Category Archives: Answers to Common Questions

Some questions are common to parents of adult children who are estranged. This category names and answers some of the questions common to parents of estranged children.

Troubling dreams: Why do I have them?

dreams after rejected by adult childMy adult child rejected me. Why do I have these disturbing dreams?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Jumbled, chaotic, and even frightening dreams can be a normal reaction to the emotional trauma of an adult child’s estrangement. Your mind is working overtime to make sense of things.

Unfortunately, a troubling, night after night pattern of disturbing dreams after an adult child’s estrangement can cause loss of beneficial sleep—which can make you more vulnerable. Sleep deprivation can impact physical and mental health. For some people, their dreams become so disturbing that they’re wise to seek professional help.

For others, seeing their troubling dreams as a normal response, and even as useful, can be a positive change of perspective. Perhaps your dreams can even help you heal. Mine did.

For more about how my dreams helped me heal, read: Your vivid dreams: Can they help after an adult child’s estrangement?

Do your questions keep you stuck?

parents of estranged adult childrenby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Parents of estranged children often wonder about the future—for themselves and for their estranged children. One question so many ask is a variation on one of these:

  • Will my estranged adult daughter ever see how much she has hurt me?
  • Will my son who doesn’t talk to me anymore ever realize what he has done?
  • Will my angry adult son ever come to his senses?
  • Will my grown daughter who cut me off ever let me back into her life?
  • Will my son ever forgive me for whatever it is he thinks I’ve done?

While those are logical questions, for your own well-being, the next question should be something like this: Are these questions helping me cope?

I understand the thoughts, the ceaseless wondering tempered by hope and sharpened by pain. When my estranged adult son drew up “sides,” and placed me firmly behind a boundary I hadn’t known existed, he left me in shock. Most parents are.

As the estrangement wore on, the question—Will he ever . . . ?—brought more pain. I worried for my son. If he ever did realize, then I imagined his horrible regret—for the time he had lost, the distress he had caused, the horrible knowledge that he had so hurt his family. . . .
I worried for my son.

Can you relate? I hear from so many parents who share similar feelings. First there’s the hurt and shock. The slicing final moments replay in our heads. The awful words come back to us with force, disturb our peace, and intrude on our dreams. Disbelief reigns.

As time goes on, perhaps with unsuccessful efforts to fix whatever went wrong, a drab, uncertain future stretches out. We worry for ourselves, for our estranged adult child, and for the family.

It’s all so very sad.

Parents of estranged adults: Turn the page. Begin a new chapter.

To turn a new page, to move forward in a life that is different—but can still be good!—start by changing your questions. Good questions often become the canvas on which my clients paint new beginnings. So I have to ask: Whether or not your children will ever return, ever realize, ever see and regret what they have done . . . does that change your life today? In the life that’s before you now, what does the answer change?

Take a moment to separate your own well-being. Let loose the idea that you can control your adult child’s decisions. And realize that the possible consequences that come from those decisions, will be your child’s to own.

For your own life, can you let go of wondering? Or perhaps even choose an answer like one of these:

  • My estranged daughter will one day have regrets.
  • My angry adult son will one day realize he has made a mistake.
  • My estranged adult child who won’t talk to me will someday be sorry and return to my life.

Pick one, or craft your own answer. Then ask yourself:

Does the answer change my life now?

You can only control yourself.

Most of the fathers and mothers of estranged adult children who come to this site have begun to see that they can’t change what’s happening. Most of them have tried. Parents who have been emotionally abused by an adult child (abandoned, rejected, cut off), usually want to reconcile. It’s their first goal. But they later come to the realization that they can’t force their grown son or daughter to oblige. They can’t force the person their child has become, to morph back into the wonderful son or daughter they used to know.

What now?

So, what can you do now? To better your day, your outlook, and your future?

Imagine your child will never return. How will you spend your days?

Imagine that in five years, your child will return to you with an apology and full of regret. In what state of being will that child find you?

Just as each of our lives is a canvas with some space still blank, I will leave this article without a conclusion. Write your own. Make it a satisfying one. Paint your own sky, earth, and meandering path. Paint yourself—dancing, smiling, and finding joy.

parents of estranged adult childrenIn my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, the question: why? is covered with a chapter all its own–and helps bewildered parents lay their questioning to rest.

Take care of yourself today. In doing so, no matter whether our estranged adult children will ever realize . . . . You can be you. And be well.

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Why forgive?

parents of estranged adult childrenParents of estranged adult children wonder: Should I forgive?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

In my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, I share the story of Doreen, whose son no longer wants a relationship with her.

Doreen asked, “Why should I forgive my son? He hasn’t apologized. And he’s not making any effort to reconcile.”

Another mom explained her thoughts this way: “Forgiveness comes when the person wants to make things right. My estranged daughter doesn’t.”

So, what does it mean to forgive? And if you are the parent of an estranged adult child who is or isn’t sorry, should you forgive? Or will it only open you to hurt?

Forgiveness can mean many things to many people. For some, forgiveness holds deeply spiritual roots, and perhaps implies a divine sense of the word that completely erases past errors. Therefore, forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply may seem impossible, or even wrong – – particularly if the person hasn’t apologized or changed. Some parents of estranged adult children may wonder if it’s right to pardon error when someone doesn’t repent.

For others, substituting another phrase such as “letting go,” in place of “forgiveness” more accurately expresses the idea. The intent has less to do with the person who has wronged us, and is more focused on dropping unhealthy responses that can hold us back. Whatever your thoughts on forgiveness, read on for more discussion and why forgiveness may be helpful to you.

Forgive and forget?

For many, the saying, “forgive and forget,” comes to mind, but forgiveness doesn’t always require forgetting.

If we’re lied to, stolen from, treated with indifference, subjected to angry outbursts, or in some other way hurt, forgetting the past and letting our guard down completely is probably not the wisest course. That sort of forgiveness may come across as an invitation: “I’m a doormat. Walk on me!”

Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me.

Forgetting bad behavior can make us vulnerable. If a dog bites us, we’ll be wary of that dog in the future. That doesn’t mean the dog will definitely bite us again, but expecting that it won’t isn’t logical.

Forgiveness also doesn’t erase the consequences of bad behavior. A crime victim may “forgive” their assailant, but that doesn’t mean the jail sentence is automatically lessened – – even if the perpetrator admits wrongdoing and promises to change.

An excessive gambler may stop betting, but havoc wreaked on finances doesn’t disappear with a changed mind. If a person borrows money and never pays it back, their reputation suffers.

It’s similar for us and our adult children. Once relationships are damaged, even if a son or daughter wants to reconcile, our forgiveness doesn’t instantly restore trust we once shared. Our forgiveness of past behavior does not require we forget and act as if nothing ever happened.

Forgiving when there’s no apology. Why?

In a 2001 article in the Journal of Counseling & Development, the term “forgiveness” is defined as ceasing to feel angry or resentful. This meaning focuses on letting go of emotions that can cause distress. It’s the definition intended in most discussions on forgiveness today.

Letting go of deeply embedded emotions and resolving unhealthy resentment that can contribute to anger and guilt can be beneficial. That’s why the concept of forgiveness, regardless of the wrongdoer’s presence or attitude, has become so popular. Forgiveness, for your own benefit, is therapeutic.

In an earlier article, I offered accepting the need to forgive as one of the first steps to letting go of anger. While anger can be a natural response to the experience of your adult child’s rejection, and anger can be healthy and help you move beyond sadness, if the anger is troubling to you or becomes overwhelming, forgiveness can help.

Doreen was miserable about her anger toward her son. She was frustrated, hurt, and consumed by thoughts of him, their relationship, and her rage. Then she felt guilty for feeling so angry.

Forgiveness: Take back your power

What Doreen didn’t immediately see was that in refusing to forgive, she couldn’t quite let go enough to move forward in peace. By holding onto blame and anger, she gave her son power over her emotions. She’s the first to admit those emotions made her miserable.

If you believe forgiveness is impossible, unjust, or are angered the topic is even proposed here, don’t feel badly. Perhaps in the future you will feel differently. Or perhaps you can substitute another word such as “releasing.”

Doreen was able to accept the idea of releasing without pardoning her son’s error. Doreen came to believe that making the decision not to hold him accountable every day, while he was off happily living his life, freed her. “I was then able to get on with my own life.”

In the book, there are information and tools to help release resentment and release troubling emotions – – in other words, to forgive.

Related reading:

Rejected by an adult child, why do I feel guilt?

Five ways to move on after an adult child’s rejection

When your adult child rejects you: First steps to getting past anger

 

Why do I feel guilt?

rejected by an adult childEmotional well-being series.
Innocent Guilt: normal after conflict

by Sheri McGregor

One mother rejected by an adult child recently wrote that she felt “guilty.” She also said she had wondered what she did wrong but couldn’t identify much. So, was her “guilt” valid? Let’s take a look at guilt, a common feeling associated with the loss of an important relationship – – and when there’s conflict.

Guilt when rejected by an adult child: Should I have…?

Many of us are familiar with the guilt that can accompany the loss of someone we love in death. It’s common to wonder if we spent enough time, wish we’d have said how important they were to us, or even feel responsible in some way. When rejected by an adult child, we feel a similar loss, with many of the same questions.

Did I spend enough time with my son? Did I give my daughter too much freedom? Did I show him enough affection? Provide her enough structure? Cook the right foods? Tell him I loved him enough? For moms whose children have rejected them, the list of questions can go on and on.

Rejected by an adult child and left to puzzle

In interviewing mothers rejected by an adult child, it has become clear that very often there is no open conflict over a tangible act, omission or offense. Many mothers rejected by an adult child tell me they don’t get it. They did their best. They nurtured their child’s interests, cared for their physical needs, read the bedtime stories, sponsored the sports teams and memberships, helped them learn to drive, apply for a first job. . . .

These parents of estranged adults thought all was well. Everything seemed fine, and then one day, something changed. They received a note or phone call requesting no further contact, or were given a cursory explanation such as, “I need my space.” And then silence.

Some mothers say they first noticed a sort of cooling off. But busy caring for younger children and/or working full-time, they didn’t immediately react. After all, their adult children had lives of their own, and were often busy with their own work and even with their own growing families.

In some cases, the cutting off itself is what leads to conflict. When moms question what’s wrong, the adult child lashes out with accusations, or says things like, “You were never there for me!” When pressed for specifics, the adult child refuses to talk, strings together curse words, or simply walks away.

Situations are unique, but often parents are left to puzzle. Despite repeated attempts, there’s no explanation given. Without a chance to hash things out, there’s no chance to make amends if necessary, and move forward with a clear understanding what went wrong for a better future relationship.

In trying to no avail, parents get tired. We look back on our parenting, many times with other adult children who tell us we did fine, and conclude the problem doesn’t lie with us.

Why guilt?

Most parents rejected by an adult child initially react with a feeling of guilt because we’re so floored at our adult child’s cold behavior that we believe we must have done something wrong. Then, even when we critically self-examine and see that we did our best, other people accuse or dismiss us.

An uncle raises his brow. “What happened to make her so mad at you?” The questions carries judgment.

A co-worker avoids eye contact. “I can’t imagine that happening,” she says. The statement seems to carry accusatory conclusions.

A friend says, “It’s just a phase.” His words show that he lacks an understanding about the tenacity of the problem.

We can feel all alone. We may continue to question our parenting skills. And a vague sense of undefined guilt may edge our thoughts.

Unresolved conflict and guilt

Part of the problem may be the conflict we don’t understand. Left without solid answers, the conflict is unresolved.

A recent article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Philosophy examines the concept of “innocent guilt,” which occurs after conflicts. This guilt without cause is experienced by people who are not responsible for wrongdoing. The article explores philosophers’ writings that connect feelings of guilt to people who aren’t guilty. When they’re still suffering, victims of wrongdoing experience guilt as part of the aftermath of the conflict. Ethical persons suffer “innocent guilt.”

Parents of estranged adults know all too well the ongoing nature of their suffering. The grief, sadness, anger and other emotions common to the situation can persist. Part of what we experience as “guilt,” may be an ethical response, a completely natural emotional reaction to the conflict itself.

Our values and the outcome

Another reason why a sense of guilt may be common to parents rejected by an adult child is because, for many of us, a twinge of guilt serves as a reminder of our core values. Many say that twinge spurs them to do the right thing in any number of situations.

Loving parents, like the mom who said she felt “guilty,” have values that made them conscientious parents who did the right things. But if they did the right things, then what went wrong? It’s a paradox.

One mom spoke with a sense of pride when she recounted the way she raised her children (now estranged). The outcome dismays her. “You don’t expect to fail at motherhood.”

Relieving the suffering

The Journal of Applied Philosophy article highlights a need to work at relieving suffering that’s related to innocent guilt. For me, helping others via life coaching, creating this website, hearing other moms’ stories, and writing about the subject to help other parents rejected by an adult child has been a big part of my own healing process.

In a future article, we’ll explore more about feelings of guilt that aren’t justified, and ways to overcome those feelings. For now, know that by seeking information, you’ve taken a positive step. Youre moving toward recovery from loss, and moving past the pain of this isolating experience. You don’t have to endure this all by yourself. Leave a comment below – – I’d like to hear from you.Or reach out by taking the survey to help parents of estranged adults. You can also share your story, or join the community forum. Be sure to sign up for the email updates so you’ll never miss an article (scroll up to find the sign up form, at the top of the right-hand column).

An abstract of the article about innocent guilt can be found here.

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

 

Estrangement between parents and adult children: Feeling stuck

estrangement between parents and adult childrenParents of estranged adults wonder: Is the relationship over for good? Will our son or daughter ever return to us? Or even (whether you want it or not): Will my estranged adult son show up on my death bed?

The painful ambiguity that goes with estrangement between parents and adult children can cause parents to remain in a holding pattern, with their lives in limbo.

Physical estrangement, psychological presence

Your adult child is estranged but present in your thoughts. So much time, energy and love goes into raising a child that we’re bound to think of them. That’s why family gatherings, holidays, and other special times can hold an odd tension between present and past.

My husband and I still live in the home where we raised all of our children, so reminders of our estranged adult child abound. When my family is together, the psychological presence of our estranged adult son looms, kind of like the proverbial 400-pound gorilla. Much of the time, we pretend it’s not there, but it sits in the corner nonetheless, beating its chest.

Estrangement between parents and adult children: common feelings

In a 2011 article in the journal, Families in Society, University of Newcastle research discusses estrangement between parents and adult children. Parents can feel stuck, not knowing whether their adult son or daughter will return or not. The ambiguous nature of estrangement can complicate the experience. But the questions and feelings shared by many parents of estranged adult children are normal.

You are not alone. Still, knowing that other parents have a similar experience doesn’t automatically make the feelings any easier to deal with. So, in light of the ambiguous nature of estrangement between parents and adult children, how do you manage the uncertainty? You can find help with this article: Dealing with Uncertainty.

Estranged parents define themselves

estranged parentsEstranged parents, are you really estranged?

One mom mentioned receiving an email from her daughter. Although this was the first contact in a very long time, the mom wondered, “Am I still estranged?”

Her question echoes that of many estranged parents. If you finally get a response from an adult child who has ignored you, are you still “estranged”? Does receiving a phone call, a letter, a birthday card, or some other contact, change everything? What if you get a birthday card and a Christmas card? Do two cards mean you are no longer estranged? What about two phone calls plus a text? Let’s see.

Estranged parents, how ya’ feeling?

At Dictionary.com, the word “estranged” is defined like this: displaying or evincing a feeling of alienation; alienated. It’s an adjective that describes a way of feeling.

If you feel estranged, then you are. There are no hard and fast definition rules that rely on technicalities.

Am I an estranged parent, or maybe just a semi-estranged parent?

Some people define limited contact such as an occasional call or email as “semi-estranged.” If that works for you, use it. But if occasional contact is the standard, who’s to decide what’s “occasional”? Again, there are no rules here.

If describing yourself as “only” or “just” semi-estranged makes you feel as if your pain from estrangement should be less hurtful than a parent’s “full” estrangement with absolutely no contact, then don’t qualify your definition of estrangement.

Estranged parents, period.

Some parents with no contact say they prefer complete silence than having some contact with an estranged adult child. I know, I know. . . . Some estranged parents can’t imagine saying that. Well, for parents who have received a couple of calls or texts, only to get excited about the possibility of more communication – – which doesn’t come – –  the high of hope followed by the crashing let down is just too painful. In some families, estranged parents are drained of cash from giving and giving and giving. They recognize a need to replenish their stores for their retirement phase, so cringe at the thought of their estranged adult child making contact and asking for even more.

Each situation is unique, so comparing our situation to another estranged parent’s circumstances, feelings or solutions may not be helpful.   

Estranged parents, you’re on both sides of the estrangement equation

While “estranged” describes feelings, the word “estrange” is a verb, so denotes action. To “estrange” is defined as follows: to remove, to keep at a distance.    

Despite some form of contact, you may still feel as if you’re kept at a distance or removed from your adult child’s life. To define yourself, your feelings, therefore, are also important on this side of the equation.

So, where does your estranged adult child fit into the equation? It’s something many of us wonder. Would my estranged adult son consider us “estranged”? I think he would, but then he did recently send a text. Does that mean he doesn’t feel as if we’re estranged? If he doesn’t feel estranged, then am I really an estranged parent?

Simply put, this site exists to help and support estranged parents. Although in many situations estranged adult children are also hurting, for now we’ll leave out the adult child’s definitions.

Estranged parents, determine your own definition (if it helps)

Parents use a lot of words to describe their feelings about a distant relationship with an adult child. You may feel rejected, abandoned, forsaken, alienated, dismissed, discarded, or kept at a distance.  In some situations, terms like “cash cow,” or “on call” even come up as parents describe themselves as related to the parent and adult child relationship. Again, if you feel distanced, you can call yourself “distanced,” or put another word in its place.

Some parents describe the experience as feeling betrayed. One way to move toward recovery after a betrayal is to no longer allow the betrayer to define you, your feelings or your thoughts about yourself.

Estranged, abandoned, rejected, discarded, neglected parents – welcome.  At this site, many estranged parent scenarios, with some or no contact, will be explored.

Help other parents. Take the confidential 8-question survey.

Parents of estranged adult children ask: Why?

Your Adult Child is Estranged, Parents ask, “Why?”

adult child is estrangedWhen something as momentous as an adult child leaving the family occurs, it’s completely natural to ask, “Why?

Asking the question over and over again is normal after an adult child is estranged. After all, for most of us, asking why? has always been a way to find answers, connect with other people, and explore the world. Asking why? is a fundamental part of the human experience.

But the question can be tiring for the people who stand by us as we go through the emotional trauma. Our adult child is estranged, and we can’t understand why this happened, why our adult child left, and why he or she won’t let us in to try and solve the puzzle.

Our loved ones may not have any answers, and they may want us to accept that there simply is no way to explain the estrangement. They might worry we’re blaming ourselves. And in time, they may grow tired of hearing about our pain. In our continual quest for answers as to why our adult child is estranged, we may even tire ourselves out.

But embracing the question, Why?, can be part of the healing process that goes along with human nature and our need to find meaning. Ignoring the need for an answer may be more stressful than examining the responses that come up as you attempt to find reasons.

For a much more complete discussion about how asking why? can help, see  the article,
Help for parents of estranged adult children – An Adult Child’s Rejection: Asking Why?, which is filed under the “What Parents Can Do” navigation category.

Why is this so hard to get past?

adult child's betrayalParents often ask: I’m a strong person, so why am I am having such a difficult time getting past my adult child’s betrayal? How can I move on?

An adult child’s estrangement can happen at any age. There is never any one-size-fits-all answer, but parental reactions are often similar. A sense of betrayal is one of the most profound wounds felt by parents of adult estranged children. How could a child, to whom you have given so much love and energy, turn his back on you? The betrayal rejected parents feel is rooted more deeply than any other estrangement. This person is your child.

When parents start a family, they may have assumptions. They cherish the fleeting baby and toddler stages of intense bonding, guide and enjoy their children through bedtime stories, skinned knees, and homework. Then they shepherd their kids through the growing pains of adolescence. Many parents look forward to seeing their love and guidance pay off as their teens grow into caring adults, responsible citizens who contribute to their world. Parents anticipate remaining close to their adult children, bonded by a shared family history and envisioning a future with grandchildren they can cherish.

Because of these far-reaching expectations, an adult child’s betrayal can be paralyzing. When an adult child deserts a parent, whether fully or through indifference, neglect, or a series of behaviors that elicit disappointment or even involve bullying, the proverbial rug is ripped away. Parents are tripped up, and lose footing. The foundation they thought was solid feels more like quicksand as they begin to question themselves, their relationship with their child, and their parenting. What have their lives been all about? Where do they go from here? What does the future hold for them now?

An adult child’s betrayal takes time to sort out and move past. How do you mend from the deep wound of an adult child’s abandonment, neglect, or even abuse? Find help in the “What Parents Can Do” category, or with this specific article:

Five ways to move forward after an adult child’s rejection