Monthly Archives: December 2023

Parents moving beyond estrangement: Gather energy for your shift

parents moving beyond estrangement from adult children

Image by wandaquinn from Pixabay

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

My last post was about making a defining moment of the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice . The longest period of annual darkness results in the shortest day, which brings our longest physical shadows. And coincidentally, this physical lengthening of shadows occurs at a time when estrangement’s metaphorical shadow looms bigger than almost any time of year: the holidays. This psychological “shadow” gets clearer at this festive time when family-centric reminders abound. Of course we think of our loved lost ones and feel longing, sadness, or despair.

The Winter Solstice has passed, which means the nights will now grow gradually shorter. By day, so will our shadows. In short, that’s because the Earth tilts incrementally in the opposite way.

My Challenge: For parents moving beyond estrangement from adult children

Now, as we enter the season of shortening darkness and lengthened light, I dare you to shift as well. Make plans for incremental, sustainable change that will accumulate exponentially into mountains of positive personal growth. Baby steps, small habit shifts, lead to bigger change. By summer, when our physical shadows are the shortest, you can look back on concentrated effort from a stronger, more realistic vantage point.

To do this effectively, you’ll need to identify your sticking points. Here are a few ways to get started on that.

Re-read my articles on:

Consider:

Make a list of these trouble spots and then brainstorm ways to counteract them. Get support too.

Moving beyond estrangement: Reflect, rediscover, rekindle

Once you’ve reflected upon areas that hold you back, drag you down, or further lengthen estrangement’s shadow, consider, places, people, and pursuits that will pull you up and forward, bring you fulfillment, purpose, and joy. If you’ve read Done With The Crying, pull out your completed “Take Stock” exercise and see where you might make further changes. Also turn to the later chapter on moving forward and review core elements of yourself that may have been waiting in the shadows for your rediscovery and rekindling. In moving beyond estrangement and all its related chaos, it’s wise to look at other areas too. Examine parts of you that may have been pushed aside because you were busy raising children, pursuing a career, or in some other way engaged.

Using nature’s cycles

As you work to drop the gloomy shadows of estrangement’s effects, imagine tapping into the energy behind Earth’s natural shifts. Contemplate the shortening of physical shadows, and all the other ways nature demonstrates shifts to a new season. Ancient peoples were more in tune with the natural cycles that affect the Earth and its inhabitants. They ate food in season, capitalized on their area’s resources, and prepared for the season ahead. Working with the natural cycles is a lot like going with the flow.

In my second estrangement book (Beyond Done With The Crying), I share examples of how the way we view life events such as estrangement make a difference in how we respond and fare. We can shape our experience by being conscious of what we think. How can you consider the seasons of nature as they relate to your “seasons” of estrangement? Notice the trees with their falling leaves that ready their limbs to withstand the burdens of snow.. Identify the birds that migrate to or from your area during winter months. Watch the summer-dry moss grow lush and green with winter rain.

We’re beyond the winter solstice. Take note of your physical shadow shortening each and every day. Join with the natural energy of the Earth and sun. Turn toward a new season, and purposefully work to also shorten estrangement’s shadow on you and your life.

Related reading

When your adult children don’t like you: Lean on the bear (and do some shadow work)

Winter Solstice and the roller coaster of estrangement from adult children

estrangement from adult children

Image by Mario from Pixabay

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

On every roller coaster, there’s a peak moment when you reach the highest point. And for an instant, you linger, waiting for the drop. It’s the point of no return. Or, more cheerfully, the turning point. And that’s how I think of this time of year.

The Longest night

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice falls on December 21 this year (2023). There is slight variation that shifts it a day or so annually, but this date marks the longest night, and represents the shift toward lengthening days. The Southern Hemisphere enjoys the opposite effect.

I won’t get into ancient celebrations or spiritual beliefs about this factual event named to describe the moment when the Earth tilts its farthest from the sun. But ancient peoples did have reasons to celebrate—and with the right mindset, so do we.

Unsteady footing

As I say in Done With The Crying, when our own child rejects us, it’s as if the bottom falls out and our whole world tilts (like the Earth upon the winter solstice).  Just as we don’t always notice the gradual, day-to-day changes in the Earth’s angle toward or away from the sun, we may not have noticed a shift in our kids. Or, if we did, we blamed it on teen angst, individuation, or some other explanation that sounds sensible enough for us to believe the weirdness would end. And, so, we wait, expecting them to shift. Here’s where things get tricky.

Getting back to that roller coaster where this article started, imagine choosing to sit in that ride car at the highest peak. Suspended. At a standstill. Stuck.

While you’re strapped in at the peak, the world moves on. But waiting and hoping? I hope you brought food and water, because as you sit there suspended on hold, life continues without you. Far below, people are having fun, buying popcorn and hot coffee at kiosks, seeing shows, and hopping onto other, more pleasant, rides.

Dark night of the soul

According to about a zillion online sources, the “dark night of the soul” originated from a poem that described joining as one with God. Modern use of the expression refers to a loss of faith, whether religious, in humanity, or in oneself. While all of these apply to at least some parents of estranged adult children, consider whichever one, or a combination or variation, best describes you.

With these thoughts in mind, as the winter solstice brings Northern Hemispherians (Is that even a word?!) the longest “dark night” of the year, consider this a pivotal moment. Instead of remaining paralyzed, strapped in without options and looking down as the tantalizing aroma of fresh popped corn fills the air, and waiting for your unkind adult child to change, lean forward. Shift momentum. Enter the downhill stretch, exit the powerless position of agreeing to remain on someone else’s ride.

As we move beyond the solstice and the days grow longer, use this enlightened time wisely for your own life. Get the support you need to escape the dark night of your soul. Join the happy crowds. Choose your own next ride.

Escape the dangerous waters of estrangement, learn to find peace in the moment, recognize that you’ve changed, or make sensible choices for and even protect yourself if you hear from your adult child. Find something to anticipate (as I wrote about in a winter solstice article in 2022).

Related reading

Abandoned parents: Let your light shine

Holidays, how to manage them

 

Amends letter to estranged adult children: Should parents write one?

amends letter to estranged adult children

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Parents of estranged adult children often ask me about an “amends letter.” That’s probably because they’ve heard an amends letter to estranged adult children touted as an effective way to reopen communication channels and regain a relationship with adult children who have gone “no contact.” It’s a popularized tool that I’m surprised hasn’t gone to the trash heap along with things like tobacco companies using doctors to promote their cigarette brand.

Does that sound harsh? The reality is that bad advice from seemingly reputable sources is nothing new. As I discuss in BEYOND DONE, experts used to recommend putting babies to sleep on their tummies, which has now been associated with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). They also advised tired nursing mothers who were worried about inadequate milk supply to supplement with bottle feeding—even though less suckling decreases milk production. I’m sure there are many other examples of ill-advised recommendations in the annals of parenting advice history.

While an amends letter might be useful if you’ve done something that needs forgiveness and you’re dealing with reasonable individuals, making unwarranted apologies to the unreasonable only feeds the beast. As I say in BEYOND DONE, it’s my opinion all the subservience and babying trains adults with difficult personalities that they can get away with bad behavior—and even be rewarded for it—which is a disservice to the individuals and to all society.

Do amends letters to estranged adult children add to the problem?

Once upon a time, doctors didn’t realize smoking caused health problems, but a 1940s spike in lung cancer provided a clue. Even so, it took until 1964 for the U.S. Surgeon General to report that smoking caused lung cancer, laryngeal cancer, and chronic bronchitis. Even then, tobacco companies continued to raise a smokescreen of doubt around whether the evidence was conclusive.

Today, more estrangement in the news and increased traffic to websites such as mine make clear that adult children estranging from parents is on the rise. Internet searches reveal adult children (and even some therapists) who villainize parents, blame them, and approve of the rejection. Perhaps some of the so-called expert advice, including the amends letter, worsens the problem.

As I mention in my first book on this topic, Done With The Crying, parents of the 1980s were advised to build their children’s self-esteem , even apart from achievement. While I’m not against championing people for who they are, I also believe bad behavior deserves a reasoned and realistic response. Sharing an adult child’s delusional view of our parenting, or our character, and capitulating to irrational demands to preserve a “relationship” that no longer fits a healthy definition doesn’t make sense.

In BEYOND DONE, I offer examples for when apologizing may be appropriate. However, parents (just like anyone else) do well to recognize when they’re being raked over the coals for revisionist history that doesn’t add up. Sure, there could be a misunderstanding, and if that’s the case, reasonable adults who want to mend a rift will find a way to talk things out, continue to love one another, and move into the future with mutual respect. Sometimes, though, that’s not possible, and I would no more offer you a cigarette as recommend some other ill-conceived advice that hurts you or keeps you stuck.

Amends letter to estranged adult children … or to someone who really deserves it?

Kind, supportive parents, who nevertheless find themselves estranged from adult children, have frequently been the ones who have repeatedly swallowed their pride and reached out to an unkind adult child who should have been the one to say “sorry.” I hear from parents every day who know the pain of walking on eggshells to avoid conflict that always erupts from volatile offspring at some point anyway. It’s appalling to me how many adult children abuse parents’ loving kindness, and bank accounts, until the parent is physically ill or no longer has financial resources for them to exploit. And it’s reprehensible when adult children use their own kids as tools to gain authority, compliance, or control over grandparents who care so deeply and know they enrich those young ones’ lives.

By the time parents read my books and articles or join the membership support group for parents of estranged children here at this site, they have usually come to realize all the time they’ve spent, or wasted, working on trying to fix something they didn’t break. Something that makes no sense. They know they were good parents. Without the rose-colored glasses on, they have come to understand how much they have been neglecting themselves. They can see that they deserve their own kind care and a life of joy and peace.

Sometimes, though, in looking back at all the wasted energy, money, sadness, and time that stole happiness and connection from their other relationships and worthwhile pursuits, parents can start to beat themselves up. They might tell themselves they should have known better. They should have seen the truth. Or they ask themselves: How could I have been so dumb? Why didn’t I wake up sooner? The thoughts dishonor the beauty of who they are—loving parents who have, for a lifetime, given to their children.

In my Five Ways to Cope with the Holidays presentation, one of the ideas was to look toward the New Year—now. And that’s how an amends letter to yourself can help. Let’s close the door on all the ways we hurt ourselves to try and make things right.

You will have your own unique amends to make to yourself, to learn from, and to move past. And this doesn’t have to apply only to estranged adult children.  Sometimes, their disregard or abuse—and our compulsions toward them—can teach us more about ourselves, our other relationships, and life.

Get started writing an amends letter … to yourself

To help you get started on your own amends letter to yourself, first spend some time reflecting. Find a quiet, private space and, as you look through the following bullet points, write down what comes to mind. The more detailed you can get the better you will be prepared to let old habits go. Also, if any of this begins to feel too emotionally burdensome, give yourself a break. Get up and take a walk where you can enjoy nature. Even looking at the sky helps. Obtain support as needed. Here you go—

Consider times when you:

  • neglected your own needs in favor of another’s
  • dishonored or disregarded your values to avoid conflict or gain approval
  • gave when you knew you shouldn’t
  • said “yes” when your gut said “no”

When, or in what ways, have you ever:

  • felt compelled to comply or give in
  • ignored the voice of reason inside you (or that of a trusted companion)
  • done something you viewed as stupid but did it anyway (and later berated yourself for it)
  • took action you now understand was irrational or unwise
  • given money you couldn’t afford to give or knew you shouldn’t

 

Of course, we can all look back in hindsight and see more clearly. Don’t get hung up wishing you could change the past or engaging your inner critic. What you can you do is use the insight for your better, more self-compassionate and intentional future. We’ll talk more about that later.

Don’t limit yourself to the bullet points either. Whatever comes up as you reflect, use it for your own forward momentum, toward a freer future where you are kind to yourself. Once you feel your self-reflection is complete, write yourself a letter. Make amends with your past self. The one who did things because you felt compelled to keep the peace, obtain love, or gain approval. The one who put your needs behind those of someone who hasn’t appreciated such sacrifice.

You can format your letter however you want. Here’s one possible example:

————

Dear Me (insert your name, address your highest self, or your inner wisdom),

I apologize for all the times I said “yes” to someone else when it meant saying “no” to myself.

I’m sorry for pushing aside my own feelings because I worried what my daughter/son/others would think.

I forgive myself for not listening to XX, because s/he was right about XX. I should never have . . . .

————

Your letter can take a more traditional form with lots of detail. Or, you can stick to the basics as above. This is your healing journey. So do what’s best for you right now.

End your letter with a statement of forgiveness that pulls everything together and sets an intention for a new beginning. Here’s an example:

“I forgive myself for all the ways that I have hurt myself by—fill in the blank—and vow to take better care of myself from this moment forward. I will recognize, hear, and honor my inner voice. I will pay attention to that feeling in my gut (head, neck, chest … you define this and fill in the blank). I will honor me.”

Make a few more relevant statements of self-forgiveness as you see fit. End the amends letter to yourself with gratitude and love for all that you have learned. You can now use these insights to enrich the rest of your days and enjoy the ones who are around you and love you. Finally, keep your letter in a safe place. You can refer to it later and even make changes as you grow in knowledge and compassion about yourself and your life.

A turning point

Writing an amends letter to yourself helps you usher in a new beginning. Imagine this moment, month, or year, as a turning point or as the end of an era. Leave behind the baggage of fruitless efforts and self-neglect. Stepping into the future in a new, bold, and self-kind way can take some practice, but you’re worth your own best effort.

Recently, in a members-only live event in the community peer support group, parents of estranged adult children contemplated the nature of decisions and what it takes to carry out plans for their own wellness. I asked a question that also works well here: Are you “all in” for your own well-being and peace?

In a December 15 live event, parents used the ideas in this article, and their amends letter to themselves, to move solidly into the New Year, focused more intently on their own strength, well-being, and peace. If you’d like to join events such as this one, or watch replays on your own time, join the membership community.

Regardless, an amends letter you write to yourself will help you in letting go of estranged adult children and in releasing the pain. It’s time to be self-compassionate, focus forward, and be “all in,” for your future. (Hint: That “all in” thought was part of another recent members-only event.)

Related reading

60 Minutes Most Famous Whistleblower

Letters to estranged adult children

Call it what it is: Abuse

Ask Sheri McGregor: Contacting an estranged granddaughter