Changing the Paradigm
There is an ever-increasing number of resources on the subject of parental and grandparental estrangement. Several years ago, when I was in the depths of despair, I could find very little on the subject. Now there are scattered support groups, webinars, periodicals and books that have sprung up.
What’s going on? How is it possible that so many grandparents are experiencing estrangement? Many of them have been bullied by their daughters and sons-in-law, as well as by their own adult children. This is incomprehensible. It’s no wonder that these grandparents are feeling lost and heartbroken.
Many of the books, articles and blogs that I’ve read are distributing well-intentioned advice on how to deal with estrangement. It goes without saying that one size does not fit all. On every list of ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ for those who are estranged, is the recommendation that the parents or grandparents should, as one writer wrote, ‘apologize, apologize, apologize.’ And, if that doesn’t work, apologize some more. This might be good advice, but it doesn’t always work. In some cases, apologizing backfires, with the unfortunate result of inadvertently giving credence to the adult child’s false accusations. By apologizing for crimes not committed, we enable their pathology.
It’s humiliating to ‘apologize, apologize, apologize.’ Enough is enough. Self help lists are fine, but for some, they don’t get to the heart of the problem. For example, I did my best to accommodate my son and his wife’s unreasonable demands only to be met with rejection and denigration. If you’re dealing with people who aren’t willing to cooperate and open their hearts to you, well, then you’ve got bupkis.
The deeper problem is not that our grown child has initiated estrangement, but that we refuse to accept it. This kind of situation does not fit our paradigm of spending our golden years in the bosom of our family, with adoring grandchildren sitting on our laps while we take turns blowing soap bubbles. Sadly, it doesn’t even come close.
The thing is, anything can happen in life. Our kids are human – crazy and flawed, just like we are. They don’t know what they’re doing, where they’re going or how to get there, anymore than we do. We have little control over our own lives and absolutely no control over theirs.
We may never have the satisfaction of understanding our kids’ decisions and the estrangements we have had to endure. When we have done everything we can to communicate with them and have taken full responsibility for our own behavior, we must then release it all, turn inward and find that vast and holy place within us that will give us peace. We must change our paradigm from wanting to be an involved grandparent to learning to be happy without our loved ones, as counterintuitive as that is. We must learn to let ourselves feel joy, just because we are alive, walking on this earth, experiencing the unbelievable wonder of it. We must let our adult children go, liberating them and ourselves, while surrendering to this arduous, terrifying and glorious life journey. We must learn from our heartbreak and free ourselves from all this suffering or we will waste our precious lives at the hands of our adult children. And that would be a tragedy.