Disowned, Disinherited, Estranged: What’s the Difference?

I was watching Grey’s Anatomy last night, when Callie said her mother almost disowned her for being gay. Disowned. People like to use the word loosely, but for me, it’s a term I don’t use lightly. It’s a condition I wish on no one. Gay or not. Murderer or not. Pregnant or not. Drug abuser or not.

Callie might have said her mother was mad or that they were “estranged” for awhile, but disowned is forever. Webster defines disown as “to refuse to claim or accept as one’s own.” When my father gave interviews, he would say he had only two children, not acknowledging I was his daughter. In his obituary, I am not listed as a survivor, but that was my stepmother’s doing. I’m not clear what my father’s dying wish was. Did he want me so permanently and publicly disowned?

To disinherit someone is slightly different. To disinherit is to cut them out of your will. Parents may disinherit a child regardless of whether or not they were on speaking terms. Money is often used for power, trying to force a child to do something. I blame fame and money, in part, on my family’s downfall. The year that we were closest was the year my father lost his job. I can accept being disinherited as I think of it as blood money. Being disowned is harder. Love has always been a more powerful motivator for me than money. So my father withheld both.

“Estranged” is another one of those terms. Webster defines to estrange as “to alienate the affections of or to make hostile or unsympathetic.” A parent may not talk to an estranged child or vice versa. They may not visit in person but at least they acknowledge one another exist. I think there is a lot of estrangement out there, more than disowning, but it’s often temporary. Maybe the estrangement lasts months, maybe years. My father and I were estranged for more than 20 years. It goes hand-in-hand with disowning.

I continue to be estranged from my brother and sister. Their choice, not mine. I couldn’t say for sure if they too have disowned me. Do they acknowledge they have a sister? Probably not, because then they’d have to explain our situation. A story that can’t be explained, that can’t be justified. It's better to keep me a secret.





2 thoughts on “Disowned, Disinherited, Estranged: What’s the Difference?

  1. It’s horrible being disowned by the people who are supposed to love you unconditionally – I don’t know your story but I know your pain, I know the loneliness and your lack of self worth – I know the feeling when your husband says I love you and you think… why? how? I know what it is like watching others at weddings or just with their families sharing and laughing, its like a stab in the heart.


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