Category Archives: Answers to Common Questions

Some questions are common to parents of adult children who are estranged. This category names and answers some of the questions common to parents of estranged children.

Ask Sheri McGregor: Contacting estranged granddaughter

 

Ask Sheri McGregor: Contacting estranged granddaughter?

QUESTION:
Dear Sheri McGregor,

I just found your site and your Books on Amazon, and hope that you might help  –  I am looking for advice on composing a first-ever email to my 20 year old granddaughter whom I’ve never been allowed to meet. I was denied all access of any kind and never even saw a photo of her until this past summer, when I found my granddaughter on Instagram.

Let me give a little background—

I am a 75-year-old military veteran and have been estranged from my son since the late 1980s, when his mother and I began divorce proceedings. It was an extremely acrimonious divorce that took several years to finalize. I tried to keep contact but, over the years, my son has expressed hate toward me. It became clear that my ex-wife poisoned him against me. I missed major milestones, including my son’s wedding. He has two daughters and although I reached out to my son often, I was not welcomed in any way. Once, I even visited his home, but no one answered the door.

Anyway, this past summer, I found my oldest granddaughter, age 20, on Instagram and sent a request to “follow” her. She asked, “Grandpa?” I thanked her for replying and told her that I hoped we could communicate. Unfortunately, she didn’t respond again.

There is no telling what stories she has been told about me. Wanting any kind of relationship with her may be a futile pursuit, but at my age, I am not sure how much longer I have left on the planet. My own paternal grandfather died when my father was just a boy. So, I never knew him and have always felt that I missed out. Maybe my granddaughter has a similar feeling about me.

Recently, I found out she was living away at college and located her email address.  Can you help me with the exact wording to use when I contact her? I’m including a draft email, not yet complete, for your review. Here is that draft:

Dear XX:

I am sure hearing from me is a surprise, and I hope this doesn’t cause you any kind of conflict. I’ve known of you since the time you were born, just a week after my own birthday, so I have always celebrated my own birthdays with you in my heart.

I’m hoping you will consider beginning communication with me. I’ve really missed not being a part of your life and I would welcome the opportunity for you and me to get to know each other directly, using whatever method you are comfortable with (email, handwritten letters sent via U.S. mail, over the phone, or via FaceTime).

I’d be happy to send you your own phone with its own new number that I pay for the monthly billing thus no way for any of the calls to be traced/discovered by anyone else.

Give this some thought and reflect on my intention and I’ll always be ready when you are.

I’ll end this with Love, Poppa … because that is how I have always felt about you.

What do you think, Sheri? Thank you very much for reading my letter and I hope you can help.

Sincerely,

David P.

Contacting estranged granddaughter: ANSWER From Sheri McGregor:

Hi David,

I’m glad you reached out, and I do have some thoughts. While many who work with those affected by estrangement dissect their letters, I don’t typically offer specific wording as you ask. (See this excerpt from my latest book about that HERE). However, let me apply a broad brush, because there are many loving parents/grandparents who wish to establish a connection with those lost to them through parental alienation and estrangement.

First, just as you have said in your note to me, you may not get anywhere with your contact. There just are no guarantees, no matter how carefully you word things. For that reason, I would suggest that you consider altering your intention a little. That way, you can feel you have accomplished something good regardless of the outcome.

If this were me contacting a grandchild who doesn’t know me, I might consider what I could do to help her. Therefore, I might offer some information to her. This might take the form of a few photos of yourself and/or relatives from your side of the family, along with some brief historical information, links to genealogy sites with their information if those exist, or some interesting tidbits about their lives or even medical information if that makes sense.

In this way, perhaps you leave a legacy, imparting some knowledge that is helpful to her (now or in the future). I discuss the concept of leaving a legacy more in Beyond Done With The Crying More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children. In your case, perhaps you could offer to answer questions or provide more information as well as convey your desire to have contact with her. By including something that you believe would be useful, informative, or helpful to her, then you could feel good about contacting her regardless of the immediate outcome. You’d be providing her a gift.

If this were me, I might want to tell a little about myself, too. Where I live and my interests, briefly. By doing so, she could see you in a perspective that is perhaps different than she has been told or has imagined. Perhaps your sharing may connect with her interest and spark further communication.

I would not offer to buy a phone that could be kept secret as your draft email implies. In my opinion, doing this could be construed in a negative light and appear devious to someone who has possibly been told bad things about you (as you mentioned believing may have occurred).

David, please take kind care of yourself. I hope that you will get your desired outcome of a relationship with your granddaughter. Whether that happens or not, I hope that by reaching out with a gift as discussed here, that you will feel peaceful about the outcome and satisfied that you have done something good for your granddaughter.

Hugs from Sheri McGregor

Rejected parents: Are you “guilting” your adult child?

Are you "guilting" your adult child

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Excerpted from her award winning book released Dec. 2021:
Beyond Done With The Crying More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children

Are You “Guilting” Your Adult Child?

Earlier, I wrote about a time when my health was at an all-time low. After the
first year of silence, my son, Dan, had phoned. We had a friendly talk, and he
said he wanted us to have a relationship. He assured me he would call again
“soon.” That talk sparked hope, but when he didn’t call again, the fragile peace
I had worked so hard to gain dissolved. Scary visual disturbances led me to the
doctor who was mortified by my symptoms and bloodwork. The stress of the
estrangement was hurting me. I had to take charge. So, instead of waiting in a
sort of limbo as more months passed, I called my son.

When I explained that I’d been waiting for his call, that I’d been emotional,
and that my health had suffered, my son put me off. He was gruff and dismissive,
yet later, I wondered if he might have viewed my words as an attempt to
“guilt” him. That hadn’t been my intention, but the conversation haunted me.
There was no hidden plan behind my words. I’d been as direct as always. I
had laid out my thoughts and feelings to him. In all of Dan’s twenty-five years,
I had never tried to motivate him with guilt. My son knew how I spoke. He also
knew me. Him thinking I was trying to “guilt” him made no sense. So, why did I
ever think he might?

Don’t buy into the “guilting” your adult child opinion. . . .

When Dan rejected me, my self-esteem dipped so low that I second-guessed
everything. I searched for help and came across a mental health professional
who dissected the parents’ language in the letters they wrote to their estranged
adult children. Their words were analyzed for how they might be received as an
intention to trigger feelings of guilt. In desperation, I took the guidance to heart.
After an adult child’s estrangement, distraught parents flail in the murky
waters of their own identity. They may grasp at almost anything to stay afloat,
on a wave of hope that they can repair the relationship.

If you’re a parent who used guilt to motivate your estranged adult child,
you know who you are. Admit it. Then work on more than your language. Work
on yourself and how you interact with the people you love. However, if you’re
not guilty of this “guilting” your adult child behavior, then don’t let your anguish and desperation to reconnect stir self-doubt. Don’t take advice that doesn’t fit. Your child knows
you. Why would your speech suddenly be construed as an attempt to “guilt”?

Here’s another thought: If your words trigger adult children’s guilt, maybe
it’s their conscience knocking. Maybe your son feels guilty because he has
treated you badly or the guilt your daughter feels is her inner wisdom, confirming
that her behavior is wrong. Don’t make yourself responsible for another
adult’s feelings or behavior.

There’s an acronym for “Walking on Eggshells”

If you’re not a “guilter,” then guidance that assumes you are is nothing
more than Olympic level training to walk on eggshells. There’s an acronym for
that: W.O.E. Walking. On. Eggshells. Woe! It’s a fitting term for any relationship
where one party lives in fear, believing they may be one word away from
another estrangement.

For more information about advice, consult the box, also in this book,
Advice: Be Discerning, Not Desperate.”

Related reading

Estrangement: Parents, use weepy days for your own good

Parents are people too: Even when reconciling with an estranged adult child

Heartbroken parents: Are you to blame?

heartbroken parents

Heartbroken parents: Are you to blame for your adult children’s problems (or estrangement)?

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

To a heartbroken parent driving to a neighboring town in the U.S., the message of this billboard hit like a punch in the gut. The “effective counseling” it advertises comes across as one-sided and pandering. This can’t be healthy (can it?).

Thousands of heartbroken parents tell me their adult children blame them for their every problem. Yet even I was shocked at this billboard. It’s a bald-faced presentation of something I also hear often: That, when it comes to family estrangement (and more specifically, parent-and-adult-child estrangement) our culture, and even some therapists, are part of the problem.

“We live in crazy times,” said the mother who saw this offensive billboard a few weeks ago. She hasn’t spoken to her son in four years, nor seen the sweet grandchild with whom she’d previously bonded. She isn’t the only heartbroken parent to conclude, “Society is supporting these adult children to reject us parents.”

It’s the parents’ fault: A pervasive attitude

When people have issues, they are frequently advised to find the root. Uncovering the beginnings of unhealthy emotional habits, ways of thinking, and managing our lives can be a positive start. However, too often, the root leads rather simplistically to parents. A few examples:

  • Shame-based? Your parents must have used guilt to rule you.
  • Don’t trust your own judgment? As a child, you must have been told your decisions were dumb or your feelings were wrong.
  • Can’t stick up for yourself? You got the message you weren’t important anyway.

There can be truth in these, but when an adult stops there, looks for proving evidence and embellishes, or is advised to cut off relationships rather than try to dig deeper, understand or empathize, they no longer grow. In blaming parents, they can excuse themselves—and they’ll find many to echo the blame. Just as peddlers of hope can keep parents who did their best stuck apologizing and forever trying to reconnect, there are mentors of blame. They preach to a choir of adults who refuse responsibility for their own bad decisions with their resulting consequences and hold their parents accountable instead.

Parent-blaming can be subtle or direct

Often, a grabber headline misleads, like for the article I wrote about here: Are a parent’s mistakes worthy of “hate”? In our text-rich world of social media one-liners that are sometimes the sum of one’s news consumption and then are repeated like gospel, these titles negatively stereotype parents and sway opinion. The negative portrayals of the older generation are prevalent—and hurt (read my article: Negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adult children: It hurts).

Other parent-blaming is more subtle and intellectualized. In some cases, the ideas may even apply. But even the smartest sounding blame can harm loving, heartbroken parents—and their troubled adult children who don’t learn to empathize or take responsibility for their own mistakes.

One New York Times article used a grabber headline to talk about what’s known as “attachment theory.” While attachment theory makes some sense, it is just as its name implies: a theory. Furthermore, it was conceived more than half a century ago. Our world and how we live in it has evolved (or, in some ways, devolved!). Lifestyle norms have changed. Also, the childhood behaviors attributed to caregiver styles in attachment theory may or may not translate to adult relational behavior as the article, “Yes, It’s Your Parent’s Fault,” seems to convey. So, why such a certain title? Negative stereotyping grabs eyeballs. Unfortunately, it also furthers generational division and fosters blame. At the very least, it’s irresponsible. It’s also too easy, same as blaming other people for one’s own mistakes.

The piece mentions interviews/questionnaires aimed at determining one’s dominant attachment style but points out that results may vary from one questionnaire to the next. The mismatch is explained away as resulting from the skill and training of the interviewer or a person’s level of self-awareness (or lack thereof!). My translation? If you want to blame your parents for your adult relationship problems, you can. These questionnaires may help.

Do something

The more light is shed on a problem, the more society becomes aware. That’s why I call attention to the way parents are frequently portrayed as overbearing, needy, nosy, or unbending. This portrayal is an unjust presentation that fosters ageism and promotes division. This disservice to older people can manifest in unhealthy ways when parents seek help after an estrangement occurs. This is discussed at length in my award-winning book, Beyond Done With The Crying: More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children (2021). Beyond Done is a follow-up to my first book (also award winning) for heartbroken parents, Done With The Crying. I hope you’ll read both, and use the examples and exercises to work toward your own well-being.

Sometimes, our past experiences do influence how we interact with other people, including our adult children. As a parent with a long-term estrangement and in communicating with thousands of other moms and dads, my work centers on parents’ personal growth, emotional strength, and enlightenment. My work is specific to estrangement and how you may be affected in the various aspects of your family, work, and general life. Don’t stay stuck.

You spent a lifetime caring for children who are now adults. You can be true to yourself, remain open to the possibility of a healthy relationship if that’s desired, yet disengage from negative interactions or chasing behavior that steals your sense of dignity and makes you feel weak. You can hold out hope yet get on with your own life and enjoy the people who value you.

Society, theorists, and even ill-conceived billboards offering “effective counseling” may blame you, but you know the truth. You were there. Likewise, you’re here now. Take charge and make the most of your precious life. Start this minute.

Develop your natural resilience. Step into a freer, happier future.

Hugs to all the heartbroken parents,

Sheri McGregor

Abuse is never acceptable: Must I tell my estranged daughter I’m done?

abuse is never acceptable

Sarah asks:

* Dear Sheri McGregor,

I am a single mom to my 29 year old only daughter. We were always close, but she estranged from me without giving any reason about a year ago. At her wedding, she and her husband treated me and my friends like dirt. I did nothing to merit the behavior. Nor did my friends. Since then, she hasn’t responded to my emails, letters, gifts, or offers to reconcile, except to say that she doesn’t want to get together at holidays.  I am trying to move on with my life, but it’s hard to wrap my mind around this change.

A month ago, I wrote an amends letter and mailed it—no response. I go between hope and despair. I’m heartbroken and angry and am not sure I can forgive this. I read your book each evening. Should I continue to wait or just cut it off and start fresh? Right now, I just want to send an email to say that I’m done with this abuse.

Sarah

Sheri McGregor replies

Hi Sarah,

The simplest answer is to do what you need to do to be able to cope, learn to live with life as it is, accept the parts over which you have no control, and to work toward your own healthy, sensible future—regardless of your daughter’s decisions.

You mention being uncertain whether to continue to wait or just cut it off and start fresh. You also said that right now, you feel like emailing her that you’re done with the abuse. I’ll try to address these thoughts.

In my work as a life coach, I often ask people questions to prompt further reflection, which can help them make sound decisions for themselves. Here are a few for you:

  • At this point, is it is necessary to state anything to your daughter about a new decision to just get on with life?
  • You mention that you have written an amends letter, but I’m not sure for what. Are you?
  • There was no response. Consider what is prompting the idea of reaching out again right now (though in a different way, as you say, to finalize your decision not to allow abuse). Is there a secret hope that this will prompt her to respond and engage with you?
  • Is reaching out again a way for you to “correct” the mistake of sending an amends letter and apologizing for things that made no sense? Sometimes, amends letters are sent from a place of emotional weakness or desperation, or upon a counselor’s advice. I have heard from many parents who later regretted those letters, which is why I ask this question.
  • Is reaching out again this time a way to feel as if you’re taking back power? Sometimes, a specific action can be helpful. However, the act of writing the letter—without ever sending it—may be enough or an even better idea. Try writing out the words—I will not allow abuse—for yourself. Putting your decision down on paper can become a pact with yourself. An affirmation of sorts. Come up with a few more and hang them somewhere prominent. Read them aloud—and mean what they say!

Let me clarify that these questions are not intended as judgments or advice. Your situation is unique, and you must come to your own conclusions. A person’s emotions and the desires that motivate potential actions are important to consider.

Abuse is never acceptable

Abuse is never acceptable, but is stating that in a letter sent for that express purpose necessary? Or would your energy be better used to serve yourself?

In my experience, strong urges to act can be turning points which, if we resist the urge to act in haste, can result in our own growth. Rather than reaching out with words of finality, consider whether this might be a good time to quietly go about the business of living out your decision. To take care of yourself, plan for your future, your wellness, your happiness…. In this way, you train yourself to cope through very practical and focused actions in your own life and toward pursuits over which you have control.

Whether you decide, ultimately, that you must tell her now that you will not accept abuse (No one should! Abuse is never acceptable!), my best “advice” is to work at making yourself feel at peace with your decisions, your future, your activities, and your past (if that’s applicable). Work at your own wellness. If the future holds contact between you, even amicable contact, you will benefit from strength. Why not nurture that now?

I hope that you are finding the book useful. I’m assuming you mean the first book (Done With The Crying). If you are not already doing so, consider engaging with the exercises. They are designed to aid in personal growth, offer emotional strength training, and help you gain peace with the past … as well as in designing your present and future. If you’re reading the e-book or listening to the audio book version, I hope you’ll consider the WORKBOOK. It was designed to accompany those formats, and the exercises are all provided with lots of extra room to write. As time goes on, consider following up with Beyond Done With The Crying (available in print and as an e-book, and will soon be on audio as well).

Hugs to you dear, Sarah.

Sheri McGregor

* all letters are edited for clarity, space, and privacy

Related reading

Adult child’s rejection: Emotional and social fallout

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

does my estranged adult child have mental illness


Does my estranged adult child have mental illness?

Q: “Dear Sheri McGregor,

First, thank you for all the work you do. After my son became estranged, your book, Done With The Crying, traveled in my suitcase, my purse, and my car. For several years, I was never without it and learned to live well without my son! About a year ago, I gave my copy to a neighbor who needed it, and she carries it everywhere with her now. You have helped more parents than you could ever know. Lately though, I found out that my cousin’s daughter has bipolar disorder and something else I can’t remember right now, and I am feeling upset all over again. I have gone over and over the past and am worried. Does my estranged adult child have mental illness? Maybe he was scared or confused and became estranged rather than talk to me. If I had known, maybe I would have been able to help. What do I do with these horrible thoughts that I have failed him?

Sincerely,

Michelle L.”

A: Dear Michelle,

Thank you for your kind words about my work and thank you for writing. Your question is a familiar one. Parents will often worry they have missed something or wonder if there’s some reason for the estrangement that they didn’t know about … and then feel guilty or distressed. Like you, Michelle, many parents wonder: Does my estranged adult child have mental illness? And then they self-blame because they believe they could have avoided the estrangement or helped Or, even that they might be able to help now.

Let me offer a few more thoughts.

Illusory Control

Between the lines of your question, I am reading two underlying beliefs. They are that if your child had confided his distress:

  • Things would be different, estrangement would not have occurred
  • You could have helped.

While one or both may be true, it’s possible that neither is.

You’re not alone in this thinking. However, parents’ belief they could have changed the outcome may be a form of “illusory control.” Or, as it’s often referred to in popular media, an “illusion of control.”

Basically, this psychological term refers to a tendency to overestimate our ability to control outcomes. While parents may not consciously have the thought, they believe that if their child would have confided what was going on, they could have stepped in, facilitated support or treatment, and it all would have led to a happy ending,

The strong motives of love, care, wanting to be a good parent, and the desire for our children to have successful, happy lives, likely influence this illusory sense of control. Despite estrangement, we want the best for our kids. The illusion may also be influenced by our pop-psychology solution society, TV ads that make medications seem like miracle drugs, or the stigma, stress, and embarrassment that keep the very complex and tough mental illness-related dramas behind closed doors. Don’t get me wrong. Situations can improve and those who have familial support often do better than those who don’t. Seemingly miraculous recoveries and the restoration of relationships do sometimes occur.

However, those close to someone who falls within the broad category of “mentally ill” know that solutions are not usually simple or quick. Individuals may be resistant to treatment and have fears about medications causing undesirable side effects. Or, they’re embarrassed, don’t recognize their own mental illness (anosognosia), or their years of disordered thinking has led to changes in the brain that further muddy the issues or how to solve them. Sometimes, mental illness causes risk-taking and reckless choices that end up subjecting the sufferers to victimization, which further complicates diagnosis and treatment.

If you do not yet have my most recent book, Beyond Done , I hope you will get it. Specific sections embedded within the bigger topics of reconciliation, managing emotions, and parental regrets address mental illness. I believe you will find the information enlightening and helpful. Admitting that situations are often complex and stressful, sometimes, happy, or at least happy-esh, endings can occur. Other times, outcomes don’t change and cause further stress for the families involved.

Estranged adult children offer more insight

While I don’t hear from “friendly” estranged adult children all that often, I occasionally receive such communications. Sometimes, they tell me their estrangement had little or nothing to do with their parents. They were frightened, wanted to explore pursuits they believed would hurt their parents, or were troubled in ways they don’t necessarily want to share. Some want to reconcile and begin working toward that end. Others believe the pain of revisiting the hurt they caused would be too great—for them and for their parents and others. Regardless, very often, there is an explanation for estrangement that is not what they originally said, or what the parents were forced to try and guess. Estranged adult children were running from issues or needs or influences or … that, at the time, they didn’t fully understand.

What’s the answer?

If you have been reading my work for a while, you may have seen this final section coming. That’s because it’s a repeat of what I’ve frequently said:

Reach out if it helps you feel better. Let your estranged adult child know you’d be willing to reconcile if that’s what is best for you. Or, if reaching out doesn’t feel right, results in abuse, or for some other reason isn’t the right thing for you, don’t. Regardless, work on yourself. Get strong, find joy, learn to laugh again, and pursue your own life. In the long run, if at some point you reconcile, you’ll be better equipped to handle possible consequences or complexities. There is no downside.

Meanwhile, for Michelle and any parent suffering a reboot of the circling what-ifs, whys, and worries, consider this: Sometimes, what looks like a new question or dimension to your estrangement story, upon closer inspection, is the age old question, Why?, in disguise. Often, it’s a way to stay on the merry-go-round or leads back to blaming yourself. Go back to the fundamentals of healing in Done With The Crying for a tune-up as needed. Then arm yourself with more knowledge and a no-sugarcoat dose of reality with my more recent book. Beyond Done draws on years of interacting with hurting families, my own experience, hundreds of direct interviews, as well as more than 50,000 responses to my survey. Increased awareness works like sunlight, scouring away the same-old-same-old of unhelpful coping and lighting a path for a better future.

Related Reading’

Dealing with uncertainty

Why do adult children estrange? Let’s look at nature or nurture.

How to cope when your adult child cuts you out of their life

Should I send this to my estranged adult child?

help for parents of estranged adult childrenDear readers,

In the last two weeks, three separate parents of estranged adult children have asked me a version of the same question:

  • Should I send your newsletter/book/website link/article to my estranged adult son/estranged adult daughter?

To save time, and for the benefit of anyone else who may be wondering, I’ll answer them all here: No.

Parents who want to forward my materials to an estranged adult child say they believe that reading my books or other writings will stir an epiphany. They believe that upon reading my work, their adult child will come to understand how much their actions have hurt them. Or they hope their estranged son or daughter will recognize themselves in one of the scenarios, come to their senses, and change.

Instead, what often happens is something like the following letter:

Dear Sheri McGregor:

I am writing to you about my mother, Mrs. SUZIE-Q XYZ, who subscribes to your newsletter. She forwarded me a copy of your latest issue and says she is also reading your books and website. I am writing to inform you that my mother is mentally ill.  

As a family, we had begun therapy sessions where she had finally started to see things from our perspective. However, my mother has recently refused further counseling and has stopped taking our calls or texts. The last time we talked, she called us narcissists for insisting she get help if she is ever to see our children. It is my mother who is the narcissist. You should be aware that she is unstable and potentially dangerous.

Sincerely,

Estranged adult son XYZ

In the years since I began this work to help other parents, I have received cryptic, weird, mean, and even threatening emails from estranged adult children who are angered by what I write—and that their parent is reading it.

While I do, very occasionally, hear from an adult child with a sincere question or comment, the majority have used vicious language. They lump me in with the parents they say are crazy, toxic, narcissistic, mentally ill, abusive blankety-blank-blanks. Or, they are more quietly assertive like in the letter above, yet, at least to me, equally transparent in their unkindness.

As discussed in Beyond Done, it’s my belief that no estranged adult child wants to hear from someone (counselor, coach, expert, author . . . ) that their parent has been seeking help about or talking about them. From my experience, if you forward my books or other writings, they’re likely to see the act as an invasion of privacy or you as a gossip, attempting to lecture or control them. And then they lash out at me or inform me you’re unwell.

My hope is that, instead of reading my material thinking that it can change your child, you will use it as intended. For you. For your healing, your growth, your forward momentum and happiness.

Hugs to all. Take kind care of yourselves.

Sheri McGregor

Peace: Achievable in the chaos of estrangement?

chaos of estrangement

December 2021 sunset in Northern California

Peace: It’s achievable

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Peace on Earth . This time of year, it’s written on greeting cards and painted on shop windows. Elvis even croons it over the airwaves. The goal is beautiful, and for many, holds a deep spiritual message. While global peace may seem elusive–as it does in the chaos of estrangement–we can achieve peaceful moments, a peaceful attitude, and even inner peace.

Achieving peace in the chaos of estrangement

Peace within ourselves is a good goal, and one that first requires awareness. In Done With The Crying, I point to being aware of your thinking in order to recognize how often your thoughts tread into mucky waters, and then to shift to a better thought. It’s a form of mindfulness and gets at a way to detach. In the chaos of estrangement and its effects, some people even use the word “detach” as a dictate to remind themselves to let go. The idea of detaching, which is based on the Buddhist beliefs about a person’s relationship with their thoughts and emotions, makes much sense. Still, for me, the word has taken some warming up to. To “detach” brought up imagery that didn’t feel good. Let me explain. . . .

Likely influenced by society’s enthusiasm around the space program, which was so prominent a focus in my early childhood, I imagined “detaching” like a cast-off spaceship part that was left to aimlessly float. However, my research reveals that the part that detaches is the main capsule, which holds the astronauts. After separating, the capsule then moves swiftly toward completing its mission. No wonder so many people use the word and find it helpful. That’s a much better image!

Even so, my mind wanders to the part that’s discarded. Therefore, I prefer different reminder words such as “stop,” “let it go,” or “let it be.” Or, I might think something like, “not mine to decide” or even “stay in your own lane.” The point is less about the words than it is about an effective message. So, choose whatever works for you, and then use the word or phrase to move yourself toward more peaceful thoughts.

Calming moments

The effects of stress can pile on and be cumulative. That’s why it’s important to build resilience with peace and joy. Every day, even within a full schedule that includes some chaos of estrangement and its resulting emotional distress, we can build in moments of peace. Some of us are naturally better at this than others, but we can all learn the beneficial practice of becoming aware of our circumstances and our response to them. Then we can  consciously shift to better responses, for our own benefit.

Life offers each of us numerous “barbells” to lift. These can strengthen and empower us but we still need peace. So, it’s a good thing we all have the ability to pause and reflect, notice and appreciate, detach and focus. I suggest strengthening this self-care muscle.

A few ideas:

  • Notice birds fluttering in a pool of water and ponder the simple elegance of their lives—or just enjoy them.
  • Really look at the people you encounter (cashier, postal worker, fellow person in line) and sincerely connect in some way.
  • Take a real break where you put down the phone or worries and use the time to relax and be present in the moment.
  • Look at the sky, let your eyes outline the clouds, notice subtle differences in coloration, or see sunlight peeking through.
  • Listen to the variety of sounds around you. Then settle on one that brings you peace (a neighbor playing music, the breeze rustling through tree leaves, a child’s laughter. . . .)
  • Whisper or think of a saying that helps, such as “This too shall pass.” Take a few counted breaths and be thankful for any blessing.

A more global peace

When you’re ready, my latest book, BEYOND Done With The Crying, takes the concept of awareness to another level. The ensuing chaos of continued estrangement requires looking at “big picture” concepts, estrangement’s possible causes and its more global effects in your outlook, in your family, and your overall life. And then your awareness of how you reflect upon and deal with those going forward.

Peace: Right here, right now

Despite all that’s happened or is still happening, how do you find peace in the moment? Leave a comment so you can help those who may be struggling.

Related reading

Does healing from estrangement mean you’re cold-hearted

 

How to accept estrangement?

By Sheri McGregor

How to accept estrangement? Embrace the season

I’ve always loved the song by The Byrds, Turn! Turn! Turn! Our lives do have seasons within them, and the song’s lyrics encourage us to accept and embrace those phases. It’s a smart notion, and a sensible way to think about how to accept estrangement.

Parents of estranged adults sometimes balk at the word, “accept,” but it doesn’t mean you agree with their behavior or that it’s acceptable. Acceptance means recognizing facts, and also recognizing that a child’s bad opinion of you or their decision to estrange does not change the truth about you as a parent.

How to accept estrangement: Move forward by looking back

When it comes to moving forward, acceptance also means examining how the situation has personally affected you.  That’s why my first book on estrangement, Done With The Crying, includes guidance, advice, and written exercises that allow you to explore in detail just how far the trauma of the situation – discord, abuse, emotional blackmail – has infiltrated so many areas of your life.  Your health, mood, quality of sleep, how you’ve withdrawn from other relationships and activities … The estrangement may have affected you spiritually and dampened your general enjoyment of life.

When I took pen and paper and really took stock of how deeply my adult child’s cutting off had affected me and my life, it served as a wake-up call. I had allowed another adult’s decision to control my life and outlook. That’s why I feel it’s so important for parents to take some time to really look at the facts. How much time do you and your spouse spend talking about the estranged adult child? Have you started avoiding other people at work because you know they’ll be talking about their happy families? Do you avoid or dread social situations? Have you stopped exercising or are you eating or drinking more? When you look at these changes to your behavior and outlook, you have no choice but to accept the reality—and then you can Turn! Turn! Turn!—to the things you can do right now to take charge for your own growth and benefit.

How to accept estrangement when it continues on and on

Your acceptance may mean recognizing that during every holiday season you can start to feel down. The same goes for other special dates or places. You can plan for these triggers and make changes to support yourself. How did you rise above the funk the last time? What can you do to hasten your turnaround this time?

Remember, you are in the driver’s seat. Don’t keep steering toward dead-ends and roads that only double back to sadness. Don’t drive in circles, revisiting old pain, and wishing things would change. . . . Instead, get the support you need to refuel, follow a new roadmap, and drive onward in your own treasured life.

Over time, most parents come to realize that it’s much less about looking within for the reasons why the cutting-off occurred  and more about how to accept estrangement and love your life anyway.

When you subscribe to my newsletter, continue to read at this site, get my books and do the exercises, leave comments and talk with other parents here, you are following the wise advice of a catchy old song derived from the third chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes—Turn! Turn! Turn!

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

Ask Sheri McGregor

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.

Regards,
Brandie H.

Sheri McGregor replies

Hi Brandie,

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,
Sheri McGregor

Brandie’s reply

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.

Brandie H.

Sheri’s next response

Dear Brandie,

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:

Sheri,

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.

Related reading

When your adult child wants nothing to do with you: Time to go with the flow?

First steps to getting past anger when your adult child rejects you

Anger: Positive energizer? Or easy fix?

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

Sheri McGregor

Image by Andrea Bohl from Pixabay

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Q: Dear Sheri,

How can I handle my adult daughter’s criticizing me, berating me, and forever finding fault. I supported her when she lost her job five years ago. She still sends me texts bringing up things I said in trying to help, that she thought were wrong. She also has a long list of what she sees as my failures and is quick to bring those up.

Signed, Janey

A: Dear Janey,

You could apologize for any hurt she feels, explain that you understand why she may have seen your words like XYZ-her perception, and tell her you hope that she can move past the feelings of hurt that were not intended on your part.

Five years is a long time for an adult daughter’s criticizing to continue. Beyond approaching her with kindness and this sort of giving attitude, if she holds the offenses against you like a dog might hold onto its bone, consider how much (or how often) you are willing to get bit. A tug-o-war will not end well. Say your peace, observe the response, and then decide what’s next. Sometimes, walking away makes the bone less tasty.

Let me add that you, Janey, are the true expert in your own life. Each situation, its duration and intensity is unique. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to tell you what is right for you. I can offer my thoughts, based on the thousands of situations I hear about–and my experience with the estrangement of one adult child, as well as the relationships I maintain with my four others. And then I can step aside and let you come to your own conclusions.

Loving parents will often put up with an adult child’s abuse (criticism, berating, judgments) because they fear the alternative (estrangement). That doesn’t seem like the basis for a mutually respectful relationship.

As the questions in the reconciliation sections of my books allow readers to do, parents can weigh how a relationship with an adult child is defined in their eyes against what they’re willing to let go, put up with, or insist upon. Then, if parties are willing, negotiations can be made.

Hugs to you,

Sheri McGregor

Related reading

Parents blamed by adult children: Are parents’ mistakes worthy of hate?