Is your adult child estranged? Be careful

Is your adult child estrangedadult child estranged? Be careful.
by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Around the time of my son’s estrangement, I dropped a heavy piece of equipment on my big toe. Many months later when the fracture healed, I fell, and broke that toe again.

Like many other parents of estranged children confide, I seemed accident prone. Some tell of car accidents, or falls, kitchen cuts, and other mishaps. Could an increase in accidents and injuries be related to estrangement?

Adult child estranged? Be forewarned

On a trip to San Francisco’s China Town some years ago, a steep flight of stairs led down to a basement sales floor. As shoppers descended, a soft voice on a recording repeatedly cautioned, “Watch your step. Be careful of stairs. Have a nice day. Watch your step. Be careful of stairs. Have a nice day.”

As you navigate the stress of an adult child’s estrangement, be forewarned: emotional distress can make you accident prone. So keep these cautions in mind: Watch what you’re doing.  Be careful. Keep yourself safe.

The ongoing stress and anxiety that plagues parents of estranged adults can have side effects. Are you losing sleep? Then you won’t be as alert to danger or as quick to react. Are you forever thinking of your estranged adult child? Preoccupation can put you at risk for injury. If you’re like many parents of estranged adults, feeling sad and lonely, and perhaps still in shock, you may also have dropped healthy exercise routines that aid physical coordination and balance. As a result, you may slip, trip, or fall into a series of mishaps that hurt.

In a study of more than 5,000 men reported on in the January, 2014 issue of Age & Ageing, stressful life events correlated significantly with increased falls. And the risk grew with the occurrence of additional stressful life events. In my book to help parents when an adult child is estranged, you can read about Rowena who is hit with a number of taxing life events at once (as are many of you). Using a method I call P-B-&-J, Rowena took control. She made a careful plan that prioritized tasks and got things done. Taking charge provided Rowena a sort of road map to face her challenges, and stay aware of her needs and actions. Whether you have many life stresses or estrangement alone has shaken your world, awareness of potential risk can help to protect you.

Adult child estranged? Then be careful.
Remain focused. Live one moment at a time.

adult child estrangedIn a 2010 workplace study, researchers found that ongoing emotional stress was particularly predictive of injuries.  An adult child’s estrangement, with all its uncertainties and dashed hopes, brings just that type of emotional distress.

Distraction over emotional issues leads to poor safety habits. Our minds may be divided, which means we’re less likely to notice a pool of water on the floor—and slip. As we cut carrots, or reach into the oven to retrieve a hot dish, our thoughts might be elsewhere—leading to cuts and burns. Exhausted emotionally, and perhaps even physically because of fitful sleep with vivid dreams, parents of estranged adult children may trip over a bump in the sidewalk we just don’t notice, or miss seeing the traffic light change to red.

Maybe you’re more forgetful, too, which can complicate matters, make life feel out of control, and increase stress. One mother of an estranged adult son went to the doctor to have her stitches from a careless kitchen accident removed. While there, she lost her car keys in the medical building. Distraught by the sudden mishap, she hurried back toward the doors, tripped over the curb and fell, breaking both wrists.

Mindfulness can help

The first chapter of Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children provides examples of mindfulness to help with negative thinking and move parents into a calmer, more helpful state of mind. The same principle of staying fully present in the moment, rather than letting thoughts drift into painful rumination about the past or uncertain speculation about the future can protect you from accidental injury, and help with forgetfulness too.

If you’re like many parents who confide they’re extra clumsy since the estrangement began, awareness is a good first step to taking better care of yourself. As you go about your day, remind yourself of what you’re doing, where you’re going, and to take extra care—just as that soft voice on the narrow stairway in that China Town shop reminds customers.

Remaining in the moment helps you see potential dangers. Fully absorbed in your current activity, you’re more likely to notice a rock in the hiking path or an upturned rug in the hall. You’ll be better prepared to react as well—to a car that pulls out in front of you, a stray ball that flies at you in the park, or to a kind friend’s story or joke.

Prune out extras

One of the strategies among those sprinkled throughout Done With The Crying, is something past clients have used to calm the chaos in their lives. In times of extra stress, it can help to see your life as a beautiful bouquet. You can’t keep adding flowers to an already full vase. Even the loveliest arrangement requires trimming some stems and removing some flowers as they fade. Take a look at your life bouquet. Where can you trim and simplify? By reducing your commitments, even by a little, you’ll have more time to focus. Hurrying from one commitment to the next and multitasking only make you scattered, and inhibit concentration. Do yourself a favor and prune a few non-necessities from your life. It’s a small step toward thriving in the midst of estrangement stress. You’ll have more time to pause between tasks as well. The time to take a deep breath, give yourself a pep talk, or remind yourself of any good in your life.

Support yourself physically

Earlier, I mentioned exercise for its helpful properties in terms of balance and coordination—two things that can help in preventing accidents. While it’s not wise to jump into a vigorous exercise regime that may only add stress, and increase risk of injury, gentle physical training can help. Like a gradually increasing walking routine. Or perhaps the Qui Gong title I recommend in my book.

Sleep is also important to keep you strong and alert. An upcoming article will include ideas for better rest for parents suffering distress when their adult child is estranged. Meanwhile, utilize the strategies in my book that resonate with you, and make a practice of being mindful in the moment.

In short, watch what you’re doing.  Be careful. Keep yourself safe.

Have you found yourself accident prone since the estrangement? Feel free to leave a comment.

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11 thoughts on “Is your adult child estranged? Be careful

  1. Donna

    My only child just retired from the Air Force. For most of his 20 years he and his wife lived in Europe and Alaska. Now that they live in the states I expected to be able to see him more often. The opposite happened and I am broken-hearted. I mistakenly warned him when I met her that she is an alcoholic, and he told her. She had two young sons by different fathers. He joined the Air Force shortly after they met and married 6 weeks later, after he finished boot camp. I was not invited to his boot camp graduation or his wedding.
    When I have visited, the atmosphere was always tense and I knew she didn’t want me there. When he visited me we always had a great, fun time.
    They bought a wonderful new home that I am not allowed to visit. They live in S. Carolina and I live in Missouri. I’ve followed them on FB and was satisfied with just knowing what they were up to. I said something nice about one of their posts and now I’m blocked.
    I lost my leg above my knee due to a botched knee replacement. I feel that my not having a leg bothers her, but I’m not sure. I have a pretty tough life with several health problems. I stay at home most of the time because it’s hard for me to go anywhere. I can’t lift my wheelchair out of the back of the car and I have elderly friends who can’t either. I’m 68 years old and very lonely.
    I was a single parent most of my son’s life and we used to be very close and used to laugh a lot. He basically went to college with me and was disappointed that we didn’t become rich right after I graduated. He was 12 years old. I’m still not rich and not materialistic. He is the opposite. They own 4 new cars and of course, their 4 bedroom home. He landed a very well paying job his first interview after retiring. I’m pretty sure that he will never be allowed to help me, even if it’s paying for a decent nursing home.
    Sorry this is so long but it could be a lot longer. I’m concerned about my well being. I feel as though I have no purpose in life. I was kept away from her sons and they didn’t have a child together – which is probably a good thing because I feel that she wouldn’t want me to be a Grandmother.
    I sleep too much and don’t eat enough. I’m inside the house 4-5 days at a time. I used to have a beautiful garden but I’m physically limited. I used to love riding my bike or walking, but that can’t happen.
    I’m old and minus a leg so I’m not attractive anymore. I think this is it. This is my life now and I’m very unhappy.

    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Donna,
      What you’re experiencing is what many feel: a lot of loss due to the estrangement, health, issues, limitations…. I applaud you for voicing it. Once you do that, yes, there is the stark reality, the pressing of facts … but then you can start to find ways to deal with it. Adapting becomes so vital as we move through our years. I know some others here will be helped by your genuine post. They can feel less alone.

      I am sorry for all you have faced. I see through your words here, a lovely person, and beautiful. I am so rooting for you as you move forward … even if it’s not in the way you always thought it would be.

      Look for alternatives that can be bright spots in life. When the weather becomes milder, look for opportunities to get out. Those ride-on carts look like an experience. Some town have free rides for seniors. Call your local centers, offices for aging, churches. Some places have calling services and their volunteers might know info. Zoom classes are fun.

      You have a knack for writing…. Maybe that’s something to explore.

      Hugs to you!

      Sheri McGregor

  2. Vanessa

    Since my son married his wife 16 years ago I have endured many nasty spiteful actions and put up with it all as not to cause conflict in their marriage. I’m a widow and don’t have any close friends to talk to. My daughter in law has achieved what she set out to do from the beginning, to take my son away. I have never interfered always been available. Helped them with anything and everything regardless of whether it was convenient. Now my son is vile to me. I will not contact him again. His 9 year old son told me I’m not part of his family only his granny and granddad that was Christmas Day.
    I’m 69 and health is not good. I think about him every day. His wife whom I warmly welcomed has changed my son. She has told him lies. I had high expectations of a loving family and now there’s nothing. I know my time is limited on this Earth as I had cancer and treatment was harsh. I no longer care about myself as my heart is broken. every waking moment I’m reminded of my loss. I long for sleep and not to wake. I’m clumsy at work and can’t concentrate . I cry everyday. Some days I can’t remember how I got to work. My mind is always in my son.
    Life has no meaning anymore. She took my son and grandson. Im tired of it all. As long as my son is happy then I’ll settle for that but I feel he is not. She told me on their wedding day ‘he’s mine now’. He has become her puppet. He has no friends now and turned his back on me. I pray each night he will survive and find happiness. Maybe one day he will think about me and feel ashamed of what he has done.

  3. Jenn

    My son forever changed when he met his wife 15 years ago. Since then my husband and I have been on a roller coaster of verbal abuse, hope, confrontations, hurt and despair. As of four months ago we have finally had enough. When I find myself missing him I remind myself that the son that we lost is not the son that we knew. I still love him but my heart is broken.

    I’ll never be the same, but your books and this community have been comforting. I’m trying to move forward with out him in my life.

  4. K. Miller

    I have been accident prone, scattered and not feeling well. It has been a very difficult time of estrangement from my only child. When he got married I was excited to finally have a daughter. I am writing this from a hospital bed in tehab from a stroke. Your article gives good advice. Take care of yourself…

  5. Christine

    Hello, I have found this community and Sheri’s book helpful already after just beginning to read it. I have not been accident prone, but I have been ill with colds and just not feeling well. I am afraid I may become depressed.

  6. louisa

    I am so sorry for your loss, Yosi. The accidents you describe are an accompaniment to your grieving. Your son has set up a barrier between you, his mother, and him; almost as if he was dead. Yes, you have to be careful, our bodies are numb when we lose a son, a daughter, and subconsciously, we set ourselves up in circumstances where we might feel some physical pain, to take away that agony of emotional pain in our souls. So, be careful, dear mother, and find ways to comfort yourself: discover God’s beauty around, in nature, flowers; an ‘understanding’ pet, a walk, calling a friend, journaling, … gratefullness.

    1. Yosi

      Thank you. It’s difficult. I am seeing a therapist now. she tells me I have to accept that he is gone. She told me I have done nothing wrong. He chose the path he follows. Also, the patterns he has demonstrated shows that his fathers DNA is strong. Yes. In many ways he is like his father who became estranged from us after he was born. So, in many ways it is another loss for me. It’s hard to accept that I will no longer have my son around and to start “living life” ; instead of dwelling on what I had or could have been. He was my only child. It’s difficult watching my siblings with their adult kids. The kids were “out there” in the world and did their thigs (many not legal). But, they are still here for their mother. I don’t get what I did wrong. I have to learn how to love myself. I thought my son was enough in my life. I never thought for a second about me. Now… I’m alone and have to learn not to feel so empty. I feel like I just “exist” and waiting for old age and death to stop it all. The funny part is that I’m wondering if I’ll just roam in the afterlife just waiting also.

    2. Yosi

      By the way, I do have a therapy dog and enjoy walks with her. I sold my huge home and downsized to an condo. I do miss my backyard gardening. I thought it was best to sell because the house was supposed to be for my son. I did hear from him when he found out I was selling. I gave him a huge part of the proceeds to get him back on his feet. Also, I wanted him to know that I would always be there for him. (Therapist said this was enabling behaviors.) We only texted for 6 months. I was never invited to his new apartment. His girlfriend (who is of a shady character) does not like me and manipulates him in many ways. (But that’s another story.) He always had an excuse. I’m guessing once the money was gone on his end – I was of no use anymore. The parent /child reconciliation only lasted 5 months. He started being belligerent and disrespectful again. I told him I will not tolerate being treated this way anymore and he told me that he was only back because “I owed him” (the inheritance) and he was doing me a favor. I haven’t heard from him since Dec 2021. I found out that he blocked my phone #, emails. So there is no more contact.

  7. Yosi

    Yes! It’s three years now that my son is estranged.
    I have had many “clumsy moments” following this. I recently put my foot in the bathtub and immediately slipped and hit my ribs and hip. The pain was unbearable. I had to contact a relative to come to the house and take me to the ER. Before this, injury to my hands and a car accident parking the car- Yes! Parking the car. I’m in my late 50s. This shouldn’t be happening. It has made me feel insecure on all levels. I know it’s the stress knowing I can’t communicate with my son. You think you are ok and boom! There is a trigger which reminds you of the situation you are in. What’s even worse is that he has threatened to get a restraining order if I contact him in any way. I felt broken for years. It’s getting better; but there are moments here and there.

    1. Yosi

      I also found out at the hospital that I have an enlarged aorta. I say all this is due to the stress I have had with him. i kept it all in and now I have this condition that has to be monitored.


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