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When Families Become Strangers

A person's hand with red fingernail polish holds up a photograph of a home against the backdrop of a neighborhood street.
Sarah-Rose
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Family estrangement is an evolving state, with relationships changing over time.

The stories of those experiencing estrangement are nuanced, with moments of pain and moments of tenderness.

Our culture is full of idioms about the significance of family: Blood is thicker than water. He’s like a brother to me.

But for people who are estranged from one or more relatives, this focus on familial ties can make opening up about personal life more challenging.

Host Anita Rao talks with writer Raksha Vasudevan and marketing manager Tiffany Scott about their experiences with estrangement. Vasudevan cut off contact with her father and has superficial contact with her mom and brother, as she wrote in a recent piece for Harper’s Bazaar. Scott’s father left their family and stopped speaking with her in 2016, when she was 33. She blogs about her experience on "Good Dad, Gone Dad."

Siblings Fern Schumer Chapman and Scott Schumer also join the conversation to talk about their 40-year estrangement and what led to their reconciliation eight years ago. Chapman is the author of “Brothers, Sisters, Strangers: Sibling Estrangement and the Road to Reconciliation.”

Understanding Estrangement

What is estrangement?

“I think the word ‘strange’ in estrangement is really key. I think in relationships where I do feel this sense of estrangement, I feel almost a stranger to myself … because I feel sort of unseen.”

— Raksha Vasudevan

What leads to estrangement?

“I had a really, really bad relationship with my father. And I was in total fear of him…I just was so happy to get out of that, of the relationship at home between my sister, my father, my mother, and it built from there. I went off on a different path.”

— Scott Schumer

How do you process the feelings of being estranged?

“If this were a dating relationship, and if I was being ghosted, I would just have to come to terms with the fact that … for whatever reason, [that relationship]’s not there now. And that's kind of how I see my relationship with my dad.”

— Tiffany Scott

Is it possible to reconcile an estranged relationship?

“It's important that people ask themselves very crucial questions before they go back and try to reconcile. If they're gonna find themselves lapsing back into these old regressive patterns, it's probably not a good idea to go there again.”

— Fern Schumer Chapman

Stay Connected
Kaia Findlay is a producer for Embodied, WUNC's weekly, live talk show on health, sex and relationships. Kaia first joined the WUNC team in 2020 as a producer for The State of Things.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist and the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content.