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Abandoned parents: Let your light shine

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

abandoned parents

Photo credit: Craig Burrows Photography

I recently came across photographs of something most of us never see–natural flowers that light up!

The truth is almost any organic matter glows in response to UV light by what’s called “fluorescence.” As flowers are hit with sunlight, they emit a glow in return.

I shared a video of some glowing flower photos at the RP facebook page. It’s not one that I created. Even if you’re not on FB, you can see some of the photos via links and a video below. Photographer Craig Burrows took the beautiful Angel’s Trumpet flower here, and has more examples at his website. I’ve included a list of links at the end of this article, and there’s also a YouTube video that features this photography linked below.

Right now, I’d like to talk about how each one of us has a special light of our own, just like the unique ways the different flowers glow.

Abandoned parents: Let your light shine

Every day (and even more during the holidays), I hear from hurting, abandoned parents whose adult children have rejected or abused them. Many feel a sense of shame about what’s happened, even though they’ve wracked their brains to figure out how the son or daughter they loved and supported for decades could be so unkind. I’ve written about why undue guilt can plague parents in my book, Done With The Crying, and in an article about what’s called “innocent guilt.”

Unfortunately, parents who did their best can get stuck in what one mother whose been estranged for more than two decades calls “the pit of despair.” But life really is too short to let another adult’s lousy choice define you and keep you stuck. This mother, who spent years walking on eggshells and crying, has come to the realization that enough is enough. (See the article: Parents of estranged adult children: Have you had enough?) This mom is  quick to tell others, “Get out there and enjoy life.” And she’s taking her own advice. She’s letting her light shine.

Abandoned parents: Will your glow show?


In the flower photos, we can see their glow because of a special sort of photography called ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence photography, or UVIVF. This photography gives us eyes to see. But if the flowers weren’t out in the sunlight, they wouldn’t glow.

It’s similar to what happens when we step out, smile, and interact. Some people will like us, and some won’t—but that doesn’t mean we don’t glow, just like the flowers.

Abandoned parents: Step into the light

By stepping out into the “sunlight,” even abandoned parents who have spent years in the painful shadow of estrangement can begin to shine. All the crying you might do, all the searching for an answer that finally makes sense won’t change what has happened. You didn’t fail because of your adult child’s choices. Don’t remain a hostage to his/her decisions.

What is one good thing you can do for yourself? Right now, identify at least a single thing you can do to reclaim your glow? Think back to who you were before trauma. Deep down, you’re still in there. Step into the light—and shine!

Maybe this means that you literally step out into the sunlight. Despite all we’ve heard about sunlight causing skin cancer, that link isn’t as direct as you might think. And there are benefits to sunlight. In addition to increased Vitamin D with its stronger bones benefit, moderate exposure to sunlight can improve mood and promote deeper sleep—and sleep is something abandoned parents need. (Abandoned parents, here’s help with sleep.) help with. At the bottom, I’ve linked to a couple of articles on sunlight that may help.

It’s not only the sunlight that helps, though. More doctors are prescribing walks in nature to help with anxiety, depression, and stress. Some of you may know that I have written several popular hiking guides for my area. At some of the most stress- and worry-filled times in my life, getting out in nature has soothed my soul. People report that physical pain improves as well.

Abandoned parents: Re-ignite your light

You might start to let your light shine by purposefully altering a thought habit that puts you in a bad mood. In this way, you re-ignite your light from the inside.

Abandoned parents often tell me they awaken early, plagued by sad thoughts. My question: Why lie there and suffer? You’re not sleeping anyway, so use the time wisely. Even in the wee hours, you can do a quiet project (and sometimes, busying the mind will relax and tire you, so that you can get back to sleep). Here are a few ideas:

  • Get a craft kit for those sleepless times.
  • Turn to some fun reading (women might enjoy the Hot flash club series).
  • Meditate on calming words or scriptures.
  • Marvel at the moon, the stars, and how vast the universe is.

Abandoned parents: Shine up your surroundings

When we’re feeling overwhelmed emotionally, our surroundings can start to reflect that feeling back at us. Maybe our sadness shows up in yesterday’s clothing slopped over a chair, or the stress we feel shows up in a mail pile of mail we don’t look at—and that keeps getting bigger. Losing a little physical clutter has a way of clearing the mind, too. Start clearing in some small areas with big impact—like decluttering a drawer or cleaning out the refrigerator. Consider some emotional decluttering too (here’s how). There’s no need to wait until spring.

Small positive changes can make you feel better about yourself, which can start to re-ignite your inner glow. For more strategies to help yourself, get my book, Done With The Crying—or read it again.

Add spark other people can see

Have you gotten into a rut with how you dress? Maybe you’ve spent years wearing business black. Is it time for a change? Perhaps all the stress has caused you to take less interest in your appearance. Maybe you even want to hide. Well, how about dressing to help you feel better? I’m an advocate for coming up with an outfit that helps. What’s your costume? You can read about mine here.

Try adding a colorful scarf, or change up your hairstyle (or color!). Today, when a lot of young people are coloring their hair gray as a desired style, mature women are choosing to accessorize with a splash of neon pink or blue. Look it up online. You might be inspired.

Shine your light to help other abandoned parents

You can shine your light by leaving your ideas about how to shine in a comment here in response to this article. Won’t you light the way for yourself and other hurting parents of estranged adult children?

Related reading:

More spectacular UVIVF photography

Benefits of Moderate Sun Exposure

Six Reasons Why You Need More Sun

For parents abandoned by adult children, sleep can be elusive

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

parents abandoned by adult childrenThankful for good sleep

I can remember my mother draping a heavy afghan over my lap when I was four, and asking me if I’d like it for my bed. Done in tightly crocheted, multi-color granny squares framed in eggplant-purple, the heavy blanket snuggled me like a hug. Yes, I wanted the beautiful blanket for my bed—and I used it for nearly three decades, until it was ragged and falling apart and almost real. If it were a stuffed animal it would have been like the Velveteen Rabbit, which inspired the beautiful quilt called “Wall of Silence” that was designed and made by a rejected mom.

Our sleeping environment, what we put on our beds and fill our minds and bodies with in the evening, can improve our ability to sleep. Good sleep is one of the things I’m most thankful for. Restful sleep is a necessity that positively affects life. Oh sure, I still have the occasional evening when the dogs are barking or someone else in the house makes noise in the night. We all do. But I’m no longer troubled by the insomnia that commonly plagues parents abandoned by adult children. I remember well those nights of lying awake, wondering how this could happen to me, and even if everyone else would leave me, too. Troubled sleep and disturbing dreams are common after emotional trauma, but sleep is important.

Sleep: A basic for mental and physical health

Sleep well, and you’re better able to cope. It’s a fact. People with chronic insomnia have a higher parents abandoned by adult childrenincidence of developing depression, and the inability to get good, restorative sleep is also associated with physical complaints and disorders. Restorative sleep is essential for physical and mental health.

There have been many studies on insomnia and its relationship to all sorts of other conditions. At the bottom of this page, I have linked to an article in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine that provides a comprehensive overview. You might want to read it on a night when you can’t get to sleep.

Ways for parents abandoned by adult children to sleep better

One helper is your sleep environment. You can find articles all over the internet with tips about making the bedroom conducive to sleep and to keep the bed a place you use only for sleep. If your bed is associated only with sleep, the school of thought is that you’ll fall asleep quicker when you go to bed. Try ear plugs or muffs, light blocking masks and drapes, and the right sort of pillow. Ideas about comfort make sense, too. Use sheets and blankets that feel good, invest in a good mattress that feels cozy and promotes relaxation, and choose bedroom décor that’s restful and enhances a sense of calm. One of the most detailed books on the subject is Start Your Day with a Good Night’s Sleep: A Guide for Rest, Relaxation, and Blissful Sleep by Robert Sachs, who draws on his education, experience, and philosophy to break sleep down to the minute details that might make a difference for you. Give it a try if you want an all-inclusive guide.

Here, I’ll cover a few things that have worked for me or other parents abandoned by adult children—which brings me back to my eggplant-purple afghan from childhood. I I remember crawling underneath that heavy afghan at night and feeling swaddled in love. I know some of this was the special feeling of my mother bestowing the gift of handmade love from a family friend on me, but I believe its sheer weight also played a role. After that afghan unraveled and became too ragged for daily use, I missed its weight.

parents abandoned by adult childrenFor years, I tried to recreate the feeling by piling on multiple blankets. Of course, my husband likes little more than a thin sheet, so my attempt at better sleep contributed to his insomnia. Why do opposites attract? That’s an article for another day maybe. . . .

Recently, I’ve discovered a solution: the weighted blanket. A former Occupational Therapist who is a member of the support group for parents of estranged adult children here at the site first brought their use to my attention. MJMom, I’m forever grateful!

Weighted blankets were first used in medical settings and for autistic children, but they’ve gone mainstream for good reason. Studies show that weighted blankets decrease anxiety and increase the brain’s feel-good chemicals. Thankfully, the blankets come in sizes for one—meaning the cozy, soft, warm, heavy blanket I use on my side of the bed doesn’t bother my husband who’s relaxing under his featherweight covers. The blankets are a bit pricey, so beware. For me, it’s been a great investment. Maybe you ask for a weighted blanket as a gift (or get yourself a gift).

My weighted blanket is a fleece one made by Sensory Goods in the U.S. (washable and dryable, too), but there are a variety of brands in differing styles, colors, and weights. Be sure to read the information and choose one that’s right for your body weight. Customer reviews also played a part in my choice of a blanket that’s about 10% of my body weight. Those not accustomed to heavier bed covers might prefer a lighter-weight version.

You could also make your own weighted blanket. Go to YouTube.com and search for how to “make a weighted blanket” videos. If you don’t sew, try using the words “no sew” in your search. There are some very talented and creative people who have posted how-to videos.

More tips for better sleep

Here, we’re not covering supplements or medications. What follows are tips and techniques that I’ve found useful, or have been recommended by other parents abandoned by adult children.

Lavender—The scent of lavender is known to promote sleep. Fragrant oil can be dropped on a tissue or cotton ball and placed under your pillow. Or try a diffuser. The scented pads are very convenient. I used to take them along when traveling because odd environments can disturb my sleep. The pads worked great, and came individually wrapped or in a tin, but I haven’t been able to find them lately. If you know where to get them, do tell.

Meditation and Muscle Relaxation—A technique called “progressive muscle relaxation” can parents abandoned by adult childrenease stress from where its held in the body, and help you get to sleep. For instructions and a video about progressive muscle relaxation, try this site. You’ll find some other techniques at this site too. This is just one site with this kind of information–so if it doesn’t resonate, do your own search for progressive muscle relaxation or guided meditation.

Sleep music—There are some music and video-plus music arrangements created specifically for better sleep. Some are based on the brain’s waves during typical sleep patterns. Others are simply soothing rhythms and/or sounds from nature. Music has always seemed more of a distraction to me than a soothing sleep aid, but it works for some. A friend who has a distant son tells me she can’t go to sleep without her music that’s based on brain waves.

Prayer—There’s something about mentally going through my good wishes for the people I love (including my estranged son and his wife), and trusting that all will be well, that calms me. Some other estranged parents have told me they feel the same. “I don’t know how many times I’ve fallen asleep mid-prayer,” said one mother whose worries over her estranged daughter plague her many evenings. If you’re a spiritually minded person, prayer can help.

Soothing drinks—Calming chamomile tea is a favorite of mine. On a winter night, even a plain cup of hot water can have a soothing affect. Some say warm milk promotes sleep. One thing is for sure: alcohol does not promote restful sleep. People may say alcohol calms them, but it’s known to disturb sleep patterns.

Practicing gratitude—Similar to counting your blessings, thinking of a few things each night (especially if you write them down) can have a calming affect. Remember the smallest joys of the day, and as you lay down to sleep, let them play and replay in your mind. It sure beats ruminating over the what-ifs and whys.

Having trouble sleeping?

These are just a few ideas for better sleep. What do you do to promote the restorative sleep you need? I hope you’ll share with the parents abandoned by adult children who regularly read this blog by posting a comment. Then they can be thankful for a good night’s sleep too.

Related reading:

Insomnia: Definition, Prevalence, Etiology, and Consequences (Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine)

Exploring the Safety and Therapeutic Effects of Deep Pressure Stimulation Using a Weighted Blanket (abstract)

Thanksgiving: Can it be a time of harvest?

 

Struggling with estrangement from adult children? A liberating moment

I’m so very grateful when my book, Done With The Crying, is mentioned positively by other parents who know what it’s like to be struggling with estrangement from adult children. In the September/October issue of The Saturday Evening Post, a writer shared the progression of her feelings until she came to a liberating moment. That’s when she mentioned me and the book. (Thank you to Karen Westerberg Reyes.)

Struggling with estrangement from adult children?

With the intention of recovering from the heartache and a bit of work, you too can have a liberating moment that gets you free.

You can read the full article  as it appeared in the September/October 2017 issue of the Saturday Evening Post.

Coping with Estranged Adult Children

Estrangement: What’s your costume to help?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Costumes aren’t just suitable for Halloween. Choosing a sort of “costume” can be a helpful support in times of stress.

estranged from adult childrenMost of us are familiar with the old term, “dress for success.” The idea was that the clothes we wear convey a message to others about who we are and what we can do. But clothing can convey helpful messages to ourselves, too.

Your clothes:
It’s not always about what other people think

Years ago as a young mother of five, attending writers’ conferences and networking events for the first few times felt scary. Having to shake strangers’ hands and present myself as a professional writer had me trembling. On some level, those sorts of things still jangle my nerves a bit, but I learned a trick to help: put on a “costume” and step into the role. Back then, that meant business attire. Looking professional made me feel more confident. The new people I met didn’t need to know that I worked from a home office off my bedroom with toddlers playing at my feet.

Help yourself, help others
How your clothes make you feel

Just the other day, after a couple of stressful weeks full of … well, let’s just call them “situations,”  I fell back on the tactic to help me–and help a friend.

Feeling particularly harried on the day I’d planned a visit with a friend, the last thing I wanted to do was spread my tension to her. She had her own stresses—a daughter with recent health complications, career adjustments, family drama, and general stress. I almost cancelled that morning, but hadn’t seen her in months. So I chose a feel-good “costume” instead.

estrangement of parentsHere I am, exhausted but hopeful in my colorful, elasticized waist, handkerchief hemmed skirt and a bright blouse with embroidery swirls. Rather than trouble myself to style my hair, I swept it into a clip, buckled on my most comfortable shoes, and tossed some beads around my neck. That skirt always feels so breezy and easy. It flows when I walk—and I could imagine myself drifting along, a wave of peace and joy. Maybe it’s silly, but it helped.

I did tell my friend a little of what had been going on in my life, but my “costume” served as a reminder to let the troubles drift away. My costume felt a little like Glenda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz that day, but I was told I looked more like a kindergarten teacher. Either way, my role was one of peace.

Estranged parents: What’s your costume?

That evening, I thought about all the different “costumes” I’ve worn over the years. At one point, I had a sparkly duck lapel pin for an organization’s meetings where I played a leadership role. That pretty little duck helped me remember to let complaints roll right off my back like a duck sheds water. And once, for a trying personal meeting that required emotional armor, I chose a bell-sleeved tunic with a metallic print on the front. That top looked stylish but felt like protection for my heart.

With the holidays approaching, maybe you’re facing uncertain or uncomfortable situations surrounding your adult child’s estrangement. If so, consider what sort of “costume” will help. I wouldn’t feel good in clothes that bind, but someone else might feel supported by more structured apparel. Maybe you wear a soft jacket that’s suitable indoors (for an added layer of emotional padding), or a solid pair of shoes that keep you standing firm.

The clothing you choose can be another form of self-kindness and self-support. You’ve seen me in my good witch teacher “costume.” Now, leave a comment and tell me about yours!

For more information about estrangement and how to move forward after an adult child’s estrangement, read the book: Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children (Fathers, it’s for you too. See Note to Fathers)

Related Reading:

Estranged? Enjoy the holidays anyway

Holidays for parents rejected by adult children

When adult children reject parents: Be kind to yourself this holiday season

Estranged? Enjoy the holidays anyway

estrangement holidaysBy Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Estrangement from adult children has a way of dulling parents’ anticipation of holidays. I’ve already started receiving emails filled with dread. Some parents wonder what they’ll say to family members who ask about their estranged adult child. Many worry how they’ll stay cheerful amidst the family-centric hoopla that reminds them of their loss. Some simply miss their son or daughter and the fun holidays they used to share.

Rather than sit back in dread, be proactive. Here are some ideas to take charge of your thinking and take action for your own well-being.

Control your diet: I’m not talking about food

I’m referring to the steady stream of media that puts holidays front and center as early as pre-estrangement holidaysHalloween. The shopping channels are already airing holiday items. Catalogs are beginning to clog the mail. Food magazines are starting to feature favorites. Reminders are everywhere, but you can choose what you watch, listen to, or read.

Maybe it’s time to donate those brand new issues of food magazines you subscribe to. Rather than open the issues filled with holiday fare, give them away unopened. A young mother with a family on a tight budget might be thrilled to receive those magazines. You’d be doing her and yourself a favor. Don’t know someone in particular? Leave them at a library, offer them to a friend or ask if they know someone who could use them. Drop new magazines at a thrift store, add the issues to one of those mini neighborhood book borrowing stations or into the recycle bin.

Holiday catalogs can trigger all sorts of emotions for estranged grandparents. Why torture yourself by paging through the bright pictures, wondering if the grandchild you no longer get to see still has a mind for science, does gymnastics, or likes to read? Recycle or give them away. If it makes you feel better, leaf through and buy a toy or two for donation purposes. Toy drives abound, and there are needy parents and children who would be grateful for a benefactor.

TV can be an annoying reminder of all we’re not enjoying. Turn it off or turn the channel. As the holiday season accelerates, topic programming and commercials can inundate. Maybe it’s time for a TV diet. People who swear off TV for a set time period report positive effects. More sleep, more time to pursue meaningful activities and relationships, and less mindless eating. Turning off the television could lengthen your life, too. A recent study found that every hour of TV watched reduced lifespan by 22 minutes!

Estrangement? Plan ahead for good holidays

estrangement holidaysHoliday foods, gift items, and décor arrive on store shelves early. For hurting parents whose adult children are estranged, the displays can make a simple trip to the grocer an emotional minefield. While going into hermit mode might not be wise, it’s possible to plan ahead for quicker trips and minimal exposure. Stock up on items you need regularly. When the holidays hit full swing, you’ll be prepared to avoid the shops.

Plan your activities too. Without a plan, the holidays become something to endure for parents who are feeling sensitive because an adult child is estranged. Most of us know that Aunt Betty will invite us as usual or that everyone expects to come to our house for the holiday. Consider now how you feel about these expectations. And know this: it’s okay to make a change. Sit down and make some plans now for what you really want to do this year. Maybe you do smaller dinners with individual family members, or maybe you go camping and avoid the holidays entirely. By planning ahead, you can be kind and let other people know that this year will be different. Change can be good!

Plan what you’ll say, too. When someone chirps, “Only one hundred days till Christmas,” counter with your own quip: “Only 101 till it’s over!” If you’re worried about Aunt Sally or Cousin Sue asking about your estranged adult child, plan your response ahead. (For help, see Chapter Four in Done With The Crying.)

Estrangement? Feed yourself

While controlling what comes in and triggers bad feelings is wise, it’s also important to feed your spirit. This may mean concentrating on the spiritual side of the holidays. Maybe you’ll watch the 2013 The Bible miniseries on Netflix over several evenings (no commercials!), enjoy holiday performances in your community (or find them on YouTube), or attend a choir performance. Some people travel to natural spaces for the holidays, finding the less busy winter months perfect for solitude and peace of mind. To feed your spirit, think of anything that makes you feel good. Is it gardening? Then find a way to do that over the holidays. Is iestrangement holidayst sewing? Make new curtains or homemade gifts. Is there a hobby or vocation you once enjoyed but haven’t participated in for years? The holiday season can be a slow time for independent instructors who might appreciate a new student. Return to something you’ve missed or learn something you’ve never attempted. Take horseback riding or tennis lessons, brush up on guitar, have a go at ice skating, or enjoy Tai Chi or Qui Gong.

Try something different this year—I dare you!

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:

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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

 

Fortitude doesn’t mean ‘going it alone’

support for parents of estranged adult childrenBy Sheri McGregor, MA

On California’s coast, a tree known as the Lone Cypress stands on a rocky precipice overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The tree is hailed as a symbol of fortitude, and people pay to drive a 17-mile loop just to see it. Many years ago, I was one of those people—and at first, was let down by the sight.

The tree makes a nice photo, and I liked the conveyed idea: a tree that clings to life, thrives despite adversity, and symbolizes courage, strength, and resilience. It spoke to a spirit of independence and strength that I admire.

Parents of estranged adult children: Even the strongest benefit from support

But if you make the trip, you’ll find out that the tree’s “fortitude” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In the blowing Pacific winds, partially hidden cables actually hold the tree up in place. Seeing those, I remember thinking the tourist write-ups had pulled a fast one.

But as time passed, and the storms of life pushed and pulled at me, I began to see the Lone Cypress and its moniker as a symbol of fortitude in a new light.

The word, “fortitude,” means strength in the face of adversity. Once-upon-a-time, a seed fell into the rocky soil. Its inner strength defied the harsh elements at the edge of the cliff. The seed began to grow.

Many of us are just this strong and independent, perhaps to a fault. We’ve survived adversity. We’ve even thrived in life’s rocky soils. But for me, as for many of us, there comes a time going it alone isn’t the best choice. Just as the tree might have lost its footing and crashed into the ocean if it weren’t for the cables, even the strongest among us, at times, need support.

Thankfully, we can choose to step away from the precarious cliffs of manipulative or one-sided relationships, calm the winds of negative, circular thinking, and plant ourselves among the nourishing forest of help and support.

How can you support your well-being?

Parker, a divorced father, tried to maintain a relationship with his daughter, who was 12 when his marriage ended. Their relationship grew increasingly tenuous, and after she graduated college, she made room for her father only for holidays. She’s now in her 30s. Over the last several years, Parker has repeatedly reached out to try and foster a relationship with her and his young grandchildren, without success.

“I needed to get free of trying so hard,” Parker explains. “In the last eight or nine years, the only time she contacted me was when she needed money. I’d give it to her, and then she’d go back to ignoring me. On the odd occasions we did spend any time together, or if she answered her phone, she’d pick a fight. It always ended badly.”

When Paker made the decision to give in, and lovingly disengage from the one-sided relationship, he realized just how much self-criticism and negativity had been taking up psychological space. “I was always wondering what I’d said or done wrong, and how I could be more careful next time. What would I say when I called her next? What possible ways could she react? How could I adjust what I said to avoid that response? It was exhausting.”

Entrenched habits can be difficult to break. Parker isn’t the type of person who readily asks for help. Like others who pride themselves on their independence and strength, Parker is used to being the ones other people ask for assistance. But even the Lone Cypress, a symbol of strength and fortitude, requires support.

My book, Done With The Crying, is not just for moms (as explained here). Since early last month, it’s also now available as an e-book, too.

Fathers, feel free to join the online support forum for parents of estranged adult children as well. While most of the members are women, a few men have joined and occasionally post. Quite a few fathers populate the Facebook Page too.

Are you a symbol of fortitude, standing all alone on the edge? Don’t suffer through the experience of estrangement all alone.

Related reading:

Fathers of Estranged Adult Children: You’re not alone

Father’s Day for Fathers of Estranged Adult Children

What do you prescribe for yourself?

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

Abandoned parents: Comparing doesn’t help

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

abandoned parentsSome abandoned parents say:  It’s more difficult to move beyond the pain of estrangement when you’ve lost your only child and/or grandchildren.

Other parents say: It’s more difficult to move beyond the pain of estrangement when you have other adult children and/or grandchildren to worry about.

Which assertion is right? Both.

There are a few old sayings about whatever you think being true. In this case, if you believe your situation is more difficult than someone else’s, it will be.

Comparing keeps you stuck

Healing from emotional pain isn’t helped along by comparing your situation to another person’s. It’s about realistically looking at your own situation, and then devising constructive ways to move forward.

When we compare, we’re comparing an imagined reality rather than what’s real. Below are a couple of examples.

Parents whose only child is estranged may imagine a remaining family in solidarity and support, but they’re overlooking what it can really be like for emotionally devastated abandoned parents to:

  • try and provide support to an estranged adult child’s siblings who are also suffering emotional pain.
  • parent younger siblings in a way that’s sound and wise, while wondering where they went wrong with the estranged one.
  • know their other adult children interact with the estranged one, while fearful they will be influenced to also estrange.
  • to encounter troubles with another child and struggle to remain patient and fair, rather than become defensive (perhaps taking on a “why bother?” attitude since this child will only hurt me too).

Obviously, there are struggles and complexities for parents who have other minor and/or adult children—often not considered by those who envy them. The converse is also true.

Parents who have other children and grandchildren may envy what they see as a sort of freedom. They imagine that parents whose only child is estranged have the time and energy to focus on themselves and their healing. But they may overlook the magnitude of what it’s really like to feel all alone and:

  • faced with forging a way forward when your entire history and everything you’ve ever worked for is ripped away.
  • try to form a “family” of unrelated friends.
  • faced with forming a new identity when you’re no Mom or Dad to anyone.
  • have no one left in your inner circle to turn to for help or support.
  • wondering if you’ll remain alone until the end.

Abandoned parents: Please don’t judgeabandoned parents

In the introductory pages of Done With The Crying, I ask that readers be kind and fair to the parents whose stories are shared in the book. I wanted readers to remain open to learn from the shared experiences, to find similarities that help them apply others’ experiences to their own.

Our stories are unique, but we’re united in the common bond of estrangement. We can help each other rather than compare (or judge).

abandoned parentsSuccess stories

Recently several parents whose only children are estranged (some with grandchildren they also miss) have taken advantage of their newfound freedom to pursue goals they put off to care for the family. Several grandmothers are off to earn graduate degrees, or finish ones they started. One is focusing on her art, another her writing. Others are pursuing volunteer and civic projects, or joining in social movements. Some parents speak of never remarrying after divorce or a spouse’s death because of the children, but have now tackled fears of being judged for their situation. They have sought and found partners with whom to share their lives.

Parents with other children and grandchildren have broadened their horizons, too. Some conclude that pursuing their own goals and dreams is a healthy investment, and are doing so now rather than leaning as much on their other children/grandchildren for happiness. This includes educational and career goals, as well as developing other interests and friendships outside the family—and encouraging their remaining children to also spread their wings. Others have learned to ask for support, which helps them in turn to provide support for the rest of the family.

See the weak spots and do what helps

Rather than comparing your life in a way that puts you at odds with other abandoned parents of estranged adult children and keeps you feeling stuck, focus on what will help. Take an honest look atabandoned parents your life. Then get started at helping yourself.

Find constructive help in Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children (which is for fathers too!).

 

Related reading:

Adult child’s rejection: Emotional and social fallout

Cut off by adult children: What do you prescribe for yourself?

Spreading happiness

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 quesions.

Freedom

Parents of Estranged Adults:
Are you tyrannized by the painful emotions?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

estranged adultsAnother year has rolled around to Independence Day. America gained its independence 241 years ago. But do you feel free now? Or are you tyrannized by painful emotions caused by an estranged son or daughter?

For some parents of estranged adult children, the shock is so new that disbelief sets in. You can’t imagine the cutting-off could possibly continue. Yet you worry how long it will, and how much time is passing. Emotionally raw, your mind plays and replays vile words or a torturous final scene. Troubling dreams wake you in the night—if you sleep at all.

I know the agony of feeling powerless over a situation. I’ve suffered the tears, anger, and bitterness that result when an adult child walks away.

But I also know those feelings can change. With a conscious decision and proactive steps to support yourself, parents of estranged adults don’t have to remain in pain.

Independence

I can honestly tell you that my heart no longer aches for my estranged adult son. If I sat and dwelled on the experience, then I could conjure up and recall the pain. But doing so would be a choice. Although it feels odd, maybe even harsh to say, the truth is, I don’t think of him all that often anymore. My life has moved forward. I have stepped into new places and situations. There is good in my life—and there are also more pressing hurts.

My estranged son lives his life, and I live mine. On the occasions he comes to mind, I wish him well. There’s no more imagining the what-ifs. No more putting myself through the torture of wondering whether he’ll come back. I don’t contemplate whether he’s okay, if I’ll ever meet his children, see him again, or even hear his voice.

I made a decision not to ask the questions that lead to endless loops:

  • Why did this happen?
  • What happens if he comes back?
  • Where did I go wrong?

Instead of wondering why he made his choices, I think: Why go there?

Even for parents of estranged adults: Peace in the present

It helps to have processed the hurt, examined where the
experience has changed me and my estranged adultother relationships, hopes, and dreams. Taking steps to make changes where they help, and make important decisions for the future can set the mind at ease. In my book, you’ll find ways to explore the future and make those sorts of decisions. How far will you go to reconcile, and what does that word mean? How does your estranged adult child fit into the end of your life—and how will your decision affect the others who are important to you? Realistically contemplating these and other situations, making decisions, and taking practical steps toward them paves the way for peace in the present.

Love

Many parents write to me about unconditional love. The word “unconditional” implies that love is not withdrawn for any reason. Does that mean we’re required to put ourselves in danger to fulfill this sort of love? Does loving another human being, an adult child, mean that we allow them to hurt us forever?

I love my son. But it’s love that’s sort of frozen in time. I remember the cuteness of him, the curves of his young face taken over by angles as he matured, the way his eyes lit, the strength of him not to flinch when his brow was stitched as a young boy. I remember my pride when a teacher complimented him. Or, as he grew into a strong young man, the way he calculated the space between things—demonstrated by a ball tossed to the basket or in eyeballing a length of string that he cut to perfectly fit. I remember the amazing things, and feel glad to have been a part of them.

If I really wanted to, I could think of him now in a similar way. I could imagine him as a husband who loves his wife and as a son-in-law who honors her parents. As a man, he must go about his days being courteous to others he meets along the way. And I can stop there. I don’t have to examine and re-examine the things he doesn’t do. The years we spent together were a season, a time. Now I’m in a new time. To be fair, so is he.

Where are you?

We can get stuck in the disappointment. We can put ourselves back in the hurt. Or we can move on.

Some parents of estranged adult children continue to reach out and try. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you choose to do so, it’s wise to honor yourself in the process. Set some goals that support your well-being. Contemplate practical issues such as how often you’ll reach out, how you’ll handle the possible disappointment of being rejected yet again, and how you feel about the choices you make—there’s help in my book for those things.

Among the thousands of parents in sustained estrangements who have shared their thoughts with me, the ones who have reclaimed happiness also stop putting themselves in the way of continued hurt. It’s a choice we make whether to give an estranged adult child the opportunity to continue to inflict pain. We can let the person know we’re willing, if at some point, they change their mind. We can set boundaries. We can decide what we would need from any future relationship. We can even change our mind at any time. And we can go on with our lives before it’s too late.

Stepping out

We can heal. The research, examples, question sets, and exercises in my book are designed to help you move forward one step at a time.  Parents of estranged adults can support themselves with self-compassion, our own wisdom, and the help of others who have walked a similar path. As thousands of parents will tell you, the path ahead gets brighter.

Related:

Spring cleaning for parents when adult children want no contact

Estranged from adult children: Take care of yourself