A Grown Child’s Rejection: The Boatby Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Parents of estranged children may suffer insults, be called names, and be told they never did enough. They have fond memories of their sweet children, and recall themselves as always giving. To the best of their ability, these parents were generous, kind, and supportive. But their estranged adult children tell a different story. Maybe they say these moms and dads who did their best should never have had children. They’re told they weren’t rich enough to provide graduate school, didn’t let their sons or daughters do enough when they were kids, didn’t give them music lessons . . . You fill in the blanks.
We can’t control their perception any more than we can control their adult behavior. At some point, adults are responsible for their own lives. They can blame, inflict pain and abandon us. They may leave us struggling in their wake—-but we don’t have to stay there.
We cannot go back and change the past. If we feel we have done something wrong, we can apologize, ask for forgiveness and to try again, but we can’t force our children to participate in our future.
We can make the best possible decisions now though. We can think of ourselves rather than our grown children. We can make choices to benefit ourselves, and act on them. Right or wrong, our estranged adult children have decided what they’ve decided.
Will you remain the wake of your grown child’s rejection?
Imagine your child is on a boat, and that you are in the water below. See your son or daughter dropping all sorts of poison off the back of the boat. Imagine the angry, stinking words they have flung at you. See those poisonous words hitting the water with a splash. Acrid smoke rises from them. It stings your eyes, fills your lungs so you can barely breathe. You feel as if you’ll choke.
You cough and gag. But your child isn’t done yet. A net rises from the murky depths, stretching across the open water. You can’t swim toward the boat without getting caught, tangled in a hurting web you don’t understand. Your child throws out hooks, spills out chum that attracts vicious sharks.
Dazed and confused, you call out. “Wait. Help. Can’t we talk?” But your child takes the helm. The boat speeds away.
See the wake of the boat, feel the choppy waves, smell the acrid fumes rising from their spiteful words, and see those sharks. . . . Now, what do you do?
Do you stay in that spot, paralyzed, barely able to hold your head above water as the sharks lunge and bite at the net?
Do you wait there, expending precious energy as you tread water, determined you can fix this no matter what? The horrible toxic clouds fill your lungs. . . .
Do you swim toward the net, determined to cut through, and put yourself in shark-infested waters to follow despite your grown child’s rejection of you?
Or … do you turn, and look for a way to save yourself?
You see a shore in the distance. The beach looks lonely, and uncertain. It’s a brand new world there. Not what you expected to be facing at this point in your life. You don’t know what a future there holds.
Swim to shore.
It’s like this when our lives take a sudden unexpected turn. We can view potential shores as scary and uncertain, and decide to stay in the wake of a boat that’s left us. We might even convince ourselves that staying still, waiting for our child to come back, despite the horrible poison and threats to our survival is what a good mother or father would do. Our child will come back . . . won’t she?
The boat gets smaller on the horizon. The sharks are lunging and biting at the net. The angry words are spilling out an ugly, contaminating slick.
Despite what’s happening, we might feel compelled to swim after the boat. Isn’t following our child, despite the horrors, what a truly good parent would do? After all, isn’t a parents’ love unconditional?
We look back toward the shore, but . . . what will others think if we turn away from our own child, and swim to safety?
Imagine yourself in the water.
Do you see the sharks? Feel the poison burning your lungs? Can you see your estranged adult child, getting smaller and smaller as the boat speeds away—-yet somehow he looms so very large?
Maybe the boat whips around, and roars close. Your child tosses out a life ring. Relieved and grateful, you reach for it—-this nightmare is finally over!
Then your child snatches back the rope.
Maybe your child doesn’t yell at you from the boat. Maybe she never flung out ugly accusations. Maybe your child only sped away, and left you in open water. You’re still in their wake, growing more weary as the water closes in on you.
What do you do?
I know this is melodramatic, but when we’re faced with the utter shock of a child we have loved and supported turning on us, we can feel just as threatened. The choice we face is similar. The shore where we can get out of the water, escape the sharks and the poison may look lonely and uncertain, but what is the alternative?
Get out of the water.
Turn and swim to the shore. You may find sunny beaches, creative sandcastles, and refreshing waterfalls. Perhaps there will be a storm, cliffs to climb, or you’ll have to bushwhack to find a rewarding path. If you try though, you’re sure to find banana and coconut trees, perhaps even pineapples and friends.
Get out of the water. When you do, you’ll find there are people who care and are willing to help. You may find yourself walking along a shore of pretty shells. And as was posted on the Help & Healing for Parents of Estranged Adult Children Facebook page recently, a passerby may ask, Shell we have a good day? How will you respond? Get the book–and get out of the boat for good.
Emotional scars after an adult child’s estrangement
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