Stages of Estrangement: Acceptance

What you can't accept, you can't change.

Posted Dec 19, 2018

Galyna Andrushko / AdobeStock
Source: Galyna Andrushko / AdobeStock

In this third post in my series on Stages of Estrangement, I’ll describe the stage whose very name evokes ambivalence in rejected parents: Acceptance.

One the one hand, acceptance may be a relief after the punishing emotions of Shock and Despair. On the other, it sounds like giving up. And few parents are ready to give up on having a relationship with their children.

The Paradox of Acceptance

There’s a paradox when it comes to changing an unwanted situation like family estrangement: We must accept the way things are before we can change them.

Survivors of natural disasters and extraordinary loss have wisdom to share on this topic.

They say that after the initial shock, disbelief, and sense of unreality triggered by traumatic events, there comes a time when they begin to accept that what happened has actually happened.

That the event(s) happened is an inescapable fact. Life is different afterwards.

Acceptance, even of the harshest realities, is not the end. It’s the beginning of healing. And the possibility of change.

“But I can’t accept never seeing my child again!”

Of course not. And you don’t have to.

There’s a difference between accepting what is, and accepting what you fear might come to pass. The first is necessary; the second is not.

Just because you accept that your child isn’t returning your calls today doesn’t mean you’re okay with never speaking to him or her again.

But if you don’t accept the reality of what’s happening between you, you will struggle and suffer trying to create a different reality, one in which the relationship will be fine as long as you can just get your child to answer your texts or come home for Christmas.

Some signs of a lack of acceptance in the parent include

  • Continuing to issue invitations when a child has expressed a desire for space
  • Trying to undo what is already done by being extra polite or generous
  • Repeatedly asking for reasons for the estrangement, without listening to the answers

Cultivate Self-Compassion

It’s a grueling task, to accept a reality we wish wasn’t true. Self-compassion makes it a bit more tolerable.

If you feel rejected by your adult child, allow yourself to grieve. It's okay to cry and gnash your teeth.

But while you do those things, speak only kind words to yourself. The harder you tend to be on yourself, the more difficult it will be to find the self-compassion necessary to accept the pain of this reality. 

What Accepting Parents Know

Parents in the Acceptance stage of estrangement understand that their child is a separate person, with his or her own view of the parent-child relationship.

These parents “get” that their child’s thoughts, feelings, and needs might not mesh with their own.

They realize that estrangement is most likely not an impulsive move by their child, but the result of a long process of gradual disconnection.

As much as it hurts, they acknowledge that their children want—or at least are fine with—distance between them.

They know that some things are beyond their control. But others are very much within their power to change. They catch glimpses of possible solutions...

In general, parents in this stage can start to think about the problem with greater perspective than a parent in Shock or Despair.

Acceptance in the parent is the beginning of creative problem-solving, self-understanding, and the knowledge that they’ve already survived what they might have thought would be un-survivable.

This stage is the beginning of healing.

In the next post, I’ll discuss the stage where most parents find their greatest growth: Transformation.