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Beyond the shadow of estrangement

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

The Shadow of Estrangement.

When the sun is high in a brilliant blue sky, our shadows are short. As the sun moves, our shadows lengthen, shorten, and change position—sometimes on the right, other times on our left.

But this isn’t a lesson on shadows! It’s just how I choose to view the shadow ofestrangement.

Estrangement’s “day”

The presence of estrangement can change over the course of time. With acceptance comes the admission that you cannot control another adult’s decision. You can move forward, and whether you believe it or not at this moment, you can be happy;  so that you no longer think of your estranged adult children and are no longer plagued by the shadow of estrangement, even for very long periods of time. Still, with the arrival of a life storm or two, a birthday, a holiday or a brush with death, the presence can shift, grow, or reappear.

shadow of estrangementThis is true even for people who’ve reached the high noon of acceptance over what they know they cannot change, who have moved forward in joy and are cherishing what’s good and creating new meaning and purpose in their lives. Even for many years.

People write to me all the time with a situation or date that has caused them grief. Times when the shadow of estrangement looms. Statements like these are common:

  • I’m back to square one.
  • I’ll never get past this loss.
  • What if I haven’t tried enough?

The Shadow of estrangement: Make a choice

But we do have a choice. We can see the setback as oppressive and horrible and something we just can’t shake. Or, we can make the choice to see the shift as temporary. We can tell ourselves it’s a minor setback, that we will feel better, that we are still strong and will move beyond this day. We can envision ourselves leaping forward again to square four or six or ten or one hundred—and then we can do what’s necessary to make that leap.

Estrangement: Is there a gift in the pain?

shadow of estrangementWe can even choose to find the value in revisiting the pain. Maybe it provides an opportunity to remind ourselves we did all we could. Perhaps in re-examining the facts, we re-identify the words and events and decisions that a parent’s forgiving memory has softened. In the shadow of estrangement, we can bolster ourselves with reality and mourn the loss as we might for a loved one who is long deceased, with good memories and a tinge of sadness, longing, or regret.

Or, if we feel the need, we can reach out again (always with an emotional insurance plan).

One woman recently wrote that she had been doing so well, but then her estranged daughter made contact, and it wasn’t for reasons that made any good sense. There is was again: the shadow of estrangement. This estranged mother wrote to me, saying, “I’ve pulled out your book again. It helped me before, and it will help me again.” Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children was her first line of defense.

shadow of estrangementOthers look at a favorite article here at, or do a search for ones that fit  their experience. You can use the collapsible categories to the right to look through all past article titles, and then click through. Or, there’s a search button to the right to help you find specific subjects.

Maybe for you it’s a good friend who will be sad to hear what’s happened, but there to make you laugh. Perhaps it’s getting close to God, to your spouse, to nature, or a loyal pet—and then reconnecting with the activities you enjoy. Maybe it’s a combination of these things.

The sun will set, the stars and moon will shine, and the next day brings a new beginning. We can choose to see the shadow of estrangement as a reminder that we are okay, that we can reclaim our space and happiness despite it.

“The landscape of loss is fertile ground for growth.” Sheri McGregor

In time, we may even find gifts hidden in the shadow of estrangement, as so many parents tell me they have. Gifts of strength and clarity and growth. Gifts in seeing how other puzzles within our lives fit. Or even the gift of peace. Have you found any such gifts? Feel free to comment here on this article so that other parents can benefit from your experience.

Related reading

Estranged Adult Children: Why Do They Make Contact Now?

Estrangement: Dealing With Uncertainty

Estranged from adult children? Done With The Crying Audiobook release

estranged from adult childrenEstranged from adult children?
I’m excited to announce that earlier this month, the audiobook version of Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children was released by Tantor Media.

adult children estrangedFor awhile today, Done With The Crying took the number one spot for new releases in its category at Amazon. As I write this it’s at #4. I’m happy the book is helping people, but it’s also sad proof of a common breakdown in today’s families: estrangement.

Have you been waiting to read the book? If you’re estranged from adult children, I do recommend the print version because the tools and exercises provide real help to move beyond the pain, and there’s space provided in the printed book. But you could listen to it for free right now, plus get a bonus.

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

Please know that although you may feel alone in the estrangement, you are not. I hear from parents every day who are estranged from adult children, suffering similar pain and looking for solutions. Please, take care of yourself. There is a good life ahead, and you’ll want to be strong and well to enjoy it. Buy the book, and take a step forward today.


Estranged Adult sonYour feelings change over time. You’re on with your life. You’re well and wise and happy. You figure so much time has passed that there is no chance. You accept that—everyone else has after all.

But on a quiet night, you still wonder. You send a text, or call. And then you discover that nothing has changed. The person you think might have changed, has not. He has grown worse.  He (or she) has settled into the sick, loveless person who estranged to begin with.

You listen to the self-righteous talk. Hoping to break through, you mention that you’re getting older. And then you hear the laughter. You’re surprised, sickened even, by the comment that  people do die; that you will too; that that’s what happens.

You realize there is no remorse. It is all about a lie … A story … A tale that makes what they have done ok–in their mind, and to the people near them.

And you realize that you are really done. It is sad, but also freeing. So, so freeing.

It is the story I have heard from thousands of parents. It’s my story, too.

Good bye you say. And for the first time ever, you know you mean it.



Estrangement: Are you an octopus mom?

by Sheri McGregor, MA


Sheri, diving in a pool
Photo credit: J. Wininger

Octopuses are smart. They can learn how to work through mazes, figure out how to open jars, and they like to play—all signs of intelligence. That’s why it surprised me when a friend mentioned that a mother octopus lays her eggs, then devotes herself so selflessly to them that she dies.


In one documented story, scientists observed a giant Pacific octopus who brooded over her eggs for more than four years. She neglected her own care, going without food to the point of death—and then her offspring floated off into the ocean to live their lives alone.

Caring for children

When our children are young and growing up, we protect and care for them. For us, it’s more than preserving the species as it must be for the octopus. We love them. We want to develop good relationships with our children, expecting they will grow older and we’ll remain emotionally connected and close. But that’s not how it is in situations of estrangement. The children we nurtured and loved grow up and cut ties. The distance can range from never talking to an occasional text. Or, worse, many parents say their adult children only call when they want financial help.

It’s fine to help people you love, but with estrangement, I routinely hear from mothers (and fathers) who have repeatedly neglected their own care, health, and happiness. Some have sons or daughters who are in their 40s and even 50s and have a history of anger and abuse toward the parents they blame for all their troubles. These parents come across my book or this website, and that’s when they discover they’re not the only ones.

Estrangement: Don’t be a mother octopus

In the shame of estrangement, parents will sometimes give more than they can really afford to sacrifice. Trying and trying even though the estrangement is beyond their control. As one woman on the FB page for rejected parents recently said, “Didn’t break it. Can’t fix it.” (I’m paraphrasing from memory.)

Parents brood for years over an adult who wants nothing to do with them. Hoping their son or daughter will one day decide to change, and end the estrangement. Waiting, remaining emotionally invested to the point of exhaustion—but the adult children move on in their lives alone.

It’s okay to remain hopeful. It’s fine to think that one day your son or daughter will return. But there’s no sense neglecting yourself while you wait. Go on and enjoy your life. Find some meaning. Do what makes you happy and strong.

If that Pacific octopus would have eaten a few of those crabs she nudged away when they got close, maybe she wouldn’t have withered away while standing faithful.

estrangementObviously, we aren’t octopuses. Maybe it’s a stretch to even use this fact to draw a parallel for parents suffering in estrangement. Then again, maybe it’s not such a big stretch at all. . .

In estrangement, don’t neglect your own health and happiness.

In Estrangement: Intervene for yourself

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Have you seen the television show called Intervention? The few times I’ve watched, the stories are heartbreaking, and the interventions have limited success. But something in the show the other night stuck with me.

estrangementIntervention: Who gets help?

If you’ve have ever watched the show, you know that the addict’s family members have suffered. Sometimes a grandparent cares for the addict’s child. Family members have tried to talk sense into the individual, and have offered all sorts of help. They may have felt as if they had no choice but to enable the adult child with money so he or she doesn’t end up on the street. But nothing has worked. They’ve watched their loved one’s life unravel—and often, parts of their own lives have unraveled too.

The family’s decision to do an “intervention” represents more than helping the addict. The family members are helping themselves. They all agree that enough is enough. Something must change. They can no longer enable and allow the addict to interfere with their own happiness. By setting up boundaries to support themselves, which includes things like disengaging from the relationship, no longer giving money, and letting the addict suffer the consequences of their behavior, they hope the addict will agree to get immediate help.

How’s this apply to estranged parents?

In the episode I’m referring to, the family waited for the addict to arrive at the pre-intervention meeting as always. The counselor brought up some important points that apply to estrangement from adult children.

First, the counselor said: Whenever you think or talk about the addict, it’s a mood-altering experience.

estrangementThe family agreed. No doubt, parents experiencing estrangement from adult children can relate. Thinking about an estranged adult child brings them down. It’s a mood-altering experiencing. And it’s no wonder. For most parents, it’s difficult to even believe the estrangement has occurred, let alone try to accept it. The emotional trauma of estrangement is tough to contend with and bleeds into other areas of parents’ lives. It can be so draining. That’s why I wrote my book to help parents of estranged adult children cope, founded RejectedParents.Net, and am sharing with you in this article now.

Next, the counselor told the family: The thing is, the addict may never change.

It’s the same with estrangement. Many parents hope for their estranged adult child’s change of heart, and for a reconciliation like the prodigal child. But it’s important to realize that this may never happen.

Finally, the intervention counselor told the family: You cannot be casualties of the addict’s behavior.

Parents estranged from adult children need to think the same way.  Your estranged adult child may never change. Don’t be a casualty.

No intervention for your estranged adult children

For absolute clarity, let me say outright that I am in no way suggesting you do an intervention with your estranged adult child. Many families have tried this, and of the stories I’ve heard, the results were not good. I’ll share a few of those experiences in a future article, because I hear from parents all the time who are wondering about the tactic.

Estrangement: Focus on you

In Done With The Crying, there are examples of how repeatedly reaching out can become hurtful to parents of estranged adult children. Suffering rejection over and over again can further dismantle self-esteem, and puts parents at the feet of a child to whom they’ve handed all the power. Reconciling may not even be wise if the relationship will be hurtful. Coming to terms with estrangement involves examining the situation with clear eyes rather than through rose colored glasses.

As the New Year is set to start (or any time!), draw the curtain on the dark thoughts such as where you must have gone wrong. If you’re like most parents, in estrangement from your adult children, you’ve beat yourself up for every possible mistake.

Starting this new calendar year, let go of the worries and what-ifs about your estranged adult child’s possible future regrets. Instead, focus on the good you did, the times you tried, andestrangement the effort you made to be the best parent you knew how.

Don’t be a casualty. Do a personal intervention on yourself. Join thousands of parents who, despite estrangement, have embraced their lives and moved happily into the future.

Happy New Year!

Related reading

Estrangement from adult children: Five ways to move forward

New Year NOW

What don’t you know?


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 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!