Two and a half years later…I just finished organizing printed copies of research and double checking all the citations for my next book. It’s a follow up to the first. If you haven’t yet read Done With The Crying, I hope you will do that before getting the next (soon available!). HUGS to all on our continuing journey!
Do you remember that word from childhood? Maybe you remember it with an eye roll: Duh-Uh.
The word came to mind when I read of a recent survey study on estrangement.
“New” estrangement research
The survey of 1,035 mothers of estranged adult children asked the women about the cause of the estrangement. Many of the moms talked about people who stirred up trouble between them and their adult children. I called these people “influential adversaries” in my book, Done With The Crying. They include the estranged parent’s ex-spouse, a son- or daughter-in-law, or other family members or friends who create division. Nearly two thirds of rejected moms from the new research also talked about an adult child’s mental illness or an addiction as contributing to estrangement.
My own estrangement research consists of more than 50,000 responses to surveys for parents of estranged adult children. I have also personally interviewed hundreds of abandoned moms, dads, and siblings, and I interact with them daily (as well as am a rejected mother myself).
All of this “new” information reads like yesterday’s news. But what is even older is that when the study authors looked at existing research, they found that the adult children cited different reasons for their choice to estrange.
Did you catch that? The adult children who estranged themselves disagreed with their mothers.
Estrangement: Very real issues
I could go on here about the very real problem of parental alienation syndrome, about how those with personality disorders can be neurotically possessive to the point of isolating another person from their own family, and how these persons will generally blame everyone else for their problems … but I won’t.
Many, maybe even most, of you, the loving parents who are rejected by adult children and read this blog, are familiar with one or more of these issues. You have lived through them and suffered the consequences. The supposed revelations of this “new” estrangement research is old news to you, too.
Hugs from Sheri McGregor
Schoppe-Sullivan, S. J. et al, Mothers’ attributions for estrangement from their adult children, Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice (2021). doi.org/10.1037/cfp0000198
By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
You always wanted the best for your children. You probably still feel that way, even if one or more of your kids grew up and called you toxic. Moms and dads with estranged adult children struggle with decisions about estate planning. Should you leave things to them? According to the ideas of one money expert, an inheritance from estranged parents could do them more harm than good.
Margaret M. Lynch, author of Tapping Into Wealth, believes some money is toxic. She explains that money from sources you don’t feel good about drags you down. That could be income from a hated job, a career you feel guilty about, or something like gambling that takes time away from family or goes against one’s beliefs. Soured relationships also fit, so loaned, given, or inherited money could be considered be toxic. Inheritance can be toxic? Interesting. . . .
Parents, if your adult children no longer accept you—your values, politics, or whatever else—then, by Lynch’s standards, anything you leave to them could be considered a “toxic inheritance.”
The first time I heard of older folks learning to SKI was from a so called “toxic” mom who cracked a joke. Her two estranged adult children had decided they wanted nothing to do with her or their father. So, she and her husband were SKIing around the country in an RV. I didn’t get it, so she explained:
Since then, I’ve seen all sorts of blogs and articles reporting on this endeavor. There’s even a T-shirt!
That rejected mom laughed about SKIing, but saving estranged adult children from toxic inheritance is no joke. Freeing them from the emotional burden of a “toxic” inheritance may be worthy of consideration.
Toxic money isn’t the only thing rejected parents must consider. Our lives have a way of filling up with things.
Finding our treasures a home
We might have collected things our whole lives, imagining that one day our children would cherish them as much as we do. These days, even to adult children who remain close, our treasures may be viewed as little more than clutter. To our estranged children, it’s probably downright junk! Whether necessitated by downsizing or motivated by not wanting to leave a toxic mess for others to clean up when we’re gone, it’s wise to sift, sort, and trim down possessions while we can. Here’s a shortlist to get to you started.
- Photographs and home movies. Have the sharpest ones digitized or ask who among relatives wants to preserve family history. Or, consider donating images and films of vacations to various city sites, State, and National parks to historical societies. Each society has its own criteria for fair use, so do your research. Draft and photocopy an inquiry letter, or create an email template, in which you plug specific names and addresses, then send it to organizations. One mother shared family photos of historical sites with local museums. At the very least, trim down your collection. Maybe you’re like Nanci. After 14 years of estrangement, she expressed feelings of glee when shredding old photos of her estranged son’s wedding—the last photos she has of him and her together before the years of separation began.
- Valuable items. Antiques, Persian rugs, or artwork can be sold. If the idea of running ads and fielding calls doesn’t appeal, hire an estate service to come into your home and manage sales for you. When you receive the proceeds, reward yourself. Use the money to fund an exotic vacation, a trip to the spa, a stay at a lavish hotel, or for something else you’ve been wanting to try. Or, donate to a cause that’s important to you.
- Fine China, silver, or flatware. Check with Replacements.com for possible sales. They specialize in customers wanting to complete their sets. Or, as one mother did, smash the dishes to bits! I’m not suggesting you destroy anything, but you could use the China pieces with their artistic motifs in crafts such as pretty garden art, jewelry or ceramics. In the spirit of new beginnings, maybe you end up opening an Etsy shop to sell the things you create—or offer them to existing Etsy artisans.
- Donate. Take excess belongings to a local charity or use one that offers curbside pickup at your home. Most charities list on a website what they do and don’t take. You might be surprised—I recently took some new picture frames still in their original cellophane packaging to a donation site that turned them away. Also consider listing free items on Craigslist or Nextdoor. Upcycling is in, and no-contact, porch pickups have become routine.
- Precious custom heirlooms or other special items. Diana always thought she’d pass her jewelry to her daughter. Many were commissioned for her by her late husband and are one of a kind. “The items won’t mean anything to my daughter,” says Diana. “She’d only sell them.” (Toxic treasure=toxic money.) Diana has no other family but has found an upscale jewelry restoration store that will buy them outright or sell them on consignment. “My exquisite jewelry will go to people who love it!” she says. “With the money, I’m taking one of those hiking vacations I always wanted to go on. And if there’s enough left over, I’ll get a walk-in tub installed.”
Getting serious about your estate
While the idea of SKIing is a semi-humorous way to look at the idea of leaving inheritance (and makes sense for some), for most parents, estate planning is serious business wrought with emotional landmines and distress. That’s especially true when estrangement is part of the family portrait.
Some of us have estranged adult children with mental health issues or disabilities, or we weigh their dismissal of us against our own sense of what’s right or wrong. We may think of our other adult children, the ones we have stable relationships with, and decide it would be unfair to them to reward a sibling’s bad behavior. Or, perhaps we consider how an inheritance might be viewed by an estranged adult and want to send a message with any gift or non-gift.
In Done With The Crying, end-of-life sections with a variety of scenarios and reflection questions help rejected parents think things through and make sensible decisions. The WORKBOOK: for Parents of Estranged Adult Children allows more room for expanded notes and brainstorming. In my newest book, planning for one’s demise is covered in a different but equally vital way. Beyond Done With The Crying: More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children will be available soon.
What about you?
After polishing up her toxic treasures and transforming them into a SKI trip that will bring her hiking vacation joy, Diana deserves a good soak. Will you SKI? Will you save estranged adult children from a “toxic inheritance”? Perhaps you figure an heir is an heir, regardless of behavior. Leave a comment and let other loving parents know what you’ve decided to do about estate planning. It’s an important topic.