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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Is Hope a Dangerous Thing?

I hate movies like The Bucket List, Last Song, or Peace Love and Misunderstanding that promise a happy ending to being disowned. In real life, there is no reconciliation, most of the time anyway. Actually, I’ve only seen the Bucket List, long before my father died, when I was still filled with hope, a hope that survived for more than 20 years. It was that hope that kept my heart open and spirit alive.

But then my father died, with no warning to me and certainly no reconciliation. His sudden death nearly destroyed me and everything I believed about him . . . about love.

There are some that would say that I was wrong to have hoped for a happy ending. If I hadn’t deluded myself about my father, then I would not have been so devastated. Are they right? Sometimes I think they are. I could have hardened myself 20 years ago and been spared a lot of pain. But I think that would have changed me as a person, as a mother.

My father had it in him to love and to forgive. It was his choice to hold a grudge. It was his choice to ignore the patterns of his past and of our family. It would have been difficult for him to reach out to me, and I can understand he would have been afraid of the pain. Would his daughter still love him after all that cruelty? Certainly there would have been consequences with his wife, my stepmother. But these were his choices. He could have chosen differently.

So I think I was right to hope, and I would never tell a person estranged from their family to give up.
I think those Hollywood happy endings are rare, very rare, but I have sometimes seen them. Consider this:

  • My grandfather reconciled with my aunt, who had been disowned for more than 20 years. Pop was dying, and it took a lot of lobbying from another aunt to bring peace.
  • A reader on this blog whose father disowned her brothers has reached out to them after decades. I hope her father will not maker her choose.
  • My nephew sent my daughter a facebook friend request … a nephew through my brother who has not spoken to me in 20 years.

So perhaps the healing happens in the next generation. I will remain forever hopeful. It's dangerous, I know.