Two and a half years later…I just finished organizing printed copies of research and double checking all the citations for my next book. It’s a follow up to the first. If you haven’t yet read Done With The Crying, I hope you will do that before getting the next (soon available!). HUGS to all on our continuing journey!
Do you remember that word from childhood? Maybe you remember it with an eye roll: Duh-Uh.
The word came to mind when I read of a recent survey study on estrangement.
“New” estrangement research
The survey of 1,035 mothers of estranged adult children asked the women about the cause of the estrangement. Many of the moms talked about people who stirred up trouble between them and their adult children. I called these people “influential adversaries” in my book, Done With The Crying. They include the estranged parent’s ex-spouse, a son- or daughter-in-law, or other family members or friends who create division. Nearly two thirds of rejected moms from the new research also talked about an adult child’s mental illness or an addiction as contributing to estrangement.
My own estrangement research consists of more than 50,000 responses to surveys for parents of estranged adult children. I have also personally interviewed hundreds of abandoned moms, dads, and siblings, and I interact with them daily (as well as am a rejected mother myself).
All of this “new” information reads like yesterday’s news. But what is even older is that when the study authors looked at existing research, they found that the adult children cited different reasons for their choice to estrange.
Did you catch that? The adult children who estranged themselves disagreed with their mothers.
Estrangement: Very real issues
I could go on here about the very real problem of parental alienation syndrome, about how those with personality disorders can be neurotically possessive to the point of isolating another person from their own family, and how these persons will generally blame everyone else for their problems … but I won’t.
Many, maybe even most, of you, the loving parents who are rejected by adult children and read this blog, are familiar with one or more of these issues. You have lived through them and suffered the consequences. The supposed revelations of this “new” estrangement research is old news to you, too.
Hugs from Sheri McGregor
Schoppe-Sullivan, S. J. et al, Mothers’ attributions for estrangement from their adult children, Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice (2021). doi.org/10.1037/cfp0000198
By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
You always wanted the best for your children. You probably still feel that way, even if one or more of your kids grew up and called you toxic. Moms and dads with estranged adult children struggle with decisions about estate planning. Should you leave things to them? According to the ideas of one money expert, an inheritance from estranged parents could do them more harm than good.
Margaret M. Lynch, author of Tapping Into Wealth, believes some money is toxic. She explains that money from sources you don’t feel good about drags you down. That could be income from a hated job, a career you feel guilty about, or something like gambling that takes time away from family or goes against one’s beliefs. Soured relationships also fit, so loaned, given, or inherited money could be considered be toxic. Inheritance can be toxic? Interesting. . . .
Parents, if your adult children no longer accept you—your values, politics, or whatever else—then, by Lynch’s standards, anything you leave to them could be considered a “toxic inheritance.”
The first time I heard of older folks learning to SKI was from a so called “toxic” mom who cracked a joke. Her two estranged adult children had decided they wanted nothing to do with her or their father. So, she and her husband were SKIing around the country in an RV. I didn’t get it, so she explained:
Since then, I’ve seen all sorts of blogs and articles reporting on this endeavor. There’s even a T-shirt!
That rejected mom laughed about SKIing, but saving estranged adult children from toxic inheritance is no joke. Freeing them from the emotional burden of a “toxic” inheritance may be worthy of consideration.
Toxic money isn’t the only thing rejected parents must consider. Our lives have a way of filling up with things.
Finding our treasures a home
We might have collected things our whole lives, imagining that one day our children would cherish them as much as we do. These days, even to adult children who remain close, our treasures may be viewed as little more than clutter. To our estranged children, it’s probably downright junk! Whether necessitated by downsizing or motivated by not wanting to leave a toxic mess for others to clean up when we’re gone, it’s wise to sift, sort, and trim down possessions while we can. Here’s a shortlist to get to you started.
- Photographs and home movies. Have the sharpest ones digitized or ask who among relatives wants to preserve family history. Or, consider donating images and films of vacations to various city sites, State, and National parks to historical societies. Each society has its own criteria for fair use, so do your research. Draft and photocopy an inquiry letter, or create an email template, in which you plug specific names and addresses, then send it to organizations. One mother shared family photos of historical sites with local museums. At the very least, trim down your collection. Maybe you’re like Nanci. After 14 years of estrangement, she expressed feelings of glee when shredding old photos of her estranged son’s wedding—the last photos she has of him and her together before the years of separation began.
- Valuable items. Antiques, Persian rugs, or artwork can be sold. If the idea of running ads and fielding calls doesn’t appeal, hire an estate service to come into your home and manage sales for you. When you receive the proceeds, reward yourself. Use the money to fund an exotic vacation, a trip to the spa, a stay at a lavish hotel, or for something else you’ve been wanting to try. Or, donate to a cause that’s important to you.
- Fine China, silver, or flatware. Check with Replacements.com for possible sales. They specialize in customers wanting to complete their sets. Or, as one mother did, smash the dishes to bits! I’m not suggesting you destroy anything, but you could use the China pieces with their artistic motifs in crafts such as pretty garden art, jewelry or ceramics. In the spirit of new beginnings, maybe you end up opening an Etsy shop to sell the things you create—or offer them to existing Etsy artisans.
- Donate. Take excess belongings to a local charity or use one that offers curbside pickup at your home. Most charities list on a website what they do and don’t take. You might be surprised—I recently took some new picture frames still in their original cellophane packaging to a donation site that turned them away. Also consider listing free items on Craigslist or Nextdoor. Upcycling is in, and no-contact, porch pickups have become routine.
- Precious custom heirlooms or other special items. Diana always thought she’d pass her jewelry to her daughter. Many were commissioned for her by her late husband and are one of a kind. “The items won’t mean anything to my daughter,” says Diana. “She’d only sell them.” (Toxic treasure=toxic money.) Diana has no other family but has found an upscale jewelry restoration store that will buy them outright or sell them on consignment. “My exquisite jewelry will go to people who love it!” she says. “With the money, I’m taking one of those hiking vacations I always wanted to go on. And if there’s enough left over, I’ll get a walk-in tub installed.”
Getting serious about your estate
While the idea of SKIing is a semi-humorous way to look at the idea of leaving inheritance (and makes sense for some), for most parents, estate planning is serious business wrought with emotional landmines and distress. That’s especially true when estrangement is part of the family portrait.
Some of us have estranged adult children with mental health issues or disabilities, or we weigh their dismissal of us against our own sense of what’s right or wrong. We may think of our other adult children, the ones we have stable relationships with, and decide it would be unfair to them to reward a sibling’s bad behavior. Or, perhaps we consider how an inheritance might be viewed by an estranged adult and want to send a message with any gift or non-gift.
In Done With The Crying, end-of-life sections with a variety of scenarios and reflection questions help rejected parents think things through and make sensible decisions. The WORKBOOK: for Parents of Estranged Adult Children allows more room for expanded notes and brainstorming. In my newest book, planning for one’s demise is covered in a different but equally vital way. Beyond Done With The Crying: More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children will be available soon.
What about you?
After polishing up her toxic treasures and transforming them into a SKI trip that will bring her hiking vacation joy, Diana deserves a good soak. Will you SKI? Will you save estranged adult children from a “toxic inheritance”? Perhaps you figure an heir is an heir, regardless of behavior. Leave a comment and let other loving parents know what you’ve decided to do about estate planning. It’s an important topic.
by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
If you’re a parent rejected by adult children and you’ve come to this site, you’ve probably read some of the comments and realized just how many are affected by parent-and-adult-child estrangement. Couple that realization with all the other chaos that’s happening in the world lately, and things can start to look negative all around. Bad stuff plays incessantly on the news and topples off tongues in almost every social situation. That means if you don’t actively look for the good that’s still around you, it may be obscured. Don’t let positive energy, kindness, and joy get buried. Look for the good.
National dog day
Did you know that August 26 is National Dog Day in the United States? When I think of my dogs and how much pleasure they bring to my life, I can’t help thinking that they represent everything good. What better time than National Dog Day to look for good in the world?
First, I’ll share this very short clip of a squirrel shaking its tail.
This guy loves to stand in the Japanese maple tree and tease my dogs. They stand at the slider waiting for him. Let’s just say I use a lot of window cleaner. . . .
Everyday is dog day at my house.
Want to find out more about this special day? Here’s the official page. Be sure to watch the video at the bottom too (you might need Kleenex).
Random acts of kindness
When things get crazy and sad, it’s easy to start thinking the world (and the majority of people in it) have gone mad. A steady diet of bad news isn’t good for anybody. Especially parents rejected by adult children who may already be feeling down. If you’ve been wondering if you’ve entered the set of some crazy version of Invasion of The Body Snatchers, then you need to take a closer look. There are still good people in the world, and this YouTube channel proves it. Watch the video and a zillion others they share.
I dare you
Now it’s your turn–and it’s a two-part dare.
First: Just as keeping a gratitude journal can be good for you, so is sharing with fellow parents rejected by adult children about anything you’re grateful for. Were you the recipient of a random act of kindness? Did a lizard share a nap in the sunshine on your porch today? Did the deer leave at least one rose on the bush to bloom? Did your package arrive on time? Did curbside pickup go smoothly? Did the checker at the grocer smile? We can all think of something–a kind interaction, someone we love, or just a few moments of peace in an otherwise hectic day. I challenge you to think for a few moments and leave a comment about something good that happened to you today (or yesterday or this week).
Second: In the near future, be a random act of kindness. That means doing, saying, helping …. Think of a way you can make another person’s day bright. Even making your pet happy counts. Doing something nice for another person is good for you, me, everybody.
Ask Sheri McGregor
Most parents feel stalled and uncertain about the future when adult children’s hearts turn cold. It’s a natural response when someone you have loved so very much becomes a person you can barely recognize (if at all).
A rejected mother asks
Sheri, I have two of your books and the have helped so much. I have a question for you.
Our adult son has little to no contact with us. We are thinking of asking him if “no contact ” is what he plans to have for the rest of our lives. That way we can tell him then we will move forward with our lives and not sit around wondering.
I don’t know if it’s a bad idea to even ask. I’m angry and not sure I want to give him the satisfaction of feeling in control of our lives.
Any thoughts Sheri ? I am open to hear.
Keep going what you do, as you are helping many.
Sheri McGregor replies
I can understand your reluctance to give your estranged adult son the power to control your outcome. Must your lives and the way you live and move forward for yourselves be contingent on his answer? What if his answer is uncertain or ambiguous (such as, “maybe, not sure yet”)? What if he doesn’t answer at all?
It’s possible to release someone, allow them to do what they will do, and move forward for yourself. You don’t have to sit around wondering what he will do as a condition of what you will do. You have no real choice but to release him anyway. He is an adult, making adult decisions. You can release him and go on and enjoy your lives, fully live in them, find things that bring you joy, get support as needed, etc., with the idea that you are open to the possibility that he may one day return. If he does, you can cross that bridge at that time. This way, you will not have wasted your lives (months or years or decades).
If you take care of yourselves and enjoy your lives, don’t be surprised if you grow and your perspectives about him, what he has done, and even your own selves and self-worth change. The “home” an adult child leaves behind does not remain static. Abandoned ones instead grow and even bloom. I wouldn’t want to tell YOU what to do, but I would not stunt my own growth by giving a person who has hurt me power over my life or destiny.
Nurture yourself. Give yourself the ingredients for a life well lived, and make it so. Do this independent of him or his plans.
Hugs to you,
Thank you so much Sheri. I am crying, in a good way because I feel you are so right on.
I could go on and on. I just had a double mastectomy 6 weeks ago. All I got from him was a “good luck.” I felt like he was just “checking the block” to make himself feel like a good person. That pissed me off.
You email back is so helpful and has help to give me the strength to move on.
Hugs back to you.
Sheri’s next response
With your recent surgery, it is yourself and your healing and wellness that requires all your focus right now. That’s a lot to endure especially amidst the cruelty of estrangement.
If you only knew how many moms and dads write to me with a major illness and cruel children. . . .
Take kind care of yourself. I hope you get to listen to some birds singing each day, smell a flower, and find something to savor.
Hugs to you dear, Brandie.
More from Brandie
Brandie replied one more time, and I include a portion of her email here so readers will know more about her:
I just listened to a radio show you were once on, run by Daniel Davis, on Beyond50 radio.
The discussion on grandchildren really hit me and was something I could relate to. I have 6 granddaughters I can’t see due to estrangement. One of which I was quite bonded with. Estranged adult children don’t seem to see the damage they do to their children when they kick grandparents out of grandkids’ lives. Such a powerful discussion and I thank you for touching on it.
By Sheri McGregor (2021, July)
Have you ever heard of Christmas in July? That’s my excuse to share this video, produced in December 2020, that highlights Heartache and Tears Quilt. Created by grandparents across Canada who have been denied the right to see their precious grandchildren, the close-ups of the individual squares in the video tell the heartbreaking story (tearjerker alert!).
The Canadian Grandparents Rights Association promotes grandparents rights and helps families re-establish broken ties.
Current volunteer president of the Canadian Grandparents Rights Association, Daphne Jennings, has written a book, featuring the Heartache and Tears Quilt on its cover. The book: The Canadian Grandparents Story: It’s Never Too Late to Say I’m Sorry, gets to the heart of the organization’s mission.
Hugs from Sheri McGregor
Are you a “firework”? Or still standing?
By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
I love a good fireworks show but a popular song that goes on about being a firework never resonated with me. It’s a catchy tune but to blaze brightly for only a moment and then fade just as fast isn’t something I’d want to aspire to or be.
What does resonate is the fireworks symbolism related in the poem by Francis Scott Key that became the U.S. national anthem. In The Star Spangled Banner, the rockets glare through the night and then the flag is still there, or still standing.
It’s good to let our light shine (as written about in this article), even during the “dark night” parts of our lives. When morning comes, we can still be standing. That’s a goal worth setting … and achieving.
In honor of Independence Day, here are a few fun facts about fireworks you may not know. I’ve also included some links to past articles about your personal freedom—despite estrangement.
- The first “fireworks” are thought to have originated in China around 200 BC when bamboo sticks were thrown into the fire. The air in the hollow bamboo popped when it was heated.
- In 800 AD, the search for eternal life motivated an alchemist to mix sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate. Instead of eternal life, he got an explosion—voila! Gunpowder, which was then packed into bamboo for even bigger explosions.
- The blasts were used at weddings and other celebrations to ward off evil. Eventually, gunpowder was used for explosively entertaining shows …
You can read more about fireworks history in these articles from other websites:
The Evolution of Fireworks, written by Alexis Stempian for The Smithsonian
Boom! A Brief History of Fireworks written by Benjamin Lorber for The Ladders
For your freedom (even in estrangement)
Here are a few articles from this site about your personal freedom:
Are you a wiley coyote or a clever crow? This article from 2018 helps you adapt, even in estrangement: Freedom for a era (parents rejected by adult children)
Support your emotional freedom with: Are you tyrannized by painful emotions?
Cut off by adult children? You may feel lonely but you’re not alone
Your Independence Day celebrations may look different than in the past. Whether you’re in the U.S. or in some other area, I hope you found something of value in these articles about your personal freedom even in estrangement. Will you share your thoughts by leaving a comment? Interacting with other parents of estranged adult children helps.
by Sheri McGregor
This week, as the third Sunday in June rolled near, you probably faced comments and questions that, although completely normal, were awkward. A co-worker’’s, “Have a great Father’s Day!” may have made you want to crawl away and hide. Or, you may have been asked about your plans and wished your phone would ring so you could be saved by the bell. Those moments may have been worse because you were already thinking about the day set aside to honor you and wondering whether you would hear from a wayward kid, and if you did, how you should respond.
Even though you may be wondering these things, I only directly heard from one father this week. I know a lot of you don’t feel comfortable sharing your pain about an adult child’s cutting-off. I can respect that. Even so, your quiet strength doesn’t make your pain any less real, maybe especially on this day.
Although I don’t hear from a lot of you directly, some of you do share your feelings in reply to my surveys. The original one has nearly 50,000 responses to date. Here are just a few of the comments written by fathers, grouped by subject. Maybe seeing just these few will help to know you are not alone in your feelings.
An adult child’s cutting-off: Inexplicable and sad
- “I worked hard to give my daughters a better life. They’re both very successful now, but the oldest hates us. She calls us materialistic, but to make sure the girls had what they needed, my wife and I went without.”
- “My son and I had a good, communicative relationship, and I actively tried to afford him as much privacy, respect, and support he needed. I’m not a perfect father, but I am struggling to understand why, suddenly and without explanation, he would totally sever ties with me.”
- “The years are passing. I keep photos of my adult children and my grandchildren on my lounge wall, I guess to reflect on, and to feel some attachment. I have tried numerous times in the last several years to arrange to meet up. They will say yes, but there is always an excuse of ‘being too busy at the moment’.”
Fathers on how an adult child’s cutting-off
affects their other relationships
- “Periodic mood changes related to negative feelings over our son’s rejection have stressed my current marriage. It makes it very difficult to be my whole self when interacting with my not-estranged child. My parents, who are not estranged from my son, also struggle because they aren’t sure what they should tell me about him and how he is doing.”
- “Tough on the marriage at times although we agree on the situation and I don’t know how much to burden my other son with it.”
- “I have a strong relationship with my other daughter. But sometimes I feel like I walk on eggshells for fear I will do something to push her away. I know that’s not likely to happen but I worry.”
- “I don’t trust people anymore, so spend my time alone.”
Why fathers don’t talk about an adult child’s cutting-off
- “It is difficult to explain. I worry no one will understand, and I will be negatively judged.”
- “Even people I’ve known my whole life don’t know what to say. My brothers change the subject. Other people tell me it’ll change. After 14 years, I don’t think that’s going to happen. The pat answers only show me they don’t understand. ”
- “Fathers are scrutinized. People suspect us of doing something horrible. That’s even when one of my two daughters still has a good relationship with me and is on a good path. If one child goes astray or won’t talk to you, then people automatically judge.”
Although fathers (and mothers) have a difficult time talking to other people about an adult child’s cutting off, there are more parents facing this than you might think. And opening up, allows other people to also share, as this father relates:
- “I can only talk about it when someone else tells me they’re going through it. Then I feel safe.”
Dear fathers, you’re not alone in your feelings. I hope that you will leave a comment to this post and share with other fathers suffering an adult child’s cutting-off. Your first name is all that’s needed, and your email address won’t show up with your words. You can help one another by opening up, and also by sharing how you’ve managed your pain.
Hugs to you all, and Happy Father’s Day.
Father’s Day when adult children turn away (includes links to past father’s day articles)
Estranged parents: Get out of the comfort zone
By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Venus, the perky young woman in brightly colored spandex, paused her pen on the intake form and looked up with a grin. “How tall did you say you were?”
“Five ten and a half,” I replied.
“Ooh, girl!” she said with a squeal. “I hear Victoria’s Secret is looking for models.”
How many times had she used that line, I wondered, as she jotted my data on her form.
“Let me tell you about the program.” All business now, she launched into her sales pitch for the fitness program that included a meal plan, classes, and full use of the gym every day.
I squirmed in my seat. This was getting real.
As she went on about High Intensity Training classes she referred to as “HIT,” my mind wandered back to the advertisement I’d first seen online:
In front of my computer, my index finger had hovered over the “join” button. I’d never liked gyms, but I did recently turn 60, and I was holding some extra pounds from a recent long-distance move, heaped-on stress, and Covid-19 (isn’t that last one everyone’s excuse right now?). It was time to get out of my comfort zone. Besides, how hard could this be?
I imagined a supportive group of older women, smiling and laughing, cheering each other on. Maybe we’d become friends—something I could use in my new town, which was just emerging from pandemic restrictions.
My nerves racing with a mix of fear and excitement, I had clicked on “join,” filled in my info, and was prompted to choose an orientation time. When I did, my phone almost immediately jangled. A text had arrived from my new personal trainer: See you tomorrow, Sheri. I can’t wait to help you crush your goals!
Now, as I met with Venus at a small desk near the entry door to the gym, I wondered: Am I really ready for this?
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the safety zone of home took on more importance. To varying degrees, many of us had no choice but to embrace isolation. Estranged parents’ comfort zone usually already means shrinking back from social situations to avoid awkward questions and uncomfortable explanations. The pandemic made isolation the norm.
Some estranged parents said knowing that made being alone a little easier. Others felt the sting of estrangement more acutely. If a global pandemic can’t make someone see how fleeting life can be, what can? It became a turning point. Regardless, now that the whole world is starting to step beyond the safe comfort of home, estranged parents can join in the collective momentum, push past boundaries, and derive benefits. That’s what I was thinking anyway, when I clicked on “join” for the fitness challenge.
Estranged parents, get out of your comfort zone
Estranged parents suffer deleterious effects to psyches, health, and self-worth. You might have caught yourself asking questions such as these:
- Who am I if I’m no longer a dad?
- What gives me purpose if I’m no longer a grandmother?
- If my own flesh and blood doesn’t want me, who will?
Don’t get down on yourself about the thoughts. Estranged parents are thrust into a transition beyond their control. That’s similar to the pandemic’s effects. Only this time, we need to recognize the benefit of getting out of our comfort zone rather than leaning into it. Why? Because pushing our boundaries is good for us. Stepping beyond our boundaries builds mental muscles the same as I expected the gym to build my physical ones.
Pushing past boundaries: Good for estranged parents
Everyone is forced from their comfort zone from time to time. A looming deadline, a required appointment, or some other pressing need causes anxiety that spurs us to get things done. And when we do step out, we build confidence for the next time we must take action.
We can purposefully build self-confidence by choosing activities that cause a little productive anxiety. Researchers call this “optimal anxiety,” which means enough stress that we’re not overchallenged or paralyzed in fear but we venture just beyond the comfort zone that keeps us stagnant. Optimal anxiety drives us to act. Then, we can feel good about pushing our boundaries, even a little, and trying something new or challenging.
Estranged parents’ self-esteem takes a hit. Fight back. Getting out of your comfort zone, in planned, manageable ways, helps you regain your self-worth.
Another benefit is that igniting optimal anxiety helps you better manage anxiety in general. Estranged parents face a lot of uncertainty about the future. Will we ever get past this? Will my child have regrets? Can I really move forward?
One thing about the future is certain: Time is precious. We might as well get joy and fulfillment out of life while we can. As scary as it is, moving beyond our comfort zone is required.
Pushing yourself, even a little, can help you feel more alive. To mope around and think sad thoughts, get stuck in anger, or worry about the future only digs you more deeply into ruts of despair. Remember when you were younger, and everything was new? Pushing past your comfort zone sparks those old feelings of life being fresh and new. That may mean you feel more like your old self (or even better).
Fine wine may sit in a barrel and get better with age, but people must shake themselves up and take action to get the same result. Stretching the mind and engaging the body maintains or even enhances cognitive abilities as people age. Pushing past the comfort zone helps.
We gain new territory when we try new things. Our boundaries widen when we push beyond them. Bottom line? Getting out of the comfort zone improves us.
Escaping the comfort zone: Strategies
Start small. For me, that meant acting without immediate commitment. I pressed the join button, chose an orientation date, and then showed up to meet Venus and learn more about the program. I committed to explore the idea, but that didn’t mean immediately signing on the dotted line.
You may be like me and feel the need to know more before deciding something big or challenging. I tamped down my anxiety by keeping my thoughts in check: This is just an orientation. I’m exploring the program. I haven’t committed yet. This wouldn’t work for everyone, but for me, just agreeing to the orientation pushed my boundaries. I’d never joined a gym and never wanted to. The thought of entering one now was a cardio exercise in and of itself.
Accountability. After booking the appointment, I told two people who I knew would cheer me on. Confiding plans keeps you accountable. Choose someone who will be supportive and who will follow-up. You’ll want to report the good news!
Overcome opposition with benefits. After 38 years of marriage, including my husband in decisions is second nature. I knew he would be supportive and told him immediately, but in remembering that conversation for this blog post, I realized something else has become second nature: featuring his benefits. As I told him about my fitness challenge, my benefits morphed into things that he might like. I’d want to ride bicycles with him more often, or maybe after the program, we could join the gym and workout together.
If you face opposition, find ways to present your plan so it benefits the other person. Or, if you’re your own opposition, present the benefits to yourself. Write them down even. Then turn to them if you start to feel scared.
Look at my results
You’re probably expecting before and after photos . . . but things didn’t turn out as planned. That day at the orientation, Venus began throwing out specifics about how the HIT training would work.
“You’ll do a bunch of jumping jacks, drop down to the floor for a set of planks, then get up and run around the building three times, and get back inside the gym for more.” She continued about class sizes and the coaches who would “motivate” me. My anxiety began to rise.
“What about the women over 60?” I asked.
“Oh, there will be a few of you, girl,” she said. “You’ll be required to take at least three classes a week and they’re open to everyone. People drop in and out however that works for them.”
I glanced around the gym where a bunch of twenty- and thirty-somethings in clothes as tight as their bodies lifted weights, ran on treadmills, or climbed stairs in place. Their taut skin gleamed with a sheen of sweat. My dreams of a supportive group of women like me evaporated.
“HIT is the only way to lose weight,” Venus said. “The classes are kinda like P90X.”
I’d seen the infomercials full of hard bodies and lots of sweat. Those workouts involved a variety of maneuvers that were INTENSE. “P90X?” I repeated.
Venus shrugged. “Kinda.”
Suddenly, the goals that had begun to take shape with Venus’s first motivating text seemed impossible. This wasn’t what I’d imagined. Remembering the painful joint problem that had left me unable to walk for more than a week two autumns ago, I knew this particular challenge wasn’t for me. That’s because I know myself. Not wanting to look weak or call attention to myself, I’d work so hard to keep up with a bunch of youngsters in Spandex that I’d end up hurting myself. I’d crush my goals all right—in self-defeat.
Venus must have sensed me wavering. “Don’t let your mind hold you back,” she said, probably as she had a thousand times. . . . Even so, I wondered if I should go ahead. She’d spent her time to sell her product.
She winked. “A few classes with our coaches and you’ll crush your goals.”
I imagined the coaches like sinewy P90X drill sergeants in tight shirts, barking orders, pushing me to perform.
“Gir-ril,” Venus chirped. “That modeling contract is waiting for you!”
Modeling contract? More like a heating pad and a walker. I laughed. “I’ll need to think about it.”
Immediately, Venus stood. She knew I wasn’t going to fork over the $300. “Well, thanks for coming in,” she said, ushering me toward the door.
“No, thank you,” I replied, glad she didn’t persist. I exited the humid confines of the gym and stepped into the sunlight.
Not a failure
While the program wasn’t quite what the advertisement had presented, it wasn’t all a loss. Just by entertaining the idea of joining a gym and a fitness group, I’d pushed my boundaries. Attending the orientation built my confidence, made me feel alive, and even more eager to get myself back in tip-top shape—on my own terms. That means getting back to my active lifestyle (swimming, hiking in beautiful places, daily walks. . . ).
Knowing what’s right for you, accepting yourself even when someone pushes their own agenda, is another way to press past boundaries. I wonder how many 60+ women clicked “join” and attended an orientation with the same fantasy as me? Especially after all the months of Covid-19 restrictions, how many long for the camaraderie of like-minded, age-similar people to cheer each other on? Some may feel cornered, end up paying the fee, and then not follow through.
I didn’t join the fitness challenge, but this wasn’t a failure. Rather, by admitting my limitations and honoring my intuition, I built my interior strength. I may have gone in with the goal of more physical strength but I gained emotional fortitude in the process.
By pushing past my boundaries, I see myself as strong in a whole new way. Proving to ourselves that we can step beyond our comfort zone helps us hold a new vision for ourselves going forward. How about you? Is it time to break out of your comfort zone, build confidence, and see yourself in new and inspiring ways? I’ll answer for you: YES!
Some of you already successfully do this. I hope you’ll leave comments and share how you estranged parents get out of your comfort zone and reap the benefits. For those in the planning stage: How will you push past your comfort zone and expand your boundaries? For some of you, that will mean learning to say “no,” and stop people-pleasing. Others will have physical goals for better health. Some may need to take a step for emotional self-care.
What will you try, what are your fears, and how will you overcome them? Later, you can report back with your insights and wins, and that will inspire even more estranged parents. Let’s cheer each other on!
By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
This weekend, the United States celebrates Memorial Day. The holiday honors those who sacrificed their lives in past wars to preserve our treasured freedoms. Since people all over the world read my books and visit this site, you may not be familiar with Memorial Day. But you can surely relate to the peace of mind and emotional freedom sought by at parents whose adult children disown them. Those are the sort of freedoms this article will discuss.
I’ve received many emails from parents about their changed perspectives, their opened eyes, and the new direction they’ve taken for their lives. At some point, most parents come to accept what they cannot change. Eventually, with continued effort and support, most learn to break free from their emotional bondage to adult children who snub and abuse them.
As I once did, these parents make a purposeful decision to stop focusing on the loss. And then they follow through with a concerted effort to remember all the good they did. Things like sitting up with a feverish child or patiently explaining complex homework they themselves may have had to learn first. They served as a team coach, cooked healthy meals each day, or white-knuckled their way through practice sessions with their teen driver behind the wheel. These unsung heroes are the veterans of estrangement who fought their way back to a fulfilling life. Read on and allow their thoughts to inspire you.
Finding her self-worth
Augustyna is a widow whose son is her only living family. As he grew into a mouthy teen, she tolerated his disrespect because she loved him and hoped he would change. In his 20s, he periodically cut off all contact with Augustyna. In his absence, she didn’t miss his temper tantrums or lies, but she was also lonely. Eventually, she always reached out again, mostly to silence.
Once, when her son had lost his job, he reconnected and stayed with her for a few months. At first, he seemed to want to get along, and she hoped their relationship was on the mend. Then, as he regained his footing, he began badmouthing and rejecting her again.
In a fit of anger one evening, Augustyna’s son slammed her hand in the door of her top-load washing machine. For the next few days, she hid the injury from everyone. A week later, her son arrived to collect his belongings. Augustyna tried not to grimace as she tucked her painful, bruised and swollen hand into her jacket pocket so her son wouldn’t see that he had hurt her.
A few years later, Augustyna was diagnosed with terminal cancer. When she called to tell her son of the diagnosis, he cursed her and said he hoped she’d die soon. Depressed, Augustyna agreed with his hope, but lingered on in misery. Her son cut off all contact again, and at the urging of her doctors, Augustyna continued her treatments. Now, five years later, her cancer is in remission.
Augustyna recently asked a priest and a rabbi why God didn’t just let her die. They both said He must have a reason for her to live. That’s when she found this website and shared her experience to help other parents. Until now, she hadn’t told a soul about her son’s physical abuse.
When Augustyna reflected on her life, she realized the injury to her hand wasn’t the first time her son had physically hurt her. There were previously a couple of slaps and pushes. He also called her deplorable names that I won’t repeat here. His ongoing verbal abuse had left her feeling demoralized, questioning her ability as a parent, and lacking self-worth. That’s what abuse by someone you love and sacrifice for can do to you.
These days, Augustyna looks back on her life and sees all the good she did. After her husband died, she worked to provide for her son. She supported his interests, was always there to help, and says he wanted for nothing. She also paid for his education. Augustyna knows that she is not to blame for the person he has become. His decision to hurt and abandon her is all on him.
As a cancer survivor, Augustyna has looked death in the face. She will never allow another person to make her doubt her self-worth, or abuse or control her. She’s not sure how many years she has left to enjoy life, but she won’t waste another minute on her abusive son.
Sadness: Just a few days out of the year
Martin and his wife, Joan, also had one child, a son who is now in his 40s. Like so many parents whose children disown them, Martin and Joan were sad for a long time over the rejection. They attempted to reconcile, but other than a few phone calls and texts, never got far. At times, their son would say he wanted a relationship. He even apologized. Soon after though, he always shifted gears. He would call them names, lay blame, and make accusations that had no basis in reality.
When their son was to be wed, they received a formal invite from the bride-to-be’s parents. At that point, Martin and Joan had been disconnected from their son for six years, the last three with absolutely no contact. After much deliberation over whether to attend the wedding, they texted their son to make sure he knew they had been invited. He replied with a casual, “Oh yeah. You’re welcome to come.” They decided to go, which they regret.
The event was awkward at best. They were placed at a table with the bride’s distant relatives and were ignored by their son and his new in-laws. During the ceremony and for much of the reception, Joan fought back tears. Martin’s asthma flared up and he ducked out several times to use his inhaler. Distressed, they left before the gifts were opened and even scrambled to get an earlier flight home.
These parents have worked hard to build their lives in new directions that support their well-being and keep them engaged in life. For the most part, they are happy. “We were parents for a season,” Martin says. “I still have pictures that show what a beautiful a time that was.”
Martin wrote to me around Mother’s Day because Joan was feeling sad. He was looking for something to cheer her up. He and his wife are like many parents whose adult children disown them and find that special days revive their sadness. Some write in utter anguish, saying they are “back to square one.” Others say they will “never get over the estrangement.” They wallow in a dark alley of thinking that dooms them to continued despair.
I understand these thoughts. When my son disowned me and the rest of the family, I became all too familiar with the “dark place” many parents describe. I know how bleak life can look for rejected parents. One hopeless thought can lead to the next so that life doesn’t look worth living. The rut of such despair is a trap that I’ve written about extensively to help parents break free. One way is to put things in perspective. Rather than get caught up in the mire of defeatist thoughts, we can think the way Martin does.
Having done the work of building a good life despite his son’s decisions, Martin puts it this way: “In reality, the sad days are only a few out of the year. A birthday, a holiday, and then we’re back to our regular life.”
Martin is right. There are 365 days in every year. How many will you allow to be all about the sadness of estrangement?
What can you take from these stories? What can you empathize with, relate to, and learn? You may have another helpful perspective. As these veterans of estrangement have done, I hope you will share your stories of courage in the fight for your peace and emotional freedom. Feel free to leave a comment. By sharing your experiences, you help other parents whose adult children disown them—and you help yourself.