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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:

The Boat

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Estrangement: What about hope?

estrangementby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

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

Estrangement: Is it wise to hope?

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

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

Hope is different than expectation.

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

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

In estrangement, can hope help?estrangement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No hope when nothing has changed

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

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

The answer is yes.

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

Hope: Against the odds?

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

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

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

Limits are unique

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

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

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

estrangementHope for ourselves

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

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

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

References:

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

Related articles:

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

Parents abandoned by adult children: Shape your new normal

 

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

Fathers of estranged adult children: Happy Father’s Day

fathers of estranged adult childrenIn honor of fathers of estranged adult children everywhere, Happy Father’s Day.

I know it’s difficult. Maybe you don’t talk about the estrangement much. Maybe you don’t even think about it all that much. That’s what some fathers of estranged adult children tell me. But there’s a lingering pain in realizing that a daughter you’ve loved won’t call. Or that a son you have admired  doesn’t see you in the same kind light. Father’s Day can bring that distress to the surface.

Maybe you’ll get through the day just fine, but then on Monday people ask about the holiday and how you spent it.

Here’s a virtual hug, and links to a few of my past articles for all the fathers of estranged adult children on Father’s Day, plus a couple that aren’t so narrowly focused. I hope you’ll find a tip or two that helps, as well as some comfort in knowing you’re not alone.  There are myriad other good men who did their best and are not honored—and its a shame.

I’d like to honor you here.

What about Father’s Day for fathers of estranged adult children

Fathers of estranged adult children: You’re not alone

Fortitude doesn’t mean going it alone

Cut off by adult children and lonely

The Boat

Happy Father’s Day to all of you.

Hugs ~~ Sheri McGregor

 

 

Mother’s Day for estranged mothers: Tending your heartache

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

mother's day for estranged parentsIt’s here again. Mother’s Day, arriving like a bunch of wilted flowers on a day you’d rather skip. You’re not up for it. Are any of us up for it? Us mothers whose children don’t want us?

I know, I know. You’re used to me coming up with something happy and bright. Some soothing words. A plan to get through the day and to transcend its sadness.

Well, I do. I have. I will.

But it’s okay to feel sad or angry or tired too. It’s okay to mourn the loss, to wish things were different, and admit you don’t like Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day for estranged mothers: Tending the heartache

Mother’s Day for estranged mothers oftentimes comes with expectations. The day isn’t yours alone. For many of us there are other people—other sons and daughters, a spouse, other family members—who want us to be okay. They want to honor us on Mother’s Day. And some of us won’t feel good about ourselves if we don’t let them. If this is you, or even if you’re all alone for Mother’s Day, take the time to tend your heartache.

In acknowledging and tending to our hurt, we honor ourselves. That might then free us up to enjoy the way our loved ones want to honor us. Or to simply enjoy the day.

I’m not one to wallow. For many of us, wallowing isn’t practical. Follows is a list of ways to acknowledge the pain of estrangement on Mother’s Day in brief but meaningful ways—so you can then get on with your day. Use my suggestions as a jumping off point. You have good ideas and usually know what works best for you.

Use your words. Just identifying your feelings about the situation can help. Take five or ten minutes with pen and paper to identify how you feel. Don’t worry about thinking every thought through. Just write the words down. Recent studies indicate that just putting your feelings into words can help you feel better.

You might be surprised that after the most obvious words,
ones you didn’t realize come out. mother's day for estranged mothersAcknowledging those feelings might help you to deal with them. For instance, if you would underline “pressured” (as in the picture), you might then drill down. Okay, so I’m feeling pressured. Why? Because everyone else wants me to be okay. They want me to be happy, go to eat, enjoy the flowers they bring. They’re tired of everything being about the estrangement, etc. Then you can decide what to do with that feelings.

I’m using that example because it’s one I’ve felt. Identifying the feeling allowed me to then realize why, and decide whether to bow to that feeling. For me, I did want to be okay for everyone. I did want those who honored me to know I appreciated them. Drilling down like that helped me to put on a happy face. And you know what? It was okay. There have been studies about how our actions can lead to the feelings we’re trying to portray. Besides, the day passes as days do. The hoopla ends The next day begins.

Maybe identifying that you feel pressured leads to a decision that’s right for you. My solution won’t fit everyone. Maybe you tell everyone you’re not up to celebrating Mother’s Day just now, and that you’re going away for the weekend. One client with a son who is semi-estranged decided this solution was best for her. Making a decision and then acting on it can be such a positive thing.

Perhaps you enlist the help of others to come up with a new tradition for the day. Or you brainstorm some other way to deal. It’s about recognizing your feelings and taking action to let those feelings help you—not about repressing them.

Honor the missing. In another article I wrote about holidays and how to manage them, I spoke of setting out a carved wooden bird my estranged son once gave me. Maybe you do something similar. Or maybe you talk to other family members, and allow them to express their sadness or anger or frustration, too.

Many of us have mothers we miss on Mother’s Day. For estranged mothers, the love we feel for our own mother or motherly figures needn’t be overshadowed by a son or daughter’s rejection. Could you set out a photograph of your deceased mother and/or grandmother—or honor them in other ways?

Most holiday traditions involve special foods, many that are family recipes we cook and eat only on those special days. Mother’s Day seems an appropriate time to acknowledge family recipes. Maybe instead of going out, we could try to recreate a family recipe—and preserve it for future generations. Doing so is another way to honor the ones we miss.

How else might you honor those who are missed on Mother’s Day? For estranged mothers, it’s important to come up with a useful plan.

Treat yourself well. As mentioned above, you have to do what’s right for you. If that means you don’t celebrate Mother’s Day this year, that’s okay. Recognize what you need and honor yourself in that way.

Other ways to treat yourself well might involve getting a manicure, haircut, or a new outfit. If that helps you feel better, then by all means, do it.

One mother said she would be getting a massage. Sounds heavenly, doesn’t it? And with a massage, there is usually soft music—and not a lot of expectation for conversation. Good choice.

Maybe you get yourself a helpful gift. My book is a good choice!

Maybe you take a hike in nature, or sit by a pond and feed the ducks. Getting out in nature can be so calming.

More ideas on Mother’s Day for estranged mothers

  • Eat well (try a new food!).
  • Wear perfume.
  • Take a nap.
  • Sip a flavored coffee.
  • Get yourself a scented lotion—and use it.
  • Light candles.
  • Drink an expensive wine.
  • Use the day to plan a trip.
  • Drive to the country.
  • Walk a city block.
  • See a play.
  • Go to the movies.
  • Play a board game.
  • Go to the zoo.
  • Cuddle your dog.
  • Dote on a friend.
  • Buy a new rug.
  • Clean your mirrors—and smile at your reflection.
  • Try some aromatherapy in a new easy aromatherapy diffuser. Have you seen those?
  • Shop for yourself. Here’s Amazon’s Home Page so you don’t have to go out.
  • Sign up for a new TV channel.
  • Pull a few weeds, and imagine clearing out the garden of your life.
  • Listen to feel-good music.

What will you do to help yourself?

What will you do to acknowledge your feelings, tend your heartache, and treat yourself well for the holidays.

It helps to express your thoughts. Maybe your ideas can help others, so leave a comment here. It’s your turn now. What can you share?

Prodigal children? How many estranged adult children return?

prodigal childrenby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

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

How many estranged adults are truly “prodigal” children?

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

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

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

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

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

Prodigal children? Or a gap that widens?

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

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

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

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

Prodigal children: not necessarily a religious connotation

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

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

An unknown future: What can you do now?

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

Life is fleeting. Live it fully. Now.

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

prodigal child

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

More reading:

Shape your new normal

Emotional scars after an adult child’s estrangement

The Boat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Day, estrangement, and the unexpected

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Every year since starting this site, I’ve paid special attention to holidays. This Mother’s Day isn’t all that different. At the bottom of this post, you’ll find links to some of my past articles about Mother’s Day. Estrangement can make the day a tough one, and I always want to help. If that’s what you’re after, then by all means, scroll on down for those links for information and help. But if Mother’s Day estrangement has become your norm, or you need a good laugh or some distraction, maybe you’ll enjoy what follows.

Mother’s Day, estrangement, and Colonel Sanders

KFC’s Colonel Sanders didn’t always have his signature white hair and goatee. That’s the premise behind a new romance novel featuring the Colonel as a hunky pirate in a historical romance. In honor of Mother’s Day, estranged mothers (or anyone) can download the e-book for free. I haven’t read this yet. The cover looks a little spicy. Hopefully, the meat of the book isn’t bland. (Please excuse my silly puns. If you want to read better ones, look at the book’s reader reviews when you click through to the download link. They’re hilarious!) You can can read those later though. First, check out the video trailer for the book.

Mother’s Day: Estrangement doesn’t mean staying home sad

All around the country, there are special “freebies” for Mother’s Day. Estranged mothers count, too. Most of the restaurant freebies I found are for sit-down meals with one free entree per table. If that suits you, do an internet search for “Mother’s Day freebies,” and you’ll find restaurants around the nation.

On Mother’s Day, estrangement can make us vulnerable to sadness at seeing families out in restaurants together, so here are a few more ideas for free and fun things to get out and see or do on Mother’s Day.

  • Check out your local zoo. Some city zoos offer free entry for mothers on Mother’s Day. Take your spouse or a friend by the hand and get out for a wild day with the animals.
  • Local aquariums, museums and other venues regularly offer moms a free ticket on Mother’s Day. If you can find a free museum with Egyptian artifacts, well, who knows? It might be a good distraction to see a “mummy” on Mother’s Day.  🙂

To find fun, free things to do on Mother’s Day in your area, look around online . At google.com, try the following search terms.

  • Mother’s Day free entry+name of your city
  • Mother’s Day freebies
  • Mother’s Day giveaway
  • Mother’s Day special offer

As is done in the first one just above, you could add the plus sign (+) and the name of your city to any term you use for more localized results. But try the terms without your city attached, too. You might be surprised what sorts of finds you discover.

Mother’s Day, and estranged from adult children: Here’s help

As mentioned at the top of this article, this site is here to support you every day, including Mother’s Day. Estranged adult children complicate what might have previously been a favorite. Here are links to some past articles with tips and information to help you enjoy the day.

Mother’s Day: Triggering pain for mothers of estranged adults

T’was the night before Mother’s Day, for mothers of estranged adult children

Getting Through Mother’s Day when your adult child is estranged

Greetings from estranged adult children

Happy Mother’s Day