Out in the Open

Family estrangement isn't as rare as we think, we just don't talk about it

'People don't understand the kind of thought that goes into it.' Even though estrangement touches many families, it remains highly stigmatized and widely misunderstood. Becca Bland, founder of Stand Alone, shares her own experience of estrangement, which includes not just emotional hurt but ultimately emotional freedom.
Becca Bland is chief executive of Stand Alone, a UK-based organisation that supports and advocates for people affected by family estrangement. Bland has been estranged from her parents for nearly a decade. (Submitted by Becca Bland)

When Becca Bland stopped seeing her parents nearly ten years ago, it wasn't something she shared with many people.

She had a difficult relationship with her mother that ultimately became unsustainable. "Some quite difficult things were said," Bland says.

During the early days of her estrangement, Bland felt compelled to hide it. She says she felt a fear of re-rejection, as well as a sense of shame. She even made up a story that her parents had moved to Australia to explain their absence in her life. 

"People used to say to me, 'you only get one mom,'" Bland says. "But I didn't get the kind of mom you see on TV or you see in films."

We haven't all got that chocolate-box family... It actually is quite normal that people in family networks don't speak to each other.- Becca Bland

Stories of estrangement

Ultimately, she came out about it in a big way, by writing about her experience in for The Guardian. Many people contacted her afterwards to share their own difficult experiences of estrangement, and she began to see how common estrangement truly is and how many misconceptions have gone unchallenged.

"I think people don't understand the kind of thought that goes into it and it's not just a flippant decision made in the spur of the moment," says Bland. "Many people describe [the choice] as the worst of many worse choices."

Bland ended up starting an organization called Stand Alone in the United Kingdom for the support and advocacy of estranged people with the hope that she could better educate the public.

She says they get hundreds of e-mails a week from people all over the world — including Canada.

There are so many positives... I have more agency to truly be who I am.- Becca Bland

Greater empathy

Bland hopes for acceptance for people who don't have loving relationships with their family, and that family estrangement can be normalized. Spouses are allowed to be divorced. Friendships can end. Why do we have such different expectations for families?

"We shouldn't separate out our family relationships from the general behaviours that relationship goes through," she says.

More than that, estrangement is about much more than the pain that can come from the initial fracture. For Bland, the estrangement with her parents has enabled her to take control of her life and appreciate the people who care for her.

"I think when you grow up in an environment where there's a lot of negative messaging, it can really surprise you when you're in a situation where, people actually really enjoy and want you around," says Bland.

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Estrangement".