Category Archives: Ask Sheri McGregor

Ask Sheri: What about parents who did something wrong?

what if a parent does something wrong?A mother whose daughter has cut her off emailed to ask: 

“What about parents who abandon their children for years or short periods of time? I did that for several years, but came back to fix my wrongs, to plead for forgiveness, to rebuild my relationship and thought all was O.K. In my daughter’s years from 20-38 we spent every vacation tougher. I spent countless dollars on my granddaughter and my daughter. I did everything I could to make up for my bad choices as a younger mother. Then out of nowhere she had a meltdown and blamed it all on me and has not had anything to do with me for 4 yrs. now. What about us parents who made bad choices and now have to live with them.”

Answer from Sheri McGregor:

Every parent has made a bad decision or two (or more). Yours may be a period that you regret, and you feel that you made it up to her as best you could. You can’t be sure that her meltdown has anything to do with that. And if it does, it’s something she will have to come to terms with.

Knowing so very little here, it’s difficult to offer much. But, if this was me, I would make sure that I apologized again, expressed my love, and offer to work with her in counseling in whatever way she needs. It’s certainly possible that for some reason, four years ago, feelings of abandonment have come up for her. These could have been triggered by something unrelated, yet she recognizes that her response in whatever situation relates to unresolved feelings over the time she left. I don’t know. These are guesses. But you can offer love, support, apologies.

Can you forgive yourself? Can you hold her in a good light, pray (if that fits) that she will be well, have good expectations for her…? Perhaps you could remind her of all that she has done well, how leaving her behind was never about her (it wasn’t, right?), and how you wish you could take that back.

And then, you may need to let her figure it out herself. We all have things that happen in our lives that hurt us, and we move on the best we can. We learn from them, we grow stronger (or we don’t). You spent an awful lot of years in happiness with her for this to suddenly occur and everything to be so bad for her. It seems kind of mean (to me) for her to bring up ancient history, blame you, and cut you off(she’s in her 40s now, for goodness sakes). There are a lot of possibles as to why this occurred at this point, and it may have little to do with you at all. It’s possible you’re being blamed for mistakes she is making with her own children even, and she’s not ready to see that. Or, it’s possible there really is something she has done that is related to what you did … but to cut all ties is not (probably) a wise response. I just don’t know…

Does this help at all? I hope so. I am not offering advice. These are just thoughts based on a very tiny bit of detail you provided, and my experience alone and in hearing the stories of so many parents.

HUGS to you,
Sheri McGregor

Reply from the mother:

Your reply is perfect.  It will help me to stand strong in what I’ve been doing as far as she is concerned.  I spent the first few years apologizing then this past year I realized I have done all I can do and just stand by for if and when she seriously wants to correct this.  You are right about her meltdown also, it had nothing to do with me, that took me a while to come to terms with that, but I was out of sight and out of mind and an easy target to blame.  We live in states that are very far apart.  I’m so over my guilt now. Well, every once in  awhile something will trigger those guilt feelings, and then I have to work hard to put them behind me again.  I am so happy to have you and your website, it is a relief to know I am not alone.  So many things and feelings people write about that I have felt over and over.

“The outcome of her meltdown was an overdose and a trip to the hospital.  I hopped a plane and flew there overnight. When I walked in her room, she looked at me and told me how much she hated me, that she had always hated me, and she had spent her whole life trying not to be like me.  That was a punch in the gut and that is when the separation started.

“So you know, I have been clean and sober for 25 yrs.  My husband and I are hard working, well liked people in our community.

“Thank you, Sheri, for listening, thanks for your advice I will be following your website closely.”

Further comments

If this mom would like to keep the door open to future reconciliation, perhaps it’s wise to reach out again in several months’ time. Depending on the response at that time, she can reevaluate for later.

Are you a parent who has “done something wrong”? Maybe this correspondence helps you to better come to terms or work at a way forward. Even with situations that are not the same, there is often something to learn in the experiences of others.

Share your thoughts by using the “leave a reply” link at the top of this posting.

Hugs to all. ~ Sheri

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

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