Abandoned by adult children: Structure infuses certainty into uncertain times

daughter won't talk to meAs the parent of estranged adult child(ren), you know about uncertainty. You’ve dealt with the questions of whether your adult child will reach out, respond if you try to talk, or remain no-contact . . . maybe forever. Uncertainty about those things becomes a new normal as you navigate what to do at the holidays or contemplate the up-and-down moods or on-and-off contact with an adult child who has become abusive or estranged. You may be practiced, but when disasters of any sort strike (let alone this pandemic), worries can resurge, or new emotions can surface.

In uncertain times, structure provides a sense of control 

In times of uncertainty, the things we can control promote well-being. As Covid-19 causes layoffs, worries about the safety of an estranged adult child and other loved ones, renewed feelings of rejection or even anger that our own children don’t care, focus on what you can control. Inserting structure into the shelter-in-place landscape helps (and it’s the same for anytime parents abandoned by adult children try to cope). Instead of ruminating over what you cannot control, ask yourself how you can add in structure, which can make things feel more predictable.  

Make plans for yourself and follow through with them. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Create a schedule for your day.  Do things that are productive.
  • Cook healthful meals and eat at prescribed times. 
  • Consider ways you can exercise and make time to move your body. 
  • Participate in social connection time by telephone or in another way that maintains the recommended distancing. 

A friend of mine has often mentioned that in anxious times, her mother always said, “Give them a job to do.” Her advice fits now. Give yourself a “job.”  

A few more ideas: 

  • Catch up on organizing.  
  • Rearrange your furniture. 
  • Reach out to friends you’ve been meaning to say are important to you via email or written cards and letters.
  • Take a class online. (There are a lot of free ones right now!) 
  • Love on your pets.  
  • Repot a plant (or start cuttings for propagating). 
  • Learn to meditate (try YouTube). 
  • If you’re able, think of ways to help others. One friend of mine is making masks and mailing them out. Another friend told me that she has been calling her neighbors just to see if there is anything that they might need that she could leave on a doorstep.  

 What structure is best? Choose carefully  

For parents abandoned by adult children, ordinary pastimes can become triggers for pain. I’ve been going through old photos and have found some emotional landmines among them. My response has been to recognize and accept the thoughts and feelings that have emerged, considering them a sort of purge, and practicing self-compassion in the process. Another mother said that she tried organizing photos but decided that amidst all the uncertainty, this wasn’t the right time for her to face the rejection again. Awareness is important, so thoughtfully consider your activities now and be kind to yourself.  

My husband has been doing a lot of weed whacking. He tells me that his mind wanders as he works. The activity has become a sort of meditation. I feel the same about trimming my Golden Doodles’ and poodles’ long hair.    abandoned by adult children

What can you do to fill your time and provide a predictable structure in your home or yard? Promoting agency, as in personal action, helps promote positive feelings. While we may not be able to control how our leaders handle the current crisis, the trajectory of the pandemic, whether our estranged adult children are safe, or how soon we can get back to our lives and careers, we can intervene for ourselves, take charge of our own safety and our daily lives.  

What will you do? Take time right now to make plans for your day or week. How can you help yourself? 

Related Reading

Covid-10 pandemic: When the world is scary, bend and twist

Parents abandoned by adult children: Shape your “new normal”

Is your adult child estranged? Be careful

Spring cleaning for parents when adult children want nothing to do with you


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43 thoughts on “Abandoned by adult children: Structure infuses certainty into uncertain times

    1. rparents Post author

      Thank you, Lucille. Share your thoughts anytime about how you’re managing and healing.

      Big hugs,
      Sheri McGregor

    2. Phyllis

      I have an adult daughter, three beautiful grandson’s and their daddy, my daughters husband is in stage 4 liver cancer. All I can do is to pray asking God for a miracle….. please pray for this family in Texas. I will continue to pray for that miracle and the families that are suffering during theses times.

    3. Cyncha

      Hello everyone.
      I am new. I am in touch with my daughter. I am happy about our connection. It is in on her terms.
      Airy, and lovely and artificial. It fills me with angst and sadness. I send 5 emails to her 1. I feel like it is a passive aggressive relationship. It bothers me! See above where I said I was happy with our connection?
      What a liar to the world and myself I have become. It shames me. I raised her on my own; not a perfect
      parent. She is quick to cast me out for months of non-communication if I say anything that isn’t to her
      Liking. I am not angry with her; it is me that lacks some kind of “balls” , dare I say it?
      Glad to be here.

  1. Simone J.

    My son is a police officer, and my daughter-in-law is a nurse. They have two little boys. My heart is breaking even more now.

    1. rparents Post author

      You’re not alone, Simone. (I didn’t mean to rhyme.) Please take good care of yourself especially now. I am trusting my adult children in essential fields (as mentioned in today’s emailed newsletter) are following guidelines and staying safe. Keeping that thought adds confidence.

      HUGS ❣️

      Sheri McGregor

    2. Lee

      I feel the same as you. My relationship with my daughter is very minimal contact, out of self respect Ive decided to not message her first. She is passive agressive bordering on rude. I feel very sad as we had a wonderful connection before she started verbal agression and disapproval of who I am. My daughter is a nurse also. I feel your pain.

  2. walkingforward

    I have been going outside each day and trimming shrubs. I even mowed the lawn one day. That type of activity tskes my mind away from the chaos.

  3. Lynne

    Thank you Sheri. I enjoyed all your thoughts. I have washed all curtains, cleaned closets, and did other organizing. I think I am done with “house stuff.” This time has brought up painful feelings. Sent my ED an e-mail and expressed my love and that I was praying for her safety…she is a health care provider. She did not respond. I did not set myself up that she would. I am trying to keep my focus on all the blessings the Lord has given to me….and there are so very many. I do count your book and website as a huge blessing. Thank you and God bless you for all you do.❤️

    1. rparents Post author

      Thank you so much, Lynne, for your kindness and blessings to me.

      What will you do and try now that the house stuff is complete?

      Sheri McGregor

    2. Lynn W.

      I can relate! My married son is an ICU nurse. Trying to communicate, and sometimes his wife (well trained by him) will give a terse response, which is better than his lack of replies. Her response to my question two nights ago about how they are both doing came hours later: “Good”. I then asked how her teaching online was going, and if how his ICU responsibilities are going. No answer.

  4. patricia s.

    MY GOODNESS i am not alone—there is an army of you out there. And, I take great comfort in that. I am an artist so my alone time is precious and at home I am seldom bored. Art is play but it is also hard work to complete —whether it be a painting, drawing, etc. All of you or any of you might want to try it—-you might surprise yourself. Do not worry if you tell yourself you can’t. Did you ever hear the word practice? It is magical. so keep going. You might make a huge discovery—when I am doing art i am focused on what I am making so I do not feel sorrow and cry for hours. Trust me, doing art is far better than crying.
    As for structure, I get it. I just need to have more self discipline about it.
    Have a happy and productive week everybody.

  5. Linda P.

    Thank you for this timely and thoughtful article. I’ve been tearing my house apart (spring cleaning) & washing and waxing everything so it sparkles. But while I’ve been busy, my mind spends the time wondering and wandering places that bring pain. It’s been a landmark year…..25 years since my son last spoke to me and those words are unprintable. He’s been married and has 2 sons. I not only lost my son, but a daughter-in-law and 2 grandsons. Surely 25 years should dull the sharp edges but despite being a busy and involved volunteer providing musical evenings for residents of long term care homes, and the rescue of animals for the past 20 years, I still paddle up the familiar creek of despondency and hurt. I guess the pandemic isolation has given me more time to think.
    At least you thought of me Sheri and I thank you for that.
    So I will add all your suggestions to my daily routine. It can’t hurt and I would love to stop rumbling around that old dusty closet of my mind.

    1. rparents Post author


      Sometimes I feel like those thinking journeys to old hurts are part of the healing process. There’s a “spring cleaning” link at the bottom of the latest article (or find it with the search box). It’s more about emotional spring cleaning…

      Sheri McGregor

  6. Sheryl

    Thank you for these encouraging words. I am still in the early phases of grieving the separation of my son and the family. He has also shut out several of his siblings. The saddest part for me right now is that I have not seen my 6 grandchildren for 4 months now. We relocated over 1000 miles at my son’s invitation to be part of their lives. After 2 years we were asked to leave. We now live less than 5 miles from them and right after Thanksgiving he cut off all communication. We feel as though much of our family has died.
    But I am trying to keep myself busy and allow my heart to heal. One thing I began doing recently is to write letters to my grandchildren. Since I know they wouldn’t be permitted to read them if I mailed them, I have purchased small journals that I write in each week. One for each child. Someday they will be adults and I can give them their journal so they know that I never stopped loving them.

  7. Red

    During these very trying and uncertain times we wonder about our estrained children. At first I could just see my ES getting the virus as he is in the health field also. I emailed him asking please let me know that both of you are ok. No response ! I then emailed my daughter in law begging her to respond to me. Nothing! I have come to this conclusion, in this troubling time in everyone’s life if he doesn’t care enough to inquire about the well being of his elderly parents then it’s finally time after almost 4 years of no communication to let him go. Those are very hard words to say.
    Sheri, very good article. Every day I thank my mother (who passed 10 years ago) for the patience in teaching my sisters and I how to sew, crochet, knit and crosstitch. This has been my sanity saving go to structure. Thank you my sweet mother!❤️

    1. Effie

      I keep coming to that same conclusion then I start thinking I am wrong.. But I think its time to keep going and let them go too. Somedays its easier then others.. I get so angry thinking how arrogant they are that they don’t care and have no respect to even respond… I thought I was a darn good mom! I just want peace in my heart that its ok to stop reaching out… tired of the rejection… tired, tired, tired… I secretly wish I played the lottery and won millions and see what would happen!!!!!

    2. rparents Post author


      There was a woman who won a big sum and her neglectful adult children suddenly changes! She didn’t give them any and was very vocal about it! I’ll see if I can find the link.

      Sheri McGregor

    3. Mandy

      I also left a message for ED andES to stay safe during this Virus . Never received a call. I could have died. I feel for you, I know what it feels like. 10 yrs withES and 3yrs with ED. I don’t even know their addresses. Your not alone

  8. AnotherViewPoint

    We will need to re adjust our daily lives. Just read about the ‘so called spanish epidemic which started in the USA 1918. This went for 2 yrs folks.
    My sister has found friends and social life on facebook. Not for me though.
    Chinese medicine says keep your hands busy. Don’t laugh. I like housework. The twin tub settles my mind as l do more washing with clean towels and clothes every day

    1. rparents Post author

      It is good to stay busy. I wish I liked housework… But I will say that the “order” of a tidy home is a positive thing, especially when the world seems to have gone nuts.

      Sheri McGregor

  9. Marilyn

    I have been reconnecting with my spirituality. For close to 30 years these books have been on my bookshelf. Since January have been guided to study them. The Course in Miracles.
    When did Spirituality become a rejected word? It has become my lifeline.

  10. Maria F.

    Thank, Sheri for keeping in touch with fellow parents. I too have wondered and even emailed my adult son, to no avail.
    I wonder, if appropriate if you can share how you and your husband have coped with this in the past. For example, my therapist tells me that we often may find ourselves at different points in the circle of grief; anger, acceptance, despair, etc.
    At times, we are on the same page, but as is natural we sometimes wander to a different, albeit opposing point in the circle…

    1. rparents Post author

      Hi Maria,

      It takes communication and acceptance and caring. I’ve shared a lot more about us and other couples in Done With The Crying.

      Don’t let an adult who has hurt you make mincemeat of your good, sound marriage. You guys are a team. Doesn’t mean everyone is on the same page at the same time, but it’s that way with a lot of the things we face while married, right?

      Hugs to you.

      Sheri McGregor

  11. Melanie

    The idle hours do lend themselves to reflecting on happier times and wanting them back. Our son is in San Francisco, ordered to shelter in place; we hope he is safe. Our daughter is a grief counselor, here in our city. We have not heard from either one , as expected. I pray they are both safe.

  12. Erica

    Hi Sheri,

    Thanks for sending out this very timely email for all of us estranged parents. This is a particularly difficult time for me. I have been estranged from my adult daughter for 3 years ( and I still don’t know why) and her birthday was on April 4th. She is 26 years old.
    I didn’t even consider wishing her a happy birthday nor because she has made it clear she wants nothing to do with me or her siblings. She could care less about how we are doing. I can see what she is up to by what she posts on Instagram and it always all about herself even in the time of Covid. It is sad and beyond my control. That’s why your email was so helpful. Working outdoors in the garden and journaling are my go to’s for calming therapeutic activities.
    Be well,

    1. rparents Post author

      Hi Erica,

      I love being in the garden too. At the height of my estrangement pain, my yard was a lifesaver, truly. There are microbes in the soil that are antidepressants! And the air, the birds, the way the breeze sounds blowing through the trees…

      I’m sorry you have to face this horrible sorrow. I’ll be gardening right alongside you … across the country or the world.

      Sheri McGregor

  13. Susan R.

    Thank you Sheri , for your continuing support . It’s heartening to hear your thoughts , and those of others in this shared dilemma we shockingly find ourselves in . My adult daughter had been estranged for five years . During that time I have kept up communication with cards , presents , letters four times a year to young granddaughters , and latterly I sent a text asking how my daughter was , just hoping they were all well in these difficult times, hoping they all stay safe . Again and again no reply . I’ve finally ( and I struggle with this ) have decided to stop all communication , and just put money away in my granddaughters bank account ( which I opened a few months after this started ) This is a massive step for me , but I’ve done it to protect myself . Each time I write a letter or card , it means I continue to have hope , which in turn keeps me hooked in to this heartbreak . I want to break free from it , but feel I’m deserting my grandchildren .
    Thank you once again for all the efforts you put in , your book made me feel normal and confirmed that others out there are in the same terrible predicament .
    Love Sue xxx

    1. rparents Post author

      Sue, thank you for your nice note! I think what you’re doing by saving for their futures is generous. A prosperous, material act that WILL do good. Instead of an energy drain, something that gains! You can make a difference regardless this way, and as long as it continues to feel positive for you, then it’s a good thing.

      You know, you mention the masdive step.. In enduring estrangements,there are more turning points, some more momentous than others, and each on your individual time.

      Take good care and stay safe and well.

      Big hugs and love back to you!

      Sheri McGregor

  14. beverly

    So sad to read all these letters from the lost moms. But at the same time, it also makes me
    feel that I am not alone in this situation. The other mothers are like part of the sisterhood.
    We all share the same emptiness and sorrow. I have not seen or heard from my daughter
    for 3 years, and she lives 45 minutes away. I did not expect to hear from her during this
    crisis so my sorrow is the same as it was before the crisis. As my mother used to tell me “if you
    don’t expect anything you will not be disappointed”. Your book Sheri was a godsend. I am
    going to read it a second time.

    1. rparents Post author

      I’m glad the book helped, Beverly. I hear from quite a few who read the book more than once and do the exercises again too. Now, with the world at this odd moment, it’s probably good timing.

      Your mom sounds like mine! She had so many little nuggets that make sense still to me.

      HUGS ❣️
      Sheri McGregor

  15. Diane M

    My daughter did not even ask how I’m doing during this COVID-19. She lives in MI and I live in IL. I live in a seniors apartment and almost all of them have adult kids that by them groceries, run errands for them, etc. I know my daughter can’t do these things for me, but it would be nice of her to ask how I am. Well, she never does anyway, so she certainly won’t now.

  16. Diane M

    I bring out my book, Done With the Crying, like a bible. I’ve already read it but now always refer to sections that I need to reread. I have two adult kids that I’m estranged from. I do hear from my daughter, but only via email, once a week or sometimes every two to three weeks. She will not answer her phone and refuses to call me. When she emails me it’s just a brief one with comments about the weather and things that are not personal. She has a puppy. She sent me one picture when she got “Maggie.” Since it’s been a few months now, I asked for another picture, no reply. My daughter has three kids, ages 22, 21, and 15. I never hear from them. No family pictures either. My son has a mental condition and he is 46 and lives in a rooming house. He has never married. I hear from him about 2-3 times a year. I try calling him and emailing him, but no reply. This is all so hurtful to me. Especially when my friends talk about their kids and grandkids. So, I just cope the best I can. I just want to give up on all of them (Kids and grandkids). I’m sick of being the only one that is trying! Thanks for listening to my rant! 🙁

  17. Kate

    My married daughter just blocked me from her life. Blocked me from my grandchild. I am shocked and heartbroken. It’s only been a couple days but I feel like she died but worse. I don’t know how long or if ever she will talk to us again. She lives in another state 14 hours away. I appreciate this support group and I’m just praying she realizes the insanity of this situation. My only thought is that she is seeing a secular therapist who is telling her to cut contact. I don’t see any other reason why she would just shut us out like this. We are absolutely heartbroken.

  18. Elizabeth L.

    Diane M, I sympathize with your predicament- it’s similar to mine.
    I haven’t had any communication since the lockdown and yesterday was my 60th birthday.
    Not even a text from my daughter.
    When I think of how I went without food so that she could have birthdays of her dreams and now she won’t even send a free text message on my birthday.
    I’m seriously thinking of blocking the last channel of communication with her as I’m the one who initiates everything.
    After I moved there were no enquiries about my new address.
    So- when this pandemic is done, I’m throwing myself headlong into local life and living on.
    I need to forget her now.

  19. mary

    Joining the club. Faith is what keeps me focused. Praying for them, praying for us. Offering it up.
    One of the children said he wanted to live a Spartan life…. after many months I checked what it was…an english life coach has a chanbel and a web site. there is a common thread with the nc strategy: those sites talk abt toxic narcissism and the no contact tactic.

    I figured that contacting them is useless. I will just send a happy birthday text, love mom. and for feasts. No expectation but keeping the channel opened.
    For my own sanity I must move on. Easier said than done.
    The void, the rejection must be filled by faith. I recognize my failures. A priest told me it is a general epidemy! I was surprised to hear that and it softened the guilt of not being perfect for my kids.
    Please pray for me. Today is the feast of Saint Monica. Check her out. She was in the same boat as we for 30 years!
    Love and prayers to all the broken hearts outthere. Thanks Sheri for the web site.

  20. Linda H.

    first sending my new email below…

    Still no contact from my son, it has been years. So now I have a new Breast Cancer diagnosis on top of suffering from Lyme disease. Has anyone else out there been ill and dealing with estranged adult children. Right now life seems pretty bleak with the Coronavirus and now facing my own challenges again. Years ago I put all his photos away. It helped cope. Like I had no son. I am single with no other children. Life just seems so cruel right now.

    1. candleinthewind

      Indeed it is cruel. Just do the smallest of things that you enjoy, or rest, or pray, or listen to music, watch the wind blowing in the trees. I like watching old films, but right now I’m going to have a lie down. The Samaritans (in the UK) are always there to talk to. They don’t offer advice, and sometimes I think the struggle to make sense of it all adds to the pain.

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