Category Archives: Answers to Common Questions

Some questions are common to parents of adult children who are estranged. This category names and answers some of the questions common to parents of estranged children.

Estrangement from adult children: Have you had enough?

estrangementby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

For parents of estranged adults who are sad, walking on eggshells to maintain even the most abusive or one-sided contact, or pining away for the son or daughter who lays blame for everything that has ever gone wrong in their life, there comes a time when enough is enough. Have you reached that point? The day when you’re ready to move on and seek out peace and happiness no matter what the “child” does?

Here are a few questions to help.

How long must you suffer?

Routinely, I hear from mothers and fathers who for ten or twenty years have been neglected, blamed, ridiculed, ignored, or contacted only when the son or daughter needs money. Their self-esteem has taken a huge hit because of the estrangement from adult children. Some are stuck in a sort of guilt mode that they don’t understand, even though they know they’ve been caring parents. Twice in recent months, life coaching clients have seen how their upbringing affected their boundaries and created undue guilt. Other parents wish there had been some closure, so they could lay it to rest. But although closure is bandied about in our society like a peaceful oasis, as I discuss in my book, Done With The Crying, closure is a myth.

Many of the parents in these long-term estrangements cope well most of the time, but their emotions are triggered when a death or other life event causes contact and/or renews their pain. When that happens, they can go on for weeks feeling blue, reliving the early shock and bewilderment of estrangement, and even asking “Why?” all over again.

Do you want to continue suffering? Sounds like a stupid question. Nobody wants to suffer, right? If you agree, then make a decision to change. Acknowledge all the hurt your son or daughter has caused, and decide not to allow it to shackle you anymore. If you find yourself resisting this idea, that it’s even possible, then it’s time to consider why.

estrangement from adult childrenSuffering: Has it become a habit?

For some, the idea of any relationship, even one that causes pain, is better than none—which keeps them stuck. If you feel this way, you may be caught in what’s become a habit or taken on a sort of victim mentality. But the truth is, you don’t have to. As I say in my book, only two letters separate the word victim from victor. Choosing to be a victor requires a choice, as the letters “OR” imply. It’s never too late to claim your right to be happy despite another adult’s decisions.

Does an idealistic belief hold you back?

You might be stuck because of the idea that a parent’s love should be unconditional. While no caring parent gives up instantly, after suffering with no change in sight, it’s okay to give yourself permission to take care of yourself. It may come down to thinking of releasing the need for a relationship that’s unhealthy, or even giving in rather than giving up.

Even if you’re a caring parent who did your best, it’s possible that a belief that it must be your fault is keeping you from moving forward. One mother shared that she grew up in a church with strict ideas about a mother’s role. Although she knew she had done her best, she also worried maybe the estrangement was a reflection of her working outside the home. It helped to see that stay-at-home mothers also have estranged children. Estrangement from adult children isn’t limited to a certain set of circumstances.

What beliefs might you have that affect your ability to move forward despite the estrangement? Pondering the question may be of use.

estrangementAre you reliving the past?

Some parents keep the pain alive by going over it again and again. One mother who has been estranged from her 52-year-old son for nearly thirty years routinely recounts her estrangement story in detail. She regularly relives the pain of the child she raised turning against her, slowly at first, and then with a full force that included insults and public humiliation. This intelligent woman runs a small business, has a devoted husband, and has raised two other successful and loving children whom the estranged son also left behind. She goes about her life with confidence, yet spends much of her quiet time ruminating over the son she lost, questioning how he could do such a thing to his family, and feeling sad.

This mother and a great many others regularly look for their adult children on social media, or even save old, unkind correspondence—and re-read it. Will it take a computer crash to free you from email from an angry estranged adult child that’s holding you back?

Right now, take a few moments to consider whether you are reliving the past and how doing so may hurt your progress.

Are you keeping company that keeps you stuck?

Some parents maintain relationships with people who remind them of their sorrow and keep them in limbo—unable to fix the problem yet unable to get on with their lives. That might be a relative or friend who says it’s the parent’s duty to keep trying no matter what—even when you’ve tried and been repeatedly beaten back by a son or daughter that wants no contact. daughter says no contactOften, these people with their platitudes don’t have a clue what estrangement is really all about. They think it’s a tiff that can blow over, or chalk it up to immaturity. Maybe those things are true in some instances, but after hearing from nearly 20,000 parents who’ve taken my survey, I know that isn’t true in most cases. Don’t let these people hold you back from a fulfilling life.

At times, even the guise of support can keep parents stuck. Here at the site, there’s a forum which, for the most part, is a helpful venue. Some parents who have moved beyond the pain stay active in the community to provide a caring word to newer members in the throes of early estrangement. While this is positive, there’s also a danger. It’s possible to get caught in an endless loop of recharged pain, anger, grief, and indignation as newcomers post about their circumstances and potentially trigger oldcomers’ pain. It’s also true that a support group can become a crutch, the go-to place to vent feelings or ask questions. At some point, it’s wise to step back and use your own good sense. Doing so can build your confidence.

When is enough enough?

One woman who joined the Facebook page some time ago left a wise comment. When out with her husband one day, they’d driven through the town in which her estranged adult child lives. In the past, she would say something to her husband, and the two would talk about the pain. But on that day, she purposely kept quiet. Her husband was surprised but glad. On Facebook, the woman said she’d come to the conclusion that enough was enough.

I can relate to this mother’s thoughts. Many have read my story, along with those of so many other parents in my book. They know that I used the book’s exercises and research to reclaim my self-esteem and confidence, and to move on in my life after estrangement. But my story didn’t stop with the last page of the book. I continue to move forward in a life with trials and distress (as well as happy times), and even the occasional conflict of some sort of contact from the estranged. I know as well as any parent that estrangement can press in like prying tentacles where and when we least expect it to. But I also know that it’s up to me how much that estrangedinfluence takes control. While it’s wise to face the reality and deal with residual effects, it’s not healthy to bemoan the loss and all its affects. Like that woman in the car who made a decision to drive on by, knowing her estranged adult child resided in the city yet choosing to let the pain alone, we can understand when enough is enough.

While attempting to reconcile with an estranged adult child is normal, don’t hinge your happiness on it. Going over what happened and why is natural, but there comes a time when you know you have done all that you can. For some, that includes an apology, or a note saying your door is open when or if they want to try. For others, based on their own situation, it means literally moving away.

Estrangement from adult children: Step forward

You can examine your relationship with a clear head, see how your beliefs might be limiting you, and understand how suffering can become a habit that keeps you stuck. With help and support, you can step forward in a way that strengthens and prepares you for a new way of life. Even while holding out hope, you can give yourself permission to let go, accept that change is inevitable, and embrace it for your own good. You can be done with the crying. Don’t waste another minute of your precious life.

Estrangement from adult children/Related posts:

The Boat

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Estrangement: What about hope?

estrangementby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

In the face of estrangement from adult children, the concept of hope frequently comes up. Some parents take comfort in the idea their estranged adult children might one day reconnect. Others waffle, wondering if hope is futile. Some parents let go of hope entirely, and believe it’s a positive step toward their emotional well-being. Others are troubled by the admission and worry that giving up hope isn’t normal.

Let’s take a closer look at the concept of hope as it relates to recovering from the pain of estrangement.

Estrangement: Is it wise to hope?

Parents suffering the throes of estrangement usually hang onto hope. Sometimes though, they wonder if hope is even realistic. They ask if it’s is healthy for them, or maybe holds them in a sort of limbo state.

“I would get caught up in magical thinking,” said one mother whose estrangement continues after six years. “At least I’ve come to see it like that.” This mother of two daughters whose oldest is estranged explains that in the beginning, she would often send texts, emails, and even phone messages (her daughter never answered), thinking if she just said the right thing, her daughter would return to her. “Now, I don’t believe anything I could do or say would make a difference,” she says. “But I still have hope.”

Hope is different than expectation.

This mom doesn’t equate her hope with expectation. People routinely hang onto hope when outcomes are beyond their control. Hope rises with the element of possibility more than probability. 1

Seeing hope for what it is allows you to get on with your own life.

In estrangement, can hope help?estrangement

For parents suffering the distress of estrangement from adult children, the hope of getting through the emotional trauma and having a happy life despite it can most certainly help.

Studies about hope often center on persons who are physically ill. Even so, we can learn from people whose precarious circumstances serve to highlight what’s most important in life. For these persons, hope can provide insight into their lives as a whole, and help them see how their past can intersect with their future.2

Similarly, parents devastated by an estrangement over which they have no real control can find a way to view and conceptualize hope as part of an overall narrative of their life and focus. For instance, seeing the part they played in their son or daughter’s upbringing—financially, emotionally, or otherwise—and understanding how that past role contributed to the adult child’s life and future as well.

Did you provide a stable environment? Allow your child to explore a variety of interests? Contribute financially to their physical wellness and/or education? Perhaps you were adventurous, and introduced your child to physical pursuits that widened their experiences and built their strength. How could things like these fit into your child’s adult life?

Ideas around hope can be unique, fitting into an individual parent’s personal life narrative. We always hoped for the best for their children. Continuing to hold out this hope for them, even in estrangement, can bolster our self-esteem and confidence. We are still good parents—despite our children’s choices.

estrangementHope for reconciliation:
Is it normal to give it up?

Among the many thousands of parents who have shared their estrangements with me, many say they have lost all hope of ever reconnecting in any significant way. Some go so far as to say they hope their child never tries. Or have even been contacted but turned their son or daughter away. Often, these parents are troubled by their feelings.

One parent whose son initiated estrangement admitted she hopes he’ll never try to return. Over several years of torment, her son duped her out of large sums of money that derailed her retirement. He even threatened to murder her. His estrangement came as a relief. After several months, she still suffers ill effects to her health, has trouble sleeping, and is sometimes plagued by the feeling that she must be to blame. Although she is relieved over his estrangement and honest that she’s given up the hope of ever having a relationship with him, those feelings trouble her. In her medical profession, hope is encouraged, so to personally experience a loss of hope cuts deep, slashing at her ideals.

This mother didn’t choose the estrangement, but because her son did, she’s since experienced a level of peace in her everyday life that wasn’t possible when her son remained in contact. She’s no longer awakened by hostile rantings and threats, and is no longer manipulated into financially rescuing her son.

It’s not difficult to understand why her son’s estrangement is liberating. This mother is similar to a couple in their seventies who, after years of verbal abuse and episodic estrangements initiated by their son and his wife, have decided that they will no longer allow him back into their lives. The pain of losing their grandchildren yet again, and of suffering their son’s vicious verbal tirades has taken its toll. Exhausted, these parents have chosen to savor their older years together, thankful for some peace. They’re no longer always on edge, in a perpetual state of fear. Their hope now rests with the grandchildren, whom they’re optimistic will one day contact them and pick up the loving relationship they cultivated during the “on” years of their on-and-off relationship controlled by their estranged son.

These parents cut off the prospect of further distress. Their reasoning aligns with the thoughts of philosopher Friedrich Nietzche, who calls hope “the most evil of evils, because it prolongs man’s torment.”3

No hope when nothing has changed

One father recently sent me an email, telling about his experience during six years of estrangement from his son. This loving father who had tried to have a good relationship with his son had been holding out hope. He fully expected that if his son did ever return to him, life lessons would have helped him mature—similar to the prodigal son who returned with a changed heart. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. This father welcomed his estranged son into his home, but within a few minutes, the son proceeded to list what he saw as his father’s faults. He blamed his father for all of the problems in his life, and also the estrangement.

Reminded of the old turmoil—as compared with the relative peace during the six-year estrangement—this father told his son to leave and never come back. And then he sent me an email, wondering if it is common for parents to put an end to a relationship with an abusive son.

The answer is yes.

I hear from parents at all stages of estrangement: a week of no contact, one year, five years, or even decades. While it’s true that the majority say they wish they could have a good relationship, many admit to having lost all hope. Some for reasons like the parents above. Others because a son or daughter is now a stranger. Many explain why they know that a normal relationship isn’t possible, and they no longer want to try—yet are still plagued by sadness and worry their loss of hope represents some personal shortcoming.

Hope: Against the odds?

In the first example, the mother spoke of hope as integral in her work. Hope helps people who are suffering, often in situations that are largely out of their control. That’s how the idea of maintaining hope differs from optimism about more self-determined outcomes. We “hope” that there will be no traffic. We “hope” our surgery will go well. We “hope” that a friend with cancer survives. Other than the obvious things we might do to help these situations along, such as leave at low-traffic times or choose a reputable doctor, the outcomes are mostly beyond our control.

Hoping an estrangement will end is normal, but it’s also wise to accept that the outcome is beyond our control. Some parents can see that in their situation, it also isn’t likely. For them, leaving hope behind makes sense in order to stop the torment of continued hurt.

The couple in their seventies who are optimistic their grandchildren will one day reconnect make a distinction between hope and optimism. The oldest was 14 when the last estrangement began. They still send cards to her and her younger siblings, although they can’t be sure they’re receiving them. They reason that their granddaughter was old enough to see that her father’s bad behavior wasn’t their fault.

Limits are unique

We each decide our own limits as to how much trouble, abuse, or neglect we will accept in estrangement and still hope for reconciliation. In my book, there is a series of questions that help individuals conclude for themselves where they fall in the spectrum. Sometimes, taking a hard look at the realities of the relationship dynamics helps parents come to terms with what is, and move forward in their own lives—whether holding out hope or not.

If you’re troubled by your lack of hope or your decision to close the door to reconciliation, you’re not alone. As parents, we’re accustomed to caring for our children. For parents, sometimes the lines between childhood and adulthood can blur. An adult who has caused us repeated troubles may trigger the love we felt for a child who made a mistake. But that’s not the same as an adult son or daughter whose mistakes aren’t innocent or childlike.

Eventually, to protect their physical strength, their sanity, and their future, many parents draw the line—which is a healthy self-preservation response. Many of these parents say they wish they’d have done so sooner.

estrangementHope for ourselves

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” ~ Desmond Tutu

As I say in my book, the landscape of loss is fertile ground for growth. When it comes to a happy future, we have more than hope. We can be optimistic and cultivate the fruits of our positive expectations with action. We can control our thoughts, our behavior, and for the most part, our lives. We can be happy, despite loss.

My hope is that all the caring parents who have been mistreated and estranged will make the most of their treasured lives.

References:

  1. Bury, S.M., Wenzel, M., Woddyatt, L. (2016). Giving hope a sporting chance: Hope as distinct from optimism when events are possible but not probable. Motivation & Emotion. 40:588-601
  2. Dal Sook, K., Hesook, S.K., Thorne, S. (2017). An Intervention model to help clients to seek their own hope experiences: The Narrative communication model of hope seeking intervention. Korean Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care. 20(1):1-7.
  3. Nietszche, F. (1994). Human, all too human. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Related articles:

Adult children won’t talk to you: What does it mean to cope?

Parents abandoned by adult children: Shape your new normal

 

Prodigal children? How many estranged adult children return?

prodigal childrenby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Prodigal children—it’s a term I sometimes hear used by parents for their estranged adult children.  They’re hopeful that as happens in the Bible account of the prodigal son, their adult children will come to their senses, realize their errors, and return to the family changed for the better.

They may be right. Their estranged sons and daughters may turn out to be prodigal children. Adults who disconnect from their families may, in fact, at some point realize they want their family back.  It’s natural for parents to maintain hope.

How many estranged adults are truly “prodigal” children?

Recently, a mother asked if I had statistics. How many estranged adult children, she wondered, end up successfully reconnecting?

For me to come up with an accurate statistic like that would require taking the same people whose info I used in the book (9,000 parents) and reconnecting with each and every one of them. And then you’d have to reconnect again to find out if more reconciled in a later year. Or some left the family again. It would go on and on. Longitudinal studies like that are difficult to do. That’s one reason why, no matter the subject, few such studies are completed.

A study of a quantity of “average” families might also yield results, though perhaps less accurate. Families might be asked if they had ever had a son or daughter become estranged. And if they had, did they reconcile?

I am working on research right now about the families who do reconcile with their prodigal children (or estranged adult children, if that sounds better to you). Although I am more focused on the circumstances and experiences than the numbers.

If you have reconciled, please take the survey, Reconciling with Estranged Adult Children, and share the experience so that other parents might benefit from what you have learned.

Prodigal children? Or a gap that widens?

As of this writing, the survey has not shed much helpful light. It’s like a client said to me the other day: “The more time goes on, the wider the gap becomes.”

This mother of an estranged daughter—who she hopes will one day return to her—echoes the troubling feelings expressed by many other parents: The more years go by the less a return might feel like reuniting with a precious son or daughter as it would be about meeting a stranger.prodigal children

For some it may be even worse.  After all, this is a person they used to know. They may start to regard prodigal children more like a neighbor known since babyhood. A neighbor that grew up and put them on total ignore. Or maybe did and said hurtful things. Maybe even shocking things that sullied reputations, emptied bank accounts, and created additional rifts. The neighbor might have returned a few times for short stays and been welcomed with open arms and hearts . . . and then wreaked havoc and caused further damage.

After so many dashed hopes when contact is made for the wrong reasons, recognizing sincere intentions might be difficult. There are consequences to continued hurtful behavior, even when there’s forgiveness (as is explained in a prior article: Why forgive?). Trust can be a vulnerable thing.

Prodigal children: not necessarily a religious connotation

Obviously, the story of the prodigal has deeper meanings than how the term is being used  here. This is not intended as a religious commentary or lesson.

If you’re estranged adult child did return to you, please take the survey and share your experience. I hope to share some happy reconciliation stories in the future.

An unknown future: What can you do now?

Many parents pray for their estranged adult or “prodigal” children. Many wish for their happiness, that they live fulfilling lives, and also maintain hope that they will someday reconcile. Of course, maintaining hope doesn’t mean staying stalled, forever sad, and unable to enjoy life. Don’t fall into the trap of limiting your life until or unless your son or daughter returns to you.

Life is fleeting. Live it fully. Now.

Parents of estranged adults really can have happy, productive lives, and still hold out hope for a son or daughter’s return. Along with information to help parents move peacefully forward, that’s one of the messages conveyed in my book, Done With The Crying, To find out more, go to the Amazon store and put these words into the search box:

prodigal child

Hit enter, and you’ll find Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children on the first page of results. If you click the title, you’ll be taken to its main listing where you can read more about the book as well as reader reviews. It’s now available in either paperback or E-book (Get your Kindle). Watch for the upcoming audio version next.

More reading:

Shape your new normal

Emotional scars after an adult child’s estrangement

The Boat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rejected parents: Should you tell people?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

parents cut off by adult childrenRecently, some mothers of estranged adults brought up an article in a major publication that pegged meddling mothers-in-law as the main cause of estrangement. It’s a simplistic view. Having studied the topic of estranged adult children in depth, I know the problem is much more complex and varied. A long chapter in my book covers the causes at length. But our society has been conditioned to believe that kids wouldn’t reject decent, loving folks. So when it comes to parents cut off by adult children, it’s fair to say that most people wonder what the parent must have done to cause the break.

Unfortunately, kind, supportive parents cut off by adult children often feel a sense of shame or guilt, even when they know they did their best (often explained by the concept of innocent guilt). That, and the fear of being judged by others, can keep them suffering in silence. They may have even brought up the topic, seeking support, and received judgment instead. So parents cut off by adult children may stop talking and start to isolate themselves. Even in small communities where most people know about the estrangement, these parents veer away from the proverbial elephant in the room.

parents cut off by adult childrenEvery estrangement situation is different. For some of us, it may be possible and desirable to meet the estrangement topic head on. Doing so may educate others about the growing phenomenon of caring, supportive parents cut off by adult children.

If we remain silent and fearful of gossip, it’s possible that our silence feeds into the idea that we as parents are at fault or did something horrible to cause the estrangement. Also, by remaining silent on the matter, or keeping social connections superficial, we don’t provide the opportunity for another person to be our friend.

I know how incredibly painful estrangement is. Parents cut off by adult children can, without good reason, end up feeling very small. It’s like having your legs lopped off at the knees! But walking around with our heads bowed in undeserved shame isn’t wise or fair to ourselves. Oh, how the neck can hurt when we’re always holding our heads low!

Having authored my book on the topic to help parents cut off by adult children move forward and find happiness again, I am forever in a position to talk about the subject of estrangement. I’ve grown used to doing so. Still, I’m occasionally hit with one of those looks, odd questions, or rude responses—and sometimes it even bothers me. I’m human after all. For the most part, I parents cut off by adult childrenrefuse to participate in someone else’s warped view of me. I’m a good person. I’m a decent human being. I’m a good mother and wife, a stable, accomplished person.

Talking about the experience is easier if you steer another person’s responses. It’s about making the other person more comfortable with the truth. It’s about saying, well gosh, here’s this cruddy thing in my life, and I get that you probably wonder what I did, but you know, I’m not so horrible. It happens to the best of us.

In fact, I’ve met all sorts of really, really kind, caring people from all over the world who find themselves in shock, in a situation they would have never expected. Either there’s a phenomenon of some sort, or we’re an army of monsters wearing aprons, spending time with the kids, and looking through old albums of photographs we somehow altered to make it look like our families were happy.

Parents cut off by adult children: Some food for thought

I understand that the people reading this blog have experienced estrangement for different amounts of time. Some of you have been estranged for many years. Others for only a few months. I get that you may not want to talk to people about the experience, maybe foparents cut off by adult childrenr fear others will judge your son or daughter (with whom you’re sure you’ll eventually reconcile).

But for those who have come to accept that estrangement is long term, perhaps forever, by confronting the subject head on, you shed light. You shed light on just how many of us there are. And there are multitudes. In the article mentioned earlier, the writer said there was an estimated 75,000 grandparents cut off from their grandchildren in the Ontario area. I’m not sure if that figure is accurate. Statistics about the actual numbers of parents cut off by adult children (thus their grandchildren) are hard to come by. But I can say that this website is busy. To date, more than 16,000 parents of estranged adults have answered the survey about being estranged from adult children.

You are not alone in your estrangement. As much of the world celebrates holidays centered on renewal and rebirth, and as spring unfolds to tell the story of another season, consider how you can personally grow in a new and more self-compassionate attitude about the situation of estrangement.

Maybe one way is by beginning to talk a bit more openly about what has happened to you, even online. At articles like the one mentioned in the opening above, consider leaving thoughtful comments that enlighten others. I left a comment at the article I hope accomplishes just that. A few others also did.

Related articles:

Emotional and Social Fallout

You may feel lonely, but you’re not alone

The void: Feel it or fill it?

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Adult children who reject parents: Why do they make contact now?

reconciling with estranged adult childrenby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

I can’t count how many times parents have written to me saying that just when they’ve gotten past the wincing pain and began to regain their joy of living, their estranged adult child makes contact. Why does this happen? What is it that brings adult children who reject parents back?

Energetically connected, or something more tangible?

Maybe we’re connected energetically to the people who are important to us, and that’s why adult children who reject parents suddenly make contact when Mom or Dad’s attitude has changed. Or, maybe there’s a more tangible explanation.

In my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children , I advise parents not to follow their estranged adult children over the Internet or through social media accounts—and I take my own advice. My estranged son’s life, the people he chooses to be with, and the things he chooses to do are not my business. But even if you keep your eyes on your own life, that doesn’t mean your estranged adult children won’t follow you.

Parents whose estranged adult children suddenly make contact sometimes relate that it started with a photo or a bit of news that their son or daughter saw about them online. In our modern world with its virtual connections, it’s difficult to keep your private life completely private. And seeing parents well and happy might indeed trigger an adult child’s contact—whether in anger, for other motives, or out of a genuine desire to reconcile.

They’re ba-ack

adult children who reject parents“They’re ba-ack.” Most of us recognize the now famous line from the scary 1980s sequel movie, Poltergeist II. Now, the phrase is sometimes used in fun to indicate an undesirable’s return. Although it may seem harsh to say, some parents can start to feel that way. They may wonder if their estranged adult children just want money. Have they come back to inflict more pain? Or do they really want to reconcile? Parents who have been repeatedly hurt wonder if they’re wise to trust, or fear the contact will only open up old wounds.

I frequently hear from parents whose estranged adult children have popped up and then disappeared again so many times that they no longer let themselves even go there emotionally. They no longer hope. You may feel as James does, a father whose adult children have been estranged for more than a decade. He says that he knows, “They’re only back to twist the knife.”

Some parents of estranged adult children have simply had enough. Because of emotional or financial abuse, they change their phone numbers, move away, and keep their personal information private. Because they’ve been bullied or repeatedly hurt, they can’t see opening themselves up to the possibility again. For these parents, no contact becomes a relief.

It’s even possible that some adult children who reject parents are miffed that they’ve lost emotional control. For manipulative people, or those with certain personality disorders, control may be everything—so a sense of losing their power could spur them to make contact.

It’s true, though, that most parents would want to reconcile. And sometimes adult children who reject parents later make contact with good intentions. In the last few months, a handful of parents have told me they have reconciled. Those who shared some of the details are hopeful to one day feel secure in those connections. For now, they admit to a variety of issues—and there’s more about that later in this article. It’s at least safe to say that where there is honest effort and communication, there is a chance. If you have reconciled, I hope that you will consider sharing your circumstances by taking the short survey I’ve created to learn more about the subject. Your experience may help others.

Getting your hopes up?

reconciling with estranged adult childrenWith any contact, most parents become hopeful—and sometimes reconciliation happens. But  be careful. Don’t assume contact will solve past problems. While some adult children may truly want to reconcile, others might make contact for other reasons.

Evaluating the contact made by adult children who reject parents

Consider the tone. If your son or daughter reaches out in a threatening, angry, or accusatory tone, your caution is wise. A brief reply can verify you’ve received the message or convey that your son or daughter is still loved. Not replying at all is also acceptable and maybe even wise. A parent needn’t feel obligated to respond. Refusing to allow yourself to get drawn into an argument or other pointless discourse could protect you from further hurt. Sometimes, protecting yourself is the only sound choice.

Consider the circumstances. Is a holiday or birthday triggering a text or card? While a special occasion greeting may be nice, try not to read too much into it.

A short reply, or depending on your situation a more direct or personal response could convey that you remain open to a healthy relationship. But don’t assume a holiday or birthday greeting is an open invitation or indicates a complete change of heart.

Many parents of estranged adults have told of receiving sudden wedding invites. Upon deliberation, they sometimes conclude the request for their presence at nuptials after months (or even years) of silence has selfish motives, such as a son or daughter’s desire to save face or put on a front. These parents often don’t attend—and perhaps they made a wise choice. I have heard many stories from parents who did attend and were humiliated by being seated in a far corner and ignored. That’s not to say there are no happy endings. One divorced mother’s estranged daughter remains close to her ex-husband (her daughter’s father). This mother always believed that his family took her daughter’s side. At the wedding, some of them approached her to correct that assumption. While her daughter didn’t speak much to her, and has made no overtures since the wedding, she did include her in photographs. So she feels somewhat hopeful, and no longer believes her ex-husband’s relatives are aiding her daughter’s estrangement.

It’s also possible that material factors are at the root of contact. I’ve heard many stories where adult children who reject parents reconnect when, as James says, “They get a whiff of money.”

Others tell me they’re contacted when facing illness. Often, they wonder if guilt might be the motivator. These parents are often torn though. They know they need their energy to care for themselves, yet wonder if it’s fair not to make an effort if their child has reached out. My advice is to trust your gut. Go back and read the section above, Consider the tone. The manner in which your son or daughter speaks to you can help you decide what’s best for you. Also read on, because your feelings are important. Again, trust your gut. You have the right to protect yourself.

Consider how the contact makes you feel. Estranged adult children who have a history of manipulative behavior may fall back on old patterns of laying blame, or playing the victim. An adult child, their spouse or significant other (called “influential adversaries” in my book), might make threats of some sort, accuse you of being a bad parent, say that a good mother wouldn’t give up on her own daughter, or accuse a father of leaving his son behind.

If contact from your estranged adult child triggers guilt, only you can decide whether that guilt is warranted (see my article on “innocent guilt“). It’s possible your reaction stems from past relationship patterns—ones you’ve broken away from but that are triggered by contact because they were so entrenched.

More about intentions

Does a two-sentence message represent a desire to reconnect? Or is it more that you’re hanging on each word, weighing the comments at different angles to find that meaning? I recently wrote about not feeling obligated to inform estranged adult children about a family member’s death (see Do they have a right to know?). I feel similarly about any obligation to respond to an adult who has stepped out of your life. Of course, most parents would like to reconcile. Sending a thank you reply to a birthday or other greeting might be a way to keep the door open.

Parents whose children express a desire to reconnect may be fearful of potential pain and uncertain about trusting their adult child. Considering the circumstances, those feelings are normal. Only you can decide whether you’re open to connect, and as discussed in my book, what boundaries this connection might involve. Its included questions and reflection points can help you define what successful reconciliation might actually look like and entail, as well as whether you and your son or daughter can agree on how reconciliation is defined. There might be work to do on both sides, and it’s important that everyone’s intentions match (or can be negotiated).

Is a good relationship possible?

Some will see this article as a dreary view of the potential to reconcile. But it does happen. Maybe with time and life experience, adult children who reject parents later realize how quickly the years slip by, and want a good relationship before it’s too late.

Some of those who have shared their recent successes didn’t share the details. Those who did admitted to feeling vulnerable. Despite treading gingerly forward, as one parent put it, “in a relationship with thorns,” they’re also hopeful and glad to have the chance. It is absolutely true that some adult children who reject parents do want to reconcile. They may be sorry and truly want to make amends.

Recently, an estranged adult child commented about reconciling at my blog. “R” said:

Allow me to apologize on behalf of all us adult children who rejected our parents. I was broken in ways I did not know and walked into an unhealthy relationship, where my partner introduced me to drugs, abused and isolated me. My parents are spiritual people who could never condone bad lifestyle choices. I was the apple of my father’s eye, but I rejected him for someone who would eventually ruin me. When my life came crashing down, I found my way home, even though I had chosen to share very little of my life with them in the previous two years. It was difficult at first. I’ve been home for three months, and the last few weeks have truly been amazing. God restored my family and we are happier than we’ve ever been. I’m still finding my feet, but I would not be able to if it weren’t for their forgiveness and patience. I pray your children may find their way back home to you. God bless.

Obviously, the words here are only a slice of this individual’s life, but some parents may recognize parts of their own estranged son or daughter in what is said—about an influential adversary, personal brokenness, or substance abuse. Or maybe they recognize elements of themselves, their relationship with their adult children, or the patience and forgiveness this adult child expresses thanks for.

Only you can decide what’s best for you in your situation. I hope this article, as well as this adult child’s comment will help you recognize the intent behind any contact your estranged adult son or daughter might make.

Help with my research—and help others

If you do reconcile, I hope that you will share the experience—its difficulties, as well as joy. If you have reconciled, please fill in  the short survey. Please note, THIS survey is for those who have reconciled with previously estranged adult children (see below for one on estrangement). I hope to use any information gained from survey respondents’ answers to provide more information about the possibility of reconciling with estranged adult children.

If you’re NOT reconciled, consider taking my survey for parents of estranged adult children. More than 9,000 responses to the survey, plus personal interviews with many of the parents, were utilized in connection with my book. Since the book’s release, thousands more have responded.

Copyright Notice: All content of any post or page found on any page at this site is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. To share with others, provide a link to the page on this website where the content is found. Reposting of any content is not permitted without express permission. Please see Copyright Notice/Restrictions in the right-hand sidebar for complete copyright notice. You can always contact me with any questions.

 

Telling an estranged adult child about a family member’s death: Do they have a “right” to know?

by Sheri McGregor, MA

telling an estranged adult child about a family member's deathThis morning, we buried our 17-year-old cat. After a couple of weeks of wasting, Neo had spent two days on the kitchen rug close to her water dish.

“She’s meditating,” my adult daughter said of our black and white shorthair in her nearly motionless stance.

Maybe she was, her trance broken only by occasional sips of water throughout the day. She had stopped eating. Why bother to eat when food no longer nourishes?

Early this morning, she took her last choking breaths, and then she was gone.

As the sun grew hot, we dug a hole and buried her. We sprinkled wildflower seeds on and around her grave near one of our fig trees, marked by four large stones. And as I wet the ground, imagining the future flowers blooming, I also pondered death. Yet another of the pets or people my children grew up with is gone.

A loved one’s death. Should you call your estranged adult child?

When an adult child makes the decision to step out of your life, do they have a right to know what transpires within it? A birth, a death, marriage, a divorce, or perhaps a move—does your estranged adult child have the right to know? Parents often feel a sense of duty about the prospect of telling an estranged adult child about a family member’s death or other big change or loss. They ask whether they’re obligated to make a call.

In the past year, our family has suffered several losses. One was the death of our children’s grandfather. Glen married my husband’s mother a year before I married my husband. So, although he wasn’t a blood relative, he was a father figure to me, and was my children’s Grandpa Glen.

The woman he’d been living with for the last several years was in her eighties, and grieving. Helping her to settle into a new life, alone, required empathy and care amidst the turmoil of our own grief.

When Glen died, I thought of contacting my estranged son. Maybe he had a right to know. Should I inform him of the death? The thought was fleeting and quickly dismissed. At this point in our estrangement, contact seemed pointless. Why bite off more emotional distress?

Does that sound cold? That I didn’t tell him of his grandfather’s death? That I didn’t think to call him this morning when old Neo died? I told my other adult children. I knew they would want to know—and they had comforting words that made the death less sad. They remembered Neo. They shared their memories, just as they had remembered and shared about their Grandpa Glen.

In my book, I relate the story of my husband’s head injury, caused by a hurried driver on a slick road after morning rain. It’s in a part of the book that deals with the married relationship, so I  didn’t tell the whole story, the part that’s relevant to the subject here. I’ll tell you now. Some months later, when my estranged son made contact, I had mentioned his father’s accident. But Dan seemed to shrug it off. Apparently he’d seen my public Facebook post about it. “It didn’t look that bad,” he said.

Thankfully, after months of physical therapy and care, my husband was and is fine. But his full recovery wasn’t obvious from the start. To me, Dan’s response seemed to indicate that he didn’t care.

Telling an estranged adult child of a family member’s death. Are you obligated?

Some of you are in the thick of a fresh estrangement, still in shock perhaps, or believing that the distance won’t last. You may be right. Every situation is unique. Only you can decide whether to continue making contact or tell an estranged son or daughter of a family member’s death or about other family occurrences. That’s why my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, includes specific information and examples to help. It is possible to convey a specific message, and make contact without getting caught up in the response—or the silence—that follows. With real-life examples, the book also explores how reaching out for any reason can be reevaluated at any time, and new decisions about frequency or method changed.

When enough is enough

I did think of my estranged son, Dan, this morning when we buried Neo. He is wrapped up in the memories of that old cat. In my memories, I can still see and hear Dan laughing with one of my other sons. They used to call Neo “Cool Guy Wannabe” because she looked so much like our other cat who is still going strong. Neo was the standoffish one, while Cool Guy was always in the middle of our children’s fun. Neo was a part of our lives, just as Dan once was.

Those memories of my sweet children, mingled with family pets, relatives, activities, and fun as they grew from innocence to adulthood remain, and include a child who grew into an adult I no longer know. Those memories are real, and no matter what, are precious. But those days are also gone. I might reminisce about joyful times past with my other adult children, but that’s because they are a part of my life. Together, we are making more memories.

I feel no obligation to keep my estranged son up to date on the family he left behind. If he wanted, he could be with us too.

Copyright Notice: All content of any post or page found on any page at this site is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. To share with others, provide a link to the page on this website where the content is found. Reposting of any content is not permitted without express permission. Please see Copyright Notice/Restrictions in the right-hand sidebar for complete copyright notice. You can always contact me with any questions.

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Parents of Estranged Adult Children: Declaring Independence 2016

Adult children won’t talk to you: What does it mean to cope?

adult children no longer talk to youWhen adult children won’t talk to you: What does it mean to cope?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Often, parents of estranged adults tell me that they’re managing to “cope.”

Some associate the word, with a fight. They say it’s a constant struggle to get through the days, or refer to coping with emotional and social fallout as a daily battle.

Some sound resigned, or even defeated. “I’m enduring,” they might say. Or, “I’m carrying on but just barely.”

Synonyms for cope

After hearing so many variations in how parents of estranged adult children define the word “cope,” I decided to do a little research. In a thesaurus, there are words that represent all of the uses I’ve heard from parents.

In an effort to help you see where your definition falls, I’ve grouped some of the synonyms (words and phrases) for cope into three categories by type. The categories I created are as follows:

Active participation: struggle, battle, tussle, wrestle, tangleadult children won't talk to you

Passive participation: endure, suffer, live with, get by

 Successful participation: confront, handle, dispatch

Which of these categories best fits how you think about yourself and the situation of estrangement? There’s no right or wrong answer—only gained insight into where you stand right now.

In coping with estrangement, if you see yourself in the “active participation” category, then you’re actively engaging with the fact that your adult child won’t talk to you. You’re grappling with the estrangement’s effects in your life, on your relationships, and on your outlook. I see this as a positive.

While I’ve called the second category “passive,” that’s not necessarily a negative. Once parents consider how estrangement affects them and move past the initial shock, they might very well enter a stage of resignation or acceptance.

In my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, one of the tools helps parents reflect in detail upon just how far-reaching the effects of estrangement has been for them. Taking a realistic look at ourselves after an emotional trauma (such as when an adult children won’t talk to us), can allow us to begin to make changes toward recovering our old self—or even a new and better self.

Unfortunately, people sometimes get stuck in that passive phase. I routinely hear from parents who have been estranged for many years, or who have reconciled, only to be estranged again, sometimes repeatedly. And some of these parents seem resigned to stay in that passive phase. They tell themselves they’ll never get past the hurt, that the pain will never go away, and that there are no answers to help them.

Are you a victim? Do you want to stay that way?

While it’s true that many parents of estranged adults have been victimized, that doesn’t mean a parent must remain a victim. This moves us to the third category of coping I’ve created here: Successful participation.

None of these conscious coping strategies is wrong, but consider which one appeals to you. How have you coped in the past? How do you want to cope?

It’s up to each of us to decide whether we will learn to cope in practical ways that help us get past the pain, foster our growth, and advance us forward in our own happy lives.

After an adult child’s estrangement

Mother's day when adult children are estrangedThe mother who isn’t, and
the grandmother who isn’t allowed

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

If I’m no longer a mother, then what am I?

It’s a question I hear often after an adult child’s estrangement. Among the more than 9,000 mothers who have answered my survey for parents of estranged adult children, or reached out in site comments or in emails, hundreds ask the same or a similar question.

Even the busiest mothers go out of their way for their adult children. Sometimes, mothers even say their lives revolved around them, as if they’ve been on-call.

For some, the question has layers of complexity that make the situation even more heartbreaking. Like when grandchildren are involved, which makes the loss even more cruel and sad.

Grandmothers picture the sweet, innocent faces of the grandchildren their estranged son or daughter has ripped away, and worry what awful picture is being painted about them. That they’re crazy? Or worse, that they don’t care? Those women may ask, if I’m no longer the devoted grandmother, always there and ready to help, then who am I?

One of the many tools in my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, can help you answer that question. While answering doesn’t change the situation, it can change you. When we change, everything changes—for the better.

Maybe you’ve been a mom that puts everyone else first. Maybe after an adult child’s estrangement, when that part of you seems stripped away, it’s hard to remember who you even are. You can figure that out again. You can find your very essence—and use that knowledge to move forward in your life.

In my book, you’ll have the opportunity to reflect on what it is that makes you you, and even embrace parts of yourself you’ve never given yourself credit for.

When we know who we are, we’re stronger. We’re better able to weather the storms of life, and the disappointments caused by the people we’ve felt so close to.

As Mother’s Day approaches, with all the television commercials, and the families around you that seem so happy, it may feel like you’re all alone; like you’re the odd woman out of all the joy and love that fills the day.

But you can reclaim your happiness. When you remind yourself of who you are, at your very core, you become your own guiding light—to a meaningful and fulfilling life.

Crying front cover_medium Join the ranks of mothers who recognize the gifts they have given. Applaud yourself, even if your children don’t. It’s not your fault they don’t recognize the love you’ve shown. Right now, recognize and honor yourself. You, too, can be done with the crying. Get help and healing. Move forward in your own fulfilling life.
352 pages
May 2, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-9973522-0-7
Available through popular booksellers–ask your local bookstore to order it for you (but prepare for delays–it’s so new it might not show up in their system yet!). Or order online.

Troubling dreams: Why do I have them?

dreams after rejected by adult childMy adult child rejected me. Why do I have these disturbing dreams?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Jumbled, chaotic, and even frightening dreams can be a normal reaction to the emotional trauma of an adult child’s estrangement. Your mind is working overtime to make sense of things.

Unfortunately, a troubling, night after night pattern of disturbing dreams after an adult child’s estrangement can cause loss of beneficial sleep—which can make you more vulnerable. Sleep deprivation can impact physical and mental health. For some people, their dreams become so disturbing that they’re wise to seek professional help.

For others, seeing their troubling dreams as a normal response, and even as useful, can be a positive change of perspective. Perhaps your dreams can even help you heal. Mine did.

For more about how my dreams helped me heal, read: Your vivid dreams: Can they help after an adult child’s estrangement?

Do your questions keep you stuck?

parents of estranged adult childrenby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Parents of estranged children often wonder about the future—for themselves and for their estranged children. One question so many ask is a variation on one of these:

  • Will my estranged adult daughter ever see how much she has hurt me?
  • Will my son who doesn’t talk to me anymore ever realize what he has done?
  • Will my angry adult son ever come to his senses?
  • Will my grown daughter who cut me off ever let me back into her life?
  • Will my son ever forgive me for whatever it is he thinks I’ve done?

While those are logical questions, for your own well-being, the next question should be something like this: Are these questions helping me cope?

I understand the thoughts, the ceaseless wondering tempered by hope and sharpened by pain. When my estranged adult son drew up “sides,” and placed me firmly behind a boundary I hadn’t known existed, he left me in shock. Most parents are.

As the estrangement wore on, the question—Will he ever . . . ?—brought more pain. I worried for my son. If he ever did realize, then I imagined his horrible regret—for the time he had lost, the distress he had caused, the horrible knowledge that he had so hurt his family. . . .
I worried for my son.

Can you relate? I hear from so many parents who share similar feelings. First there’s the hurt and shock. The slicing final moments replay in our heads. The awful words come back to us with force, disturb our peace, and intrude on our dreams. Disbelief reigns.

As time goes on, perhaps with unsuccessful efforts to fix whatever went wrong, a drab, uncertain future stretches out. We worry for ourselves, for our estranged adult child, and for the family.

It’s all so very sad.

Parents of estranged adults: Turn the page. Begin a new chapter.

To turn a new page, to move forward in a life that is different—but can still be good!—start by changing your questions. Good questions often become the canvas on which my clients paint new beginnings. So I have to ask: Whether or not your children will ever return, ever realize, ever see and regret what they have done . . . does that change your life today? In the life that’s before you now, what does the answer change?

Take a moment to separate your own well-being. Let loose the idea that you can control your adult child’s decisions. And realize that the possible consequences that come from those decisions, will be your child’s to own.

For your own life, can you let go of wondering? Or perhaps even choose an answer like one of these:

  • My estranged daughter will one day have regrets.
  • My angry adult son will one day realize he has made a mistake.
  • My estranged adult child who won’t talk to me will someday be sorry and return to my life.

Pick one, or craft your own answer. Then ask yourself:

Does the answer change my life now?

You can only control yourself.

Most of the fathers and mothers of estranged adult children who come to this site have begun to see that they can’t change what’s happening. Most of them have tried. Parents who have been emotionally abused by an adult child (abandoned, rejected, cut off), usually want to reconcile. It’s their first goal. But they later come to the realization that they can’t force their grown son or daughter to oblige. They can’t force the person their child has become, to morph back into the wonderful son or daughter they used to know.

What now?

So, what can you do now? To better your day, your outlook, and your future?

Imagine your child will never return. How will you spend your days?

Imagine that in five years, your child will return to you with an apology and full of regret. In what state of being will that child find you?

Just as each of our lives is a canvas with some space still blank, I will leave this article without a conclusion. Write your own. Make it a satisfying one. Paint your own sky, earth, and meandering path. Paint yourself—dancing, smiling, and finding joy.

parents of estranged adult childrenIn my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, the question: why? is covered with a chapter all its own–and helps bewildered parents lay their questioning to rest.

Take care of yourself today. In doing so, no matter whether our estranged adult children will ever realize . . . . You can be you. And be well.

Copyright Notice: All content of any post or page found on any page at this site is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. To share with others, provide a link to the page where the content is found. Reposting of any content is not permitted without express permission. Please see Copyright Notice/Restrictions in the right-hand sidebar for complete copyright notice