parent opinion

'Nine years ago, my daughter decided she didn't want to speak to me ever again.'

When my then 18-year-old daughter unfriended me on Facebook and blocked me from her phone, I was shocked and hurt but not overly alarmed. I didn’t panic because I thought this was an episode of teenage individuation that would blow over.

I was wrong.

She is now 27 and I have only seen her twice in that span of time, and both times she pretended I wasn’t there.

The first time was after about a year of estrangement. It was at her sister’s wedding, and I decided beforehand that this day was about her sister, not about me, so I let it go, even though it hurt excruciatingly.

Side note: Horoscopes on Zoom calls. Post continues below.

Video by Mamamia

The second time was just a few months ago, and while I ached to connect with her, there was not the sharp pain of grief that had occurred years before.

I have done a lot of work in the ensuing years and I have gained strength, wisdom and inner peace that I did not know I had the capacity to develop.

I know there are so many parents on the same path as me. Through the responses to my stories, I have found that many of us feel isolated in our experience. We are always relieved when we look up and realise, “Oh, hey, you know where I’m coming from. You understand.”

Yes, I do.

No matter where you are on the timeline of estrangement from your beloved child, I know that you have experienced pain, confusion and self-recrimination. But I also know, from experience, that you can find healing, peace and joy if you will allow yourself to go through the process of letting go.

It is important to focus on your own growth and healing, whether or not your child ever returns. If they do, at that time you will be able to focus on their experience, not yours, and this is important to the reconciliation process.

Here are six lessons that I have learned from this heartbreaking experience, helping me grow and change and become a better person in the process.

ADVERTISEMENT

1. I learned to let go of my ideas about how things should be.

This was the first and most important step in my healing. In letting go of my ideas about what a mother-daughter relationship “should” look like, I made space in my heart and mind for things to be exactly what they are. This was huge for me.

Of course, this is not what I had hoped for, but it is what is. Since I can’t change it, I learned to accept it, and this was pivotal in setting me on the road to finding peace.

When we stand at a closed-door and bang and bang on it, we stay stuck in our hopelessness and despair. I chose to turn away from that door and look at all the doors that were open — the ones marked healing, possibilities, love and joy.

2. I learned what unconditional love really is.

Until my daughter walked away, I only thought I knew what unconditional love is.

What I have learned from this painful experience is that unconditional love is keeping your heart open even when someone has hurt you excruciatingly.

There were times when I was in danger of closing my heart to her, as she has closed hers to me. I felt at times like I would not be open to reconciliation because she had hurt me so much that I could not risk allowing her in again.

But my heart has softened and I have been able to hold us both there with love, forgiveness and compassion. I acknowledge our shared pain, and the love that will always tie us together no matter what happens.

3. I have learned that I am in charge of my own happiness.

This is a concept that I knew in my head but had never really practiced until now.

It is easy enough to say we are responsible for our happiness, but when someone we love creates a situation that leaves us little recourse, this is when the rubber meets the road.

I could either stay mired in grief, longing, and self-loathing, or I could let it all go and get on with my life.

I chose the second. While I will always feel the loss of my daughter, I can allow that feeling without being controlled by it. I decided to live the life I have, as it is.

Life is always changing, and being willing to accept the changes and move forward gives us the flexibility we need to thrive no matter what happens.

4. I learned how to forgive myself.

This has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. What this experience has taught me is that no matter how hard we try, things can still go wrong.

I believe I was a good mother, but I also know that I made some critical choices that affected her negatively at a pivotal time in her life. I failed her.

The mistakes we make are the price we pay for being human, and it does no good to hold ourselves to a standard of perfection that does not permit us to be human.

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud, Mamamia’s podcast with what women are talking about this week. Post continues below.

ADVERTISEMENT

I have had to look at my weaknesses head-on, forgive myself, and then work to change the things that need work. Without self-love and forgiveness, we cannot hope to be emotionally available to our child should they decide to reconnect.

5. I learned to stay open to allowing the story to change.

When a child chooses to cut us out of their life we form a story around that. In this story, we create roles for each character — what she did, what I did, who’s wrong, who’s right, who isn’t seeing things clearly, etc.

We tell ourselves this story over and over again, rehearsing it in our head and telling others when we feel safe to talk about it. The purpose of this story is to try to understand what defies understanding.

What I have found is that by creating that story, and then strengthening it day by day, I was preventing myself from coming closer to the truth.

What I learned is that as I grow and change, the story changes, too, if I allow it to. I have begun to see more clearly my role in the estrangement and I have begun to be more open to my daughter’s experience, even if the damage I caused was unintentional.

As I get closer to the truth, I am enabled, again, to soften, and open to both of us as hurting, flawed humans. I believe this is the only way reconciliation can happen.

I am hoping that we can have a conversation at some point, so she can share with me her experience and I can take ownership of the ways I have failed her. There is still room for the story to change.

6. I have learned that I am stronger than I ever thought possible.

Life has brought me many challenges, as it does everyone, but I have to say, this one has been the toughest.

There were times I did not think I would survive this pain. On those days when the grief was so heavy it was like a boulder in my chest, and the tears would not stop, I did not believe I could ever be happy again.

I was wrong. When I got up from my grief and took my life back, I found out I am stronger than I believed I was.

I believe that the human spirit is indomitable, and I am living proof that is true. We do not have to stay down. We can tap into our own power and take control of our destiny, even in the face of great tragedy.

We have the strength to carry on, if we choose to. We have even been given the ability to do so with joy. I never would have believed I had this ability unless I had been given the opportunity to prove it to myself.

7. I learned to hold loosely to hope, without letting go of possibilities.

Hope is exhausting. There is a weight to hope that becomes a burden to carry after a while. Hope, very often, depends on the action of someone else, or circumstances beyond our control, to suddenly turn in our favour. There is very little within our control in hope.

ADVERTISEMENT

So I loosened my grip on hope. That does not mean I have given up on my daughter or the possibility of a reconciliation. What it does mean is that I replaced hope with a willingness to accept my experience as it is. Hope requires that I want things to be different. Acceptance enables me to relax into what is.

There is an old song by the 70’s rock band 38 Special called ‘Hold on Loosely’. The words go:

Just hold on loosely, but don’t let go

If you cling too tightly

You’re gonna lose control.

This is my new mantra. While my heart desires a reconciliation, I have no control over that, so carrying the weight of hope has been replaced with something easier. I have kept my heart open to possibilities. But I know better than to cling to the outcome. I also know I will be okay either way.

I am okay and you will be too.

An experience that could have destroyed me has turned into an opportunity to grow and change and come closer to the truth. It has not been an easy journey. There have been many tears, times of hopeless despair, so much shame, and moments when I railed against the gods for allowing this to happen.

In the end, it has grown me in ways I never could have hoped for. It has enabled me to find a storehouse of peace deep within that I may never have tapped if it had not been so imperative to my survival.

My desire is that you will take some comfort, strength and hope from my experience. I know that you are stronger than you think you are. I know, too, that you can find healing, and peace within, if you are willing to turn toward yourself in a loving, compassionate way.

Open your heart to your experience and use it to grow. Use it to learn to love yourself — and your child — unconditionally. Change your story as you learn to turn toward the truth. Hold on loosely without letting go. In the end, you are going to be okay.

Feature Image: Getty.

Read more:

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission.

Beth Bruno wrote her first story when she was eight years old. She has been writing about life and all its complexities ever since. She keeps thinking that one day she will get it all figured out. She writes about relationships, mindfulness, mental health and things she sees out her window. She loves hanging out with her adult children and grandchildren, gardening, raising chickens and camping on uninhabited islands. You can follow her on Medium here and Facebook here.

00:00 / ???