Cover Image: Rules of Estrangement

Rules of Estrangement

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

This is a very painful subject to address, and I appreciate the author's advice as to resolving the conflict. Even in divorce court, parents are expected to co-parent their children despite the fact that one parent may not be able to comply with that standard of behavior. There are parents that are mentally ill, narcisstic and self-centered and will never contribute to the parenting of a child except to create conflict and discord.
Was this review helpful?
Parents Who Spank Face ‘Epidemic’ of Estrangement
Dr. Joshua Coleman’s latest book offers caution, comfort to cut-off parents
By M. Dolon Hickmon
Content warning: This is a review of a book written by a psychologist who specializes in treating the grief experienced by parents who have been divorced by their adult children, often over allegations of abuse or neglect. Although the book contains valuable insights, the author’s constant minimization of child abuse may be upsetting to trauma survivors.  
According to a 2021 book by psychologist and formerly estranged parent Dr. Joshua Coleman, mental health professionals are facing a new crisis: generations of older parents cut-off by their adult children over allegations of child abuse. Importantly, Dr. Coleman says that what constitutes adequate reason to end contact has changed: “It doesn’t have to create marked distress in almost everyone,” Coleman writes in chapter two; “nor does it need to produce obvious distress in the traumatized person.” Rather, evaluations are based on the child’s perception: “if I say that you abused, neglected, bullied or traumatized me,” Coleman writes, “then you did.”
Coleman compares the wounds of estranged parents to life imprisonment in a purgatory of guilt and sorrow where only their children can commute their sentences: “Speaking of pain, what are you doing for the holidays, your birthday, your child’s wedding, the birth of your new grandchild, your child’s graduation? These are all events that you never in your wildest dreams thought you’d be excluded from. If you’re like almost every estranged parent, you feel a sense of morbid dread when these days approach.”
Adding salt to these wounds is the fact that estrangement often feels completely unfair to the cut-off parent: “There are plenty of dedicated parents whose children choose to end the relationship. The fact that so many dedicated parents are estranged today shows that this is part of a larger social phenomenon, more than the problem of any one parent.”
Among other relevant social trends, Coleman identifies shifting attitudes about what constitutes physical child abuse as a driving factor: “However loving, dedicated, or invested you were, your adult children have their own scale to weigh your behavior as a parent, one calibrated in a way far different from the one you brought into the nursery.”  
Part of that different scale is reflected in modern attitudes about the inappropriateness of whipping, switching, smacking, or paddling. “A common thread in the perspective of estranged children are allegations of harm committed by the parent. This is challenging terrain for today’s parents of adult children because much of what younger generations consider hurtful or neglectful parental acts, would barely be on the radar for parents of almost any generation before.” In fact, despite estrangement being roughly as common as spousal divorce, examples lifted from Coleman’s estrangement-focused psychology practice feature a telling number of physical abuse allegations. Coleman claims that many are based on conduct that previous generations would have considered reasonable and even responsible parenting.
“There’s been a generational change,” says Dr. Robert Sege, lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement against corporal punishment. “As we’ve woken up to the issues of domestic violence and intimate partner violence there’s been a growing rejection of any sort of violence within the home, including spanking.”
Global approval for physical punishment has been in decline for more than a century. New Jersey banned paddling from public schools in the 1870s, and similar laws have expanded to cover more than 90% of American public school children. Dozens of countries including America’s closest allies list physical punishment of children as a criminal offense. In the U.S., it is against the law to spank children in group homes or foster care, and tales of parents heading to prison for whipping or paddling their kids appear in the news every day. Such developments are cheered by all but a fringe of secular experts, who broadly agree that spanking carries serious risks of physical, emotional and psychiatric harm not offset by any potential benefit.
In contrast to prior generations, the majority of today’s parents have taken to heart the global consensus on physical discipline. According to a Monitoring the Future study of 25 consecutive groups of graduating high school seniors, among adults with children aged 2 to 12 years old, the proportion who said they spanked their child dropped from 50 percent in 1993 to 35 percent in 2017. As a consequence, younger adults may feel a moral responsibility to deny both sympathy and affection to a parent who they consider a serious criminal for inflicting emotional injuries while willfully ignoring widely publicized and accepted scientific evidence.
Coleman points out that the decision to estrange from such a parent is now also likely to be met with considerable support, particularly on social media. “The current model of how we become who we are puts adults on a path of self-discovery where the quest is to hunt down and eliminate — not only those traits that stand in the way of happiness, but the individuals they believe to have put those problems there in the first place.” So while there’s nothing new about ending family relationships, “conceptualizing the estrangement […] as an expression of personal growth and achievement is almost certainly new.”
Coleman’s heart is clearly for healing estranged parents — so much so that I, as a survivor of child abuse, spent an hour crying in the shower after reading this book, which is filled with Coleman seeming to minimize crimes like child torture and rape with statements like: “however small or great your mistakes as parents, those mistakes don’t mean that living the rest of your lives without your children or grandchildren is a just punishment for whatever complaints they have about what you did or didn’t do.”
Ultimately, Coleman is forced to admit that most of the estranged children he contacts demonstrate little interest in relating to their parents. By his own estimates, nearly two-thirds of estranged adult children he approaches either ignore or openly rebuff his guided attempts at reconciliation. “Many” use mediation sessions as a platform to verbally berate their abusers for as long as the therapist allows it.  “It’s one thing for an adult child to say, ‘I resent that you weren’t there for me more, that you were critical, self-absorbed, whatever.’ But it’s another to scream insults and tell them they should die.”
When reconciliation fails, Coleman’s task is to help parents come to grips with the heartaches of being permanently exiled. He offers advice on what to do with the estate that your adult children do not want, how to respond when your son or daughter files for a restraining order, and suggests how you might excuse yourself for a cry when your dinner companions start sharing photos of their grandchildren. “The message of estrangement,” Coleman writes, “is that you can have your most treasured person torn from you and there’s nothing — or seemingly nothing — that you can do about it.”
Supported by case-studies lifted from Dr. Coleman’s psychology practice, the author’s latest, titled Rules of Estrangement, (Harmony Books, Releasing 2021) is a brisk read that packs valuable insights into a few well-thought-out pages. Coleman clearly has little empathy for victims or survivors of child abuse, but his work is a harbinger, making it clearer than ever that the debate over legally sanctioned family violence has already ended. For a while longer, America’s governing generation will deny children legal protection, but nothing protects parents from their children’s moral outrage: “some parents have been so destructive when the child was young that there is little left to build a foundation upon, even if the parent is able and willing, later in life, to make amends.”
M. Dolon Hickmon explores the intersections of religion and child abuse in essays published around the web, as well as in the pages of his critically acclaimed novel, 13:24 – A Story of Faith and Obsession.
Was this review helpful?
Dr. Coleman's newest book, Rules of Estrangement, is not for the faint of heart. If you are dealing with a family estrangement and are ready to do the work to try to repair it (at least on your part), it is a great resource. With real life examples of how estrangements happen, as well as ways to communicate and possibly reconcile, Dr. Coleman gives tangible advice and empathy to those suffering an estrangement.  He explains estrangement from both the parent's and adult child's perspective, as well as how to navigate an estrangement. I highly recommend this book! 
I was fortunate to receive an advanced reader copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
Family estrangement--more common than not.

Sound and illuminating advice for very tricky family situations involving estrangement and broken relationships. No guarantees of reconciliation, but sound suggestions that might give clarity and ways forward towards understanding. Well worth a thorough investigation.

A Rodale ARC via NetGalley 
(Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.)
Was this review helpful?
Parent-child relationships are amongst the most difficult to navigate. Coleman's book is a good guide to getting a damaged relationship back on track.

Coleman's advice is good and supported by great case studies. Each chapter is primarily about a specific case study or case studies. These studies are then interspersed with advice about the dynamics underlying the story and strategies to get that type of relationship back on track. Many books put the methods front and center, which is tough to do with material that can be somewhat advanced for laypersons. The case study method grounds the ideas in reality, making them more accessible.

I enjoyed the fact that each chapter addresses a different type of estrangmement relationship. This helps make each chapter stand alone and allows a person who has a specific type of estrangement get advice tailored for their situation. A person who had an abusive mom may not get much out of advice for healing a relationship with a drug addicted child. Keeping the separate is good.

I'd recommend this book.
Was this review helpful?
RULES OF ESTRANGEMENT: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict.

One of the most devastating and heartbreaking ordeals that a parent will ever have to face except the death of a child or children is dealing with the pain and suffering when your Adult Child decides to cut off all contact with his/her parent(s). Joshua Coleman who is the author of this book could also be summed up as an expert in estrangement in families. He has had first hand experience because his eldest child who is a daughter had at one time cut all ties with him. He also cites numerous composites of both estranged parents and also the estrange adult child's viewpoints. First off I am amazed at how often this happens in today's day and age versus when I was growing up. Parent's of estranged adult children have to take 100 percent responsibility for causing the estrangement if they ever hope to reconcile with their adult child. They may not agree with the reasons that the estranged adult child gives for reasons of the cut off. But if they hope to end the estrangement the parents must come from a place of empathy and try to view the estranged adult child's perspective. This is done by attempting to draft an apology letter to the estranged adult child. What struck me about this book's powerful message is that as a parent most try their best to be the best parent that they can be by not repeating the same mistakes that the parent experienced growing up by their own parent. Parent's generally try to give their children all of the advantages that they themselves were not given and still that doesn't guarantee that your adult child won't accuse you of hurting them or for their reasons from cutting off their parents.

The list of reasons for adult children cutting off their parents either one or both is much too exhaustive to go into in a single review. Divorce can be a contributing factor where one parent tries to alienate the adult child from the other parent. Getting angry or defensive or blaming the adult child in any way can be a recipe for disaster. Joshua Coleman suggests that if an estranged parent has any hopes of reconciliation with their adult child whom has chosen to cut ties the parent or parents must take the high road. There is also sibling estrangement which occurs if one of the adult child perceives that a particular sibling was the favorite child or has been given more materialistic opportunities. He suggests that sibling estrangement does not cause the same degrees of pain and suffering in each other as it does to a parent. Some parent's cited their estranged adult child's girlfriend, fiancee and later daughter or son in law is the reason for parent estrangement. He urges estranged parents never to put down or criticize the daughter or son in law no matter what as this will lead to their estranged adult child to side against the parents with their spouse. I found that the subject was given a broad assessment as to the multitude of reason's that this rising epidemic occurs. This was not a topic that made for easy reading but it does offer steps, myths and ways of carrying on a joyful and peaceful life if reconciliation doesn't happen. Joshua Coleman does seem to have a high success rate if he can successfully email or urge the estranged adult child to enter therapy with the estranged parents and the estranged adult child if both are able to enter family therapy.

Publication Date: March 2, 2021

Thank you to Net Galley, Joshua Coleman and Rodale Inc./Harmony publishing for generously providing me with my ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

#RulesOfEstrangement #JoshuaColeman #RodaleIncHarmonyPublishing #NetGalley
Was this review helpful?
In Rules of Estrangement, Dr. Joshua Coleman describes the phenomenon of adult child/parent estrangement, the many causes, ways to repair the damage, and how to manage the pain and heal if your child has no interest in rekindling the relationship. Coleman is an experienced psychologist, having worked with hundreds of estranged families throughout his career, but he also has personal first-hand knowledge of how painful estrangement can be, as his daughter cut him out her life for several years. 

This book can serve as a helpful guide for the bewildered parents who wonder where everything went wrong and how they can repair their relationships with their adult children. Coleman, who takes great strides not to take any sides, may alienate some readers with his opinion that in order for parents to begin anew, they must coddle their children, listen patiently to their complaints, find the kernel of truth in them, and seek to become better parents, all without defending themselves or sharing their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Some might argue that it is this very behavior that has led to a spoiled, immature, self-centered generation that has no qualms in cutting off their parents in the first place. Still, it would seem that the methods Coleman advocates does work, if parents are willing to swallow their pride and accept a large part of the blame, however fair or unfair that may be. 

There was one F-word thrown into the very end of the book that was jarring, considering Coleman's professional tone throughout. I couldn't figure out why it was thought necessary to add, and it should be removed before the final versions are printed. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Rodale Inc. for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?