Growing up is not the same for every person. While we like to hope that everyone on this planet grows up in a healthy and loving household, it’s not always the case. Growing up in an unhealthy environment can cause you to become estranged with family as an adult. But as a parent, being estranged with family is one of the most difficult things to go through.
Making the call to be a parentless parent
Choosing to be a parentless parent is an extremely tough decision to make. Nobody wants to be the one to say that they’re estranged with family or that their child’s grandparents are no longer a part of their life. Something as simple as being in a social setting can be extremely uncomfortable when it comes to light that you’re estranged with family. Having to explain over and over again why you’re no longer in contact with your parents can be exhausting, especially if it makes you uncomfortable to talk about it. So why is this a path that parents choose?
There are many signs of having a toxic relationship with your parents. Some of these signs may be obvious to health care providers and outsiders, but when you’re inside of the relationship it’s hard to see the true signs. Becoming aware and accepting that your parents could be toxic is the first step to navigating the relationship.
One of the most common signs of toxic parents is narcissism. They put their needs above the needs of their child and often times make the child feel guilty for wanting anything for themselves. They can become angry over small things, use emotional blackmail, have absolutely no boundaries on what is said or done, and in some cases express very competitive behaviors against or towards their child. All of these traits are extremely unhealthy and can become reasons to be estranged with family as an adult. If you make the decision to walk away from the unhealthy relationships in your life, know that it’s okay and you are not alone.
Households, where parental neglect is prevalent, are actually extremely common. Simultaneously there are households where neglect is not the main issue, but one or both parents have narcissistic tendencies. Regardless of the severity, it’s important to see the signs, be aware of the level of severity, and ultimately, decide for yourself whether or not you’ll make the choice to become estranged with family.
It wasn’t easy but you made the choice to walk away from an unhealthy relationship with your family, but how do you navigate the separation? How do you make the break to become estranged with family?
You’re going to need closure, otherwise, the pain of being estranged from family may feel a lot worse. Not having closure can make things much more difficult and harder to stick to the decision you’ve made. But closure isn’t always possible, and it doesn’t mean that you have to make your parent understand and agree with what you’re doing.
The Conversation says “Closure is achieved when we are satisfied that the puzzle has been assembled to our satisfaction, that the answers have been reached and it is, therefore, possible to move on.” This means you are in complete control over the closure. Some ways to help you feel satisfied in your decision could be writing all of the reasons why you’re deciding to walk away from the unhealthy relationship, or even writing a letter to your parents explaining why you’re choosing to walk away. Whether or not you give them the letter, you’ll have the closure or peace of mind you’ll need going forward in life.
Read More: Letting go of toxic siblings
What about the good moments?
Just because you’re estranged with family does not mean that you won’t have fond memories of them. You’ll likely still have the happy moments of the days when your mother or father would laugh and play with you. There may be times where you’re at a family event and instead of enjoying the time spent with them, you push other family members away in fear of ruining your relationship with them. This is completely normal and it’s important to resist pushing these good thoughts out.
The good parts of the relationship you had with them should remain that way – good. When these good feelings and memories of your parents pop up, you have to remember that you can relive the memory without letting the guilt of your separation takeover. Allowing yourself to appreciate and remember the good moments gives you power on how you view them. Remind yourself of why you’ve chosen to be estranged from family and assure yourself that you’re making the right call.
As a parent, things can feel different. Everyone wants their children to have a warm, loving, and healthy relationship with their grandparents. Even for children who grew up with toxic parents, you want your parents to step up to the plate and give your children the love and affection they deserve – the love and affection that they never gave you. Your hopes are well placed, but they may not end up being the reality.
Medium tells us, “When children are raised with nothing but criticism, judgment, emotional abuse, manipulation, betrayal and loathing, it’s only a matter of time before they take over from their parents, internalizing these practices and using them against themselves.”
As a parent, it is our job to ensure that our children are raised in a healthy household and have healthy habits. This includes having healthy relationships outside of their own home. Being estranged with family could possibly be the best thing you do to protect your children’s mental health and show them what a healthy relationship is.
If you’ve made the decision to walk away from the toxic relationship you have with your parents, having your own children will mean moments filled with noticeable stings. When you take your child to the doctor and the doctor asks you if your family has any hereditary medical conditions, it’s normal to feel a pang of sadness that you can’t call your parents to ask them. When your child screams and cries and you just need a break, it’ll be hard not to be able to drive over to their house for some help. Choosing to be estranged with family as a parent means that you’ll be sacrificing a lot of support that you need as a parent.
Holidays are harder too
Possibly one of the hardest parts of being estranged with family is celebrating holidays. Holidays are often spent with your loved ones, including the family you grew up with. Whether you’re celebrating your child’s first birthday or spending Christmas snuggled by the fire, the absence of your parents will likely be there, especially in the beginning.
It may make the holidays feel a little more lonely, but there are some ways to help with the holiday heartache. Picking a few traditions that meant a lot to you growing up will give you the power to pass down the positive parts that were important in your childhood. If you didn’t have many fond memories or traditions, then create a list of the things you always wanted as a kid, and ensure that you instill those moments into your own child’s life. Watching your children’s faces light up during those moments will make you feel less lonely.
Support for Parentless Parents
Although you’re sacrificing the support you hoped your parents would provide and possibly the learned idealism of grandparents/grandchild relationship, there are several ways to find the support you need. Here are some ways that you can feel supported when you’re estranged with family:
- The first is to find the support within yourself and your spouse. Make sure to communicate with your significant other on the reasons you’re estranged from family and the ways that they can help you heal. There will be times when your parents come out in you, especially when your little one is testing your patience. Having your spouse there to reassure you that you’re a good parent and talk you through each aspect of how you’re feeling will help immensely.
- Playgroups are essential. Finding other parents that you can rely on can help in an abundance of ways. Having other parents who are struggling with aspects of raising their children can help you feel less alone. Parents in playgroups can also help you when you simply need a break from your little one and cannot call the parents you want to rely on. When you’re struggling with being estranged from family, having those people around you to support you in what you’re doing is essential.
- Child care providers and teachers are also great support systems that you can rely on. These role models in your child’s life are there to help shape them into healthy adults. There will even be some times when you feel like your child’s teacher knows them better than you, and that should feel wonderful. Knowing that they are there to support your child is something that a parentless parent needs more than anything – someone who cares about your child as much as you do.
- Give your child lots of affection. If affection and attention is the thing that was neglected the most in your childhood, make sure that it is one of the things your child has the most of. Whether you’re giving your child endless snuggles or you’re listening to them tell the same story for the eighth time in a row, that affection will show them how loved they are. In turn, it’ll prove as a reminder to you of the love and support a child needs in life.
- Words of affirmation. You’ll need yourself more than ever when you’re estranged with family. This is ultimately the decision that you have made for both you and your family, so words of affirmation are things you should give yourself often. Sit down and write out some things that you can say when you’re in need of support or when you’re feeling sad about not having your parents in your life. Some examples are: “I am doing what’s best to keep my family safe and healthy”, “I will carry the good moments with me and ensure my child experiences good memories as well” and, “I am loved and supported as an individual and as a parent”.
Read More: 8 Healthy habits of a sound mind
Choosing to be a parentless parent is an extremely hard decision to make and it holds a lot of emotional weight. When you’re considering walking away from the toxic relationship, make sure to evaluate the relationship you have with your parents before taking the huge plunge. List out the reasons why you think the relationship is toxic and come to your own decision on whether or not to walk away. If you do make the decision, remember to reach out to the support systems that will be in place, and remember that you are not alone.
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