If You’re Estranged From Your Parent, It’s Not Your Fault

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Last month, I saw my dad for the first time in seven years. I figured it was as good a time as any because my sister, my niece, my husband, my kids, and I all went on vacation to the beach. My sister was already in contact with my dad, so it seemed like an ideal icebreaker—or a potentially awkward meeting after a huge gap of seven years.

I spent the month leading up to the meeting with major anxiety. I spent as much time as I could crying as I revisited old memories, meditating, and making lists of what I wanted to talk to my therapist about. When the day finally came for my dad to meet us at the beach, I was beyond nervous. I was also spread thin as I was trying to keep my “mom hat” on to take care of my own kids, while still mentally preparing for this major event. Most of all, I was worried that I would bust out crying after seeing him for the first time in so long.

When I saw him, it was the same and different at the same time. I was so nervous, and my eyes did fill with tears. But I told myself that we could get to know each other on new ground; I didn’t have to play the same role that I always played as a little girl—eager to please, trying to make inane conversation so that no one would feel uncomfortable.

That first meeting brought up so many emotions. To tell you the truth, it broke my heart to see my dad. I’ve talked before about how he likely suffered from undiagnosed mental illness when I was a little girl. It was hardest to look at him as he is in the moment. To see that he still has little broken pieces of him that I remember from the past.

Still, he seemed happy, upbeat, and mostly together now. He also seemed happy to see me, after we got past the initial awkwardness. One of the main reasons that I didn’t want to see him after so long was because I would have to face reality. Dad, are you happy now? Do you feel alone? What have you been doing for the past seven years? Is any of this my fault?

After that weekend vacation, I told myself that I would be open to seeing my dad, if he reached out to me. I personally felt that there was a serious parent-child imbalance throughout my life, and I just wanted him to show me that he would make an effort. He did. We got together with my kids at Chuck E. Cheese’s over the weekend, and it truly was a blast. He was so great with my kids.

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  1. JenH1986

    July 28, 2014 at 8:10 am

    It’s so hard to find a balance. In understanding your history, honoring and respecting that (and the way you were treated) but also trying to move forward. Trying to move past it and rebuild a relationship is hard. It’s all about “new normal” but “new normal” is scary because you don’t know what to expect, but when you rely on the past you “know” and can prepare. FWIW I think going slow is a good thing, take it as it comes so you aren’t getting your hopes up or cutting him off at the knees when he is trying. But also protecting yourself and those kiddos from a man who may disappear from their life. I’m sorry you are going through this, but I am happy you are taking control and not letting the past dictate your future.

  2. WhoremonalCrazyLotusSlugalo

    July 28, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Bethany, I’m so glad you came back to this after your reunion. It seems like you have a lot of readers who are estranged from their parent(s) and your experience is something we connect to. I know, I really was hopeful for you to have a good experience. It is wonderful that you enjoyed your time with your Dad and that he was even open to further visits.

    • Bethany Ramos

      July 28, 2014 at 8:16 am

      Thank you so much!

  3. CollateralDamage

    July 28, 2014 at 8:22 am

    I have really appreciated reading your articles that deal with your relationship with your dad. I elected to cut off all communication with my mother last November after years of emotional and psychological abuse. I know that feeling of bending over backward just to please them, only to have it blow up in your face. The effects are long-lasting, but I’m glad to see you’re able to take control of the situation and start over. I hope to have that strength one day, but it’s just not in the cards right now.

    • Bethany Ramos

      July 28, 2014 at 8:41 am

      DON’T force it or beat yourself up – I am really surprised I saw him because I never planned to. Best to you! 🙂

    • KatDuck

      July 29, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      “that feeling of bending over backward just to please them, only to have it blow up in your face” – fantastic description of what it’s like. And the explosions aren’t even consistent – you bend over backwards four times and get praised and everything seems like it’s that perfect, wonderful family that others have and then you contort yourself a fifth time … and suddenly it explodes. Right now I’m in a good period with my parents (I’ve never quite worked out how to cut them out or if it’s to that point or if I’m just deluding myself … fortunately they seem fine with month-long gaps in communication) and I’m currently holding tight to a text that proves how quickly it can turn on me just to keep myself from believing the smokescreens.

  4. Ursi

    July 28, 2014 at 8:22 am

    This hits close to home. I was never estranged from my parents but sometimes I feel like it should have happened and it didn’t for reasons I don’t quite understand. Truth is, I was ready to cut my losses and run in my 20s and then as I got older I found the anger I’d tried so hard to hold onto was slipping away. Not in a good way, most of it just became internalized, but it wasn’t directed outward anymore so it was hard to justify estrangement and as I got older it just got harder.

    Years and many therapy sessions later I’m glad I didn’t do it, I guess, because they’re different people now and I’m different and we’re all adults so it’s better… but I almost envy those who managed it. I feel it’s a way to take the reigns of your life and steer it where YOU want it to go. Parents who aren’t supportive are just in your way. But another part of me feels wrong for even thinking that. And then people get old and you’ve got capital O Obligation and, well, it was drilled into me anyway. And there’s still all that love rattling around in your heart and wanting to be accepted and when you love them you just don’t know what to do with it all.

    I wish it were easier to cut people out but if it were easier I guess we wouldn’t be as human if it were.

  5. Bleu Cheese Bewbs

    July 28, 2014 at 8:30 am

    I am so glad that you and your Dad have the opportunity to begin to build a new, healthy relationship. *hugs*

  6. Valerie

    July 28, 2014 at 8:38 am

    I love you to bits and I’m so proud of your strength. This is beautifully written.

    • Bethany Ramos

      July 28, 2014 at 8:39 am

      Thank you – love you!

  7. Véronique the Attachment Shark

    July 28, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Learning to accept our parents for who they are is tough… Building an adult relationship with them when you have to navigate all of the crap you went through as a child is hard. I went through it with my mom, and it’s sometimes a struggle, but it also gets easier with time. It’s true that they have to work just as if not harder than we do – which is tough because sometimes our parents act as if we “owe” them, as if they did us a huge favour putting us into this world.

    I truly believe that our kids are put on this earth to teach us and challenge us and help us grow.

    Good luck with your dad!

  8. Spongeworthy

    July 28, 2014 at 9:02 am

    I was wondering if you were going to write about how your meeting with your dad went. I’m so glad that things went well, and I hope they continue to.
    As a random internet person, I think you have a great mindset on this and are handling it beautifully so far.

    • Bethany Ramos

      July 28, 2014 at 9:08 am

      Thank you – that means a lot! And you are my random Internet FRIEND. 🙂

  9. Boozy Shark Lee

    July 28, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Thank you for sharing this. It can’t be easy to let yourself be so vulnerable, here and in your relationship with your father. I hope only good things come out of this reunion.

  10. momjones

    July 28, 2014 at 9:56 am

    One of the most profound things I realized about my adult children is that they do not think about me as much as I think about them, and I am happy that is the case because their father and I have raised strong independent children. I believe that accepting that, as hard as it is to believe, is what makes a strong parent/adult child relationship as well. Think about it, if you spend too much of your time dwelling on your parent, you are hurting yourself and your family. Take care of yourself – do what you have to – be secure in that ultimately, your father is who is, and you have done all you can, and need to do.

  11. Alexis Rhiannon

    July 28, 2014 at 10:16 am

    This is really lovely, Bethany. Thank you for sharing it.

  12. CMJ

    July 28, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Oy. This totally made me cry. My husband was estranged from his mom – as she passed away unexpectedly three months ago. He had very valid reasons for cutting her out of his life but when she died, it was so difficult for him to reconcile all of those reasons with the pain he felt. It’s been a rough road for him and one he is still trying to navigate. Now, I am not saying that how my husband felt after his mom’s passing was how every estranged child feels but even when he wasn’t speaking to his mom, he still loved her more than anything. I think that was always the hardest thing for him – knowing it was the right thing to do to cut contact but still missing her and loving her throughout the estrangement.

    And you are SO right about saying “it’s not your fault.”

    • Bethany Ramos

      July 28, 2014 at 11:39 am


    • JenH1986

      July 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm

      I’m so sorry. That’s awful for everyone involved. It’s hard for him and hard for you to support him because no one knows what to do. I took care of my dad physically but his drinking caused a huge emotional rift between us and 4 years on I’m still a mess over it sometimes. I hope he finds peace sooner rather than later.

  13. kiki

    July 28, 2014 at 11:07 am

    I’m sorry for your experiences, and I hope you find peace one way of another, but sometimes, it’s really not just the parents’ fault. Adult children can make their own choices, and I really can’t see blaming parents for every addict or criminal out there, nor can I see blaming parents exclusively for every parent/child estrangement. It just doesn’t hold in my own family anyway.

    • Kelly

      July 28, 2014 at 11:18 am

      You just compared people who end a relationship with their parent to addicts and criminals. Just thought I’d point that out to you.

      If your children don’t want anything to do with you there’s a reason for it. If you know someone in your family who wants nothing to do with their parent, I guarantee there’s a reason for it. The fact that you don’t know the reason does not mean it does not exist.

    • kiki

      July 28, 2014 at 11:23 am

      No – I used them as examples of why we can’t place all the blame on parents in all cases.

      The person was my brother. I grew up in the same house he did. His problems are not all my parents’ fault unless you truly believe that parents are to blame for every single choice we make in life. He certainly does.

    • Kelly

      July 28, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      Who said all your brother’s problems are your parents’ fault? I didn’t.

      I said there’s a reason he doesn’t want them in their lives. You don’t know everything just because you grew up in the same house. My sister and I grew up in the same house and we’ve both shocked each other by sharing things that happened to us.

      If your brother doesn’t want your parents in his life, maybe you should just butt the fuck out. It’s really not your place to pass judgment anywhere in that relationship. Worry about your own relationships. No wonder he cut you out too.

    • K2

      July 28, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      Look, I sure know parents can have many problems.. But why are you so intent on telling kiki that her parents probably did do something, or that her brother somehow had a valid reason for cutting them off? (And no, not every reason is valid).
      It’s like you’ve set out to disagree with everything kiki says and be kind of a jerk about her situation, that she knows better than you do. You and your sister’s situation is not the same as kiki’s situation. (kiki: sorry if you’re not a ‘her’!)

      Yeah, parents can be terrible people, but so can brothers, sisters, daughters, sons..

    • JenH1986

      July 28, 2014 at 12:48 pm

      I’m going to have to disagree with you. You might think a reason isn’t valid, but the person who chooses to end a relationship thinks the reason is extremely valid and it’s not for you or anyone else to say otherwise. It’s sad when families can’t make things work, but that doesn’t mean that the person isn’t allowed to cut those people out of their life. As far as Kiki’s brother goes HE believes his parents are detrimental to him, so he ended the relationship. IF that’s what he needed to do to function then that’s what he needed to do, even if it hurts. My brother and I grew up int eh same household. I love him to pieces, my mother thinks he hung the moon and stars. My brother sees us once a year. Why? Because he feels like my mom loves me more and I am the “perfect child”. I don’t see it that way, my mom doesn’t feel that way. But HE does. Who am I to tell him he can’t feel that way? I’m not him I don’t know how he feels. To completely ignore someone’s feelings because you don’t like it or think its a valid reason is a damn good reason to end a relationship. That means his feelings aren’t being considered.

    • CanLeigh

      July 28, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      Unless your mother actually favors you, it is not your mother’s fault that your brother feels that way. That is what Kiki is trying to say. It is not always the parent who is at fault.

    • JenH1986

      July 28, 2014 at 1:43 pm

      No, but she’s totally invalidating the brothers feelings. That was my point. If when the brother tried/tries to talk to them about how he feels if Kiki and her parents are all “NO THAT’S NOT TRUE!” then they basically tell him his feelings mean shit. I never said it was the parents fault, I said everyone is entitled to feel the way they feel and we don’t get to tell them it’s wrong.

    • CanLeigh

      July 28, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      Yes, I agree that we are all entitled to our own feelings, but I fail to see how years of therapy, and special schools are invalidating his feelings. It seems to me her parents have acknowledged those feelings and have made the effort to help. She may not see his point of view, and feel it’s wrong, and yes I can see how that is invalidating, but that is her feelings toward the situation not her parents. In your case for example, you may not feel that your mother favors you, which basically means you feel like your brother is wrong. Should you get in his face and tell him that? No. But you have the right to feel that he is wrong just as much as he has the right to feel that he is right.

    • kiki

      July 28, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      He never gave us a chance. You know nothing about my family ow what we went through because of the things he did and still go through to this day. But sure, we’re all meanies who don’t worry enough about his special feelings and the damage he has caused doesn’t matter because he’s the only one who is important here. Perhaps you and he should go bowling because you seem to agree.

      I really need to stop coming here.

    • CanLeigh

      July 28, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      Kelly, have you considered the possibility that sometimes the toxic relationships in someone’s life are not the ones they cut out, but actually the ones that cause someone to cut out the people that actually do care. In my own family that is the case. I promise you my family is not toxic. No one is perfect, but the reality is my brother is with a woman who is toxic to the core. She is controlling, abusive, and manipulative. She is the reason that my brother has no contact with my family, despite the fact that it is actually her that has the explosive temper, has become physically violent with my brother, held him at gunpoint and threatened to shoot him of he left, ruined his credit, destroyed every job he has had since he has been with her and drove him into a deep depression. Until you understand how these types of relationships work you can’t comment on what someone should or should not do because it really isn’t that simple. Kiki has never tried to claim that some parents are not toxic, she just trying to point out that the topic is not as black and white as it is presented in the article.

    • guest

      July 28, 2014 at 3:38 pm

      Why are you always so damn nasty to people? kiki, I completely agree with you, it’s not always the parents fault by a long shot. This has nothing to do with the author’s situation either. It has nothing to do with not acknowledging anyone’s feelings either. Just because they feel something doesn’t make it right. Racists feel like they are correct in hating someone of another color for instance, but that doesn’t mean they are right.

    • CMJ

      July 28, 2014 at 11:33 am

      I fail to see where Bethany is saying that it’s always the parent’s fault. This is written from her perspective and her experiences with a toxic parent and how she was able to get through. It is extremely important, regardless of which party is cutting out the toxic relative, to remember that “it’s not your fault.”

    • kiki

      July 28, 2014 at 11:44 am

      If it’s never the child’s fault when a child/parent relationship goes south, by extension it’s always the parents’ fault. We didn’t cut my brother out of our lives, he cut himself out of our lives. Well, he cut himself out of my parents’ lives rather noisily (suicide threats with guns in paper bags and all), and then made me choose between them because I couldn’t handle being in the middle. My parents tried everything they could think of. They tried family counseling when he stole my dad’s car when he was 15 and drove it to another state, they tried lowering every expectation they had so they could still congratulate him on something in school, they moved him to an expensive private high school, they took him back into their home no matter how much damage he did in our lives, and they still try to make contact with him to this day. You know what his final straw was? They showed up unannounced with a toaster oven they thought he might like 16 years ago (he was 25), and he was high, and angry that he thought they caught him. But if you listen to him, they were abusive his whole adolescence and terrible people who didn’t care about him at all, and they are to blame for every single problem he has ever had (he isn’t responsible for anything). My parents are not saints, but in this case, some of the fault does in fact lie with the child.

    • Kelly

      July 28, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      They still disrespect his boundaries by attempting to contact him after he ended the relationship 16 YEARS AGO!

      If they were anyone else, he could have them charged for stalking.

    • K2

      July 28, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Where does it say they contacted him 16 years after he cut them off???

    • kiki

      July 28, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      You have no idea what you are talking about, or the damage he has done to our family. But congrats. You are officially the only person to ever make me cry in a comments section. I didn’t think it was possible.

    • guest

      July 28, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      Try to ignore her, she is ok sometimes, then she gets really nasty for a day or two. I sometimes wonder if there are two different people that use that name in guest status.

    • Angela

      July 28, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      Sorry, but that just isn’t true. Lots of people have a falling out and then try to re-establish contact later on. Sure if they’re calling him on a daily basis and regularly showing up at his home or work then there’s a problem. But it’s not stalking to continue to send Christmas cards or to occasionally invite someone to a family event or reach out on FB unless there is a restraining order in place.

    • CMJ

      July 28, 2014 at 12:06 pm

      Wait – who said it’s never the child’s fault? I am so confused.

    • kiki

      July 28, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      Bethany did, second page. I think she added an ever. And with that, I think I need to take a break from the internet.

    • CanLeigh

      July 28, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      Second to last paragraph “It is never the child’s fault, never never.” It’s written plain as day. I also must say I don’t agree with this statement. I comfort my mother as she cries daily because after 30 years of doing anything and everything to make is happy as children, and being there for us as adults my brother has decided to cut my mother out of his life. No reason, no explanation. She no longer tries to contact him because she fears if she does he:all never come around, but this is truly not a result of anything she has done.

  14. Elyne

    July 28, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Beautiful written *teary eyes*. I hope you two can somewhat close again and enjoy the time you have together. Good luck! *hugs*

  15. Katie

    July 28, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    I’m estranged from my father. When my parents got divorced it was really hard. It seemed so out of the blue because they’d never yelled or fought in front of me. I blamed myself and kept hoping thing would go back to how they were. My dad started partying and drinking. He would show up to Friday night dinner hungover, red eyed, and reeking of smoke. My mum said it was a relief when we moved across the country so that I wouldn’t have to see him like that. At first, phone calls were every night before bed. Then every few days. Once a week. Twice a month. Sporadic at best. I only saw him twice a year, three times the year he got married to a woman I barely knew. A woman he had already married with out telling me, I found out years later. Then even the visits stopped. I became the after thought. Just baggage from a previous relationship. It got too much when he cut all financial support the day I turned 18, so I stopped returning his calls. I hadn’t seen him since I was 16, so nothing really changed.
    I managed to talk to him when he came up for my sister’s graduation in June. He swore he was going to do better, that he was so sorry for everything he’d done. He was going to do better not just for me but for the (SURPRISE!) little girl he was adopting that I’d only just then learned about. That lasted a month. I haven’t heard from him since the end of July, and I’m ok with that.
    He hasn’t changed. I don’t think he ever will. He already cut off my sister’s child support and she’s 17, living at home. I can’t understand a man that can treat his children like disposable income, just cut us off with nothing the moment the law allows it. I’ve come to terms with everything he’s done. I realize now that it was never my fault. I didn’t need to try harder. I still have abandonment issues. I still have anxiety and depression to fight through. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to have a completely healthy relationship. But I don’t cry over him anymore, and that’s a big enough step for me.

  16. Amber Leigh Wood

    July 28, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    I’m happy for you that it went so well, and that your children will get to meet and form a relationship with your dad

  17. Dixie

    July 29, 2014 at 12:05 am

    I’m sorry, but sometimes it is the child’s fault. My brother is estranged from our family and it’s all HIM. He has made up stories about our childhood that are NOT true. He believes things his wife tell him about my parents that are NOT true. Kids aren’t always the victims.

  18. NYCNanny

    July 29, 2014 at 12:36 am

    That title is a huge blanket statement. Not always true.

  19. KatDuck

    July 29, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    Thank you for the update and so glad it went so well. I hear you on the vulnerability and being scared – I’m not estranged from my parents but there’s a large, well-tended hedge between us (metaphorically – in reality it’s 3k miles and a lot of excuses) thanks to past actions. Right now the relationship is good which means they seem to like me and things are going fine but I know from experience that all that can change on a dime and suddenly, without warning, I’ll be the scapegoat again. I know there’s reasons but they’re ones only they can see (usually life stressors that I don’t know about) and the retribution, especially on an innocent party (I’m too far out of it to have any part) is disproportionate.

    But it’s horrible when we’re in a good period and that inner child whispers that this is what our relationship REALLY is and isn’t it wonderful and I must be a horrible person to think it otherwise. It must be my fault if things go bad because this person on the other end of the line and the person in my memory don’t fit together at all. And then a few months later … they do. It’s the hope that’s the killer.

    • Bethany Ramos

      July 29, 2014 at 1:55 pm

      Yes, so true, and thank you! I even feel so much guilt now wondering if it really was that bad? Best of luck to you! 🙂

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