Veterinary Wellness Briefs: The Heartbreak of Estrangement 

Many equine veterinarians have likely experienced estrangement from family, but it is possible to move forward and find joy in life again.
Equine veterinarian sad because of experiencing estrangement.
Many veterinarians are likely to have experienced estrangement, which can worsen mental health struggles, but it is possible to move forward and find joy in life. | Getty Images

According to recent research, 25% of adult children are or have been estranged from one or both of their parents in recent years. This statistic suggests a cultural change away from traditional family bonds. Research shows about one in 10 adult children in the United States are estranged from a parent at any time. Veterinarians are not immune to this heartbreak, and it adds stress and grief to a life already burdened with many other demands. The mental health challenges many veterinarians face are undoubtedly exacerbated by the loss of relationships with their children.  

Estrangement Statistics

A 2023 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family stated: “Six percent of respondents report a period of estrangement from mothers, with an average age of first maternal estrangement of 26 years old; 26% of respondents report estrangement from fathers, with an average age of first paternal estrangement of 23 years old. Results further show heterogeneity by gender, race/ethnicity, and sexuality; for example, daughters are less likely to be estranged from their mothers than are sons, Black adult children are less likely than White adult children to be estranged from their mothers but more likely to be estranged from fathers, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual adult children are more likely than heterosexuals to be estranged from fathers. The majority of estranged adult children become unestranged from mothers (81%) and fathers (69%).”  

Causes of Estrangement

Joshua Coleman, author of “Rules of Estrangement,” theorizes that therapists and social media influencers have encouraged young adults to see parents as a source of trauma and estrangement as a path to healing. He discusses the harm estranged parents experience due to the shame and bewilderment that silences them from sharing their pain. Many people, unaware of the high prevalence of estrangement, assume the parents did something unthinkable if they have lost contact with their offspring. Carrying this unheard grief minimizes suffering parents’ feelings of community and belonging and contributes to depression and loneliness. With no resolution and often no contact with their children, these mothers and fathers might not understand what caused the breach or how to repair it.  

How to React and Overcome the Separation

With this tragedy playing out so commonly, many veterinarians are likely to have experienced it. Ways to move forward include recognizing your grief, concentrating on your own healing and growth, and connecting with other parents experiencing estrangement. Avoid reacting with anger. Continue to reach out to your adult child occasionally, and note birthdays and holidays, but don’t overdo it. It is important, if you have the opportunity, to listen to your adult child without being defensive and to practice reflective listening. Their perceptions will likely be very different than yours and might feel like criticism, which can be painful when your intentions are pure.  

Always remember that to cut you out of their life, your adult child had to be in significant distress. They need empathy, not anger or defensiveness, even if you feel completely maligned. Take heart in the research that shows most these relationships are repaired in time. As hard as it is, move forward and try not to miss years of joy in your own life. 

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