Author Archives: rparents

About rparents

Sheri McGregor holds a Master's Degree in Human Behavior and is a life coach. She helps parents move beyond loss of estrangement through this website, and with her book,, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children (more: www.rejectedparents.net/book-for-parents-of-estranged-adult-children/ Currently, Sheri is not taking any individual coaching clients. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter--she has some projects in development you'll want to know about.

Parents of estranged adult children: Is it Groundhog day?

adult children's decisionsParents of estranged adult children: Is it Groundhog Day?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

In the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a self-centered weatherman assigned to the yearly event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He’s in for a surprise when the same day keeps repeating itself. That sort of rut is what this article is about.

In the throes of estrangement pain, we can become stuck, going through the same old motions, and hoping things will change. Even our thoughts may run on repeat, replaying traumatic memories like movie scenes, and bringing us to the same old looping refrain.

  • Why?
  • How can I make him change?
  • If only I had . . . . or hadn’t , , , X, Y, or Z (fill in the blank).

Unfortunately, as our thoughts cycle on repeat (without the rinse!), our behavior often follows, and we sink into a rut. At some point, we need to wake up and realize we have a life to live regardless of our adult children’s decisions to live without us. That doesn’t mean you must give up hope … but it does require a shift in attitude toward a better perspective.

Adult children’s decisions: A new day

As the tradition goes, the groundhog emerges from its hole and, depending on if it sees its shadow, winter continues or ends. The roots of the holiday can be traced to a variety of lore, as well as to different hibernators who emerge on this day that’s halfway between the winter solstice and spring. If the sun’s out, as the legend goes, the groundhog is scared by its shadow, prompting a retreat to darkness and heralding another six weeks of winter.

Can you relate? Many of us have spent numerous months or even years in a “winter” existence, hiding from the reality of our lives. We may have dreamed up fantasies that our estranged adult children will come around, that they will love us again, and that we’ll pick up where we left off. We may have believed others who told us this was just a phase and that our kids will wake up when they have their own children. We may have even told ourselves we can’t be happy until the relationships resume, that a good parent would never stop trying, or some other lore that keeps us stuck.

Time grows short, and most rejected parents do eventually realize they must take charge of their own happiness. As several books and song titles tell us, it’s an inside job. Yet, when they emerge after a long “winter” of distress, they can be as wary as a groundhog startled by its own shadow. Learning to live well again requires adjustment, which also takes time. My question: Why wait? Embrace your life now. What have you got to lose?

Adult children’s decisions: Face facts

I’m disheartened by some of the suggestions I’ve seen out there that keep parents of estranged adult children stuck. Even when parents are advised to reduce or entirely halt their efforts to reach out, it’s frequently intended as a tactic to prompt change in the estranged adult children—as in maybe they’ll miss you and come running. While that’s certainly a possibility, the idea keeps parents attached to an illusion of control.

The parents who read my blogposts and books are at varying stages of estrangement and its effects. Some are brand new to the disconnect. Others are years, and even decades, along. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all advice, but no matter where you fall on the estrangement continuum, the reality is that the only one you can control is yourself.

For parents who are in the early daze of estrangement, that lifesaving fact might be clouded by the belief that you must have done something wrong. Why else would your own child disown you? <—-you may think. There are plenty who jump on the “blame the parent” bandwagon, but that doesn’t mean they’re right. While none of us were perfect parents, most of us did our best. In both of my books, I help parents manage their shock over adult children’s decisions, see their emotions in a new light, and look at themselves with clear eyes unfettered by a loved one’s revisionist history or downright abuse (link to article).

As one parent recently said, “Your books are like programs, with specific steps and support that helped me move ahead at my own pace. Finally, I’m feeling free to live my life, and now, I’m looking forward to each new day.

Other parents who have made the decision to face facts and move forward for their own well-being have shared with me in recent emails:

  • “In your two books on estrangement, you spoke to me in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I totally related to you and your approach, and it felt like a cool glass of water on a very hot day. Thank you so much for that.” Elle, a psychologist, and an estranged mother
  • You and your books have helped me so much. I have trained my mind not to reflect on the negativity.” Korrie, mother of two estranged adult sons
  • Thank you for the article referencing stalking estranged adult child. I found comfort in this topic because I decided to stop following my daughter 6 months ago. It was too painful to see my grandchildren. Also, your books are very insightful. I am keeping hope but facing the reality of what happened. Moving forward to recover from loss is my personal journey.” Diane, mother of an estranged child and grandchildren
  • After your books and writing things out, I am so super excited for the future! I will always miss my girls…but I can’t go back. I tried my best and they were always my first and foremost. Now it’s time to go forward for me!” Suzanna, mother of two estranged adults

Changing yourself

Just as Murray in Groundhog Day made a shift in himself, parents can take hold of what’s within their power to change: themselves. That means first recognizing the need for change, and then digging out of old habits that keep you burrowed in distress. That’s true whether in your thinking or in what you do.

In Murray’s case, the shift included being more thoughtful of other people. Most of the parents reading this will need to be kinder to themselves. Some will also recognize that their sadness and preoccupation with the estranged one(s) requires the need to better appreciate the loyal ones in their lives.

Self-examination and commitment to positive change puts you on the pathway to self-care and fosters individual growth for your own well-being regardless of another adult’s choices. Whether there are clouds or sunshine, won’t you join the thousands of parents who have made the decision to nurture themselves and grow into a new way of life?

Take courage, face your shadow, and step toward a new season of your life. You can embrace your own brand of resilience and take charge of your well-being and your life. Your adult children’s decisions may have put you on this lonely road, but you can choose your route now. Make this your halfway point, the juncture where you make a turn, steer away from wintry sticking points of estrangement pain, and move toward spring.

Related reading

Solid growth can change you

Groundhog Day: History and facts

Are you “stalking” an estranged adult child?

stalking estranged adult childrenLurking parents:
Are you “stalking” an estranged adult child?

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

The last time divorced mother, Vanessa, reached out, her daughter, Lynn, replied with a string of cruel texts laced with profanity that sickened Vanessa. Lynn then blocked her. Three weeks passed before Vanessa could go half an hour without tearful rumination and worry. Something must be dreadfully wrong. Vanessa would want to help, yet Lynn had pushed her away—again.

Other than a few blips of hopeful contact that never failed to disintegrate, they’d been estranged for more than five years. Mentally and physically exhausted, Vanessa knew it was time to go with the flow. She began working in earnest to develop a satisfying new normal, and to regain her sense of humor, confidence, and joy. A year later, she was doing well. She had a new job she enjoyed, a couple of trusted friends, and had even begun to consider dating. Life looked good. Then a relative said he’d seen her daughter emerging from a church’s evangelizing van—and the cycle of longing, compulsion, and emotional distress began again.

Vanessa researched the church online and discovered they broadcast livestreams of every meeting. After seeing Lynn, dressed in a long skirt and high-neck sweater like the church sisters she hugged and sang hymns with, Vanessa hunched over the computer screen every Sunday, hoping to catch another glimpse. She’d found a window into her daughter’s life.

In hand with her daughter’s erratic pattern of high enthusiasm followed by waning interest or even sudden disdain, Vanessa wasn’t surprised when her daughter stopped showing up on screen. She must have quit attending. Still, for several weeks, Vanessa watched each meeting in full, and then stayed tuned for the laying on of hands afterward. No Lynn. On Wednesday and Friday nights, she watched the prayer meetings online, but still didn’t see her daughter.

Consumed with worry, Vanessa felt compelled to reach out. When she did, she was still blocked. The cycle of emotional distress gripped her again.

Monitoring your adult children: What’s your purpose?

Observing our children is nothing new. Most of us had regular prenatal checkups including ultrasound imagery to monitor our child’s development in utero. Later, we installed baby monitors, watched over our children on the playground, and oversaw school progress with report cards and teacher meetings. Those old parenting habits are difficult to shake … but when it comes to adult children who want little or nothing to do with us, do we have the right? Or does it boil down to parents stalking an estranged adult child? Maybe that depends on who you ask. But is monitoring them good for us? Or for them?

Many parents tell me they keep track of their adult children over social media, via an employer’s website, or in some other way. If you monitor your estranged adult child’s life from afar, consider this: The definition of “monitor” includes a purpose. A proctor for test takers, a security guard’s camera views to watch over a site, or a lifeguard’s function all include that element. Supervising children is a necessary part of parenting. But if your contact with an adult child is unwanted or non-existent, what’s your purpose?

Parents “stalking” an estranged adult child online:
Could there be surprise effects?

In science, there’s a concept called “the observer effect.” Quantum physics explains this at the subatomic level, where the movement of tiny particles is altered when observed. In psychology, this effect refers to people’s behavior changing when they are observed. Researchers seek to minimize the effect by using unobtrusive methods. What’s this have to do with monitoring your estranged adult children? In today’s world of internet cookies and algorithms, your observations may not be unobtrusive. Your estranged adult child’s online experience may be affected by yours.

Have you ever done a search for some product or need—and discovered that an advertisement shows up for that very thing the next few times you browse, even on unrelated websites? It can feel like you’re being stalked. Have you ever signed onto a social media platform and seen a friend recommendation for someone you don’t know? Chances are they’re connected to you in some way. Maybe a friend of a friend clicked on your picture when you liked a post. Or an inadvertent “like” of a shared meme shaped an algorithm and put you in a mutual categorical slot. Is it possible that our monitoring of an adult child’s social media puts us on their radar? Are we suggested as a “friend”? Do our internet pathways link us in ways that affect the ads they see, or who might be suggested to them? And if so, do they think of us in negative ways? (Mom must be stalking me again.)

I’ve seen threads on estranged adult children’s forums that talk about how they feel when parents “bother” them or they’re watched. Some ask for advice and get lots of me-too replies about parents they consider stalkers. They’re angry and view their parents as pitiful and weak. Some of the posters suggest changed behavior in response to being watched—the observer effect.

Monitor stress

Recently, a ten-year-old told me his classroom job as “test monitor” meant making sure everyone had a packet on test days—and he felt stressed. He always tried to hurry because the tests were limited on time. To beat the clock, students sometimes snatched a packet right out of his hand and immediately got started. Meanwhile, he couldn’t begin until he finished his job. Also, he confided, invariably, someone discovered a page missing, and it was on him to stop his own test taking, get that person another packet, and make things right.

The poor kid. He felt powerless. I suggested he talk to the teacher about his feelings, and he later told me he had. She apologized and changed the format so that everyone had a packet and checked for all pages before anyone started the test.

In this case, speaking up helped, but in monitoring … ahem … stalking an estranged adult children’s life from afar, identifying problems won’t come with that option.

Vanessa worried about her daughter’s mental health, but there was nothing she could do about it. Other parents see some changed behavior and guess about the cause. They become stressed but are powerless.

Instead of “stalking” an estranged adult child,
monitor yourself

Vanessa had worked hard to escape the tug of heartstrings toward a daughter who engaged abusively or not at all. Then her relative offered a tidbit of information, propelling her back into a cycle of hurt. Even the most well-meaning relatives sometimes can trigger emotional longing or worries that tug our heartstrings and halt our progress.

This and other family tug-o-wars are covered more in depth in Beyond Done, and I hope you’ll read that book. For now, if you’re triggered somehow or feel compelled to monitor your adult child, the first step for self-care is recognition. Be aware of your feelings and make sound decisions rather than act on impulse or emotion. We hear a lot about boundaries, mostly as they relate to other people. But boundaries are good to impose upon ourselves as well. Vanessa could have recognized her compulsion when she sat down to look up the church. She could have drawn a line in the sand toward her own behavior. She could have shut her laptop and walked away.

The simple act of observing yourself—your thinking, your actions, your feelings—can affect your life. Make the observer effect work for you.

“Stalking” an estranged adult child: Are you hurting yourself?

Are you monitoring your estranged adult child? Reflect. Does the behavior help or hurt you? Rather than putting front and center something (or someone) that makes you feel powerless and reminds you of hurt, focus on your own life and where you can make positive change for your own contentment. I hope you’ll share your thoughts by leaving a comment on this article. Interacting with other parents of estranged adult children provides insight and support as you monitor your responses to estrangement, become more aware, and grow.

Related reading

What is the observer effect in quantum mechanics?

What is the observer effect in psychology?

What about quantum physics observer effect?

Estrangement: Prince Harry. Meghan Markle

Prince Harry Meghan MarklePrince Harry, Meghan Markle, estrangement

Prince Harry. Meghan Markle. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Since the start of their issues with the royal family, parents of estranged adults have been writing to me about the couple, sharing their opinions, and wondering what I think. Can you blame them? The whole world has watched as the famous couple went from a fairy-tale romance to setting fire and steadily burning the family bridge.

In the emails I’ve received, some use the term “narcissist” for Markle and say that Harry is misguided and weak. Occasionally, someone throws in with their allegations of racism. Despite the obvious connection between this site’s focus and the topic of my books—estrangement between parents and adult children—I have resisted weighing in.

One reason for my hesitation to talk about the couple is my own probable bias. When the Oprah interview aired and the public buzz over their discord heated to a frenzy, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Phillip wasn’t well. I believe he was in the hospital, even, and I wondered how they must have felt, aging monarchs, already ensconced in a time of stress. Couldn’t the interview wait?

As I write about in my books, I frequently hear from parents whose adult children chose their most vulnerable times to attack and abandon them. When recovering from surgery, when a spouse or other family member dies, after a serious health diagnosis … or when some other devastating news come to light. It’s selfish, heartless, and cruel.

I haven’t followed the royal family all that closely, but history reveals Harry as a bit on the wild side, a partier, a soldier, and perhaps depressed. Markle was unknown to me (and perhaps much of the world) until she coupled with Prince Harry, the “spare.” Also, from what I saw of the stories circulated about the family with whom Markle is estranged, the coverage didn’t do them any favors. Parents of estranged adult children get enough negative judgment. No sense spotlighting what, from all the articles and interviews I happened to glimpse, looked like dysfunction. To be honest, I never read any of those reports through … but I didn’t want to give the newly minted Duchess any steam, against her own folks nor her in-laws.

However, at this point, one wonders:

  • How far will Prince Harry and Meghan Markle go to portray themselves as victims—while living a life of grandeur?
  • How can they reconcile expressing a need to escape the spotlight while continually directing everyone to look at them?
  • What are they hoping to achieve?

Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, estrangement from the royal family:
What do you think?

I don’t have Netflix, didn’t watch the Oprah interview, and don’t plan to read the new memoir by Prince Harry, Spare. Have you followed this debacle? Many of you have urged me to open a discussion here. So, what do you think?

Many parents of estranged adults suffer disparaging remarks on social media at the hands of their disgruntled offspring, much like the royal family has. Until now, the royals have kept to the late Queen’s “never complain, never explain” ideal. Should they address the accusations leveled at them or continue to remain quiet? Should you?

What about the children involved? Some of my relationships with cousins have just been the best! How are they affected, in your family and within the royal one? What about other familial bonds?

Feel free to leave a comment, first name only, and share your thoughts. Compare your situations with that of the royal family, argue for, against, or around the behavior, and discuss with others how you feel. I trust that you will be civil and kind, but your passion is welcome. When possible, support your assertions with history or news links (but be patient … I try to review all links before posting, which does take time).

Hugs to all,

Sheri McGregor

Related reading

A Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II

Behind the Crown My Life Photographing the Royal Family

Letters to estranged adult children

letters to estranged adult childrenAsk Sheri McGregor: Letters to estranged adult children

I routinely hear from parents asking if I have sample letters to adult children, showing them what to say. They hope their words will motivate a reconciliation. With so many “experts” out there recommending amends letters to estranged adult children and telling parents what to do or say to get results, it’s no wonder so many parents believe that if they can say just the right thing, their children will respond as desired. I have written extensively about this subject in my books to help parents of estranged adults. Here, I’ll share one email from parents whose situation may be useful for others. We cover their question about what to say—and more.

Ask Sheri McGregor–Letters to estranged adult children:
What words will motivate reconciliation?

Q: Hi Sheri. Our 29-year-old son who does not live with my husband and I anymore, has mental issues including depression, anxiety and a mood disorder. He is currently in therapy and is taking medication. He also smokes marijuana and has been doing this for at least 10 years. 

 Six months ago, shortly after he moved out, he blocked us on his phone, and he did not reply to our text messages. He stopped speaking to us and would not reply to our emails. He only speaks through my parents, and only if absolutely necessary. He gets mad if we reach out or try to reconcile directly or through someone else. We hear from my parents that he wants to reconcile but he is not ready nor is he ready to apologize.

Is there anything we can do to get him to contact us sooner rather than later or do we have to wait for him to contact us when he is ready? We are sending an e-card to him on his birthday soon. Is there a good message to write in it to encourage him to call us? 

 As background, we were not getting along before the estrangement, and he was verbally abusive to us. During this estrangement, we have spoken only a couple of times, but it was not positive. He has been verbally abusive, talked behind our back and lied or exaggerated regarding our relationship and the facts. For six months, we have been hurt, angry and frustrated, but we understand it may be part of his mental illness or he is just taking it out on us that his life is bad right now. It is also hard to wait, but we will if we need to.

Is there anything we can do or do we wait? We are in therapy to learn how to better get along with him when he does come back. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this and we appreciate your response.

Bernice and Hal

Answer from Sheri McGregor

A: You know what, Bernice and Hal? You can just love him. You can say Happy Birthday and you can say you hope he’s doing well. You can even say you’d love to see or him, and if it’s true and fits, you could tell him that, in looking back, you regret your words or actions. (I add this because you said you weren’t getting along earlier.) However, to be absolutely honest, my guess is that he will do what he wants to do when he’s ready. If he is ever ready.

You asked if you “have” to just wait, etc. My feelings are that you don’t “have” to do anything. Having said that, though, trying to force him to speak to you isn’t likely to get a different result than you have already seen. Also, when sending letters to estranged adult children there are no magic, “just right” words to motivate your desired outcome (no matter who might say so). That’s his call. There are, however, things you can say that will perhaps push him away—and you likely know what they are. You mentioned your folks saying he’s not ready to apologize, for example. If you’re demanding an apology, mentioning that (again) might further enrage him.

You mentioned your son’s mental health issues. Anyone who has dealt with mental illness knows that those terms and diagnoses can’t begin to convey the actual situation, so I can’t fully know what all you have  been through. Let me just say that, when given agency in their own lives, and the responsibility for their lives, relationships, and behavior, even people with mental illness often make better choices. Is it possible that your son doesn’t need to do that? It may be true, if everyone tiptoes around him. I talk about this more in Beyond Done With The Crying: More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children.  Only you know how far you have bent toward enabling him or excusing his behavior, but you did mention his verbal abuse. My feeling is that abuse is not acceptable under any circumstances, and if it happens again, you might calmly say so and disengage from the conversation.

You also mentioned his long-term marijuana use. This will not enhance and may even interfere with any medication he’s taking. Nor will it help him think clearly toward his own progress. Unfortunately, in today’s cannabis friendly society, not all mental health clinicians are well informed.

Regarding the fact that you two are in therapy to learn how to better communicate with your son, that’s a wise move. Adult children with mental illness are sometimes manipulative or nonsensical, and patterns may have developed between you. Years of drain-circling conversations that make no sense can foster unhealthy communication habits. You are wise to educate yourselves in ways to break free from unhealthy patterns, learn to better recognize and manage your emotional responses in conversations with him, and avoid falling into argumentative traps that go nowhere and can escalate.

Finally, and I hope this doesn’t sound harsh, your note sounds a bit like your lives are all about your son—and perhaps have been for a very long time (even your therapy). While I understand the love and concern for his well-being, I hope that you will consider … just consider … living for yourselves more.

Rather than waiting around, consulting with your parents about him and worrying over your every word or action, how about forgetting about him a bit? How about enjoying a vacation together, or even just a weekend where you purposely avoid making him part of your conversation? How about trying something new—for the holidays and even beyond? How about letting him be an adult who will need to learn to navigate his challenges (even if he is mentally ill)? Small steps … letting go emotionally … might be helpful to all involved.

I know that this has all been heartbreaking and I fully understand your worry and hope for positive change. Believe me, I know. That’s your precious son! The thing is, you can let an adult child consume you—your time, your energy, your very life—or you can create boundaries for your own well-being and integrity (even interior boundaries in your thinking).

If, as your parents have said, your son does want to reconcile, taking care of yourselves now will prepare you. That’s every bit as important as learning to better communicate with your son. In any reconciliation, you will need to be strong and know how to take care of yourselves—because no one else will.

Sometimes, mental illnesses include elements of manipulative behavior as well as illogical thinking. So does addiction. While it is wise to learn how to better communicate and prepare for future contact, I hope you are working at your own wellness and future, too. You count. Parents can be supportive but cannot force adults to recognize that our support is needed by or right for them. Learn to care well for yourselves now, during this break.

As an aside, when other family members act as the go-between as you indicate your parents do, my alarm bells begin to ring. Sometimes, ulterior motives exist, or the situation is part of a bigger dysfunctional dynamic. I don’t know your details, so these thoughts may not be relevant for you, but grandparents may be eager to appease grandchildren. Their affection and love may follow a long history in their non-disciplinary roles with grandchildren. The old cliché of spoiling the grandchildren—and then giving them back to their parents—is at least rooted in truth sometimes.

Consider also whether the grandparents, in their advancing age, fully comprehend the situation. They may have found themselves in the middle, wanting to please everyone and trying to help. Too often, the peace of vulnerable older folks’ is highjacked by angry adults who are embroiled in family disputes and self-serving pursuits. This is true for grandparents and parents—who are getting older too. In Beyond Done, I cover more about the complexities of extended family as well as stress as we age and how we don’t recover so easily.

You may want to discuss your parents’ involvement in the situation with your therapist. With more complete details and your existing therapeutic relationship, he or she is can better assess your situation, and perhaps guide you and your folks to mitigate stress and attend to your own well-being,

I hope this helps a little.

Hugs to you, Bernice and Hal.

Sheri McGregor

Related Reading

Parents wonder: Does my estranged adult child have mental illness?

An adult daughter’s criticizing: When the child holds onto offenses

Angry adult children: Could Marijuana use be a part of the problem?

 

 

When estranged adult children call, parents ask: Are my feelings normal?

When estranged adult children call

When estranged adult children call: Your feelings

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

When estranged adult children call after a long period of no contact, parents often find themselves plagued with mixed emotions. They may feel guarded yet hopeful. They may consider the years that have passed in silence, the times they’ve reached out and been ignored, or remember past hurt the child inflicted. Depending on circumstances, parents may have worked hard to move forward for themselves, progressed diligently in their own growth and well-being, and not quite trust the child’s sudden outreach. Parents may look back on how many times they have been sucked into believing the best, only to have the rug pulled out from beneath them, and feel like fools. They worry they’ll be hurt all over again when they’ve worked so hard to shake the pain. When estranged adult children call, parents may even find themselves wishing they’d have stayed away. Then they feel guilty for it.

I’ve written extensively about managing these scenarios in Beyond Done With The Crying, and I hope you’ll get that book to help you navigate the sticky emotions, extended family situations, and more complex circumstances that go with estrangement. Here, I’ve shared a recent email exchange that exemplifies the feelings many parents have when estranged adult children call.

Question from Maya: Dear Sheri, Sorry for writing like this.  Until yesterday, the last thing my son ever said to me was, “I don’t want to know when you die.” That was three years ago. Then last evening, on my birthday, my son called. In a chipper voice, he just wished me a happy birthday and told me about how happy he is with a new relationship and his business.  Of course, I was surprised and pleased to hear from him! But now, I am left with this really uncomfortable feeling.  As if I am all opened up and vulnerable…I don’t know how I should feel. It has been three years of anguish, and now, I feel disconnected. During the call, it was like we used to talk many years ago, but now I’m confused and fearful. Do other people feel like this?  I don’t like this feeling of being….in shock?….is everything supposed to be okay now? I never expected to feel this way, like I’ve been punched in the gut, only that’s not even it, really, I don’t know how to describe it. I am not in control of my feelings now.

Thank you for all you do and for reading this.

Maya B.

Answer from Sheri McGregor: Oh, Maya, I’m sorry you’re feeling this way. But gosh, no. You are not unusual at all in this. When estranged adult children call suddenly, parents can be confused and torn.

To repeat what you said, your son hasn’t spoken to you in three years. The last thing he said to you was that he didn’t want to know when you died. My guess is that this last thing he said was not the only mean thing he ever said to you. My sense is there were many other mean instances. Maybe there were even mean acts. I don’t know your entire story, but if you reflect upon this, I believe you will see that your reaction and feelings are completely rational. Yes, you have accepted the call with gladness, and you talked with him like everything was normal. Except, you know it’s not. And you don’t trust him.

Very often, I hear from parents who ignore this feeling of being vulnerable, of wondering if they’ve opened themselves up for more hurt. Many quash that little voice that provides them caution. They instead jump on and ride a big wave of joy and celebration: He’s returned! He loves me! Things are back to normal! And … some do make it. They must.

I don’t often hear from those ones though. I hear the other story instead. That it all goes to hell in a hand basket when the previously estranged adult children call a few days later with a request (money, a place to stay, some other type of help). And then the parent thinks, great, I was just being used. Sometimes, the parent still ignores that voice, and goes along to get along because this is … their child.  He or she needs help, and a “good” parent (they tell themselves) does help.

I also hear from ones who open their hearts and homes and then are hurt in worse ways. I won’t go down the rabbit holes of those situations here, because problems like theft, fraudulent use of credit cards or identity, financial extortion and ruin, and physical abuse. may not be relevant to your situation at all. And if they are, you probably recognize your inner wisdom, likely based on history, warning you.

I completely understand what this is like, and the hope of it. You have loved your son. Because you are a kind parent, you are willing to forgive and maybe even forget. You always thought you would be close to your kid and have a loving, friendly relationship. Sometimes parents must try because they feel they can’t live with themselves if they close the door. And these are all typical responses, even though a son’s words that he doesn’t want to know when his parent dies is not normal (or nice) at all.

It would not be right for me to tell you what to do, or predict that it will all go bad or all go good. My suggestion is to tread lightly, and consider the facts. He called as if nothing happened, as if he never hurt you, as if you just talked yesterday. Would you ever do that to someone you love? To your parent? I sincerely hope that he has changed. I also hope that you will be extra sensitive to your own needs. You count, too, and no doubt, the three years have been pure hell for you. (Maybe even years prior to the estrangement also were.)

HUGS to you, Sheri McGregor

Maya followed up with this email:

Thank you, Sheri.  This is a tremendous help to me.  This is a rational approach that I don’t seem to get to on my own with my fluctuating emotions.  I shall reread this many times to ground myself in reason.  The service you offer parents like me is a Godsend.  Thank you again.

Maya

To which I replied:

You’re welcome, Maya.
It’s possible your son wants a genuine connection and doesn’t quite know how. If you do stay “grounded in reason,” then you can be a quiet strength that may help him to get to that place. If his intentions were/are something else, then you will not have lost yourself so deeply into the emotional mire.

In time, the situation is likely to better reveal itself. Meanwhile, go on and enjoy your life as best you can.

HUGS to you!

When estranged adult children call: More thoughts

For the record, I am not against parents being parents when estranged adult children call. Those feelings of wanting the connection and love are understood. I hope for Maya’s sake that her son is sincere and that he will nurture a healthy relationship with her. In time, maybe they can get to a comfortable point, whether that becomes a polite, cordial relationship or one that’s much more connected. But, it is always wise to listen to your inner voice.

When estranged adult children call, if you become troubled and worried, examine your response. Write down your reservations and doubts. If you’re instantly elated, consider that feeling as well. Are their “should” type thoughts that come up? Do you have feelings or thoughts that you judge yourself negatively about (as in “This isn’t how a parent “should” feel.)? Take the time and energy to fully understand how you respond to the outreach.

To consider whether feelings are grounded in sound reasoning, as Maya so aptly said, allows parents to be strong for their own well-being (and not just, or even mostly, for their adult child’s).

Hugs to all the parents traveling this unexpected journey.

Sheri McGregor

Related reading

Adult children who reject parents: Why do they make contact now?

Trying to connect with estranged adult kids? Solid growth can change you

Estrangement from adult children: What about hope?

When adult children aren’t speaking to parents: Eating alone

when adult children aren't speaking to parents

Eating alone: When adult children aren’t speaking to parents

By Sheri McGregor

When adult children aren’t speaking to parents, holidays can be especially painful, partly because of lost mealtime traditions. Recently, several parents have told me they will be eating alone. Most aren’t looking forward to the experience, yet they’re planning ways to make the best of their solitary dining experience.

These parents’ plans remind me of a poem called Table For One. I can’t remember the exact words or who wrote it, but I do remember the care with which the loner served himself. The specific lines escape me, but the feeling remains, the way it moved me to see another way of daily life that, at the time, was so foreign to me.

Wanting to share the self-care embedded in that haunting poem, I searched for the poem but found only others by the same and similar titles. I also found lots of talk about eating by oneself—most of it telling people we shouldn’t. That’s not so helpful when adult children aren’t speaking to parents, which sometimes creates other family divisions. But eating alone isn’t all negative news. Dining solo, whether for the holidays or every day, has its positive points.

When adult children aren’t speaking to parents: Eating your way

Many parents tell me they’ve come to value the quieter holiday times. They may cook a full-on meal for themselves, enjoying the traditional recipes they love and leaving out the ones they don’t. Dominique, a widow with one daughter who is estranged, says, “I don’t miss having to make her favorites.” With a laugh, she adds, “I don’t miss the big cleanup while she sat on her tuchus either.”

Barbara has come to enjoy her right to choose the menu, too. She plans to cook a turkey breast in her crock pot this year, adding sweet potatoes right in with the bird. “It’s what I want and it’s healthy,” she explains. She’ll toss a green salad and also enjoy dessert—but keep the splurge sensible. “I sliced and froze a pumpkin cheesecake. I’ll thaw a piece and save the rest for special treats.” Her plan is a far cry from the over-stuffing that’s so often a part of family gatherings. Eating alone allows for better portion control, some studies report. And when you’re the chef, pushing away from the table doesn’t disappoint the cook.

Eating alone: The adventure

When adult children aren’t talking to parents, eating alone can become routine. For some, throwing something on a paper plate and nuking it in the microwave, eating fast food, or munching while watching TV can become the norm. But mindless eating is associated with cardiovascular disease and weight gain. Avoid that by making solo meals self-care. Some parents tell me they light candles, set the table up nice, and drink from a crystal glass. They know that eating—alone or in groups—is one of life’s pleasures.

Whether you use cloth napkins or paper ones, mindful eating (link) helps you savor your food. Eating can be such a rich experience when we consider textures, flavors, and how different foods make us feel. Lately, my favorite breakfast is organic oatmeal with a sliced banana and a dollop of plain yogurt. Sometimes, I’ll add a handful of blackberries, raisins, or sprinkle cinnamon over top. With the right attitude, food is like medicine—only fun.

Eating alone: Sad or stimulating?

One mother of three estranged sons says she’s spent holidays in restaurants by herself in the past. “I didn’t enjoy those meals,” she says of the awkward feeling of sitting alone with her gaze lowered in shame while, all around her, families made merry. This year, having finally admitted the truth of her sons’ brutality toward her, she says, “I’m done.” No more hoping, wishing, and chasing. This life is hers to live.

She reserved a table for one at a nearby Inn and plans to go with an open mind. By holding her head high, maybe she’ll notice others who are on their own, and therefore feel less alone. The odds are she will see others who have ventured out alone. In 2020, one in nine Americans spent the holiday season all by themselves. If nothing else, without the distraction of eating companions, she can share a few words with and brighten the plight of the server—who will be spending the holiday at work.

Another woman, whose two daughters want nothing to do with her, will dine at a farm-to-table restaurant she has been wanting to try. The restaurant, which serves local and in-season foods, is owned by a local couple whose son is a culinary genius. They made a point of advertising to solo eaters for the holidays. “They have family style tables with benches,” she says. “Along with the award-winning food, I’m looking forward to seeing who they seat me with.” Never mind that the chef went to high school with her daughters. “If he or his folks recognize me, I’ll tell the truth about why I’m alone,” she says. “It’s been almost six years, and I’m tired of covering up for abusers, even if they are my flesh and blood.”

In my books, I help parents to recognize and leverage their unique brand of resilience, partly derived from their own history, for the issues that crop up in estrangement.  DeeDee, a retired military officer who now has two adopted children who are estranged, provides a good example. In her career, she spent many holidays by herself. Although usually invited into others’ homes, she says, “It often felt better to be alone than in someone else’s crowd.” DeeDee recalls the year she was stationed on the island of Guam as most memorable. “I bought a plane ticket and flew to Saipan for the weekend.” Once there, she rented a car and drove all over the island exploring the WWII sites. After a long and interesting day, she ate a solo Thanksgiving dinner at the hotel. She says, “It’s all about mindset.”

Before the pandemic, one father who’s estranged from his two sons took a steamboat dinner cruise each Thanksgiving. He says he was always surprised to see other lonely ones. After two years off, he’s looking forward to this year’s event. “Mostly, the singles like me all eat while looking at our tablets and phones,” he says. “We’re alone but we’re also together.” This year, he plans to try striking up some conversations. “The pandemic lockdowns taught me how important face-to-face small talk really is. I’m rusty like so many people are, but we can’t spend the time we have left isolated and living in fear.”

Eating together, even alone, all around the globe

In my work with estranged parents and through this site, I count myself blessed to hear from lovely people all around the world. Some have exchanged friendly emails with me from time to time over the years, and food is frequently a way to connect. One woman living in Japan sends me gorgeous photos of interesting and appetizing foods, served on colorful dinnerware at her table set beautifully for one. Another mom shares YouTube videos where cooks demonstrate making easy, healthful foods. One woman writes me from her cozy home in the countryside, telling me about her simple, yummy creations: whole grain toast drizzled with honey, toasted, slivered almonds atop creamy bananas, or organic, ready-made soups.

We all have to eat, and some of us alone. Let’s share ways we enjoy meals, even when we’re on our own. Leave a comment to this article about where you’ll go or what you’ll cook. How do you make eating enjoyable? Healthy? Fun?

As an alternative, find a poem, essay, or other creative work that relates to solo dining. Provide the link, and share what you liked about it, how you can relate, or why the words, art, music, or other creative work moves you. I’ll start: Like the father mentioned earlier, many people learned to eat alone because of the pandemic. Some people hunched over a door-dashed meal or smeared peanut butter on bread and called it a day. Others learned new recipes in cooking classes delivered via Zoom to people from far flung regions. In this essay, called “Food for Thought,” the writer savored not only her food but her memories, which touched me in their honesty, innocence, and joy. (I especially liked the part from childhood and the Seder.)

When adult children aren’t speaking to parents, they tear a ragged hole in traditions that once brought the family close. We can come up with new ideas, and I am always thankful for your comments. Your innovative perspectives and caring can help another parent to feel less alone. Bon appetit.

Related Reading

For parents of estranged adults: Can Thanksgiving be a time of harvest?

Thanksgiving for hurting parents

Eight steps to mindful eating

The amount eaten in meals is a power function in humans of the number of people present

Spontaneous meal patterns of humans: influence of the presence of other people

 

Angry adult children: Could Marijuana use be a part of the problem?

angry adult children

Image by ELG21 from Pixabay

Angry adult children:  Is marijuana a part of the problem?

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

 

Ever since I began this website in late 2013, lots of parents have mentioned alcohol as a contributing factor in estrangement. No surprise there. Abuse of alcohol has long been known to hamper relationships, impair judgment, and contribute to violence. 1, 2 Recently, however, more parents are mentioning cannabis use in connection with estrangement and, in particular, related to angry adult children. They wonder: Is marijuana use causing the anger problem?

In today’s positive social climate for marijuana legalization and use, any reporting about its potential ill-effects can get buried behind the “medicinal” hype. It isn’t my intent to make a case against marijuana, frighten parents, or turn their cannabis-using adult children into enemies, but knowledge empowers people to make informed decisions, educate others, and keep themselves safe. So, I’ve included some eye-opening facts and correlations. Parents who need this information may gain some insight into angry adult children’s behavior.

Marijuana: It’s all good, right?

Some who came of age in the 1960s and ’70s may remember marijuana as part of good times, a chill attitude, and a laid-back lifestyle. This attitude was reflected in a recent discussion I had with some writer friends. One had planned a trip to Colorado after many years, so I mentioned the increased collisions 3 and fatal car accidents 4 that occurred there after marijuana’s legalization.

Several years ago, soon after the Colorado law change, I made a day trip from bordering New Mexico. Just across the state line, there were many stores with the green cross signifying cannabis sales. Now, those signs are familiar in many states, but that day, I’d had to ask—and was surprised to learn they were marijuana dispensaries.

While driving back on the narrow roads out of Colorado that afternoon, we saw many pulled over by law enforcement. Much later, I read about the increased vehicle accidents and fatalities that correlated with marijuana legalization. But in talking with my writer friends, an older one joked, “More accidents? Don’t the dopers all drive slowly?”

Among those who used “weed” once upon a time, the presumption isn’t unusual. But when it comes to marijuana, how it’s used, the THC levels, and its effects, today’s cannabis is nothing like yesterday’s marijuana. Even the terminology is different. Marijuana refers to the products made from the plant’s dried leaves, flowers, and seeds. The trendier term, cannabis, generally includes all sorts of products made from marijuana and its derived chemicals. You’ll find other definitions online, but in general, cannabis and marijuana are used interchangeably.

The rise of THC

Prior to the 1990s, the amount of THC, the psychoactive compound within marijuana, was typically less than 2%. Since then, the cannabis industry developed new strains with much higher concentrations. Research from 2017 that analyzed cannabis products readily available in Colorado dispensaries found THC levels between 17% and 28%. This included edibles, as well as products to be smoked or vaped. 5

Now, even those levels seem low. A plethora of additional products have flooded the market, some containing 95% THC. 5 That’s a huge change from the marijuana that was likely used by celebrity stoners Cheech & Chong whose 1978 movie, Up In Smoke, depicted the slow driving my writer friend joked about. Higher THC doesn’t produce marijuana’s famous mellow mood. Instead, high potency can cause anxiety, panic attacks, and psychosis. Also, rather than being an anti-nausea agent, which is how it’s often thought of in medicinal marijuana circles, high THC levels create the opposite effect: excessive vomiting. 6

One good thing about the legalized availability of marijuana is the increased ability to research its effects. Marijuana use has deleterious effects, both physically and mentally. Adolescent users are particularly vulnerable to addiction because of the way the brain develops. In turn, addiction puts them at even higher risk for associated problems, at a time of life when they may be most likely to experiment. Problems include lower academic grades, impaired cognition, and lower IQ. 5

Marijuana use and violence

Marijuana use is associated with violence. In fact, many of the mass murders and other violence seen in recent years were committed by heavy users. That includes the Boston Marathon bombers, who killed three and injured 250 (2013), the New York Times Square driver who plowed into the crowd, hurting 22 people (2017), the young man who shot and killed 6 people and injured 14 others at a Tucson event for then-U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (2011), and the high school shooter in Parkland, Florida, who killed 17 students and staff (2018). 7

Many heavy marijuana users implicated in violent crimes also suffered from paranoia and psychotic delusions. Some will dismiss the idea that marijuana is the cause, saying instead that its use is bad only for those with existing mental illness. However, changes in personality correlate with the onset of marijuana use. Also, at this point, that marijuana-induced paranoia and marijuana-induced psychosis exist is well known. 7

Angry adult children and you

I frequently hear from parents who report sons’ or daughters’ aggression or angry outbursts. Many of these parents and adult children have periods of reconciliation that disintegrate when angry adult children become increasingly verbally abusive, sometimes suddenly. Some parents even report physical violence, either to them personally, to the parent’s belongings, or even to an innocent and much-loved pet. These parents often tell me they know the adult child uses marijuana. Or, that they’ve stopped using … or started using again. They wonder if cannabis is part of the problem.

In fact, studies are finding correlations between marijuana use and aggression. Changes to the brain that relate to aggression and impulse control have been found in users. However, research that finds a correlation between one thing and another doesn’t automatically equate to a causal relationship. Other factors can confound research including questions about whether people who are more prone to aggression might also be more prone to use marijuana. Which is the chicken? The egg? 8, 9, 10 The research files are growing, so clearer answers are on the way. Impulsivity and feelings of hostility have been reported by marijuana users independent of any alcohol use, for instance. 11

Self-medicating with cannabis

People who are known to have a mental illness do, frequently, choose to “self-medicate” with drugs, alcohol, or both. With its easy availability and positive social acceptance in many areas, cannabis is very frequently the substance of choice. Withdrawal (yes, marijuana can be addicting 12) is also associated with anger and aggression, which interfere with the ability to nurture important relationships, such as those with their parents or other family members.

What do you think?

If you’ve noticed aggressive behavior or suffered any sort of abuse by angry adult children, consider whether marijuana use may be a factor. The perception of marijuana as a medical aid and access to over-the-counter CBD products in mainstream stores have blurred the lines between a THC-rich drug and low-THC creams, oils, and capsules touted as effective pain relief. That may contribute to it being viewed as safe and increase its use. The reality is that there are no truly THC-free products, even if the label says so  … but that’s a topic for another day.

What do you think? Is marijuana use a factor in your relationships with adult children? If your answer is “yes,” change in their behavior is their responsibility. It’s the same as with alcohol dependence or addiction to any substance. You can, however, recognize a problem, and use that knowledge to intervene for and protect yourself.

Here, we’ve just scratched the surface of this big topic. I hope you will read some of the links included below, do your own research into credible studies and research (there are many), form your own opinions, and share your thoughts in a comment to this article. By sharing your experiences and insights, you can provide information and help another parent know they are not alone.

Related Reading/Sources

  1. How alcohol affects relationships
  2. The link between violence and alcohol use
  3. Study: Colorado sees claim rates increase after legalization of marijuana
  4. Colorado traffic deaths up 75 per year since pot legalization, study says
  5. The problem with the current high potency marijuana from the perspective of an addiction psychiatrist
  6. Highly potent weed has swept the market, raising concerns about health risks
  7. A review of cases of marijuana and violence
  8. Marijuana use causes 7 fold increased risk of violent behavior
  9. Marijuana and anger: Can weed make you angry?
  10. Marijuana use may increase violent behavior
  11. Effects of marijuana use on impulsivity and hostility in daily life
  12. Is marijuana addictive?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

disappointing relationships with adult children

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

by Sheri McGregor

In my area, the leaves are just starting to flutter softly from the trees. Oak acorns and the tiny feet of red fox squirrels pitter-patter on the roof. It’s autumn, a time of letting go and preparing for what’s ahead. These activities are a perfect fit for parents anguished by disappointing relationships with adult children.

Autumn always reminds me of family outings and trips when my children were growing up. After the busy summer, when everyone’s traveling, we went to theme parks in the off-season of fall.

I’m not big on thrill rides. I was often the one waiting in line with my loved ones, not wanting to drag down their fun, yet sometimes exiting through the last possible turnstile out. Over the years, I’ve measured fun versus fright and climbed aboard a few. As I strapped in, my neck muscles cramped and my heartbeat pounded in my ears. The ride jolted forward, and I wondered how the people around me could laugh with expectant delight all the way up the clackety tracks to the peak. Meanwhile, my whole body was tensing with fear.

The last thing I’d see before squeezing my eyes shut were excited riders raising their hands high with glee. Then whoosh! Down we’d go, me gripping the bar so tightly my hands would hurt. Finally, with the final splash and the sound of jaunty music ushering the log or car to a sudden stop, I’d open my eyes and smile—glad to get off but often faced with another decision—my companions wanted to go again.

Life can be similar when it comes to disappointing relationships with adult children. We tire of the ups and downs but feel compelled to try again, to get back on the emotional ride.

 How will you wait?

Every roller coaster includes a line and a final chance to change your mind. Knowing there was a possible out ahead, I learned to enjoy the wait. I used the time to joke around with my companions, relish the excitement of kids eager to get on board the ride ahead, and witness the joy of families when they disembarked and ran to find their picture at the photo booth. Or, just savor a much-needed caffeinated drink. The wait is the same when it comes to disappointing relationships with adult children. We can choose to spend our time torn and distressed, or we can seek out people and activities to savor, finding the good in our lives and experiences.

Disappointing relationships with adult children: You can choose

At the crest of every coaster, there’s a moment of no return. Over the years, I’ve learned that lifting my arms high helps me fare better or even enjoy the descent. Rather than holding on so tightly that my knuckles bruise and my muscles ache for days, I can bounce along in my seat, even keeping my eyes open to see the end getting closer.

All riders have experienced the instant of descent when our gut hesitates. We don’t have a choice about that, but we can borrow from the experience and learn. We can grip so tightly we hurt ourselves, or we can lift our arms in surrender. We can let go.

When it comes to our sons and daughters, even when we know it’s time to disembark the relationship roller coaster, we may feel compelled to stay on the ride. We may cling to disappointing relationships. Adult children are our flesh and blood. Aren’t we supposed to remain connected?

That’s what we learned and believed. However, even as parents, you have the right to choose. You get to decide when you’ve had enough—and you know what? It’s okay to protect yourself, to move forward, to treasure your life. Give yourself permission to get off the ride and gravitate to the sights and sounds of autumn such as the colorful fallen leaves, pumpkin spice lattes, and steaming apple cider.

A time of transition

As the leaves fall and nature grows still, there is work taking place beneath the surface. There is preparation for the new growth and enlightenment of the coming spring. Won’t you join in with the natural thrust of the autumn season? Subscribe to my newsletter so you’ll receive notice of updates here at the site. You can leave comments and interact with other parents who’ve also experienced abuse, rejection, and otherwise disappointing relationships with adult children. You’ll also want to read my books, engage with the exercises, and join thousands of others who are approaching the point of being “done” with the crying and adopting new avenues of fulfillment and joy. Use these resources to help you do the work necessary to enjoy your life while you wait or get off the coaster ride entirely. Prepare for your coming spring.

Related reading

From sadness of estrangement to meaning

Rejected parents ask: When should we get on with our lives?

History of the roller coaster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for the good

parents of estranged adult children

Ocotillo and more at Anza Borrego Desert State Park

What are you attuned to? Looking for the good

By Sheri McGregor

With the Canadian Thanksgiving arriving in just a few days, and other holidays lining up before us, I’ve been taking charge and looking forward with a sense of joy and excitement. That’s so much better than the dread that can so swiftly sweep in as the daylight hours shorten and the longer nights usher in the season. When we’re expecting things to be crummy, we’re sure to find evidence we’re right. I’m dropping that attitude to make sure I’m ready for good instead. Won’t you read on and join me?

Adapt

In the arid California desert where I’ve hiked hundreds of miles, the plants adapt to the arid climate. That’s how they thrive. Drought tolerant bushes cup their fuzzy leaves, ready to catch and hold the slightest morning dew. Others, such as spidery ocotillo, spread shallow roots that easily soak up scant rain, and then quickly sprout leaves. These gorgeous, otherworldly plants then bloom in the driest periods, providing lipstick red color to the barren hills.

As we move into the holiday season, don’t focus on lack and look ahead with dread. Take a lesson from nature. Adapt. Be flexible. Dress in colorful clothes to brighten the coldest winter days. You’ll be a spot of cheer for yourself as well as others. Putting on a funny, warm hat can bring a smile. Wear fuzzy flannel and open your heart to the possibility of any joy. Then capture even the scantest moments of social rainfall to later savor.

Your assignment: Cultivate this positive habit

Starting now, set aside a few minutes every day to contemplate looking for anything positive or joyful in the world around you. Do this in the morning so you’ll be setting the tone for your day ahead. You’ll find “good” in the music of birdsong, the way the wind rustles through trees, or how a neighbor waves each day.

Attune yourself so that you’ll listen and really hear. See and really notice. Take a mental (or written) note, snap a photograph, or mention the good to a companion. That way, you’ll commit the positive bits of life to memory. Instead of habituating negativity and dread, train your brain to look for the good.

You can also find good in yourself. Did you remain calm in a stressful situation? Let someone ahead in traffic? Maybe you lovingly care for a partner or help a friend (even your oldest friend: you!)

Finding miracles?

One parent who reads here commented that her pastor suggested she look for miracles every day, in nature and in the world around her. His advice was intended to build her faith that miracles are possible, even in families broken by estrangement. What a gift, because even independent of that hoped-for result, she’s looking for miracles in her everyday life. She’s attuned to look for and find the good.

Your turn

Where else might you find “good”? I’d love to hear how you accomplish this assignment, so be sure and leave a comment. Let’s cheer each other on, serving as holiday lights for ourselves, other parents, and the people we meet.

Related reading

March and sing into….

Estranged parents: What about envy?

estranged parentsAsk Sheri McGregor: What about envy?

Frequently, I receive emails that boil down to distress over an uncomfortable emotion: Envy.

If you’re envious of others for their good relationships with adult children, take a deep breath and forgive yourself. You may have been taught that envy is bad, but it’s a human emotion with valid roots. No sense negatively judging yourself and feeling even worse. Rather, first recognize that feelings of envy come from a sense of injustice and deep pain. You never expected all your hard work, love, and devotion would result in estrangement. Therefore, envying another parent’s healthy relationship is a natural response.

Still, envy creates discord and distance in relationships you seek to nurture. So, while viewing yourself harshly for envy won’t help, neither will giving rein to the feeling. Beyond recognition and a bit of empathy toward yourself, indulging in envy promotes a sense of victimhood and keeps you steeped in pain. If you’re familiar with my work, you know that’s not what I advise for estranged parents. I recommend you deal honestly with what is, work toward your own well-being, and treasure your life despite the situation. There is no downside. You’ll be in a much stronger, healthier position if you do end up reconciling. As I show in both of my books, reconciliation isn’t usually easy or even what you expect.

Estranged parents and envy: Boiling it down

Let’s get into a couple of specific situations and feelings common to estranged parents. See if you can relate. I’ll include some practical strategies to deal with or move beyond envy. Use my thoughts as jumping off points for your own solutions.

  • “My sister (friend, cousin . . . fill in the blank) isn’t nearly as good a parent as me, yet I’m left with crumbs. How can this be?”

We believed that if we raised our kids with love, kindness, and a measure of discipline, they would become kind adults who loved us back. That same message is taught to parents even today: Raise your kids this way and get this result. Unfortunately, no matter how good of parents we are, our children grow up and make their own choices.

When another parent gets a better result—even if they weren’t, in your view, as good a parent as you—you have the right to feel envious. Just don’t offer the emotion a long-term stay. It’ll take up valuable space and energy that’s better offered to healthier emotions. As I say in Done With The Crying, to some extent, parenting is a crap shoot. Sometimes, things just don’t go as planned. Variables enter the picture, such as substance abuse, mental illness, a third-party adversary. . ., and our best efforts are squashed. Meanwhile, Sister So-So or Cousin Crummy-Parent has loving children.

Envy in parenting is like envy in anything. We can do our best and still not get the prize. That’s why there are so many “always a bridesmaid” stories. The Hallmark happy endings are what we all wish for, but don’t necessarily reflect reality. Even perfect families have problems, and perhaps keep them behind the scenes.

  • “I can’t even go to the park anymore. Seeing the grandparents with their grandchildren makes me so angry and sad. It’s just not fair.”

Give yourself permission to take a break from situations that bring on the pain—just not forever. You’ll need to eventually re-enter the world. Do it in small doses. Interact a bit. Offer an older person a kind word about the grandchild they love. You may be surprised how good kindness feels.

Make sure you don’t idealize others’ relationships. One father, Gabe, whose story is included in Beyond Done, looks at the sweet, young family next door, and recognizes these parents see the moon and stars in their children. They expect all to go well. “They’re living the dream,” Gabe says. And he would never try to spoil their delight by warning them about the possibility of stress ahead. However, he can relate to their naivete, which helps him to cope. Most of us can look back on some lovely, innocent times in our parenting, too. In some ways, grandparenting is the same. No sense assigning some la-la dream to others’ lives.

For every grandparent you see with a chubby-cheeked tot, there are others who are bone-tired and struggling to raise grandchildren full-time because the parents are incarcerated or otherwise absent. Some grandparents are in co-dependent relationships with their adult children. They feel obligated to say “yes” whenever asked to babysit, drive a child, or otherwise help—and their adult children know it. These same grandparents may not tell you the truth about how tired they are, either.

  • “Everyone else is talking all about their plans with family. . . .”

In Done With The Crying, you’ll meet Meg, who is successful in real estate and attends business meetings. She confesses to hiding in the bathroom stall because of colleagues going on about their family plans. She sheds a few tears as a release, uses firming serum to tighten the bags under her eyes, and then puts on a smile and gets on with what she is good at—business, public speaking, networking. Participating despite her sorrow builds her self-esteem and helps her cope.

She’s a successful woman who is also a good mother. It’s not her fault she is estranged. While you may be feeling like you had to have done something to cause the rift, all the good you did as a parent likely outweighs the bad. The exercises in my books can help you see that this is true.

  • “My only child is estranged. I’m envious of parents with bigger families. If only I had other kids, my life would be so much easier.”

To estranged parents stuck on this belief, there may be no convincing them otherwise. However, those of us with more than one child recognize that it’s an idealistic thought. First, the remaining siblings aren’t some infallible, mythical creatures spreading continuous warmth, support, and joy. They’re humans, with all the flaws and foibles common to our species. Sometimes they’re mentally ill, have addiction problems, trouble supporting themselves, or in other ways lean on or try their parents.

Also, parents who are smarting from estrangement can be so negatively affected that they:

  • walk on eggshells for fear another child will estrange
  • become guarded to protect themselves from the hurt they suspect may be coming from another child
  • remain overly involved with remaining children, clinging rather than letting go

Parents must learn to recognize and manage those feelings, and a host of others, for their own and their children’s sake. Thankfully, with awareness and work, most estranged parents do.

Estrangement by one child directly affects the siblings, too. They may suffer guilt about the normal elements of growing up, such as moving out and taking charge of their own lives. They may be burdened by worries about the future and the possibility of further discord and hurt they fear the estranged one will cause. They may feel the sudden weight of added responsibility toward aging parents and harbor anger or feel unprepared. Then there is the subject of reconciling, and the distrust and resentment siblings may experience if/when parents forgive the wayward one and expect them to get along.

These and other scenarios are shared at length in Beyond Done, providing insight for parents as they work to heal from the one child’s disconnection and move their family forward. These families’ struggles, as well as analysis, solutions, and my own family’s management show that “easier” isn’t a word those who have additional children often use for the situation.

If you envy those with many children, did I change your mind? Probably not, but perhaps you can better empathize with the vast complexities faced by bigger families. It’s less about comparing than it is about seeing the reality of your own life and coming to terms with it for your own well-being. Some estranged parents who are left with zero children have told me they’ve come to see their lives as simpler. They even say they enjoy the freedom of going solo.

  • “Everyone else has great families and they’re having so much fun.”

Well, that’s what it looks like on social media. Just as the Internet makes it possible to filter photographs, so skin looks smoother, hair looks glossier, and wrinkles are erased, social media lets people filter their lives. By selectively choosing what gets posted, the view is frequently all good all the time. When that skewed view gets compared to our own lives, it’s easy to see how we might feel like everyone has it better. A few recent studies point to social media’s influence on envy, and I’ve linked to a few sites that discuss those (below). Bottom line, if you’re feeling down about your family, don’t get on social media and absorb the skewed view. Also, consider what you might not be seeing. You probably know people whose Facebook pages paint a glowing picture that’s nothing like the nasty discord that’s really going on. I do.

Even in person, people may paint a rosy picture of their lives. You’re not as odd and isolated as you may think. If anyone does tell you their social woes, let it sink in. When we’re focused on how bad our own situations are, we may tend to discount others’ dilemmas and pain. Don’t be the person who hears about someone’s trials and thinks, “How can she complain? At least she has a family.” Maybe it’s true that your situation is a worse one, but as the rock band R.E.M.’s song says, “Everybody hurts.”

Envy: Final thoughts

In both of my books, full chapters and various sections deal with anger, envy, and a host of other emotions estranged parents feel. How parents cope is detailed through shared stories, to help readers come to terms with and manage their own strong, uncomfortable, but natural emotions. Envy is just one of those.

Have you been envious of others’ “perfect” families and relationships? I hope you’ll leave a comment and share how you’ve dealt with or overcome the feeling. That way, we can be envious of you.

Related links

The Movie: ENVY (comedy)

Your focus: Not “estrangement pain”

Emotional triggers: Set yourself free

Emotional triggers: How to handle them