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.

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

Ask Sheri McGregorAsk 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?

When the adult 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 section of Done With The Crying 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

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

Why do adult children estrangeWhy do adult children estrange?
Could it be nature … or nurture?

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

“Know when to hold ‘em; Know when to fold ‘em.”  I used that line from the Kenny Rogers song, “The Gambler,” in a section of my book, Done With The Crying, that discusses playing the hand you’re dealt, and the fact that how kids turn out can be a crap shoot. Parents don’t have as much influence on their kids as they might think.

A 2015 meta-analysis of existing twin studies research over 50 years and in 39 countries makes it clear that the old nature-or-nurture inquiry isn’t a one-or-the other prospect. Both play a role, and in many instances, it’s roughly half and half. No wonder you can raise two kids in the same family, yet they can turn out so very differently from one another.

In some areas, the scales are weighted more heavily on the genetics side, and that may be important for parents of estranged adult children to consider. Sometimes, mental illness is part of the estrangement equation, whether diagnosed or speculated. Twins research reveals that the risk for bi-polar disorder is 70% due to genetics and 30% influenced by environment.1 Not all areas are so clear-cut, but twins research suggests heritability for Borderline Personality Disorder between 35% and 65% (with the highest heritability occurring in self-ratings).2,3,4 The role of genetics in schizophrenia could be as high as 79%.5

Genetics also more subtly influence mental, emotional, and behavioral traits. Many parents know that their children arrived with different temperaments. One baby’s nature is to be agreeable and always smiling. Another frequently fusses and is generally peevish. As a mother of five children, I know firsthand that this is true. My children were each uniquely themselves and different from one another. Even my pregnancies were not the same. I’m sure many of you can relate.

Have you been examining your history and looking for where you went wrong? That’s something most of us parents do. We immediately think that if our own child can disown us, then we must have done something wrong. And when we look for help, we hear that belief echoed across the Internet. We’re also told we’re making mistakes and probably going about trying to reconcile all wrong…. Ugh.

In general it’s common for parenting advice to give the message that our children’s behavior is a direct reflection of us—how we raise them and how we interact. That’s not actually true. We can do almost everything right, but sometimes, our nurturing takes a backseat to genetics.

If you have been a loving and caring parent, then you have most likely imagined stepping into your estranged adult child’s shoes. Most parents are good at perspective-taking. They try hard to see things through their child’s eyes—even when their children have become cruel. Parents want to understand, to help, and to keep the peace.

Parents, I hope you will take kind care of yourselves. Don’t give another adult control of your health and happiness. No matter what happens, you will be better off if you take care of yourself, stay happy, involved in living, and well. Think about it, even if you never reconcile, you will have enjoyed your life instead of wasting it. And, if you do reconcile, you will be much stronger and better able to enjoy the connection.

Don’t forget your own needs.  You count. Your nature may be to get along, to try to understand, and to fix. But you may be like a lot of parents who are surprised that, when it comes to estrangement, your caring nature no longer works. You can continue to spin your wheels and get nowhere, or you can turn yourself around.  You can throw off the “toxic parent” label, let go of an adult child’s negative assessment, and reclaim who you are and have always been. You can be Done With The Crying (and even then you can still hold out hope).

Related Reading:

Nature vs. Nurture: Research says it’s both

Why parents should stop blaming themselves for how their kids turn out

Largest twins study shows nearly 80% of schizophrenia risk on heritability

References:

  1. Polderman TJC, Benyamin B, de Leeuw CA, Sullivan PF, van Bochoven A, Visscher PM, Posthuma D. Meta-Analysis of the Heritability of Human Traits based on Fifty Years of Twin Studies. Nature Genetics, 2015 Jul;47(7):702-9 doi:10.1038/ng.3285, published online May 18, 2015
  2. Distel, M. A., Willemsen, G., Ligthart, L., Derom, C. A., Martin, N. G., Neale, M. C., Trull, T. J., & Boomsma, D. I. (2010). Genetic covariance structure of the four main features of   borderline personality disorder. Journal of personality disorders, 24(4), 427–444. https://doi.org/10.1521/pedi.2010.24.4.427
  3. Kendler, K. S., Myers, J., Reichborn-Kjennerud, T. (2011). Borderline personality disorder traits and their relationship with dimensions of normative personality: a web-based cohort and twin study. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 23: 349–359
  4. Reichborn-Kjennerud, T., Ystrom, E., Neale, M. C., Aggen, S. H., Mazzeo, S. E., Knudsen, G. P., Tambs, K., Czajkowski, N. O., & Kendler, K. S. (2013). Structure of genetic and environmental risk factors for symptoms of DSM-IV borderline personality disorder.  JAMA psychiatry, 70(11), 1206–1214. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.1944
  5. (2017, October 5). Largest twin study pins nearly 80% of schizophrenia risk on heritability. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171005103313.htm

The beat goes on: Politics dividing families

Election cycle exacerbates existing
problems between parents and adult children
 

by Sheri McGregor

politics dividing familiesIt’s happening again. Adult children are insisting their parents change their political views—or else.  Are politics dividing families?

Tunnel vision

Four years ago, several parents wrote to me, distraught over sons and daughters who threatened to disown them because their politics didn’t align. This time, more parents are sharing their stories, and the rhetoric is more intense. 

Here are a few examples: 

  • A father writes that his grown daughters started college and adopted an entitlement mentality. Although he raised them with values that included working for what they wanted in life, he reports, “They say life should be easy and believe that everything should be free. An odd teaching from a college that isn’t cheap.” He has required that they work to pay for part of their education and pitch in around the house, which his daughters don’t like. They have decided they don’t like him, and have become downright rude. While not physically estranged, emotionally and in their worldview, they’re on another planet. As the Presidential election draws near, they disrespect his views, and often tell him, “OK, Boomer,” (a new phrase young people use to dehumanize elders). The daughters, though, may be in for a surprise. Dear old Dad is growing weary of their surly superiority. He’s contemplating booting from the house and no longer paying their tuition. 
  • Another father says his son, who had been fully estranged for more than two years, was careless about Covid-19. The son called to check in on his dad but wasn’t empathetic to his fears. “He says the virus is politicized,” the father says. “He doesn’t get what it’s like to be in your seventies plus have another health risk factor.” 
  • A widowed mother writes that her 34-year-old son cannot tolerate her fiscally conservative views. When he repeatedly made every conversation political, insisting his “far-left” opinions were right, she suggested they agree to disagree and talk about other things. He said he couldn’t separate politics from the rest of his life and called her a racist. Shocked by the charge, she says, “I asked him for examples, which he couldn’t provide.” He yelled at her, repeating the word “racist,” louder and louder as he stood over her chair. Shaken by his obnoxious rancor, she asked him to leave and stop coming around until he could control himself. That was two months ago and, other than a few emails in which he continues to harangue her, there has been no contact. She says, “I love him and wish things were better between us, but he doesn’t get to choose what I believe.” 

 

  • Another mother says her son rejected her and her husband (his father) during the last Presidential election year. When it came to their votes, it was his way or the highway. Two years later, he began reaching out and even brought their grandson for a visit. After that, they video chatted every few weeks. Recently though, his demeanor has changed. “As the election draws near, I can feel him rejecting us again,” she says. Their daughter, with whom they have shared a good relationship, is also now putting political views ahead of them. She recently sent her mother a text saying if they didn’t dissolve their assets and “support the revolutionaries,” she would stop all contact. The mother replied that at their age, they would support just causes on their own terms. The mother went on to encourage her daughter to do something to make a difference about what she believes: “Volunteer to clean up, rather than destroy. Get a teaching degree and educate the next generation for a better life. Or get a law degree and help those needing assistance.” The daughter’s reply was “rote.” These children are 37 and 39. “Old enough to know better,” as their mother says.   

What I see in these stories is bullying, disrespect, and even arrogance. That’s not so different than other estrangement situations. These “children” are like many who harshly judge their parents in terms of what they determine are unchangeable traits. Then they use these so-called traits to justify the rejection. This is the opposite of parents, who most often try to sidestep conflicts and get along. Or, as the widowed mother above says, “Agree to disagree.”  That’s why the parents whose son rejected them over the last election welcomed him back with open arms. They try and empathize. Living and working where he does is worlds away than his quaint hometown, where his parents still live. He’s adopted different values. It’s too bad that, at least during the election cycle, he has trouble seeing his parents as whole people. They may differ politically but are still worthy and good.  

Do politics bring out what’s already there? 

The political season amps up the opinionated and highlights the intolerance of those who insist that others agree, but some parents have faced similar strong-arming all along. Those whose children make a stink about their views might look at the current behavior with an eye to the past. Upon reflection, the widow whose son calls her a racist says, “He’s always been a bully. Politics just makes it more intense.”  

 Maybe your political views are very important to you, so when your “children” say those opinions are immoral, wrong, or stupid, it’s tougher than usual to try and keep the peace. That thought begs the question: Should you always stand down? Sometimes, preserving your own peace takes precedence over trying to get along.  

I can understand the father whose daughters dishonor him. It’s tough to live with adults who devalue you and your beliefs. Maybe he’s right, and the school of hard knocks will remind his daughters of the lessons he once instilled in them: ideals about adult responsibility that their college culture has apparently erased.  

For the parents whose son and daughter have rejected the salt-of-the-Earth values they were raised with, peace means recognizing that the world has changed. Nowadays, political rhetoric is often about right and wrong. Everything from global warming to eating meat has become an issue. These parents believe the fear that now permeates every facet of society has taken away all the fun. “People used to get dirty, drink out of a hose, and not be so worried all the time,” the mother says. The couple can only offer their children messages of love and encourage their interests as they always did. Meanwhile, they’ll vote as they deem best.   

Politics dividing families: What do you think? 

In the peer support forum here at the site, political discussions are not allowed. That rule has not changed, but I want parents whose children reject them for their political beliefs to know they are not alone. Here, in comments to this article, I hope you will share your experiences in this regard and support one another. Please be respectful and kind.   

 Related reading

 The turning point

When your estranged adult child wants nothing to do with you: Go with the flow?

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

A father recently wrote to me about an article he’d seen at AARP. Here’s a link to it: Avoid Mistakes That Could Make Your Kids Hate You.” 

Are parents’ mistakes, worthy of hate

parents blamed by adult children

Parents’ mistakes? Let’s turn that around.

Thousands of parents blamed by adult children for all their problems write to me. Among those, many have been called upon in drastic situations. A son or daughter makes a mess of things repeatedly and needs money or other help. The parent may help … and then try to tell the adult something to the effect of, “Look, you’ve got to wise up. . . .” In other words, the parents give advice.

As time goes on, the parent may see the adult son or daughter not learning anything from their mistakes, maybe not even trying to learn. Parents can begin to feel used. They may tell the “child” that the Bank of Mom & Dad is closing. Parents have their own bills or may be living on a fixed income or have a nest egg that needs to last their remaining years. It is often at that point that the child cuts them off.

Which makes me think of the abuse that sometimes happens. Parents can be isolated.  A parent may not be physically well, is disabled, or perhaps a widow or widower. The isolation makes them vulnerable to a son or daughter who knows what buttons to push. I have heard from many parents who say that they put up with abuse, financial, verbal, or even physical, because their child is their only family left in the world.

Parents blamed by adult children 

I hear from people almost daily who say, “My grown daughter blames me for everything wrong in her life.” Or, “My adult son says I caused all of his problems.” These children are often in their 30s or 40s or beyond, and remember with detail every “wrong” the parent has ever done. Sometimes the memories are completely different than that of the parent or even siblings and other family members. And many times, the “wrongs” are miniscule.

Twice in the last week, mothers shared that their daughters say all their issues derive from the fact they weren’t breastfed. One of these two moms was a single parent. It was a different world back then. Working mothers were not provided with understanding and a place to pump breast milk (as is the norm now). The other mom was encouraged to bottle feed by her doctor, as were many mothers in the 1960s. Yes. I said 1960s. . . . The daughter doing the blaming is 54. Maybe it’s time she did a little self-reflection rather than blaming the mother who worked two jobs to care for her.

Parents blamed by adult children, recognize the good you did.

It’s wise to recognize our own mistakes as parents, but it’s also wise for adult “children” to consider a parent’s point of view. One of my sons recently traveled to a very cold climate. Before he left, I said, “Do you have a warm enough jacket?” He made a funny face, and then we both laughed like crazy! It was funny, and I added, “I guess you’re old enough to figure that one out.” It’s a mom thing, but is it reason to abandon me. No. How about hate me? No. And he knows that (thank goodness).

The father who wrote to me about the AARP article said that one of the reasons he was successful in his overall life was that he had learned to recognize problems quickly and work to fix them before they were upon him.  When he sees his young adult daughter ignoring problems until she’s forced to deal with them, it causes him stress. His words, “The anxiety kills me.” So, he tries to offer her advice. She resents that advice. But is that reason to hate him or cut him off?

How about a rule?

The article mentions a parent forwarding emails, and not understanding that the son or daughter is already inundated. I know that feeling. A much older relative often sent me a batch of forwards daily. This individual wasn’t computer savvy, didn’t type well, and worried about his privacy on the internet, so I never received a regular note. Was it a reason to hate? No.

No, no, no. It was an opportunity for me to be understanding. And creative.

Perhaps an adult son or daughter can create a “rule” in their email account. That way all the forwarded emails go to a certain box, don’t clog the general folder, and everyone is happy. A considerate son or daughter who recognizes their parents’ motivation to communicate and stay in touch (which is what is behind the forwarded emails) might do well to check the special folder now and again and make a comment in reply. What does it hurt to let parents know they’re appreciated for their good intentions? Beats hating.

Okay to hate?

This is getting long, so let me close with what I see as the main problem with the article this father shared:  It covertly makes the point that it is okay to hate your parents. From the title (“Avoid Mistakes That Could Make Your Kids Hate You”) on, the warning is that if parents make these mistakes, their children will hate them. HATE them. I see far too much of this in our society these days. Kind, caring parents who aren’t all that horrible yet are considered “toxic,” and worthy of hate.

Lift the veil. See the good you did.

To the father who wrote to me, I want to offer my empathy. When one of my five grown children became estranged, I mined every memory with a fine-toothed comb, wondering what I did wrong. Parents are very good at taking on the perspective of their adult child(ren), which has been demonstrated in research related to estrangement. The same research, however, shows that the children who reject parents are not.

In time, I hope all of the caring parents who are nevertheless rejected by adult children will not only see their own mistakes and even magnify them, but also recognize all the good they did.

When you can look past the veil of estrangement that clouds your memories and steers you toward any mistakes, you might even realize that the good you did as a parent far outweighs the bad. There’s an exercise in Done With The Crying that can help.

Hugs to all the hurting parents,
Sheri McGregor

Related reading:

Abusive adult children affect parents’ self-image

Beyond the shadow of estrangement

Freedom for a new era (parents rejected by adult children)

Estranged adult children: Why do they make contact now?

Mother yourself

How do I love me? Let me count the ways. . . .

cut of by sonsby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

How do I love me? Let me count the ways. . . .

Does that title sound selfish to you? In this month when we celebrate love, I hope you will remember that you’re deserving of your own kindness and care. When we’re cut off by sons or daughters, we need all the love we can get. Below, I’ve listed a few points that link to posts to help.

How do I love me? Let me count SIX ways!

  1. By being compassionate, kind, and patient with myself.
  2. By taking good care of myself.
  3. By remembering my own strength, or the examples of others, during times of adversity.
  4. By participating in life; not letting time pass me by.
  5. By spreading a little happiness to also increase my own.
  6. By remembering that it’s good to give and to celebrating love.

cut off by sonsHappy Valentine’s hugs to all, and especially to the parents cut off by sons or daughters.

 

Should I attend?

estranged from adult children

 

 

 

Some who visit this website who are not fully estranged from adult children. They may have some contact—enough that they are even invited to a Mother’s Day celebration. I sometimes receive letters about this sort of limited contact, or asking about attending some upcoming event. Perhaps sharing the following reader question will help. ~~ Sheri McGregor

*****

Dear Sheri,

Because of his wife, I barely get to see my son, but this Mother’s Day, I’ll be attending a brunch with them. My husband will be there, too, along with my daughter-in-law’s parents and a few others from her family.

It will be upsetting. My son will sit with her family, and we will be the ones at the end of the table, ignored other than their rude “jokes.” My husband is a public bus driver, and they have made comments about him “sitting on his a** all day.” It was done in “fun,” but then most of their condescension is. We have tried to be friendly and tolerant but are just so tired. They are white collar. We are both in service positions. They think they are better than us.

I’m not looking forward to the brunch. I have this fantasy that I will stand up and throw my napkin down at one of their rude remarks and put whatever member of their “loving” family has been rude on the spot.  I’d like to tell them all off. In my fantasy, I call that person out. Maybe even my daughter-in-law who is usually fakey-fakey whenever we do see her, which is seldom.  But then she goes home and bats her fake eyelashes and cries to my son. She’ll say how hard she tries, and that we ruined the brunch and how we just can’t get along. He will believe her.

In the past, she has made me out to be the wicked witch. She repeats my words even, and probably uses a wicked witch voice! She is putting my son in a horrible situation and separating him from us. It’s like she is killing him, and he doesn’t even know it.

Even if I make careful small talk and am nice to all of them, I know from the past that something I said or did will be seen in some weird way. My son will tell me I upset her (or even her mother or aunt), and he’ll bring up something I said in a way I never meant it. She can find something to take personally in every conversation. That’s why I feel like I’m just done trying.

If we sit there and take their “jokes,” it means that we are fine with it, right? Like we’re going along with the meanness and allowing them to make us out to be fools? I don’t think I can do that anymore, so standing up for ourselves seems the only way. At least we go out standing.

Do you have a better answer?

Thank you for your book and website, by the way. I feel like your book has really helped me get to the point where I’m usually just fine, living my life. if I have to say good-bye to my son right now, then I could still be okay, too.

Sincerely,

Donna T.

***

Dear Donna T.,

Thanks so much for your note. I often hear from parents in situations like yours, and they feel as you do: These are no-win situations. From your note, it’s clear that your daughter-in-law casts you in a negative light and has even twisted your words. You mention her using a “wicked witch” voice. It’s true that almost anything can sound horrible if said in a vicious tone!

I’m so sorry that you and your husband have suffered this family’s condescending jokes, too. They sound very unkind, and I know the remark about your husband must have hurt. It may have been so shocking in the moment that neither of you knew how to respond. From your note, it sounds like this is a pattern as well, rather than an isolated incident.

You asked if there was a better answer. Here are a few thoughts:

First, you mention at the end of the note that you feel as if you could “say goodbye” to your son right now and still be okay. I’m pointing this out because if you do stand up for yourself and your husband at the brunch, and throw your napkin down, this is likely what will happen. You don’t mention how long your son and his wife have been married, but it sounds as if he has agreed with them in the past. He likely will in this instance as well—and it will hurt.

Second, as you already realize, if you go to the brunch and suffer through it, you also set yourself up for hurt. There’s a saying about us teaching others how to treat us.  If we allow repeated meanness (even if veiled as jokes), at least to unkind people, this may come across as an invitation for more.

Third, as you have described them, the people in the other family will likely not be pleased with confrontation. Even a softer approach to letting them know the jokes are not acceptable may trigger additional unkindness. Forgive me if I am reading more into this situation than is there, but I have a feeling these individuals are well-practiced at turning their “jokes” into an innocent act if they are confronted.

parents estranged from adult childrenThe facts and decisions

The one benefit to going on as things are, is the continued contact with your son. You mentioned that you rarely get to see your son, so my guess is that when you were invited to the brunch, you accepted just to see him—even though her family is hurtful to you.

Because the relationship is already not ideal, maybe a texting or phone relationship keeps the thread of connection, without the surrounding circumstances. Maybe an occasional in-person visit without the extended family is an option if your son is willing. In these darned-if-you-do/darned-if-you-don’t situations, parents sometimes weigh their choices from a “least bad” perspective.

Ask yourself: Which set of circumstances, none of which are ideal, can I live with the most?

Some parents choose to let their adult child go. Like you, they are tired of being hurt, the butt of jokes, maligned or marginalized. One father who was into sports said he and his wife were always “benched” while their adult daughter’s in-laws played full on. To these parents, losing all contact is a risk they’re willing to take. And they do risk full-on estrangement but they view the decision to let go as the one that best cares for their mental, emotional and physical health. Others make a different choice that maintains a thread of contact. Sometimes the thread later dissolves.

Choices

Putting yourselves in a hurtful situation with abusive people just to get to see your son is one choice.

Saying “no” to the brunch, even making an excuse if you feel that’s easiest for you, is also an option. If maintaining some bit of contact is important, you can attempt to preserve that—but still not go to the brunch.

estranged from adult childrenFantasy, reality, and uncertainty

In your fantasy it may feel good to throw down your napkin and call people out. In real life, you’d be handing them a true story to tell about you. You’ll be the “crazy” one who can’t get along.

Unfortunately, the situations surrounding estrangement can get pretty prickly. And there is little certainty. Families who tolerate bad behavior from an estranged adult or others in order to maintain a thread of contact often do so thinking that things will change. While this may sometimes happen, there is no guarantee. I often hear from parents who walked on those proverbial eggshells for years, and the son or daughter eventually estranged completely anyway.

Only you know how much you can tolerate, when enough is enough, and when it’s time to get out of the boat and swim to shore.

Resolution

Donna and her husband decided not to go. They chose to be honest with their semi-estranged son about why, and quietly reminded him of the other family’s “jokes.” He said “yeah,” when they told him the jokes were hurtful but he didn’t elaborate. Neither did they. The parents reiterated they would love to see him, and invited him to come by for a meal, or call them anytime. They said his wife was also welcome. Their son was non-committal, said he had to go, and hung up.

Donna doesn’t expect to receive a Mother’s Day card, call or bouquet. “But I am relieved not to have to sit with my daughter-in-law’s mean family,” she says. “And seeing my son laughing and smiling with people that are disrespectful to his mom and dad, to us, is too painful.”

Estranged from adult children: Helping each other

If you’ve been in similar situations, it would help other parents to share your thoughts. You can hit “leave a reply” at the top of the page to do so.

Ask Sheri McGregor: Should I go to their workplace?

Sheri McGregorI often receive emails from readers. Sometimes the questions and dilemmas are ones that are common. Therefore, I’ve decided to begin sharing some, in the hopes they will be helpful to other parents of estranged adult children.

As always, my thoughts are based on my own experience as well as knowledge about estrangement gleaned from researching my book. At the time Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children went to print, I had heard from 9,000 families. As of this date, nearly 30,000 have answered my survey. Thousands more have participated in the forum, commented here, or emailed me.

Below, I’ve included a recent exchange. Perhaps it will be helpful to you.

Note from Sandra,
mother to twin estranged adult sons

Hello Sheri,

Thanks so much. You have been a tremendous source of inspiration, strength, support and encouragement for me (and many others) throughout these difficult years of mine. I am doing well, all things considered. However, as Mother’s Day approaches, as well as my sons’ 36th birthday, I find myself experiencing different pockets of emotion–sadness, guilt, anxiety, depression, anger. I am sure this is normal. 

Those times are still very challenging as the families celebrate and it certainly brings back memories. It has been 3 years for me in terms if my twin sons being estranged. After reading your “wonder” book “Done with the Crying”, I have tried to use many of the strategies which you suggested. I still have bad days, but the good thing is, I am not where I was, however, still not where I should be.

I am always holding out that my twin adult sons will somehow reach out to me. It has been 3 years and everything has gone silent. No phone calls on my birthday. I have had to block them from sending me emails, for all I ever received were horrible, slanderous emails and text messages full of vitrole. I feel bad having to block them both. I had to find a way to preserve my heart from crying whenever I received those messages. However, my home address has not changed and they are still able to contact me if they ever wanted to. 

I recently heard that I have a new, second grandson. I do not know where my sons reside. But I was able to look up one of them on the internet and saw where he works and his phone number. My other son, I also have a phone number. Both of these adult men have been horrible, very abusive, and so I am unsure if I should contact them. I truly do not want to subject myself to more verbal abuse. Especially as Mother’s Day approaches. I have come a long way in terms of my depression, grief and anxiety. I still suffer from insomnia.

Question for you:

I am tempted to make a connection with my sons at their workplaces. Would this be a good idea? I would like your honest input. I truly would like to see my sons and know how they are doing. 

Thanks so much, Sheri, for taking me that far. “Done With The Crying” has worked wonders for me.

Sandra

Sheri McGregorAnswer from Sheri McGregor

Dear Sandra,

My inclination would be to  discourage you from going to your sons’ workplaces. They might feel like it’s an invasion of privacy, an embarrassment or stress of some sort. Even if you contacted them by letter, or by phone in an unobtrusive way, it may be a mistake in terms of your hard-won forward progress that you mention.

Before you make any calls, consider very carefully what the intention is. If you’re hoping for a good response, and have had horrible verbal abuse in the past, I wonder how you will feel if you receive that again.

Here are a few more thoughts:

  • Your sons know where you are and/or how to reach you. (They could at any any time and have not. Do they want to?)
  • What do you hope to gain from the call?
  • What if you don’t get that?
  • If you want to know how they are (as you said) is there another way to satisfy this curiosity?

The decision is up to you, obviously. It is wise to think it through from a variety of angles, and then consider which is best for you:

  • call or don’t call?
  • try or don’t try?

In light of all contemplation and full accepting of all possible results, which of these can you live best with?

Consider your thoughts

Pay close attention to the thoughts that come up for you. Get out a pen and paper, and jot down some notes.

  • What are your worries?
  • Are they things you can influence or are in charge of?
  • Are your worries about uncertainties that are beyond your control?

I hope this helps a little bit… It’s so difficult to answer questions like this because the possibilities are so wide.

I’m so sorry you’re faced with this and the continued loss of your sons. As you said, you’re not where you once were with all of this. You’re turning a corner though. That may be one of the things that is propting the big question for you about the birthday.

HUGS, Sheri McGregor

 

Sheri McGregorConclusion

I later received another note from Sandra. In it, she shared what many parents do: the feeling of an echo that occurs. Feelings that run so deep they’re like habits. Parents who have loved and nurtured their children experience echoes, hiccups of what once was. In Sandra’s case, there was clearly verbal abuse. She decided not to subject herself to the abuse again at this time. And it is true that her sons know where she lives. If they wanted to reach out, they could.

Have you had experiences similar to Sandra’s? I hope you will share a few thoughts by commenting on this article. Monthly, there are thousands of visitors to this website who can benefit from other parents’ thoughts—-many so fearful of judgment and filled with shame over this situation they didn’t choose and cannot change that they are silent. Won’t you help them by letting them know they are not alone?

Hugs to all of you,

Sheri McGregor

Estrangement from adult children: Have you had enough?

estrangementby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

For parents of estranged adults who are sad, walking on eggshells to maintain even the most abusive or one-sided contact, or pining away for the son or daughter who lays blame for everything that has ever gone wrong in their life, there comes a time when enough is enough. Have you reached that point? The day when you’re ready to move on and seek out peace and happiness no matter what the “child” does?

Here are a few questions to help.

How long must you suffer?

Routinely, I hear from mothers and fathers who for ten or twenty years have been neglected, blamed, ridiculed, ignored, or contacted only when the son or daughter needs money. Their self-esteem has taken a huge hit because of the estrangement from adult children. Some are stuck in a sort of guilt mode that they don’t understand, even though they know they’ve been caring parents. Twice in recent months, life coaching clients have seen how their upbringing affected their boundaries and created undue guilt. Other parents wish there had been some closure, so they could lay it to rest. But although closure is bandied about in our society like a peaceful oasis, as I discuss in my book, Done With The Crying, closure is a myth.

Many of the parents in these long-term estrangements cope well most of the time, but their emotions are triggered when a death or other life event causes contact and/or renews their pain. When that happens, they can go on for weeks feeling blue, reliving the early shock and bewilderment of estrangement, and even asking “Why?” all over again.

Do you want to continue suffering? Sounds like a stupid question. Nobody wants to suffer, right? If you agree, then make a decision to change. Acknowledge all the hurt your son or daughter has caused, and decide not to allow it to shackle you anymore. If you find yourself resisting this idea, that it’s even possible, then it’s time to consider why.

estrangement from adult childrenSuffering: Has it become a habit?

For some, the idea of any relationship, even one that causes pain, is better than none—which keeps them stuck. If you feel this way, you may be caught in what’s become a habit or taken on a sort of victim mentality. But the truth is, you don’t have to. As I say in my book, only two letters separate the word victim from victor. Choosing to be a victor requires a choice, as the letters “OR” imply. It’s never too late to claim your right to be happy despite another adult’s decisions.

Does an idealistic belief hold you back?

You might be stuck because of the idea that a parent’s love should be unconditional. While no caring parent gives up instantly, after suffering with no change in sight, it’s okay to give yourself permission to take care of yourself. It may come down to thinking of releasing the need for a relationship that’s unhealthy, or even giving in rather than giving up.

Even if you’re a caring parent who did your best, it’s possible that a belief that it must be your fault is keeping you from moving forward. One mother shared that she grew up in a church with strict ideas about a mother’s role. Although she knew she had done her best, she also worried maybe the estrangement was a reflection of her working outside the home. It helped to see that stay-at-home mothers also have estranged children. Estrangement from adult children isn’t limited to a certain set of circumstances.

What beliefs might you have that affect your ability to move forward despite the estrangement? Pondering the question may be of use.

estrangementAre you reliving the past?

Some parents keep the pain alive by going over it again and again. One mother who has been estranged from her 52-year-old son for nearly thirty years routinely recounts her estrangement story in detail. She regularly relives the pain of the child she raised turning against her, slowly at first, and then with a full force that included insults and public humiliation. This intelligent woman runs a small business, has a devoted husband, and has raised two other successful and loving children whom the estranged son also left behind. She goes about her life with confidence, yet spends much of her quiet time ruminating over the son she lost, questioning how he could do such a thing to his family, and feeling sad.

This mother and a great many others regularly look for their adult children on social media, or even save old, unkind correspondence—and re-read it. Will it take a computer crash to free you from email from an angry estranged adult child that’s holding you back?

Right now, take a few moments to consider whether you are reliving the past and how doing so may hurt your progress.

Are you keeping company that keeps you stuck?

Some parents maintain relationships with people who remind them of their sorrow and keep them in limbo—unable to fix the problem yet unable to get on with their lives. That might be a relative or friend who says it’s the parent’s duty to keep trying no matter what—even when you’ve tried and been repeatedly beaten back by a son or daughter that wants no contact. daughter says no contactOften, these people with their platitudes don’t have a clue what estrangement is really all about. They think it’s a tiff that can blow over, or chalk it up to immaturity. Maybe those things are true in some instances, but after hearing from nearly 20,000 parents who’ve taken my survey, I know that isn’t true in most cases. Don’t let these people hold you back from a fulfilling life.

At times, even the guise of support can keep parents stuck. Here at the site, there’s a forum which, for the most part, is a helpful venue. Some parents who have moved beyond the pain stay active in the community to provide a caring word to newer members in the throes of early estrangement. While this is positive, there’s also a danger. It’s possible to get caught in an endless loop of recharged pain, anger, grief, and indignation as newcomers post about their circumstances and potentially trigger oldcomers’ pain. It’s also true that a support group can become a crutch, the go-to place to vent feelings or ask questions. At some point, it’s wise to step back and use your own good sense. Doing so can build your confidence.

When is enough enough?

One woman who joined the Facebook page some time ago left a wise comment. When out with her husband one day, they’d driven through the town in which her estranged adult child lives. In the past, she would say something to her husband, and the two would talk about the pain. But on that day, she purposely kept quiet. Her husband was surprised but glad. On Facebook, the woman said she’d come to the conclusion that enough was enough.

I can relate to this mother’s thoughts. Many have read my story, along with those of so many other parents in my book. They know that I used the book’s exercises and research to reclaim my self-esteem and confidence, and to move on in my life after estrangement. But my story didn’t stop with the last page of the book. I continue to move forward in a life with trials and distress (as well as happy times), and even the occasional conflict of some sort of contact from the estranged. I know as well as any parent that estrangement can press in like prying tentacles where and when we least expect it to. But I also know that it’s up to me how much that estrangedinfluence takes control. While it’s wise to face the reality and deal with residual effects, it’s not healthy to bemoan the loss and all its affects. Like that woman in the car who made a decision to drive on by, knowing her estranged adult child resided in the city yet choosing to let the pain alone, we can understand when enough is enough.

While attempting to reconcile with an estranged adult child is normal, don’t hinge your happiness on it. Going over what happened and why is natural, but there comes a time when you know you have done all that you can. For some, that includes an apology, or a note saying your door is open when or if they want to try. For others, based on their own situation, it means literally moving away.

Estrangement from adult children: Step forward

You can examine your relationship with a clear head, see how your beliefs might be limiting you, and understand how suffering can become a habit that keeps you stuck. With help and support, you can step forward in a way that strengthens and prepares you for a new way of life. Even while holding out hope, you can give yourself permission to let go, accept that change is inevitable, and embrace it for your own good. You can be done with the crying. Don’t waste another minute of your precious life.

Estrangement from adult children/Related posts:

The Boat

Abusive adult children negatively influence parents’ self-image

Copyright Notice: All content of any post or page found on any page at this site is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. To share with others, provide a link to the page where the content is found. Reposting of any content is not permitted without express permission. Please see Copyright Notice/Restrictions in the right-hand sidebar for complete copyright notice

Estrangement: What about hope?

estrangementby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

In the face of estrangement from adult children, the concept of hope frequently comes up. Some parents take comfort in the idea their estranged adult children might one day reconnect. Others waffle, wondering if hope is futile. Some parents let go of hope entirely, and believe it’s a positive step toward their emotional well-being. Others are troubled by the admission and worry that giving up hope isn’t normal.

Let’s take a closer look at the concept of hope as it relates to recovering from the pain of estrangement.

Estrangement: Is it wise to hope?

Parents suffering the throes of estrangement usually hang onto hope. Sometimes though, they wonder if hope is even realistic. They ask if it’s is healthy for them, or maybe holds them in a sort of limbo state.

“I would get caught up in magical thinking,” said one mother whose estrangement continues after six years. “At least I’ve come to see it like that.” This mother of two daughters whose oldest is estranged explains that in the beginning, she would often send texts, emails, and even phone messages (her daughter never answered), thinking if she just said the right thing, her daughter would return to her. “Now, I don’t believe anything I could do or say would make a difference,” she says. “But I still have hope.”

Hope is different than expectation.

This mom doesn’t equate her hope with expectation. People routinely hang onto hope when outcomes are beyond their control. Hope rises with the element of possibility more than probability. 1

Seeing hope for what it is allows you to get on with your own life.

In estrangement, can hope help?estrangement

For parents suffering the distress of estrangement from adult children, the hope of getting through the emotional trauma and having a happy life despite it can most certainly help.

Studies about hope often center on persons who are physically ill. Even so, we can learn from people whose precarious circumstances serve to highlight what’s most important in life. For these persons, hope can provide insight into their lives as a whole, and help them see how their past can intersect with their future.2

Similarly, parents devastated by an estrangement over which they have no real control can find a way to view and conceptualize hope as part of an overall narrative of their life and focus. For instance, seeing the part they played in their son or daughter’s upbringing—financially, emotionally, or otherwise—and understanding how that past role contributed to the adult child’s life and future as well.

Did you provide a stable environment? Allow your child to explore a variety of interests? Contribute financially to their physical wellness and/or education? Perhaps you were adventurous, and introduced your child to physical pursuits that widened their experiences and built their strength. How could things like these fit into your child’s adult life?

Ideas around hope can be unique, fitting into an individual parent’s personal life narrative. We always hoped for the best for their children. Continuing to hold out this hope for them, even in estrangement, can bolster our self-esteem and confidence. We are still good parents—despite our children’s choices.

estrangementHope for reconciliation:
Is it normal to give it up?

Among the many thousands of parents who have shared their estrangements with me, many say they have lost all hope of ever reconnecting in any significant way. Some go so far as to say they hope their child never tries. Or have even been contacted but turned their son or daughter away. Often, these parents are troubled by their feelings.

One parent whose son initiated estrangement admitted she hopes he’ll never try to return. Over several years of torment, her son duped her out of large sums of money that derailed her retirement. He even threatened to murder her. His estrangement came as a relief. After several months, she still suffers ill effects to her health, has trouble sleeping, and is sometimes plagued by the feeling that she must be to blame. Although she is relieved over his estrangement and honest that she’s given up the hope of ever having a relationship with him, those feelings trouble her. In her medical profession, hope is encouraged, so to personally experience a loss of hope cuts deep, slashing at her ideals.

This mother didn’t choose the estrangement, but because her son did, she’s since experienced a level of peace in her everyday life that wasn’t possible when her son remained in contact. She’s no longer awakened by hostile rantings and threats, and is no longer manipulated into financially rescuing her son.

It’s not difficult to understand why her son’s estrangement is liberating. This mother is similar to a couple in their seventies who, after years of verbal abuse and episodic estrangements initiated by their son and his wife, have decided that they will no longer allow him back into their lives. The pain of losing their grandchildren yet again, and of suffering their son’s vicious verbal tirades has taken its toll. Exhausted, these parents have chosen to savor their older years together, thankful for some peace. They’re no longer always on edge, in a perpetual state of fear. Their hope now rests with the grandchildren, whom they’re optimistic will one day contact them and pick up the loving relationship they cultivated during the “on” years of their on-and-off relationship controlled by their estranged son.

These parents cut off the prospect of further distress. Their reasoning aligns with the thoughts of philosopher Friedrich Nietzche, who calls hope “the most evil of evils, because it prolongs man’s torment.”3

No hope when nothing has changed

One father recently sent me an email, telling about his experience during six years of estrangement from his son. This loving father who had tried to have a good relationship with his son had been holding out hope. He fully expected that if his son did ever return to him, life lessons would have helped him mature—similar to the prodigal son who returned with a changed heart. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. This father welcomed his estranged son into his home, but within a few minutes, the son proceeded to list what he saw as his father’s faults. He blamed his father for all of the problems in his life, and also the estrangement.

Reminded of the old turmoil—as compared with the relative peace during the six-year estrangement—this father told his son to leave and never come back. And then he sent me an email, wondering if it is common for parents to put an end to a relationship with an abusive son.

The answer is yes.

I hear from parents at all stages of estrangement: a week of no contact, one year, five years, or even decades. While it’s true that the majority say they wish they could have a good relationship, many admit to having lost all hope. Some for reasons like the parents above. Others because a son or daughter is now a stranger. Many explain why they know that a normal relationship isn’t possible, and they no longer want to try—yet are still plagued by sadness and worry their loss of hope represents some personal shortcoming.

Hope: Against the odds?

In the first example, the mother spoke of hope as integral in her work. Hope helps people who are suffering, often in situations that are largely out of their control. That’s how the idea of maintaining hope differs from optimism about more self-determined outcomes. We “hope” that there will be no traffic. We “hope” our surgery will go well. We “hope” that a friend with cancer survives. Other than the obvious things we might do to help these situations along, such as leave at low-traffic times or choose a reputable doctor, the outcomes are mostly beyond our control.

Hoping an estrangement will end is normal, but it’s also wise to accept that the outcome is beyond our control. Some parents can see that in their situation, it also isn’t likely. For them, leaving hope behind makes sense in order to stop the torment of continued hurt.

The couple in their seventies who are optimistic their grandchildren will one day reconnect make a distinction between hope and optimism. The oldest was 14 when the last estrangement began. They still send cards to her and her younger siblings, although they can’t be sure they’re receiving them. They reason that their granddaughter was old enough to see that her father’s bad behavior wasn’t their fault.

Limits are unique

We each decide our own limits as to how much trouble, abuse, or neglect we will accept in estrangement and still hope for reconciliation. In my book, there is a series of questions that help individuals conclude for themselves where they fall in the spectrum. Sometimes, taking a hard look at the realities of the relationship dynamics helps parents come to terms with what is, and move forward in their own lives—whether holding out hope or not.

If you’re troubled by your lack of hope or your decision to close the door to reconciliation, you’re not alone. As parents, we’re accustomed to caring for our children. For parents, sometimes the lines between childhood and adulthood can blur. An adult who has caused us repeated troubles may trigger the love we felt for a child who made a mistake. But that’s not the same as an adult son or daughter whose mistakes aren’t innocent or childlike.

Eventually, to protect their physical strength, their sanity, and their future, many parents draw the line—which is a healthy self-preservation response. Many of these parents say they wish they’d have done so sooner.

estrangementHope for ourselves

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” ~ Desmond Tutu

As I say in my book, the landscape of loss is fertile ground for growth. When it comes to a happy future, we have more than hope. We can be optimistic and cultivate the fruits of our positive expectations with action. We can control our thoughts, our behavior, and for the most part, our lives. We can be happy, despite loss.

My hope is that all the caring parents who have been mistreated and estranged will make the most of their treasured lives.

References:

  1. Bury, S.M., Wenzel, M., Woddyatt, L. (2016). Giving hope a sporting chance: Hope as distinct from optimism when events are possible but not probable. Motivation & Emotion. 40:588-601
  2. Dal Sook, K., Hesook, S.K., Thorne, S. (2017). An Intervention model to help clients to seek their own hope experiences: The Narrative communication model of hope seeking intervention. Korean Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care. 20(1):1-7.
  3. Nietszche, F. (1994). Human, all too human. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Related articles:

Adult children won’t talk to you: What does it mean to cope?

Parents abandoned by adult children: Shape your new normal