Monthly Archives: October 2023

Estranged from adult children: Deciphering the path forward

estrangement from adult children

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Estranged from adult children:
Deciphering the path forward

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Beyond the thick, dark curtain lies a blur. I blink, orienting to flecks of dancing light in the dimly lit room. On the walls and floor, spatters of neon pink and green spark to life beneath ultraviolet blacklights. I pause, relieved to see an older gentleman in street clothes wearing a benign smile. He waves me forward, and on I go.

The rubberized floor surprises me, and in the mix of light and color, I waver and consider turning back. But just ahead, another smiling face appears. A man in a silly zip-up jumpsuit printed with glow-in-the-dark skeleton bones urges me toward another dark curtain. Breathing more easily again, I smile back, secure that this haunted house is will be more funny than scary.

Beyond the second curtain, impenetrable darkness envelopes me. My feet are rooted. A zing of fear straightens my spine. Then a scene lights up ahead. Dancing skeletons—more zip-up costumes—and I laugh as the silly bone troupe steps aside, encouraging me to pass. Glowing arrows on the floor direct me forward, and I step toward the light.

Another curtain, a longer period of darkness, and this time only glowing arrows appear. My heart races and my mouth goes dry. In my logical mind, I realize this is all man made. A silly series of dark rooms, corridors, and scenes, timed to titillating perfection.

As I approach the next curtain, a figure leaps from within the wall. I startle, then see that he folds himself flat again, into the depths of the fabric-covered wall. My skin tingles, and I clutch my cross-body bag, hugging myself against a mix of rising fear and the logical awareness that this is just a Halloween performance. But stepping forward, my gaze darts to every corner and crevice, ready for the next surprise.

And so it goes, escalating fear until, at the haunting’s end, I’m sweaty and scared, running through a maze of hanging body parts, to the heightening buzz of a chainsaw. The curtains part. The cold air hits my face. And around me is light, people pointing, laughing. I slow to a standstill and look back at the exit, my palm pressed to my heart as another victim rushes into the cool night air. Silly me.

How silly is this?

Haunted house creators know exactly what they’re doing. They count on our human alert system, which remembers one danger and gets prepared for the next. That way, with each new spooky skeleton, sinister clown, or increasingly intense scene, the fright factor builds—until as I did, you’re running for the final exit.

You’ve probably heard about this phenomenon before. Cave (wo)men learned that, if a wild beast prowled a certain part of the jungle, they’d better avoid that area, be ready to fight, or run. It’s that same fight or flight system at work, even in a Halloween haunted house. We know going in that nothing is real. No actual monsters lurk. The sign out front said none of the actors would even touch us. We’re scared anyway and may even return year to year for the fright. Knowing it’s not real, that it will end soon, that we’ll return to normalcy, keeps it safe.

When it comes to estrangement from adult children, I’ve seen these concepts work in a couple of ways. I’ll share them briefly here. Maybe you can relate.

First, we’re used to forgiving our children’s mistakes. Kids do dumb stuff and, as they grow, we forgive them, teach them, and then move on, expecting the best. And when it comes to parenting and estrangement from adult children, maybe a similar expectation rattles our chains but keeps us coming back.

Frequently, once parents whose adult children cut them off are beyond the confusing passageways and out into post-estrangement light, they look back and see the warnings of trouble ahead. But they never saw estrangement coming. Conditioned to forgive, forget, and move on toward loving adult-to-adult relationships in a forever family, they didn’t take note of or fully understand the signals that, in hindsight, they can clearly see. They thought the dark landscape of troubled times would end. That their child would mature or have a child of their own and experience a shift in perspective. In some ways, I fall into this category. Years later, I realized there was a prior estrangement, though short-lived and not seen for what it was at the time. And emotional estrangement? Several stints of that, too. Yep.

Second, parents in on-again-off-again relationships with adult children who are abusive, manipulating, or controlling, may learn to blunt their responses. They walk on eggshells, and tiptoe down dark relational alleyways with every nerve attuned to possible twists, turns, or torture ahead. They’re always at the ready, prepared to clamp their mouths shut, agree, or apologize, even when compliance feels like a minefield and, they know from experience, a freshly laid trap can suddenly appear. It’s a regular house of horrors.

For some who have suffered past abuse or trauma, they may be so used to ignoring their body’s alarm signals that ignoring them becomes familiar, a sort of “comfort zone,” that keeps them stuck in bad situations. I hear frequently from parents who have begun to look back over their lives and can see where they have been caught in sticky webs that, with insight, come into view. Then comes the work of recognizing traps as they’re spun and giving themselves permission to take an alternate, willfully chosen path. Helping people recognize the blind spots and move beyond them is one area of my work as a life coach, and I am honored to partner with amazing, inspiring people who are shaping their lives toward deeper meaning, more self-worth (and earning power), and greater fulfillment for themselves and for others.

Haunted by the past?

Obviously, I’ve simplified these explanations of the human nervous system and its survival tactics to fit a Halloween theme, but you get the idea. Our well-being depends on our ability to decipher real threats from fake ones. However, even the faux fear fight or flight response to modern day stress can be monstrously harmful if we’re not coping mindfully as advocated for in my books.

Letting go of adult children can be a difficult prospect. Sometimes, the graveyard of what once was haunts our memories or beckons us toward paralyzing hope or pain. Don’t take on the tunnel vision of a cyclops. Put on a helpful costume as needed and continue working on your own well-being and strength. Then you’re more prepared to unearth old memories, savor the innocence and joy of a loved past life, and take charge of a new and cherished life now.

Related reading

Going batty


Effects of estrangement from adult children: Still carrying the weight?

effects of estrangement from adult childrenEffects of estrangement from adult children:
Are you still carrying the weight?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

As a mother of five, I learned to do almost everything with a toddler on my hip. That’s probably why, all these years later, if I’m tired or extra stressed, my hip might ache. The repeated use and past abuse took its toll.

That connection formed for me one day while pulling weeds. Kneeling in the grass near the flower bed, I disturbed a wolf spider, and watched as she scurried away carrying her egg sac.  Later, research revealed that, unlike many arachnids, wolf spiders take care of their young. I’ll stop short of humanizing them but as mothers, they’re a bit like us.

In the spider photo, you’ll notice the offspring clustered on their mother’s back. She carts the tiny babies around until they can fend for themselves—and I’m sure she must have residual effects. Do spiders feel pain? Apparently, there’s a controversy over that question (see links at below), but even without physical pain, the mothering experience must have changed her. Parenting has effects—good and bad—and you can probably relate. Estrangement also causes change. This begs the question: What effects of estrangement do you carry?

In Beyond Done (2021), the physical results of estrangement stress are discussed at length. You’re wise to note the physical toll and work at taking kind care of your body. You belong to you! Here, let’s consider the subtler effects of estrangement. The bits of hurt you hold onto and carry. The thoughts that keep you awake at night, and that affect how you interact, how you see the world, and even how you see yourself.

Estrangement from your own adult child is like a sucker punch to the gut that bruises the core of everything we believed in. We thought if we loved, supported, and nurtured our kids, they’d grow into kind, effective adults who would love us back. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to go? So, if something so basic goes so wrong, then we must have failed. And as if beating ourselves up isn’t bad enough, the devastating sentiment gets echoed repeatedly and almost everywhere. Neighbors, family, friends, pastors, therapists, and society at large clamor with the message that the responsibility for the fracture lies with us—and that we can fix it.

For many of us, maybe even millions or billions of us, neither is true.

So, why all the gas lighting? Because, as discussed in my books, to think for an instant that this can happen to good parents threatens entrenched beliefs and precious values. Not to mention the expected return on investments of time, love, and energy that can cause estranged parents to look at all their efforts like a wasted life. What was it all for? Why did I even bother? I did my best, and now, I’m blamed.

With the whole world gas lighting us, waning self-confidence is no surprise. And the first way to get that back is to tell the truth—to yourself. You’ve been a good parent? Own that. Claim it. Stamp it on your chest and refuse to let someone who is uninformed, misinformed, invested in you being wrong, or who is just plain delusional take that truth away.

That doesn’t mean you have to go around talking about estrangement all the time. In  Done With The Crying, I recount my first foray into public disclosure and include help to talk about estrangement in a disarming way that conveys an understanding of the other person’s discomfort. If you’re not ready for such openness, no worries. Use the “ready answers” in the book. We each come to levels of acceptance and strength in our own time and on our own terms. And, if you’re open to the idea, your estrangement can be a doorway to growth.

effects of estrangement from adult children

Image by Gabi from Pixabay


As an example of self-growth, let’s think of people you may admire or respect. When they persist in discussion, opinions, or unwanted advice about your kids, it’s like threads of a spider’s web. Sticky history anchored in cultural patterns, familial roles, and beliefs about how to act. Things like respect for elders, or behavioral patterns with a sibling you’ve revered (or have been subservient to). Estrangement from one’s children can create an atmosphere that demands for you to change. One way is to set and enforce a boundary (maybe for the first time ever).

Our adult children’s generation may have invented boundaries as one comedian says, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use them too. That might mean keeping out an unwelcome spider (external boundary), shutting down our own unhelpful thinking (internal boundary), or politely setting and enforcing limits with someone else (external boundary). I talk a bit more about boundaries in Beyond Done (2021) and plan to share more in the future (subscribe to the newsletter so you won’t miss out).

If drawing lines in the sand and putting certain people off is difficult, then consider your newly minted noncompliance with others’ agendas a helpful learning curve. One you can use in other areas of your life. In that way, estrangement holds a gift. Counterintuitive maybe, but the effects of estrangement aren’t all bad. In fact, learning to have your own back, protect or assert yourself can be freeing—and builds confidence.

What residual effects of estrangement from adult children do you carry? Who’s got your back?

Whatever your resulting fears, concerns, worries, effects of estrangement from adult children, help yourself by looking at them differently. Within and beyond the challenges, possibilities exist. Huge trauma, such as estrangement, creates a stage for equally huge leaps of growth. With an open mind and a curious attitude, doors once hidden can reveal themselves and open.

effects of estrangement from adult children

Image by sajo95 from Pixabay

Effects of estrangement from adult children: Are you ready to take them on?

I dare you to dig deep, muster up the courage, and venture beyond the thresholds of want, wishes, and despair. Beyond the negative effects of estrangement lie vast interior rooms to explore. Folded within the depths of a broken heart and a shattered soul is untapped potential that I know firsthand can be nurtured to bloom into rich new experiences filled with meaning, fulfillment, and joy.

Sound a little gooey-sweet? Impossible? Too good to be true? I hear you.

Estrangement from our own children pushes us into dark corners where bits of ourselves get gnawed away. Our strength, confidence, faith, and more. I understand the loss of identity, the worry, and the utter despair that a child you so loved has changed. But … as I say in Done With The Crying the landscape of life is fertile ground for growth.

You get to make choices. Start with some boundaries inside your head. No more failure-centric thinking. No more I’m to blame. No more listening to authority figures, family members, or society telling kind, decent parents that the responsibility—for the fracture and for the repair—lies with them. Refuse the gas lighting, reconcile to the facts, and step courageously forward for yourself.

The residual effects of such a journey? Strength, confidence, and joy. (And after all that’s transpired, you’ll need those—with or without your child.)

Hugs to all of you from Sheri McGregor

Related reading

Abusive adult children effect how you see yourself

Rejected parents: In trying times, “check in”

Do spiders feel pain?

Do spiders really feel pain?

Wolf spiders behavior. . . .


Letting go of estranged adult children

letting go of estranged adult childrenLetting go of estranged adult children

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

My nine-year-old dog, Cassie (Cassiopeia, for long!), has slowed down some. In her coat of creamy curls just unfurling from a summer shave, she stands at peaceful alert. In the distance, a red fox squirrel scampers up a tree trunk. Her year-younger companion, Lyle, and their six-year-old daughter, Marilyn, chase about, nipping, dodging, and wrestle-rolling. I sit beneath the regal Blue Oak tree, watching. Steam rises from my coffee cup in a wispy echo to the daybreak sunlight just straining over the foothills.

As usual, Lyle tires before Marilyn. With playful nips, puppy bows, and, finally, a proffered stick, she goads him. He bites the stick alongside her for a moment, and then collapses, tongue lolling, in the soft fallen leaves. Marilyn nudges him a few times to no avail. Then she turns and charges her mother. Cassie grows rigid, her legs like roots to hold her ground—and Marilyn bounds off. Wise old Cassie, the leader of her pack, glances my way and, with a wag, joins Lyle lying in the leaves.

Marilyn disappears, an onyx-furred shadow leaping beyond the cypress trees in pursuit of an imagined squirrel. Inspired by the morning quiet and sips of strong coffee, my mind wanders. I think of times when I’ve held my ground (like Cassie). In life, with people, and with adult children, including my estranged one.

Over time and with self- and life-examination, parents of estranged adult children often say they know better than to expend energy on fruitless hope. Our logical minds measure history against hope, facts against fantasy, and come to sensible conclusions that protect us from yet another squirrel chase. That’s part of letting go of estranged adult children. Still, though we know better, that doesn’t mean our hearts don’t ever hurt.

The myth of closure

“. . . the idea of closure is bandied about like some mythical desert oasis or place of bliss. People believe that without closure we can never move on and heal. However, such completion, or closure, is a myth.”

Those words written in Done With The Crying (2016) are as true as ever. I still hear parents talk about the anguish of estrangement even after many years. That’s because you don’t just wake up one day, after a specified time period, to a blank emotional slate with all your sadness wiped away. To expect otherwise sets you up for distress. So, don’t.

Letting out the leash in letting go of estranged adult children

When my kids were young, more responsibility and more freedom came with successful endeavors and growth. We let out the leash, so to speak. We were glad for and supported their increasing independence. We could let them go—and trust they would do well, be fine, and still love and return to us.

When it comes to enduring estrangement, if we’re ever to move forward for ourselves, separate and apart from what they do, don’t do, or decide, then it’s our own growth we must nurture and learn to trust. With each rebuttal, repeated rupture, goading, phase of silence or unrest, we can let out the leash for ourselves. They’re adults. They’re living their lives—and we get to live ours, too.

Does that mean we’re never sad? Probably not. You may wish you could know your grandchildren, worry for your adult child’s safety, or grieve over the realization that you don’t have the family you wanted, imagined, and worked at. Even so, you can foster self-esteem, cherish healthy relationships, and cultivate joy. And you can look at the situation realistically.

The peace of no-contact can come with a price, but it may be better than the cost of chaos, continued eggshell walks, and living in fear of the next rule change, inflated ego rant, or tumultuous tirade pointed at you—the parent who has been patient, giving, and kind, yet is now the enemy, the ATM, or the one to ignore or blame.

Gaining perspective

As parents of estranged adult children, when those weepy days arrive and we miss the lovely son or daughter we once were so certain we knew, it’s okay to feel sad or angry. It may be wise to dwell for a few minutes, express in a safe space that we still grieve the loss. We can embrace the feelings because they’re normal—and then turn to our thinking mind, the place where reason and reality temper strong emotion and spur us toward a sensible action or response. In Beyond Done (2021), I included an exercise to get quickly to that lucid space. Language becomes a door—to wisdom, sound judgment, and a measure of relief.

At a chattering commotion down the hill, Cassie raises her head to look. Marilyn is jumping at a tree trunk, panting, and expending energy on a squirrel that flicks its tail from a branch beyond reach. Nearby, Lyle snores on, nonplussed.

Cassie stands, ears pricked, and eyes narrowed. She barks once, and then glances at me and wags. She collapses into the leaves again, this time with her head resting on my foot. I lean to pat her, the wise leader of her pack. She used to chase squirrels, too.

Related reading

Parents of estranged adult children, use weepy days for your own good

Estrangement: What about hope?

Disappointing relationships with adult children: Help for the roller coaster this autumn

Kneaded: Resilience illustrated for parents of estranged adult children