Do you want to know how to move on from family estrangement? I understand all too well the pain and isolation you are feeling. Many of you are hurting deeply because of something a family member did to you and you think it will never be the same.
Sadly, you hardly talk anymore. Perhaps you are even estranged. When this happens, no one wins.
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I am one of many adult children who chose to break off the relationship with not only my parents but my whole family. My husband, children, and I became estranged about ten years ago.
After seven years apart, God intervened miraculously and brought us back together.
Looking from the outside, you would never think this would happen to my family or to me. We were the model family. A prominent, well-known Christian family in Dallas, Texas with deep roots in the restaurant business and in real estate. And then in the ministry.
Yes, Christian ministry. Family estrangement can happen to anyone, even Christians who love Jesus. The good news is that you don’t have to stay stuck. You can move out of your pain and heal your heart.
If you want to know how to move on from family estrangement, then let’s first look at some of the facts surrounding it.
Table of Contents
How Common Is Parental Estrangement?
You might be wondering how common parental estrangement is in Christian families. It’s more common than you think, yet no one is talking about it. There is so much shame and embarrassment because we know better as believers. In fact, you may be struggling with the fact that a Christian could even be living in estrangement at all.
I’ll let you in on a secret. I became estranged because there are no perfect families and there certainly are no perfect Christians. Oddly enough, when I started talking to other believers, I found many other people had family problems just like me.
I wasn’t alone after all.
I had felt so alone for many years. Satan kept telling me no one else understood, and that I wasn’t even a Christian because I couldn’t get along with my parents. Furthermore, I kept thinking I might go to hell because we were estranged.
Satan is a liar. And he had me caught in a web of lies.
The truth is God loves you, no matter where you are in the process. And let me tell you, you are not alone by a long shot. There is hope. You can learn how to move on from family estrangement even if it seems hopeless.
What Causes Family Estrangement?
There are many reasons families grow apart. Before you can learn how to move on from family estrangement, let’s discuss what is happening in your family:
Both adult children or parents can get caught in the terrible trap of addiction. Sadly, it is ripping our families apart. Alcohol, drugs, and sexual dysfunction seem to be just some of the culprits.
When your loved one is more interested in medicating pain, it is hard to have a meaningful relationship.
In fact, it controls who a person is and how he behaves. It is very hard to confront a family member who is abusing a substance without causing a strain in the relationship. Yet, not saying anything is not good either. It feels like a no-win situation until real change happens.
2. Mental Illness
Mental illness or personality disorder is another common factor in broken family relationships. Families don’t know what to do to help their loved ones since they are an adult.
Many times we sweep the bad behavior under the rug and just excuse it as part of their personality.
Meanwhile, everyone tip-toes around hoping not to trigger a tantrum until one day we get tired of it and decide to walk away because it is easier than continuing to pacify, apologize, and jump through more hoops. We are exhausted and mentally can’t take it any longer.
Abuse can come in many shapes and forms. Each type of abuse –physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and sexual–are painful and not to be ignored. In many cases, the abuser will deny any bad behavior and actually blame the victim. It can make a person feel crazy.
Other times, an abuser will admit guilt but refuse to move toward change. Moreover, sometimes change is promised only to conveniently “forget” and then keep repeating the abuse. Sadly, there is a vicious cycle of apologies and then more abuse.
4. Economic Control
Many times parents will use money to keep their adult children within their sphere. It is a way to still have a line into their lives and control them. It becomes even more complicated when there is a family business. When money is involved, people tend to act differently.
In the Bible, Abraham and Lot had an issue with money since their flocks were together. Eventually, they had to go their separate ways to keep the relationships intact.
Abraham realized the relationship was more important than the money. That is a good lesson to keep in mind if you want to know how to move on from family estrangement.
5. Holiday Stress
Many times, young parents are pushed and pulled to make an appearance at everyone’s house during the holidays. This causes an incredible amount of stress, especially on little kids who miss nap times and are overstimulated with travel, people, and food.
Over the years, the parents are afraid to speak up to their extended family and tell them they are miserable.
Moreover, they want to stay home and enjoy their family and rest. Unfortunately, they are scared to talk to their extended family and tell them the truth. Then one day, a situation blows up and the young couple is done. They decide not to come back instead of working out a reasonable schedule.
6. Parental Alienation
Parental alienation is when a child is forced to break a relationship with another family member due to the adults not getting along.
In my family, it happened when my grandfather disowned my dad. Therefore, I automatically became estranged from my grandparents.
Unfortunately, kids are forced to take sides, sometimes for life, even though they had nothing to do with the relationship breakdown. It is hard to know how to move on from family estrangement when you are forced to leave against your own will.
7. Sexual Choices
There are many stories of families who split because the adult child has chosen a life of sexual immorality whether it is sex outside of marriage with the opposite sex or an alternate lifestyle. In all my research, I have never read a story where estrangement brought an adult child back to a heart of repentance.
If you have rejected or even disowned your adult child because you think this is going to change him, I ask you to reconsider.
You can not control a person and expect him to feel loved or want to come back to you when your love is conditional.
You can hate the sin and still love the sinner. You may have to set firm boundaries, but I think that is better than an estrangement.
How Do You Deal With Family Estrangement?
Here are some estrangement solutions you may not have thought about trying. This is what I did to find hope and healing even while I was still away from my family:
You may not see results right away, but prayer works. Let God show you how to pray.
He showed me to start praying for my parents. Yep, it was hard at first. But it broke the anger. Prayer is how I ended up reconciling with my parents and my whole family. Prayer is how to move on from family estrangement and get healing.
If you want to speed up things, then fast.
I specifically fasted and prayed on a Tuesday and Wednesday and my dad called two days later on Friday. He had no idea I fasted. It was miraculous.
After seven years, God moved and my prayer was answered. In fact, I prayed for God to talk to my dad in a dream, and He DID! It’s a great story.
3. Work On Yourself
You can’t change anyone but yourself. I know you probably believe the other party is at fault, not you. I ask you to examine your heart. Do you harbor unforgiveness, feel hate or bitterness? Are you retaliating? Then there are things you can be doing to heal.
Your part may be nothing more than to forgive. Don’t discount this step. It is everything. There will never be real healing without forgiveness. This is what I had to work on the most while I was away.
It doesn’t matter how bad your situation is, it can be forgiven. That doesn’t mean you have to go back and reconcile.
Forgiveness takes one, reconciliation takes two. That is earned over time. Forgiveness is not earned, nor is it deserved.
Unfortunately, most people don’t realize that they put themselves in prison when they don’t forgive. It is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Forgiveness is for you and your relationship with God. It is how to move on from family estrangement.
5. Get Help
If you can’t work through the issues and completely forgive, then you may need someone to help you learn how to move on from family estrangement.
Find a counselor, a pastor, or someone qualified to help you process your situation. There are even support groups that are available at some churches.
If you stay stuck, you just poison yourself. Be courageous and step out of your comfort zone to deal with your pain.
How Do You Heal Estrangement?
If you are like me, you may have a bad tape running through your head (lies) and need healing not just from estrangement but healing in general. Do you say things to yourself like:
- No one loves me, not even my family.
- I am worthless.
- I can’t do anything right.
- I can’t change.
- I am always going to feel this way.
- I can’t stop the anger.
- I can’t forgive.
- They hurt me, and I am going to make them pay.
- No one understands me.
Sadly, these are common words we tell ourselves. And they are destructive. The way to heal from your family estrangement is to:
1. Reprogram your mind
I created notecards with specific scriptures that reinforced what God says about me. I said them over and over for months to heal my heart.
I still say these things to myself when that bad tape in my head gets activated. This is part of how to move on from family estrangement.
I have found worship music to be one of the greatest ways to heal my heart.
Worship takes my mind off of the problems and puts it where it belongs–on God. I have found the group Hillsong to be especially powerful worship music. In fact, it is one of the best tools for spiritual warfare.
3. Set Boundaries
One of the best things I did was set healthy boundaries with my parents when I came back. I realized my parents were not mind-readers.
They needed me to communicate with them about what was important, and what was not okay. They have done a good job listening to me, as I have to them.
It’s not like all the problems disappeared after reconnecting with family after years of being away, however, I will say many of our family problems have been resolved. We don’t expect perfection from each other; just honesty, grace, and forgiveness.
How To Move On From Family Estrangement
These four principles plus my fifth addition are how to move on from family estrangement. I have them written on one of my notecards and have said them out loud many times to help reinforce the principles. I got if from June Hunt. This is what she says to do to move on from offenses:
- Release the right to hear “I’m sorry” for the offense.
- Release the right to dwell on the offense
- Release the right to hold onto the offense.
- Release the right to keep bringing up the offense.
- My addition: pray and fast for those who have hurt you
When I first read this, I thought June Hunt had lost her marbles. In fact, I kept looking for a typo or an exception. This didn’t sound feasible or even fair. However, I knew her testimony and how she had moved on from her own family estrangement and into a full life of ministry as a counselor.
In faith, I started practicing these concepts. Thankfully, June Hunt was right.
It worked. Better than I thought.
I also started praying and fasting. This really helped me to forgive and move on with my life. Forgiveness focuses on the offense; reconciliation focuses on the relationship. You don’t have to reconcile to forgive, although I highly recommend it.
Here is a song about dry bones coming alive. You can pray for this to happen in your family. Listen and enjoy it.
Reconnecting With Family After Years
I pray for you to have some kind of reconnection with your family. Even if it is years later you can come back with God’s grace.
My estrangement lasted seven years. It was a long time, but God was working through all of it. I can see his hand now that I look back.
At the time, it seemed like nothing was happening. But God was definitely working on both sides. Check out my book for the complete story. It’s incredible how God moved!
I hope my story will help you with your family’s estrangement. You can recover from a broken relationship with God’s help. Just be willing to follow what He wants you to do.
Do you have tips on how to move on from family estrangement?
Do You Have Family Problems? There is Help and Hope!
Are you experiencing family problems or even estranged? Are you feeling shame, anger, or rejection? Check out my book Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart on Amazon or at your favorite digital store.
This book not only talks about my seven-year estrangement from my Christian family, but it also gives solid tips to help you with your own family problems. Break free from your pain. Allow God to heal you no matter what has happened in your family of origin. There is hope when your family falls apart.
Get Creating Family Memories. This book will help you manage your family in a way that allows more time to be intentional with your kids. It includes a schedule too. You can get it at your favorite bookstore.
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