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

15 thoughts on “Freedom

  1. teresa s.

    Sheri… reading again today your book… how I wish I could hug so many of the women that stories I read in these pages…. How many of us there are that ” get it”…. I wish we could get into the minds of those sons and daughters… do they miss us? Do they have the daily torment that we work so hard to escape…Such a journey… thank you for your book…

    Reply
    1. Nancy C.

      July 4th 2017….Three years ago my Son wrote me nasty, hurtful comments my Facebook page while he was on Tour in Japan with the Marines. All because his wife, who was Stateside claimed I called and yelled at her. (. No truth there ). Fast forward during those 3 years my Son would not speak to me…I called, texted, wrote ECT. I put myself into therapy, bought your book, read it twice and still seeing my therapist. I contemplated suicide many times. Then May of this year my Son contacted me via text saying he was coming to town with his wife and my little Grandaughter. He arrived the day before Mother’s Day. I didn’t hear from him until Mother’s Day when he posted ON FACEBOOK a horrible post telling me he never wants to see me again in his life and how much he hated me and will never speak to me again ! He would not pick up his phone, see me in person to discuss any of this and that was it. I would never post something so horrible to my worst enemy !
      Unbelievable !

  2. LimboLand5

    It’s been a few years since my estrangement from my son. We had a pleasant conversation, and he talked about coming to visit me (I live on the opposite coast). Then… nothing. No disagreement, no fight, no angry email–just silence. All my phone calls, emails, and text messages have gone unanswered. Shortly thereafter, all communication with my entire side of the family was cut off, including his grandparents and cousins his own age.

    While my son had long favored his father’s side of the family (in large part because his narcissistic father constantly crowed about how much better they were than my admittedly “crazy” family), he had maintained good relationships with my family members, so his silence was a surprise to everyone. At first, everyone wrote it off to “a phase.” Now I get the sense there is some intrigue at play, and my family is keeping secrets from me about why my son stopped talking to everyone, especially me. I do know that my sister participated in parental alienation perpetrated by my ex and his third wife, and that my family was upset at ME for feeling betrayed by it (dysfunctional, I get it–I’ve already hashed this out with a psychologist). I also know that my mother has some mental health problems and has in the past sabotaged my relationships with others (hiding mail, for example, so I would think they hadn’t written). I know she had words with my ex at my son’s graduation, which I think backfired and escalated the situation. So, in addition to being involuntarily estranged from my son, I have put distance between me and my family. I feel victimized from all fronts some days.

    It’s all too much to try to explain to anyone in a social setting or to new partners when the time comes to reveal information of a more personal nature. I know from having been married to a disordered personality how it just makes me look like the crazy person. Moving on sounds great, but short of relocating to a new country (I would if I could afford it) and telling people I never had children or my son died, I don’t know how to do that in a functional way. Also, holiday events, which is where I have the most social interactions, are minefields for emotional triggers.

    I live outside the US in a fairly remote area, with a very limited circle of friends; there is no girls’ night, no going to the cinema, no going out for coffee around the corner. Most expats are couples, and they don’t include me in their activities. There are also a lot of troubled people around me who have problems with the law or addiction issues. I’m careful about not making myself vulnerable to these people, or I try to be. I live a lot of my life online. Had I known things would go like this, I would have taken a different path, but as we all know, we make choices doing the best we can at the time. I’m working to try to move to a different country, but realistically, it will likely be years before I can do so.

    I think the shame and disenfranchisement of estranged parents who either do not know the reasons for the distance and/or who have no opportunity to communicate and stand up for themselves (or apologize for their “wrongdoings”) are underestimated. Personally, I have anger at myself for not recognizing and fighting the brainwashing from my ex and his wife when it first began during my son’s high school and early college years. The worst of it hit during a particularly bad financial patch for me, and I was doing my best just to survive, which my ex even told me he pointed out to my son to paint me as a “loser.”

    I go whole months where I feel good about my life, and then something sets me back again–a dream, a phone call from my mother, a reminder from my son’s childhood, even seeing an actor on TV who resembles him or a character who is a bully like my ex. Honestly, I’m not sure I’m not deluding myself in thinking I can heal from this. Some things you don’t get over; you just have to bear them. I’m envious of people whose children have died. At least they got sympathy and closure. I’m not ready to light a bonfire of my son’s childhood memorabilia, but I can’t look at it either. So it sits in boxes, in no man’s land, much like my life.

    Reply
  3. Emma

    I would like to add that it is much easier to heal and move on if you have other non-estranged children. But, if not or when all of your grandchildren are with the estranged child, the pain is nearly impossible not to wake up to every single day.

    Reply
    1. rparentsrparents Post author

      Hi Emma,
      Many people feel as you do. It’s important to note though, that there can be other “issues” that occur when other children are not estranged. Fears of abandonment by them too, for instance, can negatively influence how they “parent.” I don’t mean to minimize the devastation and loneliness in any way. More info to come on this soon.

      Sheri McGregor

    2. Leslie

      Emma, I totally feel the same as you. I have (when I initiate it) a few words in text with my son-it has been years of my asking him why he does not want me to be part of his life & I have always gotten ‘excuses’-Im busy, etc. He never told me he wanted me out of his life but my last visit with him was this past Thanksgiving-it was his 1 year wedding anniversary & my DIL arranged the visit. As usual, he ignored me or was nasty. Long story short, when my DIL sat us down to get to the bottom of it, I was stunned at his feelings. I wont go into them but I felt like a piece of me died that night & I told him I was Done-that he had been verbaly abuse to me for years & I would NOT accept it anymore. My DIL is the kindest, most caring girl I HAVE EVER MET. Their marriage is in trouble now-my son has problems & it pains me that I cannot fix them-only he can do that. I just let him know I love him, Im in his corner & maybe one day he will realize I always was. I cry everyday & every night because my heart aches that we are estranged. My situation is I am totally alone-I have been divorced since my son was around 16 (he is now 30). I have 2 siblings but don’t have a relationship with them. (not that we are angry with one another-we just don’t stay in touch). My only real friend recently moved back to N.Y. (she lived right near me for the past 2 years-in Florida). Yes, I feel the pain every day & every night but I try my best to help myself.

    3. Lee

      Emma, I wholeheartedly agree with you and I have struggled for longer than I ever believed was possible. But I do have a question for you and you do not have to answer if you don’t feel comfortable,and I do want to talk with Sheri about this, as well.

      Emma do you have a spouse or significant other that lives with you or do you live alone and have nobody coming or going anymore..?

      I have not been able to find one single person in a very large database of searching that has my situation and believe me you do not know the depths of it. I will keep you in my prayers, Lee

  4. Jackie U.

    Thank you so much Sheri for all that you do for us. I am reading your book again for a second time. The first time I was in great pain, and felt completely devastated. Your book has helped me immensely, to put the past five years in perspective. It is a choice, to emotionally detach from an ED. That means I lose my 4 GC too. The loss I feel is enormous, but I am getting better now. It is a process that can’t be hurried. I am no longer willing to be emotionally abused, with the GC as pawns. It’s more about self-preservation now. I’ve accepted things as they are, and do not expect things to get better although I wish they would. I really don’t know if I will ever get completely over this, because I’ve been changed by this horrible experience. I try to live in the moment, and to make each moment count. I try to have a grateful heart everyday. This Independence Day I will spend with my son, and daughter-in-law, and one GD, who accept me just as I am, and love me. Hugs to all

    Reply
  5. Marilyn

    My heartfelt appreciation to you Sheri. Your website, articles, and book have helped me through some very dark moments since experiencing a painful estrangement three years ago.
    Today your email reached me on the eve of my estranged daughter’s 45th birthday. Thank you for your wisdom and compassion and for being there for all of us as we navigate through the process and the pain.

    Marilyn

    Reply
  6. Wanda

    Happy 4th to all. Sheri I too am at the same place you describe you are at. your book has been a Hugh part of my healing and my wonderful therapist. I am in my 70’s and don’t want the rest of my life to be obsessing about them. each night as I ask the lord to keep my children safe and happy. that’s it. a lot of time has gone by and my healing has moved forward too. It is what it is. I live my life and enjoy each day. I am divorced from a very abusive man and I believe that has a lot to do with it. it really doesn’t matter what the reason is. set yourself free to enjoy each day. Take care of yourself.Sheri’s book really helped. every now and then I read a random page.

    Reply
  7. Callalilly

    Happy Independence Day! I too have reached the same place of peace and acceptance with my ED. It has been a 15 year journey however, to reach the point where I can look back and remember the good things about her, her childhood and our early relationship and not focus on the hurt and shame. I hope for the same for anyone else navigating these waters.

    Reply
  8. Edie L.

    Hey Y’all,
    I haven’t seen or spoken to my son in 10 years…I, too, am in a place where I don’t think of him every day and no longer cry for him…I appreciate the time that we spent with each other and have moved to the next stage of my life…

    Reply
  9. Donna

    I too have a son who has not spoken to me for ten yrs., I think. After all this time you start wondering if it’s been longer because it really feels that way. I just want to say that I can so relate to these women’s stories. I truly can relate and my heart hurts for all of you also. I have pretty much accepted that nothing will change. I am so worn out trying to understand why. He recently turned 50 & I sent him a Happy Birthday message thru his business just to be blocked. This one finally sealed it for me. I don’t know how many yrs. I have left but I will do my best to try enjoying my life in spite of my loss. Actually it’s his loss also, he just either doesn’t realize it or doesn’t care. Either way I just keep reminding myself of a passage I once read that said “God gives us our children for a little while”, and then I tell myself my little while was less than I expected. I then tell myself that it could be worse. Some parents have lost their children in horrific ways. It doesnt make the pain any less but I reached a level of acceptance. I thank God for the time he gave me to one of the greatest joys of my life. I so love to read the stories of other mothers and I truly feel their pain. My thoughts and prayers are with all on this journey we didn’t choose. Sincerely, Donna♥️

    Reply
  10. alyballybee

    Thank you Sheri, for your words of wisdom, for your book, for sharing your experience without it many of us would have gone under by now.

    I like your analogy to unconditional love, love that is ‘frozen in time’ is more freeing, it means the love is still there wrapped in a block of ice, but could be thawed if the time were right!!
    Unconditional love holds in time, and for me time is moving on and some of the reminders and memories are moving on with it.

    My love for my son is now ‘Frozen in Time’

    Thank you

    Reply
  11. Shoshanah

    Sheri, I have to agree with Emma. I understand your fear of abandonment by those children who still remain but, like Emma, I have no one left. I’ve had no contact with my two daughters for over a year and a half. I catch myself driving to work, tears rolling down my face, unable to comprehend the magnitude of their cruelty and betrayal. I don’t even know what my second grandchild is, whether a boy or a girl, and often wonder what lies about me they are telling my 8 year old grandson. My heart and my arms are empty because I can’t hold them, have a relationship with them, and it is devastating. How someone could do this to their mother is beyond any logic. I am very active, I do charity work, I’m learning a new language, but the hole is still there no matter what I do.

    Thank you for everything that you do for us.

    Reply

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