Category Archives: Ask Sheri McGregor

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?

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

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

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

Ask Sheri McGregor

Ask Sheri McGregor

Most parents feel stalled and uncertain about the future when adult children’s hearts turn cold. It’s a natural response when someone you have loved so very much becomes a person you can barely recognize (if at all).

A rejected mother asks

Sheri, I have two of your books and the have helped so much. I have a question for you.

Our adult son has little to no contact with us. We are thinking of asking him if “no contact ” is what he plans to have for the rest of our lives. That way we can tell him then we will move forward with our lives and not sit around wondering.

I don’t know if it’s a bad idea to even ask. I’m angry and not sure I want to give him the satisfaction of feeling in control of our lives.

Any thoughts Sheri ? I am open to hear.

Keep going what you do, as you are helping many.

Regards,
Brandie H.

Sheri McGregor replies

Hi Brandie,

I can understand your reluctance to give your estranged adult son the power to control your outcome. Must your lives and the way you live and move forward for yourselves be contingent on his answer? What if his answer is uncertain or ambiguous (such as, “maybe, not sure yet”)? What if he doesn’t answer at all?

It’s possible to release someone, allow them to do what they will do, and move forward for yourself. You don’t have to sit around wondering what he will do as a condition of what you will do. You have no real choice but to release him anyway. He is an adult, making adult decisions. You can release him and go on and enjoy your lives, fully live in them, find things that bring you joy, get support as needed, etc., with the idea that you are open to the possibility that he may one day return. If he does, you can cross that bridge at that time. This way, you will not have wasted your lives (months or years or decades).

If you take care of yourselves and enjoy your lives, don’t be surprised if you grow and your perspectives about him, what he has done, and even your own selves and self-worth change. The “home” an adult child leaves behind does not remain static. Abandoned ones instead grow and even bloom. I wouldn’t want to tell YOU what to do, but I would not stunt my own growth by giving a person who has hurt me power over my life or destiny.

Nurture yourself. Give yourself the ingredients for a life well lived, and make it so. Do this independent of him or his plans.

Hugs to you,
Sheri McGregor

Brandie’s reply

Thank you so much Sheri. I am crying, in a good way because I feel you are so right on.

I could go on and on. I just had a double mastectomy 6 weeks ago. All I got from him was a “good luck.” I felt like he was just “checking the block” to make himself feel like a good person. That pissed me off.

You email back is so helpful and has help to give me the strength to move on.

Hugs back to you.

Brandie H.

Sheri’s next response

Dear Brandie,

With your recent surgery, it is yourself and your healing and wellness that requires all your focus right now. That’s a lot to endure especially amidst the cruelty of estrangement.

If you only knew how many moms and dads write to me with a major illness and cruel children. . . .

Take kind care of yourself. I hope you get to listen to some birds singing each day, smell a flower, and find something to savor.

Hugs to you dear, Brandie.

More from Brandie

Brandie replied one more time, and I include a portion of her email here so readers will know more about her:

Sheri,

I just listened to a radio show you were once on, run by Daniel Davis, on Beyond50 radio.

The discussion on grandchildren really hit me and was something I could relate to. I have 6 granddaughters I can’t see due to estrangement. One of which I was quite bonded with. Estranged adult children don’t seem to see the damage they do to their children when they kick grandparents out of grandkids’ lives. Such a powerful discussion and I thank you for touching on it.

Related reading

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

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

Anger: Positive energizer? Or easy fix?

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

Sheri McGregor

Image by Andrea Bohl from Pixabay

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Q: Dear Sheri,

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

Signed, Janey

A: Dear Janey,

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

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

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

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

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

Hugs to you,

Sheri McGregor

Related reading

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

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

By Sheri McGregor

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