Category Archives: Ask Sheri McGregor

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

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