Are You Estranged From Someone in Your Family?

Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Click here for part two

Are you estranged from a loved one in your family?  Someone who doesn’t want to see or even speak to you?  Or perhaps it’s a group of relatives who want nothing more to do with you.  There are myriad reasons for family estrangements—a messy divorce, an in-law problem, an interracial marriage, someone leaving a religion or joining another one, a family business that fails, conflict over an inheritance, an adult child’s announcement that s/he is gay, one sibling taking on the sole burden of caring for aging parents while another sibling does nothing, even the break up with a dear friend who was as close as family.

There is no hurt quite so painful as an estrangement from the people who are closest to you.  Often family members hurt one another because they don’t control themselves—a son who shouts hurtful words in anger, a parent who’s never there because s/he is a workaholic, a father who can’t express his love, a mother who can’t offer praise, a daughter who wants more than the family can afford and berates them for their lack of means.  Parents are often hurt by children who take their love and generosity for granted.  Parents hurt children by neglecting, abusing or shortchanging them.  Siblings hurt each other by disloyalty, rivalry or abuse.

And yet none of these need to be unforgivable hurts.

Almost everyone either has an unhappy family estrangement, or knows of someone who has one.  The problem is very pervasive—and more common than most people think.  Equally disturbing is the number of families who are left with the inexplicable loss of a loved one—who offers nothing more than the vaguest reasons for abandoning their families.  “Why are you doing this?” is a question they seem incapable of giving a satisfying answer to.

What circumstances are painful enough to promote subterranean emotions that ultimately lead to estrangement?  A son loves his father but grows to hate the Dad after the parents divorce and the father remarries, has another family and loses touch with his son.  A son loves the mother who nurtured him, but grows to hate her for not accepting his spouse.  A daughter loves the mother who gave her life, but hates her for being drunk most of the time.

A sister loves her brother, but then he marries, moves away and never contacts her again.  How could he do this to her, when they had always been close?  She hates him for abandoning her.  These situations, along with emotions of homosexual “coming out” issues and interracial or interfaith marriages, are all complex enough to create family estrangements.

Not to be in contact with your parents, or with your children, or with a brother or sister or other important person is a profound loss, because our families are so deeply related to our sense of who we are.  We feel heartsick about our families when they cannot acknowledge us, love us and support us.  If they don’t, who will?  No matter how far we travel in distance or success, no matter how old we are, our family belongs to us and we belong to them.

I will offer suggestions in how to begin to heal family estrangements in next week’s column.

Source: Family Estrangements by Barbara LeBey (Longstreet Press) 2001.

7 comments on “Are You Estranged From Someone in Your Family?

  1. My 2 daughters are 20 and 18, son 16. Our family was ripped apart when my ex husband used family services as a way to gain control of my kids. As a result, he was able to have enough money to hire who he needed to get custody. While I had morals on my side, finances were not present for anyone in my family, as much as they wanted to help. Seeing my kids became more & more stressful on them to the point that I could see it was better for them if I gave up my right & they could live in peace. Nothing pleased him or family services & was ever good enough & the bar was constantly being raised. That was when my oldest daughter was 13. I knew that someday, when they turned 18, there was a chance we might be reunited. I didn’t take into account the lies & poison that my ex would continue to feed them, turning them against me. My 20 yr old daughter won’t talk to me even when I apologized via note. I don’t want to give up & I cannot put them out of my mind. I feel helpless and that there are no options. I feel that since she’s 18, I should try to reach out to my 2nd daughter. Surely there are resources to help in situations like this?? Please give any suggestions, ideas, resources, or persons you might think that could help.
    Thank you very much!
    Shara Oxford My 2 daughters are 20 and 18, son 16. Our family was ripped apart when my ex husband used family services as a way to gain control of my kids. As a result, he was able to have enough money to hire who he needed to get custody. While I had morals on my side, finances were not present for anyone in my family, as much as they wanted to help. Seeing my kids became more & more stressful on them to the point that I could see it was better if I gave up my right. I Nothing please him or family services was ever good enough & t constantly being raised. That was when my oldest daughter was 13. I knew

  2. ..Father’s Day, What Father’s Day ? ……..
    How Parental Alienation Effects Father’s Today
    ……………..By Joseph Goldberg, 2012……
    I am spoofing the title of this article from a good
    friend of mine, Chaim Steinberger. He wrote a very
    insightful and brilliant journal article on Parental
    Alienation that he called, “ Father, What Father ? “
    I decided to write about this holiday because many
    father’s will be hurting when it arrives. They won’t
    be getting to see their child or receive a call or any
    cards or any other acknowledgement because their
    children are alienated and that means come Sunday
    they’ll be rejected for very unjustified reasons.

    For some dad’s who will be waiting to see their kid
    because a court order forces them to go, don’t be
    to surprised when they don’t show up. If they do
    only to tell you they don’t want to be with you, or
    worse come over only to say that they hate you,
    and don’t ever want to see you again, I am writing
    my article just for you.

    You know the old saying, “ Silence is deafening. “
    Well it’s deafening for a reason, and as another old
    saying goes, “ Everything happens for a reason. “
    Even though you may not be getting their affection
    on Sunday, it doesn’t mean your child isn’t at least
    thinking of you, and because they are alienated and
    unable to express to you that you’re not forgotten …
    and that they do love you, let me be the first one to
    remind you of that fact. Your kids do love you, and
    you’re not forgotten because Sunday, is also a very
    painful holiday reminder for them.

    It’s painful to them to be without you because every-
    where they go and see a father with his son or, with
    his daughter; laughing, hugging, or kissing, smiling
    at each other, going out to lunch together, to dinners
    or a movie, driving together, talking on a cell phone,
    texting, meeting up somewhere, it reminds them
    that it’s also not them being with you.

    Every time they turn on their TV that day, flip open
    their computer, listen to the radio, they will hear
    that it’s Father’s Day, and every time they pass by
    a store there will be an item for sale saying it’s
    Father’s Day, and they didn’t get you your present.
    They didn’t get to say, “ you’re my dad “ and then the
    words, `” I love you. “ They’ll try and block it out but
    how do you block out the sky, the ground below, how
    do you erase the touch on your skin or, what you feel
    deep in your bones ?

    Denial is a fixated condition for alienated
    children, so is breathing. Memories of love for
    father are never really erased they’re just
    buried below the surface and those memories
    will resurface on this Sunday, Father’s Day.

    Take comfort in the fact that your picture may
    not be in a frame next to their bed or on the wall
    in their mom’s house, but they are not deleted
    from their memory. It is also hard to ignore
    mother trying to pretend how much better off
    they are without you, while the look on her face
    also reminds them she can’t be the father they’re
    missing out on today.

    No matter what stepfather tries to take your
    place after you got replaced, displaced and
    erased, nothing is ever going to hold back their
    feelings of loss because they’re connected to
    their father when they see themselves in a
    mirror. Some likeness of you is something in
    their DNA that they can see in their own face.
    Not only are there painful memories there
    are probably more than a few good ones.

    Like the time you took them to a show, or
    watched them at a school performance,
    or played some game with them, played
    with your pet, took them to visit your
    parents, cooked a meal for them, these
    memories are also resurfacing around them.

    Imagine how it must feel for them to watch
    their friends getting together with their dads
    and how they have to explain or avoid talk-
    ing about you not being around on Father’s
    Day. Imagine their maternal grandfather try-
    ing to act as a substitute for the father they
    are missing in their lives and never saying,
    “ Why don’t you call your dad today ? “
    How is their behaviour going to be
    memorialized in the future.

    Father’s Day, is something I feel long after my
    own father has passed away. You don’t have
    to actually be around to be remembered and
    to be loved. I don’t need to feel bad about the
    father’s day I am not spending with him this
    Sunday, I will be thinking about all the good
    times with my dad and I know that your child-
    ren might want you to believe that they don’t
    love you back, but that’s just denial talking.

    You’re as much a part of their life as you
    have ever been ( even more so ) and not
    because of being present, but because
    of being absent. Believe it because we
    know from all the social science research
    that this is truly how alienated children
    are feeling.

    I feel my father is with me now even though
    he passed more than 15 years ago. I was
    alienated from him by a mother that
    extinguished him from my life, but not
    forever. We made up for all the lost time
    and years of alienation that was stolen from
    us both.

    In the Jewish religion when a loved parent
    dies we say prayers, Kaddish, and we light a
    candle in memory of the parent. Perhaps as
    a way to remember that you are still a
    parent you should light a candle and keep
    it burning all day, on Father’s Day.

    Say a prayer of love, memorialize your
    feelings of loss and perhaps to help be
    forgiving so anger does not take over
    the better part of judgment in your life.
    As a targeted, rejected parent remember the
    good parts of the person you are and remain
    and strive to lift yourself up, don’t let any-
    thing change that belief in your-self because
    sometimes all we have is ourselves to believe
    in, and in truth that’s the one person whose
    opinion counts the most.

    For more educational information please visit

  3. My parents have nothing to do with me since my divorce. I divorced my husband because of his infidelity, my parents became even more distant than they had ever been, never visiting or making contact and being curt when I rang them. We have now not spoken for 2 years, because I chose to be friends with my ex mother in law and they despise her. However, I have just heard that they have befriended my ex husband and his “tart” having them both to stay at their property in France. You have absolutely no idea how this hurts. My ex hated my parents constantly winging about how they never rang us, or never visited it was always us doing the running. When we lived in Germany and were able to get them tax free cars and caravans they were regular visitors. At least I can hold my head up high, I have made mistakes the biggest one was hoping my relationship with my parents would improve with him out of the way. They are loaded and that is all everyone sees, they say I am money minded and only want what they have, if that was the case I would be knocking on their door every weekend. I am the only honest person around them, they are oblivious to the fact that everyone else that they are talking to is after their money, I just hope Kama bites all these people on the backside and that I am still alive to see it .

  4. We had a kids and my family growing up four boys and four girls. My closest brother died in a fire a years ago. My mom raised us by herself. She is now 88. She always kept the family together but she can’t anymore. My sister and brother-in-law have taken my 11-year-old granddaughter that I raise for most of her life and have kept her from me for the last four months for no reason. They are evil people in my opinion. They have turned a lot of my family against me just so they can have control. I have taken it to court to get visitation. My granddaughter like my own daughter and we will be together again. I could never forgive them nor the family members that sided with them. When my mother passes away which I hope it is no time soon I will never see them again and as far as I’m concerned now I will never see them again. They are no longer my family.

  5. My 43yr old daughter has fought with her brother and now refuses to let grandkids contact me, I have no idea what the fight was over so why is she angry with me ?

  6. My brother and I have been estranged for decades. He just doesn’t relate to me. I’ve tried and I am not holding any grudges. Unfortunately he must have a long list against me at the top being I separated him from Mom by being born. He is older than me and in his 60s like me. I don’t see how I took anything away from him since my relationship with Mom was awful, all she did was yell and dismiss me. My thoughts are maybe I just remind him of a childhood he’d rather forget, but can’t bring himself to admit that. I gave up a long time ago. I have lost both my husband and my daughter recently. All I got was a card with his signature, period. I was surprised I even got that. I don’t miss him, he lives across the country so I never see him. When anyone asks if I have any siblings I just say I have a brother but we are estranged. The only thing I find sad is that I am apathetic toward anything family oriented. Don’t care what my children’s in-laws think or want, would rather spend time doing something else than visit extended family. It’s sad but I can’t imagine feeling any other way at this point. Won’t feel much should he pass before me either. I’ll send a card to his wife with my condolences at least though.

    • I’m in a similar situation like you, however as of yesterday, I just reunited with my brother after 17 years (and almost 10 years being the last time I spoke to him). I attempted to reach out to him for his 50th birthday last month (end of July), and he only contacted me yesterday. The first phone call he told me he wished me and my parents were dead. The 2nd phone call later yesterday evening was much more calmer than that- but it was an opportunity for him to air our his grievances about how he hates my mother, he loves my mother, he hates my mother, he’s been betrayed etc. I was severely affected mentally by our estrangement because we were once very close. I ended up finding out from him that he was holding a grudge with me from 17 years ago. Something I “stuck my nose in and I shouldn’t have”. Well there must’ve been a good reason for me to. The worst thing is – I can’t even give him a correct apology for it because neither HIM NOR I even remember what was said! How bad is THAT!?! He’s holding a grudge and doesn’t even remember WHY!?!? He admitted he has anger problems, and his mind is severely messed. My brother’s problem is, he cannot admit to his wrongdoings and blames everything on everyone else. He kept putting my parents down. He has so much hatred for them. For them ‘betraying him’. I made sure I put my foot down and said “Listen here. They are MY parents too, and I don’t appreciate you saying you “wish they were dead”. I can appreciate you need to vent, but from here on in, if you want to have a CIVIL relationship between you and I, you need to not make mention of ANYONE else because I don’t want to be involved since I never WAS involved” I also told him if he so much makes mention of my parents again, or his kids (who he’s also estranged from). I will cut him off for good. I have nothing to do with his issues. I just want to know that when all is said and done, and when both my parents are dead and gone, that I can have a remotely CIVIL relationship with my brother and this is why I reconnected with him. Life is too short. But I reconnected on MY TERMS. Not his. He needs help with anger management. I hope he eventually gets there.

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