Family estrangement

Family estrangement is the loss of a previously existing family relationship, where emotional distancing is extensive; where there is little to no communication between individuals for a prolonged period.

Estrangement is one of the most painful of human experiences, primarily because there isn’t always the understanding behind why families, parents, or siblings are estranged.

In my experience, estrangement isn’t always based on physical detachment. Not everyone is in a position to physically leave. Mentally we may detach because of bad parenting, unsupportive behaviour, toxicity and abuse.

There are other reasons why family estrangement occurs: such as personality conflicts, difficult family dynamics, divorce and money issues. Having a child with special needs can sometimes be a contributing factor, but the impact can be lessened by parents bringing their children together so that everyone understands their unique set of circumstances.

From a parent’s point of view, it is difficult to know what’s best or how to deal with raising a child with a physical or mental disability without ignoring the other children, and yet however hard a parent tries, their attention will always turn to the child that struggles. It’s the nature of raising a child with a disability.

To avoid estrangement happening, it’s important parents make time for their children individually. Parents who prioritise spending equal time with their children will help to make their children feel loved and supported. It’s important for children to have continual inclusion and for each child’s needs to be met. Any issues and disagreements between siblings must be handled sensitively. A feeling of injustice, particularly within families, will lead to anger, resentment and estrangement.

It is also important that parents explain to their other children, in a language they will understand, why their sister or brother needs the extra help. When nothing is discussed and their parents’ attention turns to the child that needs the most help, it is inevitable their other children will struggle too.

As a general rule, children are usually happy to go with something once they’ve had it explained to them. I am sure any child would be happy to help their brother or sister, if it means they will get the help they need.


19 Nov, 2018

4 thoughts on “Family estrangement

  1. It is very sad and often so much more evident in estranged families, particularly around the holidays when families are supposed to gather together.

    I literally just had this conversation with a friend, who was venting about family expectations around the ‘Thanksgiving’ dinner.

    She talked about how much she wished she could just have a normal holiday with family and friends, which doesn’t happen when you’re dealing with mental health issues such as Bipolar.

    There are usually a lot of hard feelings associated with past events and people holding on to resentments, even when you’re trying to get better. There isn’t a lot of compassion for what we deal with, usually family being more judgemental, which is the last thing we need.

    My family has become estranged due to these factors, which is sad considering how close my siblings and I were at one time. We survived together, but over time have gone our separate ways, and I don’t know if those rifts can ever be overcome, due to the hard feelings that have come from the way things turned out.

    Once my father passed away last year, it seemed to end any reason for us to gather together. They have become what I like to call ‘familiar strangers.

    A lot of time has passed and while I was busy dealing with my own issues, they have also had their own issues to deal with, like my oldest sister having a hereditary illness that will shorten her life dramatically, and my other sister being in the midst of her addiction issues.

    I wish things could be different, but that will take a lot of work and time. The only way I can do any of that work is to finally live my own life and pray that the rest will fall into place.

  2. Thanks Randy. Yes, nothing is set in stone. Things can change, but attitudes must change. Families must want to change their attitudes.

    Parents tend to be the glue. They usually keep the family together for as long as they’re around. Sadly, as soon as they are no longer around siblings will go their separate ways.

    Siblings aren’t responsible for how their other siblings’ lives turn out, in the same way siblings aren’t responsible for their parents. A parent must be responsible for themselves and for their children.

    But as you say Randy, carrying hard feelings and how things turn out is very much the reason why families are split.

  3. Families don’t have to behave like this, it’s not set in stone, but I have yet to meet a family who gets it right.

    I agree with you when you say what’s important is recognising the need to try and get it right. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, someone else makes it impossible for you and maybe that’s when it’s time to reassess.

    This is especially true, when parents are no longer around and siblings are left to work out their relationship together outside the parental context.

    There is no room for a judgmental attitude, but that is what often causes a rift.

  4. Yes, that’s right. The parents are the glue. It’s a shame some parents fail to see or understand that the rift between siblings are down to them.

    But as you say nothing is set in stone. As families split they can also come together. Family members just have to want to. That’s where the problems lie.

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