Reasons to Disown a Child

Is there any valid reason to disown a child? I can’t think of one, not even murder. As a mother, I have brought my children into the world, and I feel responsible for them, forever. This is not to say that I am responsible for their actions or decisions, but that I will always, always be their mother … to love them, to guide them, to hug them when they make mistakes. I don’t see it as my job to control them (unless of course we are talking about a 3-year old having a tantrum). And yet here are some reasons why people have been disowned:

  • Marrying a different race
  • Marrying a different religion
  • Being gay (see this awful letter)
  • Not taking care of their parents in the way their parents expect
  • Getting pregnant out of wedlock
  • Choosing to pursue a music career rather than devoting themselves to religion
  • Being born a boy when the father really wanted a daughter (and vice versa)

I still cannot readily say why I was disowned. I have sometimes told people it was because I grew up. The reason is true enough. When I got married, I moved to Switzerland. My father adored my husband, but I don’t think he wanted me to move overseas. He never told me this, of course. Would it have mattered if he did? So I think it hurt him that I moved and my father’s way of coping with hurt was to cut me out of his life. Ten years after my disowning, he wrote me a letter. I had been writing to my family for ten years, postcards, pictures, any little thing to keep trying to reconcile. They had never once written back. But this time, I had written to my younger sister, suggesting that our father was repeating a family cycle, since he had a secret older sister who had also been disowned (for getting pregnant). It was my father who replied, and it was a letter that nearly destroyed me. He said I was disowned because he and his wife (my stepmother) were happier without me. At the end of his letter, my father he told me never, ever to contact anyone in the family again. I know my step mother was glad to have me out of their lives, because I don’t think she is a very nice person. She brought out the worst in my father. But I kept these opinions to myself, because my father loved her. So what should I say—that I was disowned because my stepmother didn’t like me? Because my father was happier without me around? Or because my father couldn’t cope with losing me so he had to hurt me in return? Or because my father failed to understand how his own upbringing tainted our family, causing him to repeat the terrible cycle his father had started?

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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.