Abandoned parents: Are you “chewing”?

abandoned parentsAbandoned parents’ reflections: Are you chewing?

By Sheri McGregor, M.A. 

I’ve been gradually moving over the last several months, to a new home far away from the one where my husband and I raised our kids. On my most recent return to the blazing Southern California heat after a week away, I discovered that my little man-made pond had evaporated by half. And there, among the tangle of lily pads was an old friend: a plastic manatee I’d forgotten even existed had popped up from the depths. 

Seeing its emergence from where it had somehow been buried beneath the surface, made me think of an old Simon & Garfunkel tune. The song starts out, “Hello Darkness, my old friend; I’ve come to talk with you again.” Those lyrics remind me of the way emotional pain can pop up and imprison abandoned parents in a looping reel of dark thinking. But is it wise to make an “old friend” of the stuff?  When there’s no solution to a problem you keep going over and over and over, you’re ruminating. That sort of repetitive thinking carries the negative side effects of anxiety and depression.  

The word “ruminate” derives from a centuries old Latin variant that means to “chew the cud.” This makes sense because “rumen” is the English word for the first of four stomachs found in animals that chew a cud. Multiple stomachs help cows and other ruminant animals to break down their diet of coarse grass. There’s a purpose to the process, which is the opposite of chewing the same old emotionally draining cud. That kind of chewing gets you nowhere. 

A previous article covered the weepy days common to abandoned parents and how they can use them for good. Here, let’s look at your emotional cud from a new angle. Like Simon & Garfunkel’s old friend, darkness, has your rumination grown so familiar that it’s become a companion?  

In the distress and uncertainty of an adult child’s rejection, ruminating can become a habit, and even bad habits are something we can count on when our world has gone topsy-turvy. If you’re in the habit of thinking negatively—when you’re trying to get to sleep, whenever friends talk about family fun, wherever you see grandparents with grandchildren, or there’s some other trigger that sets you off—maybe it’s time to recognize rumination for what it is, an emotional rut, and bid the old buddy good-bye.  

Abandoned parents: Mindfully letting go 

One of the first steps to letting go is recognizing when you’re holding on. That means noticing when your thoughts turn down that familiar alley. In Done With The Crying, there is detailed material toward recognizing and measuring how often dark thinking plagues you. Awareness is necessary to begin the practice of consciously letting rumination go.  

It’s normal for our minds to want to chew on things that trouble us, but at some point, we must realize the cud is just old grass. As time passes, and with work that builds happiness, confidence, and fulfillment despite the pain, you can make sweet milk of your life despite estrangement. Even then, like an old wound that only bothers you in bad weather or when you’re tired or ill, the old cud of estrangement pain can pop up. Then what?    


Seeing that manatee brought a spill of memories. After my son cut us off, building beauty in my garden became my therapy. Clearing weeds helped clear my head. Tending to things that bloomed helped me to bloom. Seeing the cycle of life echoed in plants and trees helped me see myself in new and resilient ways. But spotting that manatee rising from the depths where it had been caught and lurking brought back pain.  

I sat on the garden wall, remembering how I’d worked my hands until they were as rough as sandpaper. In my vegetable garden, I had looked up with hope if a passing car sounded like my estranged son’s, and then hung my head and went back to my work. I remember uncovering ugly grubs in the soil and getting tricked by Fool’s Lettuce. That insidious weed sprouted as tender and soft as the sweet greens I’d planted, and eventually took the whole bed over, complete with thorny edges and thick roots that made the imposter impossible to pull. And, right or wrong, I found parallels in my son and those he’d chosen to go off with. Appearances can be deceiving. Those parallels were helpful to me at the time.

abandoned parentsTired from the long drive, as I sat on the garden wall, a misting of tears surprised me. The cute manatee had popped up from the depths, an old friend who tugged at memories and pain. I took a breath. The sky was still and blue. A mockingbird shouted an alarm call to guard its nearby nest. A trail of ants hugged the garden wall near my feet. Life moved on. That painful time was over. I was here and now. I didn’t need to chew the cud or talk with the darkness that was no longer my old friend.  

Bobbing lightly in the pond fountain’s trickle, the manatee seemed to smile. I smiled too.  

Related reading

Emotional triggers: Abandoned parents, set yourself free

In my garden


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28 thoughts on “Abandoned parents: Are you “chewing”?

  1. AvatarMarlis

    Hi Debbie S.
    This must be so painful for you. We all know the feeling and some of us are more hit than others but we are hit. Like you i never imagined there would be problems seeing my children and grand children as it seemed the most natural thing on Earth but things turned out differently. Our daughter has become a stranger to us. Yes we do see her family occasionally and it is always akward because we cannot be ourselves as i can feel our son in law wants us to be gone. . I have come to the conclusion that she is married to him and he comes first. He has no consideration and respect for us as the parents of our daughter (only for his mother).
    I try to go from here by telling myself (every day) that this is not our fault as we did our best and that we have not deserved that but we dont always get what we deserve. I have also become more selfish i.e. me first (before it was the children or everybody Else). I do things that i enjoy (At the moment i cook the best most nourishing meal i can think of which we eat with a glass of wine) I know it is difficult to find a replacement for your grand kids but there ARE people without grand kids. Since our daughter does not want us really in their life, my husband, me and our dog are having the time of our life. Maybe a bit exaggerated but we are trying to have a good time (not easy in these Corona times). I will always be a mother and grandmother but for the time being i have taken leave of absence…..(and that was not what i wanted). If they want to see us (preferrably without son in law) they know where we are.
    The pain will always be there and i have sad days and wish things could be different but knowing that there are others whose family life is not perfect either helps a lot.
    I wish you all the best.

    1. AvatarDebbie

      Marlis, thanks for your reply. Not seeing my girls and grandkids is the hardest thing I have been through.
      I am better now, but the first two years was devastating.
      I am hoping as they get older, they will want to see us.
      We were so close. My girls better study the 5th commandment and see what it says about not respecting your parents.
      We are in “the club” whether we like it or not.
      But it is comforting to not feel so alone.
      Warm hugs to you and hope your holidays are

  2. AvatarFeelingLost24

    I was looking through some documents for my birth certificate when I stumbled upon my son’s birth certificate, the unofficial one with his footprint and handprints on it. I put it back in the box and asked my husband to put it the box away in the closet. I didn’t want to see it again. In the past, when I would find something like that, I would drop it in the mail to my son with no letter. I didn’t do it this time and it is “haunting me” I’ve started down the endless circle of thinking should I write a letter, if so what do I say. It’s like that old Earl Thomas Conley song called “What I’d say”. I’m all over the place. Part of me wants to right the goodbye letter and then another part of me wants to write a letter telling him how I feel in hopes of possibly reconciling with him. If he did want to reconcile, I don’t think I could forgive his wife which would not work. His last words to me were if I have to choose, I’m choosing my wife. I told him I wasn’t making him choose but that is exactly what his wife did.
    I don’t know what to do but I know I have to send him that birth certificate. It’s amazing how that one sheet of paper has caused so much stress for me for my peace of mind.

  3. AvatarMarlis

    I am so sorry Susan D. For what you are going through. Having three grand children and never even have met them. It is sheer cruelty to keep grand children from you and nothing can excuse that. At least for the sake of the grand children our sons and daughters should keep a (good) relationship with their parents. And so should son and daughters in law. But so often it is not the case. What kind of example are they setting for their children. Because of some minor thing they prevent grand kids having grand parents. I can only assume that our sons and daughters have very big egoes and as they think they never make mistakes they can never forgive any mistake we ever made which is very imature.
    We cannot let them walk all over us. We are too precious for that. This website picks me up every time i feel down. Like a pat on the back giving me support through positive self talk “You are all right and did the best. That is all anybody
    can do. It takes two for a good relationship etc”. I believe we have to repeat it every day until it is stuck and we are convinced. Maybe the hurt will never go away but we can still live with some self respect and dignity and our children stop being the center of our universe.
    I wish you and everybody on this blog all the best and a lot of strengt

    1. AvatarFeelingLost24

      I just read your reply to Susan D. Your comment made me feel better. I agree it is sheer cruelty to keep a grandchild from his grandparent especially if that grandchild has developed a bond with the grandparent.

      I have 2 sons each with a son of their own. One son never let me have a relationship with my grandson and my other son stopped letting me see his son after he talked to his brother. My grandson was six at the time. It makes things so much harder when there are grandchildren involved especially if you have had the chance to be a part of their lives. The pain is unbearable sometimes especially when I hear that my grandson has asked about me and said he misses me. It’s not only cruel to the grandparent but to the grandchild as well.

  4. AvatarJanice

    We cannot be weak, it will be our downfall. We need to be angry, angry they could turn their backs on us, turn their backs on other family and friends and especially themselves and chose something or someone over people who raised them and put them above all else. They have self esteem issues they need to work on, and if they don’t then do go to your grave pining for what could have been or should be. Be strong and know you did your best. Blessings to all.

    1. AvatarCarolyn

      Janice, your words resonate with me. While I prefer to not live an a state of high anger, I whole-heartedly agree with you that we need to constantly remind ourselves that THEY turned their backs on us and their family. Thank you for your post… I know that I needed it, and I’m sure others do as well.

  5. AvatarElizabeth

    Our “ordeal” began to be seen on the day our son married, now over 2 decades ago. We were totally supportive of the marriage (in fact, paid for 1/3rd of it and gave her the same amount of money we gave our daughter to buy things for her trousseau, and paid for most of their weeklong honeymoon as well). Though we do hear from them at times…it is limited. It has been a huge grief. He was our only son and a very perfect child to raise…never a bit of trouble. We felt VERY close to him. Of course, we knew marriage would change that, but you are never able to prepare for such as what happened to us. One thing that helped me so much is that we do our best to follow GOD. HE has been our main comfort. Another thing that helps me is to write (I just write in notebooks, nothing fancy)…often the quotes I have found online and in books from others that help me. And of course, writing my feelings to GOD in those notebooks. For part of this ordeal, we still had the best dog we ever had (a once in a lifetime dog) who was more comfort to me than I can describe. Loosing her was tough…but as my husband said, “well, she loved us more than most people so why should we not grieve for her?” So IF you can have a dog (or a cat or whatever kind of pet you love), I strongly recommend it. Also, finding places online, as well as in your town if possible, where you can talk to others on this same path that none of us chose. Would you have had children, if you knew this awaited you? I tell you, we would not have. I lost a sibling to a drunk driver when we were in our early 20s and that was so awful to live through. But you learn to adjust with time to that kind of grief. This kind? You will with time, likely, find ways to cope and be happier again. It may take a very long time if you were a very involved parent as I was (I homeschooled even). But now that we are old and may not have a lot of years left, my thoughts so often go to what is ahead and being with some of the most beloved of my people again. Take time to grieve as needed…take up long left behind hobbies again, keep close to those few you can trust, enjoy every last thing you can find to enjoy, if you are able, take special trips with a spouse or a dear friend or any other children you have, if you find someone who wants to be as a son (or daughter) to you, do not let the NOT-GIVEN spoil the GIVEN!! One of our son’s boyhood chums has been a son to us in every way you can imagine, including times we have met up with him and his wife to vacation. I, also due to this situation, have more time, of course, to reach out to others…like friends who live distantly…and some kin. No, they do not write me back, but call when they can and LOVE getting my notes and letters. You will likely come across strangers you can empathize with here and there too, as the years roll by. One thing we must realize is that we simply are NOT everyone’s cup of tea…but we will fit some. I have heard it said that family is the friends you choose…there is a lot of truth in that too. There are organizations, if you are retired or have the time, who would love to have your help. And if you pray, that is one way to love from a distance…no one can tell us whom we can pray for!! And you are not “bothering” them either…they will not know. I am also writing a couple of books for our daughters, and I hope will one day also be copies made for the grandchildren…things I would have shared of my family lore, had I been given the opportunity. They make some nicely bound books for writing in these days…I often decorate the pages with photos and things I find here and there that go along with the story I am writing. I hope this helps. Most of all, remember you are NOT alone!! (And sometimes yes, I still cry a bit…but not very often anymore…acceptance lets you acknowledge the truth of it and let it go…)

    1. AvatarKate

      Oh, Elizabeth, what you said here made me cry. Only because absolutely everything you said is exactly how I feel! You just said it all so well. I agree with everything. I have been dealing with the estrangement from my only child, a 49 yr. old, for over 20 yrs. And like you, I still cry once in a while but I’m better than I use to be. Eventually, it does get better. Those who want us around, they are our family, now. And I have pets that I love that love me back also & like you, I recently lost one of the sweetest dogs I ever owned. He was a little rescue dog & he was the sweetest boy! You and everyone here, please take care of yourselves, keep busy, & do things that you enjoy with those who want you in their lives (although that’s sorta difficult right now).

    2. AvatarElizabeth

      Kate I am sending you hugs!! I am so sorry you have only the one child. It has helped us to have the 2 daughters, though one lives a continent away so we can only skype now, but that is a great gift of technology that has been greatly appreciated. I do hope you have other kin that you can connect with!! Or very close friends…at my age, a lot of mine have already passed away. But my husband is yet with me. But my main comfort is GOD and HE never leaves us. Blessings on you and all others in our same situation!!

    3. AvatarAnn

      Your life’s experience is almost word for word mine except my adult children have banded together to reject their upbringing (Christian) and we, their parents 🙁
      I have the strength and support of my husband of 35+ years, the unconditional love of our little lap dog and the Strength and Guidance from my Lord.
      This has been a trying and stressful time in my life, feelings up&down constantly however, the support of those around me and those I’m blessed to share my life with, work, the places & events here and far to enjoy… Keep my mind in a more positive frame
      Thank you for your post!

    4. AvatarJulie

      Thank you For hearing my pain and speaking all the truths my broken heart holds. May God continue to bless you & comfort you….

    5. AvatarSusan D.

      Our only daughter has been estranged for over 14 years now..this too happened shortly after she met the man she married..we have 3 beautiful grandchildren that we have never met. Can so relate
      We have wholeheartedly tried many times to reach out to mend this only to get hostility and rejection…
      At our age we can no longer endure the pain from the rejection and are letting go and let God.

  6. AvatarStrongnana

    Hi Marlis and other Estranged Parents,

    I’m glad you could identify. I just want to be sure the others know when it first happened, I was very consumed with grief…lost so much sleep, needed medication, etc. Every day I could barely drag myself out of bed. I cried at work. I never saw it coming…the controlling narcissist really gets the power when the baby comes. It was just like he died—because the relationship is severed and we will never get it back. It’s over 2 years and I’m finally able to feel some joy and appreciate the people who do really love me. It is still hard, but you must read the book and do the exercises. These “children” should be ashamed, and perhaps someday when they mature they will be. Just be assured there are MANY influences in a person’s life…you cannot continue to blame yourself. Hugs!

  7. AvatarTina

    Thankyou all for your comments, some days i just find it so hard to go on, I miss my beautiful daughter so much.
    But her manipulating boyfriend has caused us so much pain and hurt ,each day is a struggle so I search for these sights to try and find comfort thank you for your words of encouragement, God bless you all x

  8. AvatarMarlis

    When your child is rejecting you as a mother your whole world is collapsing
    and you think that you can never ever be happy again
    I wrote earlier that one day i just had enough but it was actually coming to Sheri’s website that gave my the push i needed.
    Her very wise comments, her own story and all encouraging stories from mothers changed my outlook and i realised that i have to take care of myself first and foremost and not all is lost. Thanks

  9. AvatarMarlis

    Hi Strongnana
    This could be my story except it is our daughter who lets her husband make the rules (when we can see the Grand kids etc and that is as little as possible). Since it is our daughter it is even more hurtfull.. His mother of course has access anytime. I have never felt comfortable visiting them and not really welcome. For a long time like you we thought we did something wrong (but what?). We tried and tried. Also taking insults from son in law. We walked on eggshells for too long. Suddenly one day i just had enough.
    I have now almost completely withdrawn. Take no initiative for contact.
    Actually i almost feel great about it as i am getting my self respect back. I refuse to be treated like that. I am a Grand mother with a lot to offer. We did everything for our children and they have good jobs and are doing well. My husband and i are decent people. They can take it or leave it but i am not running after them anymore. I can survive and will not live by rules made by a imature son in law we do not like (and he does not like us). Of course the Grand kids as they get older they will feel that the parents dont like us and that hurts
    but there is nothing we can do about that. As i can see from all the stories family life just does not always work out the way we dream about.
    As long as we STOP blaming ourselves for everything that went wrong.
    Sorry for rambling on. I am so glad you shared your story.

    1. AvatarDebbie S.

      Hey Marlis. Your story is exactly like ours.
      Our narcissist son in law makes all the rules. Turned our kids (2 daughters) against us. We have had enough. Couldn’t love our girls or grandkids more.
      But if parents don’t want us around, so be it. We are moving on after “crying” for two years.
      Much love to all. God bless you all.

    2. AvatarBeth

      I understand your story so much. I too am in similar story. My daughter abandoning me has been since my divorce from her father. It was a devastating divorce and 3 years later I have not seen him and I still don’t the full reason of why he left me.
      I honestly don’t know what I have done wrong. Her husband has never been fond of me so I don’t know how much is coming from him.
      I am dying to know my grandchildren who are both very young.
      I cry about this daily. I can’t seem to let it go.

    3. AvatarKathy

      I’m with you. I have four adult children who only call when they need something. That’s stopped since I learned how to say NO without for it apologizing anymore. They never ask what they can do for me, only what I can do for them. All of their spouses’ families are doing well financially and that seems like all they care about. I wish them well but am tire of beating myself up for having such selfish self centered children. Sometimes best thing to do is say a prayer and move on. Life’s too short for bs. ☮️

    4. AvatarDebbie E

      Hey Marlis,

      I agree with you. Our daughter in law with whom we had a great relationship with until she got pregnant has turned our son against us and now has convinced my other daughter in law and son to turn against us too. We can no longer see our other grandchild because of this. She wrecked our whole family.

      It has been so painful because we used to go on vacations together as a family and she sat with my mom when my mom was dying. Then less than a year later after my mom passed away, what should have been a happy time when she got pregnant, turned into a living nightmare.

      You are right that family life just doesn’t always work out the way we dream about. This has been one of the hardest things for me to accept. My life has always centered around my children and I looked forward to the day they started their own families. One of the hardest things for me has been letting go of what I thought my life would be like. Spending time with my children and grandchildren.

      I’m struggling trying to figure out what I want in life now since what I wanted most in life to be a mom and now a grandma is no longer an option.

    5. AvatarSapna

      Your story sounds so much like mine. I am very happy to have found this site. The whole thing of, “What did I do wrong? What could I have done different”? My ex was a very violent, abusive man. I could not get away with my two girls as there was no law in my country, but I tried to protect, shield and give my girls the best life I could. God has been our provider, encourager and our very life. Now my older one is married and hardly talks to me. We live in another country, God made a way for us and we are free but no love, no gratitude, no calling and asking, “Mummy how are you”? Any gifts that are sent never reciprocated. The son-in-law makes it awkward. His family is all over the place but me, no place, no room. It’s awkward trying to see the family, they live in another State.
      This much I will grant that she does allow the kids to chat on the phone and I see them online. She will be there in the background, but mostly never make any eye contact. Just there.
      I am crying as I write this, my beautiful, loving, kind girl, where is she? My Darling Girl, my first born.
      Raised with so much love and care and gentleness, where is she?
      I keep myself occupied. I believe that God has a special plan for my life and I cannot waste it. I am an artist, writer and singer. I keep pressing in and time is moving fast, still somewhere deep down I hope she would call someday all on her own and say, “Mummy, how are you? I miss you.

  10. AvatarStrongnana

    I agree with everyone on this. It’s so great to hear other estrangement stories because when your own child (ours a successful doctor) begins treating you like you’re a “nobody”, but treats his/her new family well, you blame yourself. I just spent two wasted years thinking we were–too good, too doting, too this/too that. It’s ALL BULL…what really is happening is our son used us to help him get where he is, but we were too inconvenient when we wanted to stay see the grands ( he ended up making lots of rules such as we could only go once every SIX weeks). We ended up feeling so unwelcome (never ever stopped by) but the wife just didn’t want us around- (of course her family had continual access to the baby). The point of Sheri’s book and website in my view is you have to let go –get your self esteem back and REALLY focus on the others who DO respect you! I have my sisters, parents, and our other son and DIL treat us well. It DOES get better–you must do the work and start to see your child is weak/spoiled/a user and it’s NOT all your fault! At this point, my husband and I agree it would never be the same again. Very sad, but you CANNOT let it ruin your whole life! It’s NOT you it’s them…and until they grow up and go through their own journey, there’s nothing we can do but let go! Don’t waste years of your emotional well being! Love to all!

  11. AvatarKate

    Hi Irene. Someone on Sheri’s website once said, “we’re all in this club that none of us ever wanted to join.” It’s really the truth. For years I thought I was the only one in this situation. I’m so sorry for you pain—I know how much it hurts you. Thanks to some really good advice from Sheri’s book & this website, I’ve become stronger. I don’t think the hurt ever completely leaves, but it does get better. Take good care of yourself

  12. AvatarNikki

    Hello everyone,
    Same story here. Why why why… Then comes when – when will I smile again, when will this pain stop being debilitating, I guess when I can find the courage to move on without my son. We all feel so lonely but at least these insights can give us some connection.

  13. AvatarKate

    I love this article! As for me, after so many years of ruminating about my daughter’s rejection of me—what good has it done? Absolutely none—nothing good has come from it. All I’ve done is waste years of my life & probably lower my immune system while wondering why she would just dump me. We always got along but apparently she didn’t need me anymore. So yes, it’s time to stop “chewing” on problems we can’t change! I’ve been doing a whole lot better here lately thanks to you & your very helpful website for all of us parents out here. Thank you so much!

    1. AvatarIrene Z.

      Hi Kate,

      I too am in the same boat. Crying and wondering why. Yes, and I too see my immune system has been not to great at all. His birthday was yesterday and cry I did a lot.

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