Saturday, January 19, 2013

Rejected Parents: Left out in the cold

The Army conducted a study to determine why its personnel could only work for one or two hours in the Arctic cold in contrast to the local Inuit who could work six to seven hours in the cold.  Although the study looked at a wide number of physical and psychological factors, it identified just one difference between the Army personnel and the Inuit: The Inuit expected to be cold.

The experience of Rejected Parents in cases of unrealistic parent-child alienation is similar to that of the Army personnel unfortunate enough to be posted to the Arctic—they are left out in the cold by their children, unexpectedly rejected.  And like the Army personnel who retreated to shelter after just an hour or two, many Rejected Parents retreat from, even give up, contact with their children to protect themselves from repeated hurt and conflicts.

So what can Rejected Parents do not to give up while waiting for circumstances to change or legal decisions to be made?  One option that many Rejected Parents find helpful is to turn to others facing the same problem.  On-line support groups, for example, offer many Rejected Parents the practical and emotional support they need to maintain hope and the will to continue trying. It also helps to read about parent-child alienation, learning its characteristics and the dos and don’ts of responding.    

But here is an entirely different idea, and not one that you will find in the professional literature.  As reported recently by Claire Suddath in the Bloomberg Businessweek, Jia Jiang is a young internet entrepreneur in Austin, Texas who became exceptionally disheartened when investors repeatedly turned down his requests for funding.  To overcome his subsequent lack of confidence, he devised a plan: 100 Days of Rejection Therapy.  Based on the notion that if became used to weird looks, rude responses and flat-out rejections, he would build up his resistance to the pain of rejection, enabling him to continue seeking funding, he set out to ask one preposterous request per day.  He asked a security guard to lend him $100, a policeman to sit in his car, a stranger to play soccer in his back yard. But if you read the posts on his blog,, something becomes clear. Not only is he getting better at accepting rejection, he is getting better at asking.  Indeed, people are beginning to say yes, even to his outlandish requests.

I am not suggesting that Rejected Parents follow Jia’s example and seek out rejection, nor am I making light of the hurt when a child rejects a parent. I am suggesting, however, that Rejected Parents would do well to expect rejection, to build up their tolerance for their children’s rude and unpleasant behavior, and to never, never give up. Like Jia, they may learn that with practice, they get better at asking, better at accepting no, and better at “getting to yes.” 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Be hard on the problem; be soft on the person

Rejected Parents often have difficulty distinguishing between the problem and the person.  Such confusion leads to tense interactions, misunderstandings, angry reactions, and lost opportunities to reconnect.  One mother, for example, didn’t respond to her estranged daughter’s first text in many months, in which she proudly reported making the drill team.  “She didn’t let me know she took extra dance lessons, she didn’t tell me she tried out, she didn’t ask how I’m doing. She probably sent the text hoping I would send her some money, nothing new there.”  

The barrier in many of these instances is the Rejected Parent’s emotional reaction, what neuroscientists call an amygdala hijack.  This mother, like many Rejected Parents, focused so intensely upon her emotions of hurt and betrayal that  she set reasoning aside and lost sight of her goal to reconnect with her daughter.  Driven by her emotions, she saw the problem as residing within her daughter (“she’s selfish, mean-spirited, manipulative”).  But the problem was not her daughter. The problem was their estrangement.   

This mother resisted redefining the problem when offered an alternate perspective, angrily blaming her daughter and then her ex-husband for their estrangement. This is not to say that the daughter and the  father didn’t contribute to the problem. But by maintaining a mindset focused so intently upon the persons, the mother was captive to her emotions of hurt and betrayal. She was reacting, not problem-solving. If this mother is to make progress with her daughter, she must adopt a new mindset—seeing their estrangement as a problem to be managed, moment by moment, rather than a situation to assign blame. She might have said: “Your hard work paid off, you have good reason to be proud. I look forward to seeing you perform.” 

This doesn’t mean that Rejected Parents shouldn’t set limits.  This mother, for instance, must learn to speak directly to her daughter about how they will resolve  conflicts, without getting so tangled up emotionally in reaction to her daughter that she doesn’t recognize opportunities to reconnect.  If the daughter did indeed ask for money, the mother might say: “I understand your dance lessons have been expensive but I’m uncomfortable giving you money for something that I’ve been left out of.  Let’s talk about how we can be more a part of each other’s lives going forward.”  

Learn more about managing relationships to alienated and estranged children by reading earlier blog posts or from the DVD, Welcome Back, Pluto.