Sharon Wildey spends holidays, especially this one, calling mothers whose phones won’t ring otherwise.
She knows how painful that can be. Personal experience has led Wildey to self-publish two books about parental abandonment, which is when an adult child cuts off ties from a parent for seemingly inexplicable reasons.
In the first book, “Abandoned Parents: The Devil’s Dilemma -- The Causes and Consequences of Adult Children Abandoning Their Parents,” she sought to validate the trauma felt by parents who experience this. There’s no data on how widespread an issue it is, but there’s an increasing number of support groups online devoted to the problem. Wildey’s Facebook page for abandoned parents has 5,000 followers, and she also moderates a Yahoo group with over 300 members who share their heartache with one another.
“This is a global problem of adult children simply walking away,” she said.
Outsiders who have never experienced such a situation have a hard time believing grown children can simply walk away without legitimate reasons, such as abuse.
“They are just so sure that it is something you have done,” said Cathy Brandt, 69, who lives in Huntington, Virginia, and helps run another Facebook support group for estranged parents.
But Wildey says that 95 percent of the parents who turn to her for advice say that they tried their best as parents, provided a loving and good upbringing for their child, and cannot understand why they have been cut off. Her second book offers a path toward healing from the overwhelming grief she has experienced firsthand.
Wildey had a child die of cystic fibrosis, which was devastating, but she says the pain of losing her other adult children to estrangement has been even worse.
“We are talking about horrendous grief,” she said, which most parents are too ashamed or embarrassed to discuss with their friends. There are abandoned parents who still drive by their children’s houses or search for ways to contact them once they’ve been cut off.
Brandt says her daughter has blocked her on Facebook and ceased contact with her more than four years ago. They share a mutual friend on Facebook, who tries to sneak Brandt pictures of her daughter and keep her updated on her whereabouts.
For years, Brandt beat herself up about the lost relationship. She talked to several therapists and read dozens of books on the topic, hoping for a reconciliation.
“Now, I am trying to reconcile myself that I will probably die with this unresolved,” she said. “I will probably die without my child being there. I have to prepare myself for that.”
That can be too bleak an outcome for others in her situation to accept. And some psychologists recommend that estranged parents continue to try to find ways to reach out to a child, even if they have been blocked from phones and social media accounts. Sometimes, there are grievances from childhood that need to be acknowledged in order to repair the broken bond, even if the reaction seems out of proportion to the perceived parental failings.
Wildey takes exception to this advice. She talks about the injury that comes from this type of repeated rejection from one’s own child: It takes a serious toll on physical and emotional health. And she believes that a parent’s persistent, unwanted outreach can also hurt an adult child who has decided to cut off ties. She advises parents to try to heal their own wounds first, so they can be healthy if their child decides to reconcile.
While she offers strategies to cope with this kind of grief, she says, “There are no magic answers. What I’m talking about is lessening the pain. It’s not ever going to go away.”
So, she makes a point to spend special days that will trigger that pain with others who need her comfort.
She picks up the phone and calls.