy and then we will have a good relationship and we will have good times in the future when they are happy in their lives.  

Sure there were many times that I was invested in the “moment” of parenting.  And just like many other parents, I too can look back on those special cherished moments.  However, always the goal was there that the purpose of the good parenting was to develop good character in my children, to mold them into nice people.  And always there was this “special goal” that someday the process would lead me to being a grandparent and to live vicariously through the wonder of a grandchild.  So when that goal / reward was taken from me I felt an extreme loss.  I did not place enough value in the moment and placed too much emphasis on the "expected outcome".  When that expected outcome was taken away it somehow diminished the purpose of the journey.

So now bereft of that much anticipated future, where do I go now? First I had to make peace with the fact that the journey was the journey!  The outcome does not have the value that I attached to it.  Only the journey mattered.  And I traveled that road, that part of my life as well as I was able under the circumstances and with the knowledge that I had.

Now however, out of necessity I have had to reevaluate and my intentions have had to change. 

My goal now is to live out the days that I have remaining in conscientious appreciation of the "specialness" of NOW.  I strive each day to appreciate each moment as a unique part of the journey of life.

This instant, right now, is all that I have and this is the only moment that is important. Not what happened last week, last month, last year, not next week, next month, some time in the future.  ONLY NOW.

Now don't get me wrong, we still need goals and intentions. We need to wake up in the morning with plans that excite us and motivate us.   However in the process of working towards those goals we must never lose sight of the fact that our lives happen in the minutia of what happens in the now. We need to remember that each little step along the way has significance above and beyond how the future may or may not unfold.

I have embraced mindfulness practices.  Meditation and  focused thought are now part of my routine.


I have started a daily gratitude journal. I open my eyes more often to what blessings I have.  I see and I notice things that I used to take for granted. 

I realize that this is an ongoing project that will evolve and change over time.   But I am in motion towards feeling better and better by living here and now.

As always I want to remind you my dear reader that this is not a “quick fix”.  It does not magically “take away the sorrow and grief”.   However, it does allow me to live, at peace with the knowledge that I am moving forward in healing. And that, in my humble opinion, is so much healthier for me than when I was living in the past with constant repetition through my mind of the unchanging regrets and recriminations.

Renate Dundys Marrello 


  1. Everything you say in all 3 is everything I am feeling..I want so badly to move on..Somedays are better than others..Want all good days! Its been 3 years since I saw my youngest son and 8 months for my oldest and granddaughter. .I was a young mom at 16..Their father and i married for 31 years..We divorced last month seperated 4 years. .I did what was right for my kids at that age..I was a good mom they both are successful adults. .Their father was a narcissist and they have learned well from him..I never felt appreciated was always told I was crazy..I dont know anything but my boys hard to figure out what I should be doing..I have a love for animals and that is my passion people Thank you! I need to read everyday. .

  2. Everything you say in all 3 is everything I have been feeling too! Incredibly. As you say: "why have I never learnt how to validate myself?" "I also lost a relationship with myself. " That's it, in a nutshell. Here's more that you wrote, and gracias, mi amiga:

    "When I was confronted with no longer being able to please my adult child, I lost way more than just a relationship with her; I also lost a relationship with myself. For if my need to be appreciated can’t come from making her happy how will I fill that void? How will I find acceptance? How will I fit in?

    Therefore, the first change I had to address was my need for validation / appreciation. The questions I was left facing were “why do I need outside validation? And why have I never learnt how to validate myself?" "

  3. This sounds like my life, thank you for being bold enough to speak !