Jimmy Carr recently set the jokes aside to open up about his non-existent relationship with his father. The comedian, who revealed last month that he became a first-time dad himself two years ago, said he hadn’t spoken to his own father for 21 years.
“You know the line, ‘My mother’s dead and my father’s dead to me’ – which sounds very cold, until you meet the guy,” he said on Rob Beckett and Josh Widdicombe’s Parenting Hell podcast.
Earlier this year, Meghan Markle also opened up about the strained relationship with her father Thomas Markle, after Oprah Winfrey asked her about a sense of “betrayal”.
Since the revelations, many others have shared stories of parental estrangement, how it’s impacted their lives and whether they had any regrets about ending contact with their mum and/or dad.
We spoke to some people about their situation and what caused them to leave – and asked a therapist what you need to consider before cutting ties.
“If I were to live my life the way I want around them, I know they would hurt me.”
Nina*, 25, Paris
“I was abused for a very long time by my family and always wanted to leave. They are also Muslim and I’m ex-Muslim, and if I were to live my life the way I want around them, I know they would hurt me.
“I feel better now that I have been able to do things I couldn’t before. Don’t get me wrong, it has been hard. I lost my grandma within two months of cutting ties and then my six-year relationship stopped.
“I feel lonely at times and I miss the rituals we had, the festivities and just being surrounded by people I still love. But I know I made the best decision.
“I still talk to my little sister and sometimes my mum, but only when it has to do with my little sister. I have some regrets as my mum is trying to change, but there’s nothing that would make me pretend to not be who I am.
“So, I would not change it. I know for a fact it would make me feel worse to go back home and interact with anyone from my family.”
“Not speaking to my mother is a blessing to me.”
Leanne, 32, London
“It’s always incredibly hard for anyone with close parents to understand, but when you didn’t have a great mum to begin with, there’s not much to miss or crave. Not speaking to my mother is a blessing to me. It’s been 10 years since I decided to cut contact between us – some of which was spent healing from the trauma of our relationship.
“It took a lot of hard work, many hours in therapy and personal growth to come to the point I’m at now, which is simply grateful. Not having a parent to rely on, as others may, comes with its positives. I’m a hugely independent person, and I relish in the freedom of trusting my instincts to lead choices, rather than having anyone to answer to.
“It allows me to cultivate closer bonds with people I proactively choose, rather than forcing myself to remain close to someone because of blood. I often think I value myself a lot more because of the choice I made.”
“My Father had a whole secret life and a well-hidden, damaging personality”
Celine, 45, London
“After 25 years it suddenly came out by accident that my father had a whole secret life and a fairly well-hidden, damaging personality. My family was shattered and my mum divorced him. I tried not to take sides at first, but he was hugely and solely at fault and didn’t make much effort in rebuilding our broken relationship, nor show any remorse or respect towards our family.
“I gave myself a year of space between us to see if things would change after that period of no contact, but he hadn’t. I decided I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life constantly dreading seeing him, biting my tongue, and wondering what was a lie and what wasn’t. He had showed that he could be perfectly happy without me in his life so I knew I could be too.
“He was in my life for 25 years so all my old childhood stories, photos and videos feature him. And it’s around his birthday, Father’s Day and Christmas that it gets hard. It felt and still feels like I’m grieving for a parent. But each year it gets easier.”
So how do you navigate a relationship with a difficult parent(s)?
Natasha Bray, a transformational coach and therapist who has also experienced estrangement, says it feels almost unnatural to want to cut ties with a family member as we’re taught from birth the importance of family. But, in some cases, it’s warranted.
She asks why leaving a toxic romantic relationship is okay, but not a parental one?
“As children all we want is for our parents to love us,” she says, “and that doesn’t change as an adult either, especially if we still have a wounded inner child inside.”
When navigating a difficult relationship with a parent, Bray says it’s essential to have strong boundaries in place around what is and isn’t acceptable.
“Limit contact where possible or only have contact with others present, in public places,” she says. “Receiving therapy – having someone to talk to and to help you address the triggers so you can also have emotional boundaries with the parent – really helps.”
Establishing boundaries with a parent may be easier said than done, because we tend to feel a deep, conflicting loyalty to our parents. However, working on this relationship is vital to your wellbeing – even if the process is tricky.
But if you’ve put the work in and things still haven’t improved, when is the right time to cut ties with a problematic figure?
“Being hurt by a parent is one of the deepest wounds we carry and it is usually a last resort to cut contact for one’s own emotional, physical and mental wellbeing,” says Bray.
“Many parents make mistakes – that’s normal and natural. But when parents do not change, especially where narcissism or abuse is involved, then it’s time to cut ties. When they don’t change despite you telling them their behaviour or words are hurtful to you.”
If you know someone who has made the decision to cut a parent out of their life, Bray says it’s important to recognise that they’ve probably done so for a good reason.
“It’s a drastic measure. A last resort,” she says. “It goes against the very nature ingrained in us, but sometimes it is absolutely necessary and born from a need to protect themselves.”
*Some names have been changed and surnames omitted to offer anonymity.