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.

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?

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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