Bearing the unbearable: When a daughter shuns you

 In Shunned, The Departure Lounge, Tools & Resources

By Janet L. Stanley, MA

Editor’s note: This month’s guest post reveals this mother’s powerful insight that gave her a measure of acceptance and peace while being shunned.- LC


There are no answers.

It’s been nearly two years since I’ve seen her beautiful face. Two years since I’ve heard her sweet voice. Two years since my adult daughter has chosen not to be in my life. It’s been two years of walking through the flames of un-mitigating and excruciating pain I have no language to adequately describe.

And, when asked why, the honest answer is, “I don’t know.”

How does a parent reconcile the absence of a child when it is a choice the adult child has made? I don’t have an answer.

What I do know is that I don’t believe I will ever reconcile her absence from my life. I also know, this is the greatest loss I have ever or will ever face. The gut wrenching terror of facing the fact that I may never see her again has been debilitating. Crying hasn’t been merely crying – it has been akin to keening – a wailing and lamenting practiced in Ireland that can literally go on for hours without reprieve.

Brought to my knees.

My daughter’s shunning brought me to my knees. When I believed I couldn’t go on another day without her I considered ending my own life. The depression was overwhelming and encompassed every cell of my being.

It’s like you’re holding on with your fingertips and your fingers begin to slip a little at a time, trying desperately to not let go, to will yourself to tighten your grip. No matter how hard you try, eventually you find yourself lost, fallen into the depths of despair, having no idea where to turn or who to turn to.

Asking for help.

I found myself in an ER Psychiatric Unit where I received compassionate and supportive care. I was diagnosed with hypomania, a mental illness on the bipolar continuum. With medication I am stable and grateful for an insightful and caring doctor who “got it.” You see, my daughter’s absence didn’t cause my mental illness. It did, however, cut away all my defenses leaving me in a very vulnerable place.

Accepting a new reality.

Missing her is a new part of my being that I have worked at integrating into my life. It’s part of my new reality.

There will be no phone call on Mother’s Day or on my birthday. There will be no opportunity to reminisce with her about the adventures we took together or her childhood. It has been a journey of faith for me. Faith I have questioned while considering myself “spiritual.”

I couldn’t understand why my daughter has made the choice she has made. And I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me. And yet, as I have mentioned, I profess to be spiritual; to have faith and believe we are never NOT on our path. No matter where we are—no matter how much pain and sorrow, no matter what we are confronted with—we are never not on our path.

A crisis of faith.

So, I had to ask myself, “Do I believe? Do I truly have my faith or was it convenient to ‘be spiritual’ only when life is good? And, if I do believe in my spiritual journey, do these sacred tenets of life only apply to me and not to my daughter?”

Now, I’ve come to understand she too is on her path, that she is exactly where she is meant to be at this juncture in her life learning. She is learning whatever lessons, those far wiser than I, believe she needs to learn. The universe has “got this.” The Wisdom Keepers, the Ancestors, the Ancient Ones, the All Knowing, the Divine have got this under control and I either believe what I hold dearly as my spiritual life or I continue to question the very core of who I believe myself to be.


What I have chosen and what I have learned.

I am choosing my faith. It isn’t easy. I have good days and I have not so good days.

I miss my daughter everyday and pray for her everyday.

I still cry at times, wishing I could hear her sweet voice, see her beautiful face and hold her in my arms once again. I know there is as much chance I will see her once again as there is that I may never see her again. One doesn’t outweigh the other.

I have learned greater tenderness towards myself and have stopped being embarrassed and/or ashamed for a decision in which I had no say.

I have learned greater tenderness towards my daughter, knowing she is exactly where she is meant to be at this juncture in her life. I have learned that there is no moment other than this moment. And I’m learning the unknown is truly the great mystery of life.

I look at it in wonder and know that I am never NOT on my path.

Janet Stanley spent 30 years working in the non-profit community. She was the co- founder of the Coalition for Reproductive Choice, San Diego County and worked nationally as a trainer early in the HIV/AIDS pandemic. She was the Clinic Director of Planned Parenthood, Santa Barbara County and served as the. CEO for one of the largest organizations on the West Coast providing services to both the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities and later as the CEO for the American Red Cross, Santa Barbara County. Today she is a Shamanic Practitioner and Celebrant. Visit her website to learn more about her work.


Showing 8 comments
  • Leah Roos

    Aunt J…so beautifully raw and real. My mother’s heart aches so deeply hearing your hearts story. Thank you for sharing these intimate feelings and what you have learned from all of this.

  • Angela Arabia-Meyer

    A friend suggested I read this in the hopes that it might help me. But there is a difference with your story and mine. I would love to hear your thoughts about my similar, but different story. My daughter left two days before her 18th Birthday, in November of her senior year of high school in 2014. She is my oldest child. I have 3 others. It has aged me. I don’t know how I can ever be okay again.

    • Linda A. Curtis

      Thank you for writing. I hear the understandable distress between your words. The blog you refer to was contributed by a guest writer, Janet Stanley. I am happy to introduce you to her via email. If you would like to reach out to her directly, this is her email:
      She wrote the blog to be of service to other parents, so I’m sure she would be happy to hear from you. I am also happy to speak with you. As Janet learned, while you can’t ever expect to ‘get over’ the absence of your daughter, there are things you can do to reconcile your emotions so you can continue making a contribution to the family that remains, and your community. My personal experience with leaving my family religion (which I describe in my memoir “Shunned: How I Lost My Religion and Found Myself”) brought me face-to-face with the challenge of grieving for family members that were still alive. I learned alot from that experience. I offer 30 minute complementary phone sessions, which can be arranged using the electronic calendar found under Services / Private Consultations on my website. How does that sound? Linda

  • Shannon Rowland

    Your story is so well written and conveys the depth and unnatural pain of losing a child. I have lost two of my own daughters who chose to leave me for their cult belief at the age of 18 themselves. It has now been 9 and 5 years respectively since I have been on the other side of a bubble wishing to be in theirs. My younger daughter now has a daughter of her own. It is inconceivable for these rejections to occur in life. However, as you yourself stated my girls are on their own path and I must believe in a greater power that has a lesson or blessing for us in this universe and will simply continue my path as they do theirs. After leaving a cult and loosing all family to death or shunning it has brought me a few very lonely years. I then wound up in a very abusive relationship and discarded once again. I believe it was at that time that I chose alone time to understand my childhood and wounds that I had chosen to cover over rather than nurture and heal on my own. I must say I am still very lonely and my boss is my emergency contact lol but I have also come to an inner peace and a greater understanding of my worth. I have a renewed desire to allow my soul to grow but this time with the freedom and lack of fear that I had in my past. I was also able to do something courageous by being one of the contributor’s on the Leah Remini: The Aftermath Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am still doing a lot of self reflection and healing but, I do desire to do so much more to advocate and encourage other’s to manage life losses and still find enrichment from within. I really do not have a support network at this time and look forward to finding more people on this path to share and learn from. I am reading Shunned at this time and must say I have been totally enthralled and the story is so very similar to my own in several ways. I look forward to reading and learning more and am so thankful to have found your book and now your website.

  • Janet Moody

    Your story is so much like mine. I was in a psych unit also and needed ECT for clinical depression.
    My journey has lasted almost 12 years. Surprisingly my daughter’s ex has “allowed” me to send gifts to my granddaughter, but this happened just before Christmas and no other contact. My granddaughter is at least aware that I am alive. This was my only child who I raised alone. It is still painful, but I no longer in a terrible depressed fog. I retired early and keep busy.

    • Linda A. Curtis

      Hello Janet,
      Thank you for taking the time to write. I’m sorry things are this way for you and I SO wish things could be different. I can’t imagine many things that are worse than being shunned by one’s own child. This piece was written by a guest blogger, Janet Stanley. A link to her website is at the end of the blog, in case you wish to reach out to her directly. I will also let her know you write in.
      Take good care of yourself,

  • Elizabeth B

    My unimaginable grief has turned into abject hate for my daughter who shuns me. I am filled with rage when I let the thought of the monster gain entry. I feel hate, hate, hate for the vicious cruelty. God, please help me forgive. Please help me escape this suffocating bitterness. My grief has become a toxic hate. She plunged the jagged knife in and now I am twisting it with this self destructive inner rage. I just want the heartache to stop.

    • Linda A. Curtis

      Dear Elizabeth,
      Thank you for taking the time so share your experience. I am truly empathetic to your situation, as I have also experienced shunning by close family members, including my mother, brother and sister. (My father once shunned me too, but he has softened since my mothers death. We are not close but do talk by phone from time to time.) Obviously the relationship between and mother and child is a completely different experience. You may have noticed that this is a guest-blog post by Janet Stanley who, like you, has endured that particular shunning experience. If you wish, I can suggest that Janet also respond to your comments here. Grief and anger are powerful human experiences that we all share, and it takes a lot of time and work to process these betrayals so we can move forward with our lives and find joy once again. I’m not sure the heartache ever stops, but it can – with inner work – become bearable. Wishing you peace over time. – Linda