Your vivid dreams: Can they be helpful in moving forward after an adult child’s estrangement?
by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Parents of estranged adult children often speak of dreams that disturb their sleep and haunt their waking hours. I can relate. Especially in the early months, intense, vivid dreams filled my nights. Even in slumber, my mind couldn’t rest.
Forceful dreams, and even nightmares, are common after emotional trauma. The subconscious wrestles with the pain, and puzzles over the dilemma. What comes next? How can I make sense of this? Is there a solution? And even, do I move on?
After your adult child’s rejection, if your dream life is suddenly rich and/or troubling, it may be helpful to take note of the scenes, the images, and your feelings—and make meaning of them. Doing so may even be helpful in moving forward after an adult child’s rejection.
Do dreams hold meaning?
Carl Jung, one of history’s most famous figures in the field of psychology, believed dreams allowed the mind to reflect on and work out issues from waking life. Because of my experiences with dreams, I tend to agree. For example, when my children were young, if I had to travel away from them, my dreams reflected my worries. I would see my children near the side of a busy road, about to cross—and I couldn’t get to them. Often, my husband also appeared in those dreams, leading them away from danger.
I hated those dreams, but took some comfort in realizing they were my mind’s way of wrestling with my motherly fears, and even solving a problem from my waking life (as Jung believed). While I was away, my children would be with their father, and he would protect them.
Fast forward many years. After my son’s estrangement, I recognized my vivid dreams might help me deal with the stark reality. Perhaps they were my mind’s way of working on the issue. With that attitude, my dreams began to bring me peace. Perhaps yours can too.
Not all dreams are as straightforward as mine were when my children were young. Below, I’ve shared a dream that helped me claim my own strength. Maybe my reflections on the imagery will help you decipher clues from your own dreams that will help you in moving forward after an adult child’s estrangement.
A vivid dream: What could it mean?
I sat as passenger in a freight truck driven by my estranged son. He guided the big semi into a check station off the highway, and we both got out. We went inside a small, wood-paneled office with a desk in the corner. Men in khaki uniforms with badges whisked my son into an adjacent room, and then returned to ask if I had been involved.
Confused, I replied simply, “No.”
One officer held a clipboard with a slip of yellow paper attached. “Look at these code words,” he said, proffering the sheet. “Don’t you think he would have told you about these if he was telling you the truth? So that you could call and be safe if something happened?”
Baffled, I shook my head. Scribbles crossed the yellow paper, yet I somehow recognized the pencil scratches as the words my son had used over the CB radio while driving the semi.
Suddenly, a nun stepped forward. “Rest.” She gestured toward a row of plastic chairs along the wall.
I sat down in one of the hard chairs. A few moments later, another uniformed man came in carrying a large, clear trash bag full of deflated white balloons. He nodded to me, and approached the officer at the desk. “More of the same,” he said. The desk officer nodded, and made a note. From their exchange, I understood the balloons were a sort of contraband, a common cargo that gets truckers stopped at the weigh station.
Through a screened portion of the side room door, I could see my son sat sitting there with a smug expression on his face. I leaned forward in my chair, trying to get his attention through the mesh. He knew I was there, but he wouldn’t acknowledge me.
Moments later, the side door opened, and in walked Lorne Greene, the sensible father from the old Bonanza television show. “Hello there, Sheri,” he said with a friendly tip of his cowboy hat.
Relieved to see him, I rose and shook his hand.
“Well,” Lorne Greene said, “let’s get you something to drive.”
I happily followed him outside to a huge car lot. I was dressed in a khaki-colored split skirt that dropped to just above my knees. My comfortable work shoes were sensible lace-ups. And on my head was a nun’s habit—only khaki, like the rest of what I understood in the dream was a uniform.
Lorne Greene, in his Ponderosa vest, handed me a set of keys. He smiled, his strong face calming me. Yet, as I opened the driver’s side door, explosive diarrhea ran down my leg, and puddled on the ground. It was then that I woke up, the vivid images still clear.
Insights from dreams after an adult child’s estrangement
What did it all mean? First, let’s start with the obvious.
My son was driving. No surprise there. His actions, the situation of estrangement, had been “driving” my life. I’d been consumed by the pain, and hurting. I’d been a passenger on a trip I hadn’t expected and didn’t want.
Stopping at the check station also held an easy message. It was time to pause and take stock of what had happened and how it affected me before moving on.
The deflated balloons seemed to indicate my emotions. Those withered balloons represented my disappointment and loss. I was deflated, yet my estranged son looked smug. He had been driving those emotions—-and I’d let him take charge of how I felt.
Now let’s look at the less obvious.
The officer had shown me a bunch of scribbles, and although they weren’t really words, I had recognized them as the “code words” my son had spoken on the CB Radio. The fact that I didn’t know what they meant seemed to go along with my son being detained in the adjacent room—while I was let go and to a car of my own to drive. In the dream, I was let off the hook for his words and actions. In my waking life, I could see that I needed to assign him responsibility, and let myself off the hook.
I laughed at the presence of Lorne Greene in my dream, but he’d handed me the keys. He must be significant. As a child, my entire family watched Bonanza. Seeing the sensible father from the show seemed to represent a father figure in my dream. I felt cared for and loved. He was trustworthy, and had a solution. He handed me the keys to get into the driver’s seat of my own life.
What about the split skirt, the work shoes, and the fact that I wore a nun’s habit? After deliberation, I decided the split skirt must symbolize my feelings of being torn. One leg stepped forward, while the other was rooted in the past, clinging to a memory of the dependable, even-keeled son I knew and loved. Yet my son had been detained. His smug expression from the dream made it clear: I needed to let go, and move on.
The clothing I saw as a uniform indicated work. Getting on the road to recovering my life and my sense of self would require effort. Yet my dream reassured me. I had the tools: the uniform, the keys, the car, even Lorne Greene’s blessing.
What about the nun’s habit? Dream analysis experts say the subconscious uses rich symbolism for meaningful ideas, and sometimes a play on words. The nun telling me to rest, as well as me wearing the habit, might have something to do with holding my son accountable for his decisions, of letting myself off the hook, and forgiving. Or perhaps it was a play on the word’s sound. None rather than nun—meaning I am nothing any longer in my son’s life. Regardless, these interpretations were helpful to me.
Finally, the explosive diarrhea, which is not something I often discuss in polite conversation. Keeping in mind the idea of symbolism, perhaps this represented release, the letting go of painful emotions. The embarrassment of soiling oneself in public is also worth mentioning. Admitting an adult child’s estrangement can be humiliating. For me, facing that feeling was crucial to coping. It allowed me to openly share, and allow others into my experience.
Obviously, in my dream there’d be some cleanup required before I could hop behind the wheel, and drive off into the sunset of my own life, free. Likely, I’d have to change out the split skirt (and the feeling of being torn) too. These feelings reflect real life.
Your dreams and their interpretation are personal
It’s important to note that dreams are personal. While some symbolism may be universal, they also derive from your own experiences and beliefs. One person’s interpretation may not make sense for another. However, discussing dreams can sometimes be helpful.
I recently shared this dream and my thoughts about it over lunch with friends. In connection with the nun references, one of my friends brought up guilt. She believed the nun and the nun’s habit could be representative of me feeling guilt over driving off and leaving my son behind.
“What’s the first thing you think of when you think of a nun?” she asked. And then she answered, “Guilt.”
But for me, nuns don’t symbolize guilt. However, her thoughts as she explained them from her own sensibilities and experiences made sense. And it’s certainly true that parents might very well feel some guilt at getting on with their own lives and moving forward after an adult child’s rejection—and your dream might hold an image to symbolize the feeling.
My friend also felt that the powerful image of a semi-truck was important. My son could drive this big machine, but I could not. And the “code words,” she said, represented my son’s secret life, a part of him I didn’t understand and couldn’t be a part of.
These last thoughts feel right on the mark to me, even though I didn’t think of them years ago when I woke up from the dream and analyzed it.
The essential truth
While some of my friend’s thoughts ring true in retrospect, at the time of my dream, I pulled from it what I needed. For me, that dream clarified what I already knew. Like so many of you, I had come to realize that moving on was essential to my own happiness. Yet letting go would require me to admit my feelings of wanting to hang onto the past, as well as the work needed to accept my new reality.
Whether children are estranged or remain emotionally close, there comes a time when parents are no longer in charge. Our children become adults. They make their own decisions and drive their own lives. As parents rejected by an estranged adult child, we have the choice whether or not to remain a passenger on a painful journey. We hold the keys to our own road ahead. Let’s make it a happy journey.
Can you help?
Have you had insightful dreams? Have your dreams helped you in moving forward after an adult child’s rejection? If you’d like share, and possibly help other parents, consider sending your thoughts to me in an email for use in future writings to help parents of estranged adults. Use the contact form, and please put DREAMS in the subject line. .
Help in moving forward after an adult child’s rejection: More articles by Sheri McGregor:
Five ways to move on after an adult child’s rejection