How Do I Cope With Having An Estranged Child?

I thought I was coping quite well...until I saw her picture on a relative's FB. I thought I had let go of the hurt...but that picture just brought everything back to the forefront.

I wrote last week about pregnancy losses, and as hard as those are, there is a greater loss...that of a child who is still living but refuses contact, as our oldest adopted daughter does.
Looking to Jesus in how to respond to rejection

Maybe you're trying to cope with a similar loss.

The details will be unique to each situation, but I would venture to guess that the emotions are very similar. First, we try to make sense of it all. We can spend hours analyzing every interaction. We torment ourselves with endless questions, "What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? How can I fix this?"

I am weary with my groaning: all the night make I my bed to swim; 
I water my couch with my tears. Psalm 6:6

As normal as that is, it's a fruitless endeavour that only causes more heartache and stress. So, how do we deal with these emotions?  How do we respond in a positive manner and not simply react? How do we keep our own feelings and desires from controlling us? 

My hope is that in sharing our story, I can be an encouragement to someone else who is also asking, 

How do I cope with having an estranged child?

One incident, in particular, haunts me... I've often thought, "Why didn't I handle things better?"

She sat on the edge of her bed, head down, fidgeting with a small chain. As I asked her again to talk to me, her fingers tightened around the chain until it snapped. I snatched it from her and tore it into little pieces, my frustration getting the better of me. "There, is that better?" I snapped. I knew then that she had won, as she had many times over the years. We'd been fighting this battle of wills for way too long, and I was worn out.
It was a familiar scene; me talking, trying to draw her out from behind that invisible wall, her retreating further and me getting frustrated.
I knew the effects of a dysfunctional childhood, not to mention the damage that can happen before a child is even born. I knew that the mother figure was always the target for all the hurt and pain that birth parents have caused. Yes, I knew all of that and I knew my reaction was terrible, but this wasn't a textbook or a workshop on attachment disorder. This was real life, and living with her rejection for eight years had put us both in a vicious cycle that neither of us knew how to break out of.

This incident happened shortly before she left home...but I'll back up to the beginning...

She was our first foster child.

She was 10 years old the first time we met. She had shiny black hair, dark eyes, and a gorgeous smile. She could have been pink with purple polka-dots; as far as I was concerned she was perfect, and I asked the social worker the day she was placed with us when we could adopt her...which we did 2 years later.

She was always outgoing and smiley. Even if she fell and got hurt, she would get up laughing. I was concerned that she NEVER cried. Finally, after six months, she cried for the first time. I was never so happy to see a kid cry! I was no professional, but I knew this wasn't normal. But in retrospect I realized it wasn't 'sad' tears, it was anger. She had been reprimanded and was not allowed to watch a tv show. I found her hiding in her closet crying. At the time I was just so happy to see an emotional reaction that I didn't analyze it. 
(Years later, when she and her fiance had a fight, and he couldn't find her, she said he should have asked me; I would have known where to look. It's those little things I remember that let me know we DID have a connection if only a tenuous one)

It wasn't until years later and I'd taken a few training courses, that I realized she very likely had a form of attachment disorder. 

But in the beginning, I was still looking at the world through rose coloured glasses, and really didn't know much about attachment. I loved her and thought that was enough.

Over the years there were many times that I knew she wasn't happy and I would try to talk to her, but she couldn't open up to me. She always felt I was lecturing her when all I really wanted was to talk with her. There were many times I sat with her for hours, hoping she would respond, but eventually, I'd give up. I had other kids to care for, and I just couldn't wait her out. The story above was just the worst one, and the last one before she left home; the one that's burned into my memory.

Of course, there were some good times; especially during her mid-teens, I felt closer to her. We shared some of the same interests, such as home decor and music. She played the piano and I sang...we even wrote a song together. 
I miss those times!


But when she was 17 she began seeing a young man (our pastor's son) and she was married a few months after she turned 18. During the engagement, she was increasingly distant from us, spending more time with her fiance's family. We were left out of most of the planning for the wedding, and that pattern continued when our first grandchild was born. I knew from past experience that this is how she coped. When she became a part of our family, she shunned contact with her birth mom, even though I had encouraged her to go when her birth mom requested a visit. It seemed she couldn't handle more than one family or at least one mother at a time. Yes, I knew this, just as I knew all the other facts about attachment disorder...but that didn't make living it any easier. 

We eventually left the church we had attended for 13 years, and as the pastor's daughter in law, she remained. This created a whole other issue because the church practiced shunning...but that is another story perhaps for another day!

Knowing that she was seemingly happy, and serving with her husband in their church, made it easier to deal with the estrangement. Eight years is not a long time to impact a child's life, and I consoled myself with the thought that God had allowed our home to be the door to a new life for her.

Nine years later she came back into our lives.

She called to tell me her marriage had ended. There were many long conversations and visits during this time, and we were probably closer than we'd ever been, possibly because she needed our support. But periodically she would shut me out over some misunderstanding or imagined slight. Eventually, she moved away for work, and over the next few years, contact was at times sporadic. At other times she would text and call regularly. At some point, she blocked me from her life again, without explanation. I tried many times to reach out but was ignored, until one message that stated: "I have no parents." When she finally did make contact again, she refused to discuss the matter. When I insisted on talking things out, I was once again completely blocked. 

I was back in familiar territory, but this time was different. My husband had had enough. He had seen me hurt too many times. If she didn't want us in her life, and we were not her parents so be it. 

Of course, that's easier said than done. Saying I'm not her mom does not make it so in my heart. But I had to let it go...and so I did. And I thought I was coping quite well...until that picture told me otherwise...until that picture brought back all these memories... until that picture brought back all the hurt.

How do I cope with estrangement from my adult child?

Clearly not very well at times. 

I said in the beginning that I questioned why I didn't handle things better. But then I realized, I had only been saved four years when we began providing foster care. Our hearts were in the right place, but we were so ill-equipped to deal with the problems these children brought to our home. Raising our family in a legalistic, dysfunctional church for 13 years didn't help any of us either. So yes, we made lots of mistakes with our foster children and adopted children, as well as with our biological kids!


Psalm 73:26 My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.

Psalm 86:15 But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.

1 Peter 5:7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

Yes, we made mistakes. I needed to acknowledge that and give it to God. Thankfully, we have a God who is merciful and gracious! I can cast all my cares on him, knowing he cares and he understands.

How did Jesus respond to rejection?

A prophecy in Isaiah gives us a very vivid description:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. Isaiah 53:3-7

Jesus was despised, rejected, stricken, wounded, bruised, oppressed, afflicted, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and was smitten of God. I think maybe he understands when we experience hurt and rejection. Not only did he suffer all these things, but he did it for us, and through it all, he never once complained. Can I honestly say that faced with my own situation, I've responded as Jesus did?

How then should I respond to hurt and rejection?

I need to look to Jesus as my example.

Psalm 25:9 The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way. 

Proverbs 3:5,6 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

I need to seek strength and guidance in God's word.

James 1:3,4 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

As I'm reading through the Psalms and meditating on the many promises of God, so many scriptures help me...

Psalm 147:3 He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.

Psalm 9:9,10 The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.

I need to pray... pray for God's will in her life, and pray for myself...for God to work in me, to help me with my own emotions, my pride, my sin. 

Psalm 105:4 Seek the Lord, and his strength: seek his face evermore.

I need to pray for God's strength to cope.

Philippians 4:6 Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

I need to take everything to God, not stress, not worry, but with a thankful heart, trust that he will hear and answer.

A few years after our daughter was married, I wrote this song with her in mind. Twenty years later, there are still times I need to pray these words....such as when I see a picture that brings back all that hurt.

Make Things Right

How To Make Things Right

Thanks for joining me this month as I've shared about love and loss. I hope that these stories have been an encouragement to you.

How would Jesus have us respond to rejection?

This is the 4th post in a series:

Read our Foster/Adoption Series: My Isaac

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  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Susan, I hope it's an encouragement to others.

    2. I must of needed to read this today most helpful prays to my grandkids

    3. Thank you Susan, you've given me encouragement. I keep praying, while my heart breaks 💔

  2. estrangement is such a sad situation … I deal with a brother who has dropped me from his life - after having me be his big sister for 60 years - a new wife, new life, meant he cut out parts of his old one, me and 2 other sisters being left on the scrap heap … teaching moments … and trying not to give way to anger & bitterness … GOD is still able and if our heart does not condemn us - then we need to leave the door open to the prodigal, but still live our lives in the light of Jesus forgiveness and love … thanx for sharing Deborah!

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that, Saija! Yes, God is able!

    2. my brother did the same to me ....just dropped me ...married another who did not question his descisions .....he died of covid ....too late was his choice l did my best....l feel ok about it .

  3. Thank you. My heart cries out to God for my daughter as well.

    1. I’m sorry, I missed your comment. Don’t give up! There’s always hope for reconciliation.

  4. I’ve been going through this with my daughter, I too have the same thoughts what could I have done differently. I had been pushed to a breaking point with her.It’s only been eight months but it see no end in sight . She has a new family, she is my only child , her dad is deceased. The empty feeling is awful.

    1. you are not alone. God knows your pain and mine. God spoke to me and said,”It is not yours to fix; it s mine”.

  5. I’m so sorry! As I said above, don’t give up. There’s always hope for reconciliation. Perhaps you can find someone to help you and your daughter through counselling. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help. :/

  6. sometimes the hurt of a person is too deep to work out ....maybe started in the womb....continued on ......some things cannot be fixed ....


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