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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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For full copyright restrictions, please see the notice in the column to the right of the
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Spring cleaning for parents when adult children want no contact

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

After a long “winter” of disappointment, parents of estranged adults can start to feel closed off and cluttered. Just as you might with a house that needs a good spring cleaning, take action for yourself. Organize a more personal spring cleaning for emotions, well-being, and health. Clear the path for your forward momentum.

Energy dump

adult children want no contact

Pulling weeds in the pre-spring sunshine here in California the other day, I noticed the silvery crowns of several small dusty miller plants I had put in last fall. They peeked out above the thicket of grassy weeds.

adult children want no contactWhen I cleared the weeds away, the leafy clusters looked a little silly atop the spindly stems—but I marveled at their innate ability to thrive. They didn’t waste energy trying to grow leaves down among the thick weeds where no sunlight could reach.

Seeing those plants made me consider where I might be wasting energy. Why expend energy where it can bear no fruit?

As part of an emotional spring clearing, you might ask yourself:

  • What habits no longer serve me?
  • Where and how can I better manage my time?
  • Am I getting a good return on my investment of energy?

Digging in the dark

As an example, let’s consider reaching out when adult children want no contact. Parents often continue to reach out to their estranged adult children from time to time. They intend to convey a message of love, and that they’re still interested in reconnecting—even though the adult children want no contact now.

But when nothing comes of parents’ messages or gifts other than soaring hopes that are dashed by silence, or worse, verbal abuse, it’s time to make a change.

Cultivate self-care

Emotional spring cleaning intends to support your own well-being. Examine whether it’s wise to save your energy, cut back on times you reach out, or to stop entirely. Done With The Crying helps you set limits, yet still achieve the intended goal.

You might also be expending precious energy in other ways that don’t serve you. Make a list. Here are a couple of examples that are common in times of stress:

  • Emotional eating/drinking
  • Other unhealthy habits, such as smoking
  • Staying up into the wee hours
  • Excessive shopping (shopping for your estranged daughter or son)

Pause to make an honest assessment of what you spend time on, and examine whether it’s helping you. Spring is the perfect time. Take your list and make plans to change. For instance, to support yourself, you could stock up on healthy food choices, make a plan for better sleep habits, and throw out the catalogues.

Does your thinking zap energy?

An overstuffed closet could use a good spring cleaning. Your thinking might need a little organization too.

Take a look at when the sad thoughts creep in. If your mind wanders back to dark places on holidays or special occasions, plan ahead to combat the thinking. Decide this year will be different. Make plans to busy yourself or try something new. Making new memories surrounding holidays or special events gives them new life.

As a closet can benefit from shelves or hooks, the times you know you’ll feel down could also use some structure. Make plans for activities, hobbies, travel, or friends. Even small changes can provide structure for positive change. Try a new food every weekend. Eat a new vegetable each week, or cook one a new way. Make pizza with cauliflower crust, or tacos with lettuce wraps instead of tortillas. Or grow a vegetable, even in a pot. Radishes will grow in a shallow container on the windowsill. Listen to music that lifts your spirits, or go for a walk.

What new support structures can you add to your life? One retired grandmother whose estranged children don’t want contact recently told me she’s making a habit of getting up, showered, and dressed by 8 a.m. She says she feels better if she’s up and ready, and often follows through on activities, commitments, and connections. “It sure beats lazing around in my pajamas full of self-pity,” she said.

A father shared that he checks his calendar each evening, and makes plans. Things like call a friend, go to the gym, or research senior sports leagues in his town. As a result, he’s added structure that helps him look forward to the next day. He wakes up feeling more purposeful.

Sweeping out feelings

Use the momentum of spring with its energy of renewal to sweep out and examine feelings that don’t serve you. For your own good, can you let emotions such as guilt, anger, and shame go? Let’s look at a couple of examples of how feelings can clutter up our lives.

Are you worried and fearful of what people (or your estranged adult child) will think? Some parents confide that they continue to send birthday or holiday gifts to adult children who want no contact out of fear. They’re concerned others will negatively judge them. Even after many years, some worry that if they don’t continue to recognize an estranged adult child’s birthday, the son or daughter will accuse them of not caring. If you can relate, are these sorts of worries serving you well?  Will there ever come a time when enough is enough? Halting (or reducing) obligatory contact with adult children with whom you have no real relationship can be freeing. “I spent six years trying,” says one mother. “I refuse to live the rest of my life enslaved.”

Do feelings of shame, or the possibility of being put on the spot keep you from social situations? In Done With The Crying there are examples to help you handle questions and steer others’ responses to your situation. Some of us are more social than others, but remaining isolated is not healthy for anyone. Step forward. Sprout a new attitude, and shed the shame as part of a spring clear out.

Reassess and make adjustments. Tug out and cast aside mental and emotional blocks. Reclaim the confident pre-estrangement you. Better yet, embrace a new, more self-compassionate you.

Pulling out the physical weeds

Don’t forget the physical side of spring cleaning. Are you holding onto actual things left behind by adult children who want no contact? Now might be a good time to free up extra space. Storing, donating, or disposing of unused items can be mentally and emotionally liberating. Try taking down a photograph that reminds you of pain, and see how you feel.  There really is something to the old saying: out of sight, out of mind.

You might also make a physical change for this new season of your life. I recently cut my hair, and imagined shedding negativity along with those overgrown locks. The easy style is representative of a fuss-free life—and goes along with my newly adopted motto, Lighten Up. I like that my motto can apply in several ways: weight, clutter, and mood. Will you join me?

Adapt

adult children want no contactWhile we might feel a little spindly and awkward as we turn ourselves to a new light and grow, we can take a lesson from my dusty miller plants. Once the weeds were cleared away, those bare-stemmed plants began to immediately adapt, filling in with foliage to soak in the sunlight.

It’s spring. Spread your own foliage. Stretch toward the sunlight of people, things, and activities that make you happy. Expend your energy in ways that help you progress toward meaning and joy.

Keep watch, too, for old habits to creep in (like those snails in the picture!). Pluck them out before they can do damage.

Spring forward

adult children want no contactFor inspiring stories of other parents who’ve moved beyond the emotional wreckage of estrangement, as well as more in-depth information about releasing negative feelings, thoughts, and behavior that are holding you back, get my book. Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children was recently named a finalist in the Indie Book of the Year Awards—which I hope will raise awareness about the growing problem of estranged adult children from loving families. You can help by clicking on the Facebook “like” and Google + buttons below.

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Cut off by adult children and lonely

cut off by adult childrenCut off by adult children? You may feel lonely, but you’re not alone

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Many parents cut off by adult children feel all alone. The reasons for estrangement are often uncertain, and are varied. Divorce, parental alienation syndrome, drugs, an influential love interest…. Situations can be complex, and circumstances are unique. Regardless, parents cut off by adult children can feel isolated.

If you’re all alone or lonely this Valentine’s Day—or any day—take heart. Not only are you one of many in similar straits, but it’s even possible to see your alone time in a whole new light.

Valentine’s Day—and any day

Parents cut off by adult children may be emotionally exhausted and feel as if life is passing them by. They’re exhausted by their lack of power to fix the relationship. Estranged adult children ignore efforts to reconcile, or respond with icy words or actions that make it clear: they’re not interested in a healthy relationship.

cut off by adult childrenWhat’s worse, parents cut off by adult children can start to feel as if they don’t fit in anywhere anymore.  While friends share tales of sweet grandchildren presenting valentines with too much pasty glue, rejected parents ache for that connection, and worry they’re being maligned to grandchildren they deeply miss. Yet sharing their circumstances may be met with blank stares or judgmental comments. Arms fold. People look away and sit back in their chairs. Nobody seems to understand. “It’s enough to make you feel like a leper,” one mother explained. “That’s why I avoid people now.”

In reaching out for support and sharing your circumstances, you may have been met with blank stares or hurtful questions (What did you do to cause that?). Arms fold. People look away. Nobody seems to understand. You may feel as if you just don’t fit in anymore.

“It’s enough to make you feel like a leper,” one mother explained. “I avoid people now.”

cut off by adult childrenThese sad, isolating feelings can start to be the “new normal.” Be careful of letting estrangement get the better of you. As described in my recent article, you can positively shape your new normal to move forward in your life. How you look at loneliness can help.

Cause and effect

If you’re hungry, getting something to eat is the natural response. Thirsty? Get a drink. Why then, when you’re lonely, is enjoying the people’s company more complicated?

After my estranged son cut off the family, social situations became more difficult. All around me was the tinkling of glasses, the bubbling of conversations, the rise and fall of laughter…. I felt like an outsider. Similar to Lila, talked about in a previous article, I was disillusioned. It was difficult to trust.

My feelings mirrored those of this mother, quoted here from the pages of Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children:

“Sometimes, I even wonder if my own friends doubt me, like they’re measuring everything I say or do against the estrangement, and wondering if it was really my fault.”

Other parents cut off by adult children spoke of putting up emotional walls and shutting people out. Thousands shared what boils down to a pervasive fear of emotionally investing. They worry they will be hurt again. This sort of self-preservation is natural for hurting parents cut off by adult children. But it can also be unhealthy.  And the truth is, if you’ve been cut off by adult children, you are not alone.

cut off by adult childrenParents cut off by adult children: Join the club

Kind parents who did their best—yet were cut off by adult children—are everywhere. They work at your doctor’s office and sit in the pews of your church. They are your neighbors and are maybe even your friends. But they may not have told you. They’re suffering in silence, feeling all alone, and afraid to share. They may even look at you and think that you couldn’t possibly understand.

There’s a section in the book about sharing, and then steering other people’s responses. Talking about estrangement will help make known the reality of just how many decent, loving parents are cut off by adult children. You may be at a point when you’re more than willing to share, as I often do. Maybe you’ll even work toward informing society as has been done with this quilt by an estranged mother. Educating the public about this social issue that affects so many is a topic for another day. For now, let’s get back to the individual experience of feeling lonely, on Valentine’s Day, or on any day.

Solitude: Put being alone in a new light

Recently, a young father in his early thirties told me he missed having time alone. His children played nearby, their “watch me, Daddy” and “look what I can do” call-outs making us smile. This father said he realizes that one day they won’t be calling him to watch. He wasn’t contemplating estrangement, of course. Unless they’ve been touched by estrangement, parents of tiny tots rarely do. But he knows they’ll be busy in their own lives someday. And he’s planning ahead for that time.

“I know a lot of older people who waste their solitude feeling sad,” he said. “They’re free, they’re healthy, and they have a lot to offer. But some sit and wait for their family to come around.” He grinned. “And then I know others who learn to play guitar, continue to work, make things, or walk miles and pick up street trash to clean up the neighborhood. They’re happy and talk to people all along the way.” His eyes twinkling, he pointed to his heart as he spoke. “I like being around those people. They have so much knowledge and experience to share.”

I couldn’t help smiling at this young man’s passionate words. He must do a lot of deep thinking while his youngsters play on the monkey bars and swings. He’s enjoying his time with them now, but he’s already valuing the solitude that’s yet to come.

I thought about what he said. Part of me believes he can’t understand these older people’s plight. Still, he makes a good point. If you’re alone, do you value your solitude? Do you use time, and your freedom, wisely?

Parents cut off by adult children: The challenge

I know it’s difficult. It takes effort to reclaim confidence and adjust to a new future. But it is possible, even alone, to change, to grow, and to embrace a new way of life that’s healthy and good.

My book includes tools to help parents cut off by adult children see their feelings and in a new light. You can build on confidence from previous hardships you’ve overcome. You can recognize and give yourself credit for any ways you’ve grown since the estrangement began. It’s okay to admit any positives. There’s no need for guilt.

All alone? Not really.

Feeling lonely may be more miserable in a society that’s so connected. But when it comes to estrangement, you’re really not alone at all. If you’re looking for support and camaraderie from people who understand, “like” my facebook page for estranged parents, or join the conversation in “comments” that follow nearly every post here.  And sign up for my newsletter (the sign up form is on the right, near the top of the page.

You’re not alone among the thousands of other parents cut off by adult children. Mothers and fathers who have been estranged for years share their experiences to help others heal. In the safe company of others who understand, parents of estranged adult children may begin to feel more confident again. And in time, feel more social, and willing to risk getting out among friends and making new ones.

Be your own Valentine?cut off by adult children

Love comes in many forms. Let’s broaden Valentine’s Day to include love of neighbor and kindness to self. Take a moment to smile. You might make someone else’s day. And if you do that for another, you’ll be doing it for yourself.

Related articles:

Reinvent Yourself

Spreading Happiness

Happy Birthday!

In honor of my birthday, let me express my sincere gratitude to all the parents estranged from adult children who have written to me or posted comments here to help others. Thanks to your kindness, this site is a peaceful place of healing for parents estranged from adult children.

Thanks as well to those who support one another at the Facebook page for parents estranged from adult children

And finally, thank you to those who have left good reviews of my book at Amazon or elsewhere. I am so thankful for the gift of your kind and generous words. It is truly my privilege to be of some help to you, and your positive reviews are helpful to other parents estranged from adult children seeking help.

Please celebrate with me to the tune of this Beatles song. YouTube has such a variety of birthday songs (Elvis, Dollie Parton & Willie Nelson, Whitney Houston, The Minions… I’d post them all, but you can click through and find them on YouTube… Right now, I’m off! )

Regardless of what’s been going on in your life, I hope you can set aside the pain for a bit and enjoy your day. As we’ve all heard … enjoy the present, it’s truly a gift!

Related post: Greetings from estranged adult children

Parents abandoned by adult children: Shape your “new normal”

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

The new normal: Make it a good one

Parents abandoned parents abandoned by adult childrenby adult children often tell me they’ve come to a point of acceptance—which is good. Accepting what we have no control over can allow us to find a sense of peace and move forward. But sometimes, along with a statement of acceptance, parents abandoned by adult children make another statement that’s not so good.

“It’s the new normal,” they say.

Trouble is, their “new normal,” becomes less about peace and moving forward than stepping along in a dismal groove of loss, heartache, and even bitterness.

Acceptance: What does that mean for parents abandoned by adult children

Accepting something new almost always requires letting go of something old. For parents abandoned by adult children, that can mean letting go of a dream, a vision for the future that shaped how you lived your entire life. You sacrificed and gave with the expectation that you’d live to a ripe old age with your children and grandchildren around you. You’d have your tribe, your people, your family.

But parents abandoned by adult children are thrown for a loop. Where’s the grown daughter or son you imagined sharing life with on equal terms? The child you expected would grow into an adult friend—only better because of your history and family ties?

parents abandoned by adult childrenThose feelings are understandable. It’s okay to mourn what you expected, sacrificed for, and worked so hard to achieve. But if your “new normal” clings to the loss, you may be shuffling along in a path that limits you.

The real power of acceptance comes in letting go—not necessarily of hope. Hope can sit on your shoulder like a cooing dove. It’s light and feathery. It can take flight, lifting your heart and soul with it. But if you’re clinging to the pain, holding onto hurt, and lamenting the loss, hope gets grounded. Don’ let sadness, anger, bitterness, and woe weight your heart and limit your life.

What’s your new normal?

In my book, there’s a useful tool to get a clear view of just how much the estrangement has changed you. Identifying your new normal, specifically and across all areas of your life, provides a clear view of where you stand now.

You may be stuck in a rut of rumination that drags you down and darkens your valuable relationships. Instead of a weekly date where you and your husband have fun, you spend all your time talking about the son who stopped talking to you and broke your hearts. Maybe you’re on the edge, always waiting for a call from the daughter who rejected you.  You may be isolating yourself, fearful of judgment, or embarrassed that your own adult child cut you off. Maybe you cling to the hurt because letting go of the pain of this reality doesn’t feel like it’s proper for a parent (what about unconditional love?). Or maybe you’re envious of others’ joy.

For parents abandoned by adult children, all of these feelings are natural and normal parents abandoned by adult childrenresponses—but they’re not healthy when they persist to your detriment. At some point, you need to accept what’s happened, and find a new normal that feels good and helps you move forward in your life.

As a caring parent that people called an earth mother and a super mom, I know the pain of having that identity ripped out from beneath your feet. It’s as if a trap door opens and you fall right through. But for caring parents who did their best, a new normal that keeps you digging in, wrapped in a cold blanket of rejection and loss, isn’t new or normal at all. That’s why you need to fight for your future.

Give yourself a challenge

2016 has come to a close. Think about the year ahead. Wouldn’t it be nice to shift your focus, set the hurt aside and change your vision to one that suits you? You can still hope to reconcile, and if you feel the need or desire to, you can still make sure your son or daughter knows that. But you can also flutter your wings, turn your hope to your present happiness, and let it lift you in a new and helpful direction.

Help yourself.

Whether you have other adult children, lots of friends and relatives, or are all alone, the only way to happiness is to help yourself. In an article last year, I asked: Cut off by adult children: What do you prescribe for yourself?

The last calendar year has closed. Turn the page to a brand new year. Ask yourself what you prescribe for your own well-being. How can you shift your focus? What can you do to move in a new direction for your own fulfillment? Take out a sheet of paper and answer those questions for your own well-being.

Chapter Three of my book has some detailed help for setting specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely goals. If you’ve slipped into accepting a new low as normal, don’ let another year slide by without making changes that help you. Set your sighs higher for your own good in the coming year, and use the specific outlined techniques to stay motivated and realize transformation.

Give yourself a break

holidays abandoned parentsThis morning, I awoke from a shopping dream. Sounds a little like the end to the holiday rush, doesn’t it? Only in the dream, I was shopping for iced tea. Each vendor was offering something different to go with the drink. Iced tea with a cupcake, or iced tea with fried fish. Iced tea with any side dish, or no iced tea at all. All I wanted was iced tea, but I couldn’t get that without adding something on the side.

My dream probably relates to all the multitasking I’ve been doing lately. I’m sure many of you can relate. Busy taking care of other people, handling business and the holidays. . . . Maybe you wanted “iced tea,” too—a refreshing break amid the festivities and chaos. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the quiet space of a calming break when you’re hurting or worried, too. But it’s needed. Especially over something you can’t control or have no choice in.

Whether you’re busy with the holidays, or your mind is cluttered with hurt, give yourself a break. You deserve to rest and refresh. In the spirit of the season, will you join me in giving yourself this special gift?

Merry Christmas. Or Happy Hanukkah to you.

In the next few days, give your mind and heart a rest. Take a break from the worry, and let go of the sadness. As I talk about in an early section of my book, when your thoughts turn to your concerns or heartache, recognize and release them. Turn the page, and turn your attention to something that makes you happy instead. A bird fluffing its feathers in the winter cold, sunlight on glistening snow, or plans for the New Year ahead.

Give yourself a break (no side orders needed).

Hugs to all.  ~ Sheri McGregor

Related posts:

Holidays for parents rejected by adult children

My adult child rejected me: Why do I have these disturbing dreams?

Your vivid dreams: Help in moving forward after an adult child’s estrangement?

 

 

 

 

Fear: Common after estrangement from adult children

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

estrangement from adult childrenDuring the first holiday season after my son’s estrangement, my self-worth crumbled. While the Earth outside stilled into winter’s quiet, I rushed about, determined to keep my family’s spirits bright.  I cleaned, cooked, and shopped. I wrapped and prepared. I raced around, creating a Christmas to remember— and perhaps to forget. My heart wasn’t fully in it.

Looking back, I can see there was an anxious pitch to my behavior, as if making everything picture perfect for the holiday would make me picture perfect. And prove to myself and others that I really was a good mom.

In the silence of night after Christmas was done, I wasn’t satisfied or content. Did I do enough? I imagined myself alone and old. Is that how I’ll end up?

My eyes opened to the darkness. No matter how silly and self-indulgent, the thought rang true. I had told myself my holiday frenzy was normal, but fear was at the root. Fear had me working my fingers to the bone to make the best holiday ever, to hang onto my remaining family.

Tears welled, and I felt powerless. My estranged adult son had made choices. No matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t change that. That night in the darkness, I realized that all the presents and favorite foods in the world wouldn’t hold the rest of my family together. If my four remaining adult children chose to leave, this perfect holiday wouldn’t stop them.

After estrestranged from adult childrenangement from adult children: Uncertainty reigns

I know the fear that plagues parents after estrangement from adult children. If something so precious and basic can fall apart, then what is safe? What can you count on? Who can you trust?

The whole world looks different and bleak.

Fear can be paralyzing, so don’t let that feeling become your new normal. Shape your new normal into a good and happy life.

In my book , the word “fear,” or an iteration of it, is mentioned more than 60 times. There are examples and tools to help. That’s because fear is so common to parents of estranged adults.

Estranged from adult children? Get clear on fear

Don’t let fear take over your good judgment. Don’t compound your problems and over-drink, overeat, or indulge some other unhealthy behavior to numb the feeling. Instead, get clear on your fear. Identifying your specific fears can help you get a handle on them.

Do you fear your other children will also leave? Maybe you worry your estranged daughter won’t be safe—and you can’t get in touch to make sure. Do you imagine the future, and worry your estranged son will have regrets? Are you afraid of being judged? Fearful you did do something to cause the break? Afraid you’re losing your mind?

Does the fear that you’ll never see your son or daughter again steal your peace? Or maybe you’re afraid that if your child does return, you’ll never be able to trust. Some fear that their grandchildren they were once so close to will believe vicious lies. Others worry their raw emotions will burden other people they love and drive them away.

Among the thousands of parents who have reached out to me, those are a few of the most common fears expressed.

Fear: Like a riptide

It’s easy to get caught up in our fears. If we don’t identify and confront fears, they can carry us  along and take control without us even realizing. That’s what happened to me during that first frantic holiday season after my estranged son walked away. Like me, you might find yourself catering to others to the point of exhaustion. Or maybe you attempt to protect yourself by isolating, and shutting out the possibility of pain. If you do that, you can end up like Lila, watching the world pass her by, whom I wrote about in Emotional scars after an adult child’s estrangement. Fear is a powerful emotion. If we let it, fear can hinder our recovery from the trauma of an adult child’s rejection, and keep us from moving forward in our lives.

Among the thousands of parents I’ve heard from, many concur that that after estrangement from adult children, it helps to honestly examine fears, and identify they’re effects.

Fear: It’s all in your head

By pinpointing your specific fears, and taking stock of how they affect you, you can then begin to take control. The truth is that fears are all in your head. After estrangement from adult children, many of the fears we worry over can’t be controlled. If you fret for fear your adult child isn’t safe but you have no contact, there’s not much you can do to put your worry to rest. You may worry you’ll never see your child again, but if your adult child won’t connect, it’s beyond your control.

For some, it might help to recognize why you have the fears you do. For instance, if you fear everyone will leave, maybe fear of abandonment derives from the past. Somebody else important left you, or you always feared they would. It’s okay to have the feeling. It might even be normal for you. But it’s not okay to let it rule your life to your own detriment.

If you fear for your child’s safety or health, your fear may come from some concrete reason, such as knowing your son or daughter uses drugs. Your fear may be rational, but your fear can’t control your child’s choices, or the outcome.

Worrying about the possibility your adult child will have regrets might come from your own experience with regrets. Or from natural parental love that wants to protect. But our sons and daughters are adults. Decisions have consequences. We don’t live in bubbles, and neither do they.

After estrangement from adult children, take action where you can

By identifying fears and their effects, you can recognize them when they creep up. No more surprise ambush in the darkness on a holiday night. You can observe fears as they occur, and loosen their control over you.

You can recognize fears for what they are. Don’t cling to imaginings that lead you down paths of despair. Appreciate fears for what they are, appreciate any rational reasoning behind them, and then you can purposely dismiss them.

Try a positive spin about a negative feeling: I don’t like not knowing, but since it’s out of my hands, I can accept it for now. Or: This isn’t ideal, but I’m strong. I can tolerate it.

Don’t let worrisome imaginings carry you helplessly away. Instead, Train your thoughts on what’s constructive and empowers you.

The Landscape of loss is fertile ground for growth

Every one of us has had struggles. We have all had situations and circumstances we’ve had to rise above. For many of us, losing a child by estrangement is our most significant obstacle to date, but recalling how we’ve handled past difficulties can help. By taking stock of fears, and supporting ourselves with understanding and acceptance, we can get through this too. We can let go of outcomes we can’t control, dismiss fears that don’t help us, and take action for our own happy lives.

 

Rat-ical Change

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

holidays estranged from adult childrenChange is good when old and lovely traditions make empty chairs conspicuous (as they often are during holidays estranged from adult children). We’ve created new adventure to nearly every holiday the last few years, and it’s been great fun to try new things.

This year, for the first Thanksgiving ever, I decided to leave the cooking to a restaurant. Everyone agreed, and I made reservations for a buffet serving seafood and breakfast as well as traditional holiday fare. We were excited. That is until I shared my plans with a relative two days before Thanksgiving.

“No, you don’t want to go there,” he said. “They’ve had complaints about food poisoning. My buddy works at that place, and he says he would never eat there.” He went on to relate his friend’s descriptions of the kitchen that left me anything but eager to eat there.

I cancelled our reservation and began the arduous task of finding another restaurant on such short notice. Very few places had any seats left, and when they did, it was for the late evening, which wouldn’t work for us. Finally, I found a buffet that sounded promising practically in my own backyard. Why hadn’t I thought of them before?

We all arrived at the restaurant and filled our plates and bellies with delicious foods. We were sleepily contemplating dessert when some movement caught our eyes. A rat! It scurried from the kitchen to the booths across from our table, followed by a chef and his staff who all swiped at it with brooms. Eventually, the rat darted beneath the skirt of the buffet table where they cornered it.

Our party of six didn’t get dessert. Instead, we decided loudly not to rat out the restaurant to the authorities. Then we ordered marga-rat-as and sat making jokes while we drank. Why let a rodent rat-tle us?

Thanksgiving has passed, but we’re already making changes to our Christmas and New Year’s plans. It’s fun to try new things, and experience new adventures.

Holidays estranged from adult children: ideas to help

In the support forum and in website comments, people have been talking about some of their plans—not just for the holidays, but in the days leading up to them as well. Here are a few ideas:

  • Visit inpatients at a local hospital who can’t go home for holidays.
  • Listen/watch online church broadcasts.
  • Sew curtains, a tablecloth, or do some other project that keeps you busy now—and rewards you all year.
  • Go to the movies (there are new ones out this time of year).
  • Honor a loved one who has passed away by making their special dish or dessert. Or set up a memorial with candles—consider adding a candle for your estranged adult child if that feels right.
  • Play board games and invite a friend you know is alone to play.
  • Serve yourself champagne, and consider all you’re thankful for.
  • Focus on the spiritual meaning of the holidays.

Or try on a new, lighthearted perspective? Like: Imagine you’re from another planet and arrive during the holidays. What’s funny that you see?

What’s new that you might do to change up the holidays and make them fun? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments to this post. I bet you have some rat-ical ideas.

Thanksgiving for hurting parents of estranged adult children (part 2)

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

In October, I posted about some different ways to think of Thanksgiving (to help Canadians who celebrated their Thanksgiving at that time). Readers from all over the world frequent the blog–and my aim is always to help with healing for the hurting parents of  estranged adult children.

Now that the U.S. holiday is near, give that post a read. Maybe you’ll agree that even as hurting parents of estranged adult children, Thanksgiving can be a time of harvest.

Below are a few other ideas and some more past articles for hurting parents of estranged adult children who might be spending the holiday alone or feeling isolated.

Time on your hands? Three ways to use those hours wisely.

Beat the crowds. Get a little holiday shopping completed early. Online deals abound even on Thanksgiving Day. Amazon.com has everything from gourmet food to health and beauty items, toys to tools, furniture to vitamins to gifts of every sort. Shop at Amazon

Take a nature walk at a state park. Many of the state parks host free admission on “green Friday” hurting parents of estranged adult childrenthe day after Thanksgiving. Check out your area’s parks to see if they’re participating, and spend Thanksgiving planning a take-along lunch. Wouldn’t it be fun to take a friend on a picnic on Friday, and get in a little nature time too?

Finish your holiday cards early–or just write letters. In these days of electronic cards and email, old fashioned paper greetings are getting rare. If you have time on your hands, turn on a TV marathon and write out some friendly notes. Your recipients will appreciate the extra care, and who knows? Maybe you’ll restart a tradition!

This year will be the first time I ever celebrated Thanksgiving at a restaurant. It’ll be a small party, and I am looking so forward to the varied buffet! Usually, I don’t mind cooking, but this year I felt the need to make a change. Do you? It’s okay to do things differently. Changing up does not mean you’ll never cook the meal again or you’re letting yourself or others down. There’s a saying I’ve come to believe: Change is good!

What ideas do you have for spending quiet time (Thanksgiving Day or any holiday) well? I hope you’ll help other hurting parents of estranged adult children by leaving a comment.

Also, don’t miss these past articles to help hurting parents of estranged adult children on Thanksgiving:

Giving Thanks–It’s the real reason for the holiday. And gratitude can help hurting parents of estranged adult children any day.

Help for hurting parents of estranged adult children for the holidays—How to manage them.

Hugs to everyone on Thanksgiving Day and every day.

Full disclosure, the Amazon.com link above is an affiliate link–that means if you use the link to shop, a small portion is earned to help fund this site.

 

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.

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