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My adult child is a narcissist: Is it my fault?

adult child is a narcissist

My adult child is a narcissist: Is it my fault?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Parents sometimes tell me their adult child is a narcissist. They describe sons and daughters who feel superior, lack empathy, and have fragile egos that crumble behind a defensive wall of rage. Frequently, the parents go on to say that everything they read says it’s all their fault.

I’m quick to assure them that the causes for narcissism are not that simple, but years spent in an increasingly demeaning relationship with a narcissistic adult child can leave parents confused, isolated, and vulnerable to these seemingly definitive opinions. A parent’s view of themselves, as reflected through an abusive, narcissistic adult child’s mirror, may be warped. The related shame can be debilitating. If you’re one of these parents, take heart. There’s more breadth to narcissism’s etiology and development including how the behavior can be acquired.

Your adult child is a narcissist: Do the theories keep you stuck?

A zillion blogs assert that narcissists are created by either overindulgent or neglectful parents. That these are opposites has always made me suspect, but like so many loud opinions, they’re repeated so often they’re accepted as absolute. The reality is that these are theories. And why not? Framing parents is convenient and absolves adults of responsibility for their own actions. These days, some therapists even encourage adults to blame parents for all their problems—like this one’s billboard.

Simplistic reasoning that heaps guilt on the parents enables adult children who turn on the charm then drop emotional bombs whenever it suits. Parents can become trapped in hurtful, subservient relationships with self-indulgent, ego-inflated sons or daughters who are intermittently loving. It’s a cycle of hurt and hope. Outsiders might see a carefully constructed public façade, sing the child’s praises, and tell the parent they must be so very proud. This then triggers a mix of pride and confusion, which provokes the parent’s shame and silence—just how abusers like to keep their targets.

Frequently, parents who have hung on for years find themselves discarded for good, maybe because they’ve begun to stand up for themselves and are less easily manipulated. Perhaps the parent’s health is failing so they’re no longer a reliable emotional fuel source for the narcissistic adult child. Or the parent unwittingly magnifies a narcissistic “injury,” that triggers the adult child’s counterattack.(1)

It’s also possible that the son or daughter has settled into the role of what’s known as a flying monkey, which is someone who supports and defends the narcissist, often, but not always, by way of manipulation. A flying monkey may do the bidding for another narcissist in the family. Yes, a flying monkey can also be a narcissist, and chooses or goes along with the role because there’s something in it for them.

Is narcissism in the genes?

Often, when parents identify their son or daughter as a narcissist they’ll spot a few others in the family tree. Whether these people are diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), or simply show a lot of the traits, is up for debate but the harm is real and the family patterns sometimes uncanny.

In one example, a life coaching client who was the father of two sons said his younger brother, whom he’d never been close to and who stopped coming around entirely when their mother got sick, was a narcissist. He later realized the younger of his own two sons was like his brother. A narcissist who only cared about himself and disengaged from his family when they were on to him. Subservient roles can get old (and intolerable) when people recognize what’s going on and how much they’ve been hurt. And a narcissist will often discard someone who no longer serves them and is difficult to control.

One grandmother talked about her older sister, a narcissist, who bragged about cozying up with a sickly, well-to-do elderly man and inheriting the spoils. Of the grandmother’s daughters, the elder one was a lot like her scheming sister. She even took advantage of a sickly older man. In both cases, the younger sisters stopped associating with their narcissistic sibling … and were cautious of their other family members who continued to associate with the narcissistic one. The ongoing connection, they believed, put them at risk. Subjects of past narcissistic abuse feel safer making sure the narcissist have no way of finding out anything about their lives.

Some may say these scenarios point to the upbringing as the culprit, but twin studies show otherwise. Environment, meaning not only the parents but society at large, surely do play a role in all personality disorders, but research indicates that narcissism is heritable. Depending upon the individual study, and how the research is conducted, the degree of heritability runs from around 24 to nearly 80 percent.(2) It’s a wide swing but a genetic connection exists.

Genes and what else?

NPD frequently occurs with other brain and personality disorders.(1) So, whether your child is diagnosed or simply showing many narcissistic traits, comorbidity can create all sorts of relational and occupational dysfunctions. These problematic scenarios can cause a variety of related consequences. These then influence and shape the course of a person’s life in ways that may contribute to narcissistic behavior and NPD. To name every potential contributor is impossible. The prevalent, yet simplistic opinions, don’t begin to scratch the surface. What’s clear is that narcissism’s basis is more than a cut-and-dried scenario where parents are to blame.

It’s fair to say, though, that parents may contribute. A variety of circumstances influence parents’ lives. Also, individual children affect their parents’ behavior. If your child was sickly at a young age, you probably interacted differently with that child than you did with those of robust health. A sensitive, lonely child might prompt loving parents to work harder at building the kid’s self-esteem. If your child was emotionally volatile, you did your best to calm outbursts, teach them how to use their words, and to soothe themselves.

With any children, supportive parents do their best to show justice, kindness, and what it means to empathize and care for others. However, in the workaday chaos of a busy life, you may, at times, have fallen prey to a child’s insecurities and whims. Perhaps you were indulgent on a day when you needed a modicum of peace. Maybe you even assured them they were extra beautiful, uniquely talented, or even special when they felt insecure. That stuff happens in just about every family. Yet, with a burgeoning narcissist, the times of give-ins and ego boosts may have inadvertently contributed to an insidious and growing problem.

That’s not to blame you, of course. Since the early 1990s, experts have preached the importance of self-esteem. Parents followed suit. And most of us dealt with life in the best ways we could at the time. If your child already carried a propensity for narcissism, they probably learned how to play you, too.

Earlier, I mentioned the father of two sons who says the younger one is a narcissist, as is his own older brother (the boys’ uncle). Upon reflection, this father was distressed to realize that, to a degree, he treated the younger of his two sons differently than the first. He came to recognize that his narcissistic younger son’s behavior had triggered responses that derived from the father’s boyhood days. His interactions with his younger son were shaped by relational patterns developed in his family of origin as an older brother, interacting with a narcissistic younger one whom the rest of the family doted on.

Does this mean the father is to blame? If given the chance, his narcissistic adult son might claim so. The dad, though, now sees a younger son who was different from the start. “He was always more demanding,” he says. “As he got older, he could suck all the air from a room. It was always about him all the time.” The boy’s attention-seeking, the father says, changed the family dynamics from early on.

“I’m sharing my story because maybe I can make a difference for another father,” he says. “Maybe one who can identify how his kid’s behavior triggers his own people-pleasing and over-tolerance from the past, and then circumvent.”

Acquired narcissism

Society at large also plays a role in narcissism’s development. The onset of social media, which can be addicting, coincides with increasing narcissism.(3,4,5) This ties in with a 2019 letter “from the editor,” Henry Nasrallah, M.D., in the journal Current Psychiatry, wherein he brings up fame as a trigger for “acquired narissim.” (6)

Nasrallah speaks of superstar athletes and actors who “acquire” narcissism from their suddenly revered position, which is enhanced and magnified by thousands of adoring fans. Social media has enlarged their audiences, too. This “acquired situational narcissism” (ASN) is the old saw, “It went to his head,” in action.

I tend to think two things about ASN: 1) that it can happen to lesser stars, standouts in their career or social settings; and 2) that no matter the level of narcissistic traits, those who “acquire” narcissism probably already had tendencies (even if only somewhere in the genes).

Could medications factors in?

Lately, quite a few parents have told me about narcissistic adult children who are taking prescription medications. These parents speculate that the medications have caused the personality changes they see, with a lack of empathy chief among them. Could it be these prescribed drugs cause deleterious side effects that affect their ability to care about other people’s feelings and pain? Perhaps.

Even the widely used painkiller, acetaminophen, (the main ingredient in Tylenol), has been associated with a reduction in empathy.(7,8) The same goes for some antidepressants.(9) In fact, many medications can cause changes in mood, behavior, and thinking. That’s not to say that a prescribed medication is not beneficial or safe. Many medical treatments involve a risk vs. benefit measure to determine the best treatment.

Adderall (made of mixed amphetamine salts) is one medication that has come up repeatedly in discussions with parents who say their adult child is a narcissist. Considered effective for treating ADHD, one known side effect is feeling emotionally detached (10), yet some people so like the increased focus of this stimulant that they take it in higher than prescribed dosages. Misuse can lead to addiction with one side effect being a sense of grandiosity.(11) Add that to the side effect of emotional detachment, toss in the irritability and self-centeredness that’s typical of addicts, and a parent might very well say their adult child is a narcissist.

Other symptoms of addiction, whether to Adderall, marijuana, alcohol or some other substance, include issues with anger, manipulative behavior, mood swings, and a shift in what they care about (meaning they care less about people because they just want the drug). The sum of these can certainly make an addict look and sound like a narcissist whether they clinically fit the label or not.

One dad of a celebrity estranged adult child says, “If it walks like a duck, quack likes a duck, then it’s a duck.”

A longer story

There are other circumstances that may also contribute to a narcissistic way of being. For example, some medical conditions include emotional and personality changes that might fit some of the traits. Hopefully this article demonstrates that narcissism is more complex than some might have you believe.

It has long been my opinion that even people with narcissistic ways can alter their behavior to do good and be kind—if they want to. Plenty of parents who will say their adult child is a narcissist and acts horrendously with them … but gets along well where they must.

The truth is, we all need a useful dose of healthy narcissism if we’re to take pride in our accomplishments and maintain a healthy sense of self-worth. That’s different from someone who feels they’re superior and uses others to prop up their fragile ego or for selfish gain. Read more about NPD here.

Related reading

Parents of estranged adult children: Pack your emotional toolkit

Negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adults: It hurts

References

(1) American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed, (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

(2) Reichborn-Kjennerud T. The genetic epidemiology of personality disorders. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2010;12(1):103-14. doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2010.12.1/trkjennerud. PMID: 20373672; PMCID: PMC3181941.

(3) Malik S, Khan M. Impact of facebook addiction on narcissistic behavior and self-esteem among students. J Pak Med Assoc. 2015 Mar;65(3):260-3. PMID: 25933557.

(4) Andreassen CS, Pallesen S, Griffiths MD. The relationship between addictive use of social media, narcissism, and self-esteem: Findings from a large national survey. Addict Behav. 2017 Jan;64:287-293. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.03.006. Epub 2016 Mar 19. PMID: 27072491.

(5) Daniel Halpern, Sebastián Valenzuela, James E. Katz. “Selfie-ists” or “Narci-selfiers”?: A cross-lagged panel analysis of selfie taking and narcissism. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 97, 2016, Pages 98-101

(6) Nasrallah, Henry A. “Beyond selfies: An epidemic of acquired narcissism.”  Current Psychiatry; 18(8).

(7) Mischkowski D, Crocker J, Way BM. From painkiller to empathy killer: acetaminophen (paracetamol) reduces empathy for pain. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2016 Sep;11(9):1345-53. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw057. Epub 2016 May 5. PMID: 27217114; PMCID: PMC5015806.

(8) Mischkowski D, Crocker J, Way BM. A Social Analgesic? Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) Reduces Positive Empathy. Front Psychol. 2019 Mar 29;10:538. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00538. PMID: 31001155; PMCID: PMC6455058.

(9) Rütgen, M., Pletti, C., Tik, M. et al. Antidepressant treatment, not depression, leads to reductions in behavioral and neural responses to pain empathy. Transl Psychiatry 9, 164 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0496-4

(10) Sheppard, S. (2023) Adderall and emotional detachment: Why it happens and how to cope. https://www.verywellmind.com/adderall-and-emotional-detachment-why-it-happens-and-how-to-cope-6831140

(11) Adderall addiction: Signs and symptoms of misuse. 2024. American Addiction Centers. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/adderall/symptoms-of-abuse

 

My adult kids don’t like me: Now what?

my adult kids don't like meMy adult kids don’t like me: Now what?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Whether consciously thought of or not, most of you had a vision that held you together when you had a family. That vision of home, happiness, and love all around kept you going whenever times got tough. It’s what sustained your continued output of time, energy, and other resources even when your children misbehaved or struggled. You were heading somewhere. So, as if on a road trip to a beautiful destination, you changed your flat tire after hitting a pothole, washed your windshield after a sandstorm, and kept on driving.

If you’re like most parents, you believed in your vision even when your children turned on you. There had to be something you could say or do to bring them to their senses, make them see reality, and steer them back around. Surely your vision for family connection was also theirs.

Well….. The truth is that, for many of us anyway, while we were busy working at our vision, the world was actively tearing it apart.

More parents are writing to me about attitudes they’re noticing toward the decreasing importance put on family these days. I see this as well. Perhaps especially toward parents. Honoring your parents, whether in keeping a godly command or just because they brought you up, isn’t echoed in society the way it once was. Instead, parents are put on trial.

Some online influencers trash whole generations, belief systems, and typical lifestyles some now call “vanilla.”  Not to mention the prioritization of feelings over the facts. I’ve lost track of how many parents I’ve met who entered family therapy expecting a give-and-take and found a one-sided pursuit toward validating an adult child’s emotions, with the practice of “reflective listening” expected only of parents.

I could go on here about how the convenience of texting has replaced face-to-face or even telephonic communication. We could all add our specific examples of how the world has changed. For example, my kids were using instant messenger before I even understood what it was. Technology crept in under the radar and, before we realized it, became a necessity and then the norm. Many believe that an internet “family” of social media friends has replaced the need for a real, flesh and blood family.

In this new parenting era, it is what it is. Estrangement, semi-estrangement, disregard, or downright disdain. The reasons run the gamut. Persistent immaturity, emotional volatility, addiction, or absolute abuse. You fill in the blank—or don’t. Once you realize that, at least for now, your adult children aren’t budging, the task at hand is to learn to live without them.

My adult kids don’t like me: Adjusting to a new vision

I wouldn’t blame you for choosing to hold close a vision so beautiful and worthwhile as a loving family. If you have other family members around, show them how much they’re loved. Appreciate and honor them as you’d like to also be valued. Do the same for good friends who can become like family.

But with regard to the estranged one, face the truth. No matter what you wish will happen, aside from blurry hope still dancing on the horizon, their part in your vision has changed.

Ask yourself:

For me, this meant understanding that my family didn’t look the same anymore, but it was still good. As well as recognizing that, even without a huge rupture, families do change over time. People die, partners join, and children are born. Life in general is apt to change—family included. This meant I had to change, too.

To shift required reevaluating who and what I put first. No more chasing after someone who didn’t want to be caught. No more pretending an ideal that didn’t exist. If people wanted to judge me for something my adult child chose, so be it. At some point, we have to stop lamenting that “our own flesh and blood” children have betrayed us, and remind ourselves that our offspring are their own flesh and blood.

Seeing your way forward

In the years since my own experience with estrangement began, I’ve come up with a few sayings and practices, short-form visions, to keep me on track. Some were day-at-a-time tenets: Get through the next 24 hours. Others were about goals, remembering the good, or staying focused on what would count and arranging my environment to support that focus. And then there are overarching ideas: Be kind. Stay Calm. Remember who you are.

Having in mind an idea about who you are and how you’ll be helps when challenges present. So, whether it’s what to do about a birthday or how to respond (or not respond) to a string of unkind texts, your personal ideal helps guide your response.

Also, a vision you purposefully create provides focus or even a destination. A parent who says to themselves, “My adult kids don’t like me,” feels distressed. If your vision is inner peace and contentment then you’ll be cautious, for example, about how much negativity you consume, how much you fixate on this problem you can’t fix, or how much resistance or inner criticism you engage in.

Since launching this website in 2013 and offering help for parents of estranged adult children, I knew that I wanted to be kind and professional. I keep that thought top of mind as well as this one: Do as much good as you can while also taking care of yourself.

For me, crafting single sentences that embody how I want to be works as a vision statement. I can remember single phrases or sentences and pull them out as needed. They can also serve more than one purpose. “Be kind” might be focused on myself, on other people, or even on both. For example, if I’m exhausted and receive a trying email, to “be kind” might mean not replying. To pause and give myself time to take a breath and reflect is kinder to me (and to the other person).

You may benefit from a more formalized style. Here, we’ll discuss the basic idea. Then you can drive your own vision forward in life.

Crafting your vision

You may be more familiar with what’s called a “mission” statement. These two- to three-sentence statements are used by businesses to describe for what, how, and sometimes why a company does what it does. A vision statement is shorter, one sentence or even a phrase and, for a business, usually focuses on long-term goals—a vision.

Here, I’m using the term a little more casually. A personal vision statement may focus on an ideal or include what you’re already doing and want to do more consistently. Aim for a higher standard or more of what’s good and what you value. It’s also okay if your vision is something you know you need but haven’t yet achieved at all. You decide. Trust yourself.

One thing to keep in mind is that a vision is different from a goal. It involves meaning and maybe even transformation. So, you could start by assessing what you’d like to change.

For parents, that can mean getting to know yourself sans children you’re no longer responsible for. Without their needs coming first, you can focus on your own. That doesn’t mean your vision is all about you. Most of us enjoy connection and find value in serving in some way, in giving back. A vision can link to that.

Say you know your vision for your own happiness will probably include community involvement.  Community involvement could be about keeping your city clean.  Another person might want to focus on helping senior citizens or teaching children as part of their personal vision. Someone else might seek to preserve their area’s history, maintain its small-town atmosphere, or expand its resources.

Considering what’s important to you provides a goal and can even include a secondary vision (such as a clean city). With a goal, you can create steps to see the outcome through. Volunteer at a senior center, in the children’s library, or join your historical society. Meanwhile, you’ll be happily involved in the community, which is the original vision you know will bring human connection, provide meaning, and fill your calendar with activity.

A plus to a personal vision is that simplicity can prevail. If your vision is to be kind, you can infuse this quality in whatever you do. That widens your vision to spreading kindness and modeling it.

My adult kids don’t like me: Esther’s vision

When Esther’s two adult sons developed severe mental illness in their late-twenties, she tried to help. But just when they improved, they’d refuse treatment again, and the cycle of paranoid delusions and odd behavior would take over. Esther loved them but the verbal attacks escalated into scary episodes threatening physical harm. Over time, she changed locks, got a watchdog, and filed restraining orders. Eventually she concluded they were beyond her help and chose to save herself.  At age 67, she moved all by herself to a new area and set out to rebuild her life. Esther determined what she sought in this new life era and defined her vision: Connection, meaning, and fun.

After feeling abandoned by friends and extended family members during the strife, Esther didn’t easily trust people. She knew what she wanted though, and set out toward that future with daily, weekly, and monthly goals. A big calendar helped her list a variety of pursuits almost every day. Even the grocer became a place to try connecting. She worked on her small talk skills and began interacting wherever she could. In the community free newspaper, she found activity listings and she sampled many. “If I tried different avenues to meet people and fit in, I knew I’d reach the mountaintop,” she says.

Esther’s personal vision has kept her going. She weighed every activity and acquaintance against her desired future. “If they came up short, I walked on,” she says. “If things fit, I’d stick at it.” Three years after moving, she’s feeling pretty good about her life. Esther still thinks lovingly of her sons before they changed but views the good and bad times as seasons. Now she’s in a new season she sees as “pretty bright.”

What’s on your horizon?

Coming up with a meaningful vision for this season can serve as a roadmap. With a clear destination in mind, you can steer away from the potholes of a painful past, refuse dead-end thinking, and avoid avenues of despair or regret. Even for those who are new to estrangement and feeling stunned and sad, just considering a vision prompts forward momentum. Whether the estrangement is temporary or grows into a permanent state, it’s wise to look ahead for ourselves instead of eyeing the rear view mirror at what we can’t change.

We’ll talk more about creating a personal vision in a live meeting held in the membership community on May 29. Consider joining the membership to be a part of the event or to watch the replays or participate in this or other topic meetings with other parents of estranged adult children.

Related reading

Dreams: Help in moving forward after estrangement

Amends letter to adult children: Should parents write one?

My parents and I were estranged for years. Here’s what happened when we talked again

Prodigal child

Mother’s Day (for mothers of estranged adults)

Getting prepared for Mother’s Day (for mothers of estranged adults)

A short presentation with Sheri McGregor, author of the Done With The Crying series of books for parents of estranged adult children. NOTE: The live event mentioned at the end of the video was cancelled due to illness, but we’ll try again. And, there are past replays of other live events in the membership area.

Related Info — mentioned in the presentation

Join the peer support for parents of estranged adult children membership community

Golden Girls (YouTube)

Mother’s Day for moms with estranged adult children: Facts to distract

Mothers of estranged adult children: The white carnation

 

From Rose-Colored Glasses to a New View on YOU – Members-Only Event Replay 4-4-24

You are unauthorized to view this page. Join the membership and get full access to members-only content, a lively forum with parents like you, and LIVE! informative/discussion events. Find out more and join HERE.

Difficult adult children? Three tips for better sleep

difficult adult children

Image by GrumpyBeere from Pixabay

Difficult Adult children? Three tips for better sleep
by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

As we head into spring, and with summer on the horizon, increased daylight hours typically aid our sleep. That may sound counterintuitive but exposure to natural light is the key. Indoor lighting can confuse our bodily circadian rhythms, which influences patterns of sleep. Harsher weather and shorter days combine to keep us inside under artificial lighting and limit our exposure to natural light. That explains why, in winter, people frequently get to sleep later at night than in summer. (Counterintuitive, right?!)

As parents of estranged or difficult adult children, the last thing we need are sleep hindrances. When winter stubbornly holds back spring sunshine (grrrr), it’s tougher to get outdoors. But natural light helps regulate better sleep. That’s why making the effort to get outside is so important.

Even on cloudy days, outdoor light has a stronger impact on the body’s clock than indoor light, counteracting the sleep-delaying effect. Morning daylight exposure is particularly helpful. Which is why I’ve made this the first of these three tips for better sleep.

Difficult adult children? Three tips for better sleep

#1. Spend time outdoors each morning. Outdoor light, particularly in the morning hours, assists the body’s natural circadian rhythms. While you’re at it, notice nature, which has wonderful calming and restorative affects.

#2. Increase your optimism. More optimistic people tend to enjoy more restful sleep. Thankfully, optimism isn’t an either-you-have-it-or-you-don’t trait. Every one of us can develop more optimism. One way that research shows works is to visualize and focus on yourself at your very best. There’s an exercise to help you do just that in Done With The Crying.

#3. Stop watching the clock. Recent research reveals that “time monitoring behavior” (TMB) exacerbates insomnia. Instead of meditating, rhythmic breathing, or sipping chamomile tea, there you are in the dead of night, your face lit by the glow of your wristwatch. Yet calculating the time left before the alarm goes off and the hours already lost only increases frustration and stress. Not exactly conducive to drifting off. TMB holds no value for restful slumber. So, at least overnight, ditch your watch, smartphone, or clock.

Related reading:

For parents abandoned by adult children: Sleep can be elusive

Restful respite: A moon garden

Is your adult child estranged? Be careful

Estrangement: What about hope?

Research studies related …

Daytime light exposure . . .

The association of optimism and sleep . . .

Use of … the role of TMB . . .

 

Ignored by adult children: The stops and starts

ignored by adult children

Ignored by adult children: The stops and starts

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

I stand at the window. Another day of cold and rain. Even snow is expected tonight. My mind wanders to the flower seeds and bulbs I purchased last week during two days of sunny, springlike weather. Those days had been a gift. And now they’re gone. Spring weather snatched back by the bony hand of winter’s grip.

Outside, in the distance, the wind whips at the neighbor’s brittle Eucalyptus trees. One day those closest to the fence we share will break like the trees that used to separate his property from his neighbor’s to the south. The carved rounds now lay in mountainous piles at the side of his house. Some grow moss. Others rise in wispy chimney trails that disintegrate into the dull gray sky. If only the Eucalyptus had been tended to. Trees need care.

Irritated, I turn from the window, my shoulders slumped under the weighty wool of another stormy day. “Will it ever end?” I ask my pitch black dog, Marilyn.

She wags and, when I open the door, she leaps out into the cold and misty morning air. If only I could be so glad. Another day to live, happily, despite the gloomy weather.

Feeling brittle myself, I go to the sack from the nursery and pull out the seed packets. The colorful pictures of zinnias, cosmos, and showy milkweed lift my spirits.

Ignored by adult children: Back at the window

Watching my dog romp through the green-green grass, her thick black fur clotting with falling rain, I remind myself that sunshine will return. As a native San Diegan, I’m not yet used to the more distinct seasons of this Sierra Foothills home. In a way, this late winter period reminds me of the early daze of estrangement from my son. For the first couple of years, I would get myself in order, be moving ahead, aware of the “sunlight” that still existed in my life and, that through my own intention, action, and focus, I could even generate, cultivate, and renew. And then a storm would hit, and the tender shoots of hope would wither. I’d be snatched back toward the pain.

The rhythm

Spring comes in fits and starts. It’s the same with other seasons. Spring rains alternate with fog and sunshine before settling into sauna-hot days. Summer then folds into fall with early storms that clear back to blazing heat before breezy days build to leaf-plucking winds, and the pelting hail or snow of winter’s grip.

It’s natural to move in fits and starts. A baby learns to walk while gripping at a table, falling, and getting up again before walking freely. Plants grow in stages, stopping to rest and gather nourishment, even in a single season. It’s nature’s way. Why then, when something as tumultuous as estrangement occurs, do we expect to immediately cope?

Resist

I look out again. Against the dreary backdrop, the grass is bright. A dusting of early red maple blooms swept off in the storm litter the brilliant green. Sparks of color. The promise of spring.

My dog paws at a shallow patch of dirt and then bends to eat the soil. What is it about this earth here? Even my tiny teacup poodle paws and gnaws at this magic dirt.  I go to the door and open it a crack. I patiently wait as my dog’s gaze follows a bird into the tree. She looks back at me and wags. Finally, she steps toward me but stops, shaking the rain from her thick black coat. She sniffs the air, savoring the moment.

I actually love it here, I realize. Wild turkeys are a daily encounter. Deer graze and gaze with enchanting curiosity. And elusive birds like the Northern flicker drill the wet ground in plentiful flocks. There’s something to say for this season that settles in like sleepy day. One that always lasts too long but reminds me to rest as I anticipate the spring I long for but is impossible to force.

Related reading

Bend and twist (like daffodils)

Why did my child disown me???? Making the “why?” question work for you

why did my children disown meWhy did my child disown me???? Making the “why”?” question work for you

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Why? Of all the questions I have received from thousands of parents over the years, this is the biggie. Parents who were there for every game, rehearsal, birthday, and skinned knee are asking: Why did my child disown me?

Then comes the self-examination. We put ourselves under the microscope and comb through every possible offense. And because we’re so trained on finding a reason, anything to make sense of the estrangement we never imagined possible, we even find some reasons. Frequently, these answers align with the blame and judgment we so readily find on the Internet. We did too much, or too little. Gave too much, or not enough. Were too strict, or too lenient. The list goes on almost endlessly, and parents wind up in the same sinking boat.

In Done With The Crying, I devote a chapter to this question and all the mining we do to find the cause, take responsibility and, hopefully, make it right. And no matter how many experts recommend parents write amends letters (For what!?), or offer the pathway to reconnect, it’s often a fool’s gold expedition.

Done With The Crying offers specific ways to cope with and move beyond the Why?, to remember who you really are and have been, and to move forward in a life that befits a loving human being who was dealt an injustice. Let’s turn that question around and find the real gold of a fulfilling life—no matter how far along you are on the journey.

Why? Flip the script

What’s your big why? Not “Why did my child disown me?” Not about taking the blame, making sense of their actions, or trying to wrap your head around the nonsensical. I’m talking about the why of your own well-being.

Both of my books devote time to the subject of reconciling, in a realistic way. Even if that is the ultimate hope, you need to function and learn to live with your new normal now. Rather than focusing the why question on the past—on answers that make mountains out of molehill-sized mistakes or honor invented facts that are anything but—let’s make the “why?” about something we can take charge of, own, and live with: Ourselves.

What’s your “big why?”

Working as a life coach for the last two decades, I’ve often heard the “big why” question. When you’re setting and working toward goals, your big why gets at the values and meaning that sustain your motivation. Parents work long hours to give their children what they need. A mother rises early before work or puts food in the crock pot so dinner will be done. A father cuts the grass at twilight so he can take his kid to weekend sports.

I’m stereotyping, but you get the point. People make sacrifices and alter habits for an overarching goal. That’s what I’m suggesting you do. Whether you’re still reaching out regularly to estranged adult children, have released them with love, or have decided it’s over for good (you have that right), what are you willing to do for yourself? For your own happiness, joy, meaning, overall wellness, and future? And why?

The doubts

Many parents realize, intellectually, they deserve to let go of what’s beyond their control. They understand they need to make peace with what has happened if they’re to move forward, meaningfully, in their own lives. Even so, doubts often creep in. Frequently, these are the same doubts that existed from the start. What will my child think if I stop trying? What will other people think of a mom or dad that gives up on his/her own child? What will . . .? What would . . .? What might … ?

What comes up for you when you consider letting your adult child own the decisions they’ve made, and you contemplate letting go of the rope?

When you listen to the things you tell yourself, the worries that come up about what other people, society, or even your adult child will think, you can begin to put them into perspective. You can take off the magnifying glasses (or minion goggles!) that are so trained on this problem you didn’t create and start to look at your own path … toward meaning, happiness, and your future.

NOTE: This topic of the “big why” for moving forward in your life was explored more deeply In the membership community at  a recent live event. To watch the replay, join me and other parents like you in the community. You can do that here.

Related reading

Effects of estrangement from adult children: Are you still carrying the weight?

Parents: Angry at adult children?

Dumped by adult kids? Get into the Zone

dumped by adult kids

Dumped by adult kids? Get into the Zone

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Yesterday, as I returned to my car, I noticed a woman emerging from one of the shops with a bouquet of heart-shaped balloons and remembered—Valentine’s Day! I had contemplated the holiday weeks ago while thinking of what to write about it for this site. But I had become so engrossed in what I found that I forgot the day altogether. Immersed in my research, I had entered a state of “flow.”

The wonderful experience of being so caught up in the moment that you’re oblivious to time or pain has been studied extensively. The benefits are clear for increased learning, enhanced creativity, and joy.

As a writer, I’m no stranger to the state of flow—and my guess is that many of you have experienced it too. In 1975, researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, first coined the term “flow,” which has since been studied extensively. The flow state is most often associated with meaningful work, predicts higher performance, productivity and, in business settings, financial gains. But being in the zone, which is another way to describe this state, is also achieved during hobbies and other pursuits. Finding activities that provide meaning—and getting engrossed in them—is one key to a purposeful life.

But . . .

Sometimes I hear parents lament their advancing age, health woes, and lack of connection, all made worse by estrangement. I can certainly empathize. It’s hard to accept and deal with life’s challenges. And some of us have more to deal with than others do. I also know that, no matter our circumstances, purposefully focusing our energy on meaningful pursuits can transport us toward peace.

Midge, a mother of estranged adult children who is in her mid-80s, has multiple auto-immune conditions that limit her life. When she found herself all alone and suffering, she did her share of crying. Then she took up an old hobby she loves: watercolor painting.

With simple brushstrokes and vibrant colors, Midge enhances cut and folded card stock she then inscribes with positive messages, some scriptural. Midge sends these in bulk to helping organizations where the cards raise the spirits of individuals they’re distributed to. “I can get lost in that work,” says Midge. “It has helped me escape the pain … both physical and emotional.”

Midge’s work is attached to homelessness, which is sometimes connected to addiction or domestic violence. All of these have touched Midge’s life, so her form of flow brings deep personal meaning that connects to a larger pursuit. But not every entry point to flow must join with a social cause.

One widow, Sally, has made it her mission to clear out her home. Sally’s husband began “collecting,” after their daughter left the family. Fourteen years post-estrangement, he died and left Sally with mountains to clear. “There are a few pearls among the trash heaps,” she says of the dusty, sometimes moldy collectibles that range from magazines, to record albums, to miniature statues, and art. Sally, who has arthritis and circulation problems, is taking it slow, organizing a clearing process that increases her own safety and ease of movement: The entry hall’s floor, then the table, and then on to the shelf. The path to the dining table, the chairs and tabletop, and beyond. . . .

“It’s a job,” says Sally, “but I can get lost in looking at each item, and releasing it to donate, offer to my son, trash, or sell.” Sally remembers the mess her father-in-law left behind when he died, and that memory motivates her progress. “I wouldn’t wish that job on anyone,” she says. Her son lives far away but he’d be the one tasked to clear the house if she doesn’t. Working on making her current living situation safer and more enjoyable, plus acting for her son’s future ease, brings motivating meaning that drives Sally’s daily forays into flow.

A father, Thomas, who was dumped by adult kids, still lives in the home where he raised them. He says he’s getting “lost in a good way” in fixing up his home. “I’ve got some life left in me,” he says. “So why live with leaky toilets, creaky cupboards, and the uneven back steps that have bugged me for so long?” He hires out some of the work but enjoys the planning too. “I can get lost in home design photographs, imagining what tile flooring will best transition from one room to the next.” Thomas has been an outdoorsman most of his life. “But I have to protect my skin now in the Florida sun.” Thomas has had several skin cancers removed. He added gazebos and other shade structures all around his front and back yards. “Even planning that stuff got me in the zone,” he says.

Is there a bigger sense of meaning to Thomas’s pursuits? “To live,” he says. “To arrange things for my own satisfaction. To make my home a place I really love to be.”

Sensible Thomas remembers what it was like when the kids were young, and his wife left them all. “I raised them alone and did a good job of it. Now they’re all in touch with her again but I refuse to let them steal my joy. This is my life.” With a chuckle, Thomas adds, “Maybe when my house is done, I’ll have a beautiful place for a beautiful second wife after all these years.”

My old friend

I’m an old friend to the flow state—and also know its downsides. When writing Done With The Crying, I was so in the zone that I’d forget all sense of time and space. At some point, after hours of work, I’d wake up from a sort of spell and realize I’d been fixed in the same position for hours. That inactivity took a toll on my body, but the work was so meaningful, and that meaning brought me joy (as did the state of flow itself). This downside experience is why I invested in a standing desk, which is where I write most of the site articles and create presentations and other work. I still get into the zone doing this work to help parents dumped by adult kids, which I still find meaningful, and consider my life’s work.

As time has marched forward, I’ve experienced limitations that have changed my ability to get into a variety of activities that take me to that state of flow. A few years ago, I realized that some elements of gardening hurt more than they used to. I’m not alone there—which is why there’s a hot market for ready-made raised beds, knee pads, padded shovel handles, and even gardening chairs.

Changes to our abilities don’t always require a total loss. We use reading glasses as our vision’s flexibility changes with age. A colorful folding cane can make stability a fashion statement. White hair can be dyed with streaks (a friend of mine has purple hair) or shaved entirely.

Like I have done with my standing desk, find ways to adapt your doorway to flow. Looking for solutions is a form of creativity. Thank goodness for ingenious, creative solutions that make life better.

Creativity, mood, and flow

The state of flow has been closely connected to creativity, and much of the research began on creative pursuits such as music and art. But work of almost any kind can envelope flow. Like my writing, or someone’s building or teaching or some other vocation.  Where a person has some sense of autonomy and control, creativity becomes part of the work, and dovetails with flow.

A 2011 study found that deep engagement, especially in work fueled by intrinsic motivation (rather than strictly extrinsic motivation, such as a paycheck), sparked creativity that lasted for many days. Both flow and creativity are also associated with more positive moods. So, finding and enjoying meaningful work can help us let go of suffering states, connect to deeper meaning, and experience the relaxed but attentive state of flow that’s beneficial to our well-being. (I’ll be sharing more about this in the future.)

My Valentine’s Day research

So, what was the research that began weeks before Valentine’s Day and aimed at what I might write for the site? It was flowers. My internet surf for related ideas brought up the secret language of flowers from times past when specific flowers said what could not be said aloud. That led to flower meanings, which led to which ones I might want to grow as beautiful messages of healing and productivity for myself.

I haven’t decided for certain yet which flowers I’ll add to my landscape, but imagining a bright thicket of Black-eyed Susan whispering “justice” on a summer’s breeze makes me smile. So does the thought of a colorful patch of Butterfly Weed reminding me to tell old rumination loops in my thinking to “let me go.” The concept brings a whole new and creative element to my annual late winter garden planning!

The challenge

When we’re dumped by adult kids, it’s up to us to take charge of our well-being and make something more of our precious time on the Earth. For your own good, to find meaning, spark creativity, and enhance your mood, I challenge you to consider your own past experiences with “flow.” Then, get creative with how you see your interests, your work, your hobbies, and your life. You can find flow in purging your kitchen cabinets of family-size bowls and bins you no longer need. Or dive into day-long cooking you can freeze in small portions for easy, healthy dinners that will nourish you all month. Re-do your home for your next life phase, connect a much-loved hobby to a bigger social pursuit, or find meaning in decluttering for your own ease and to someday help an heir.

No matter your life or circumstances, consider how your pursuits can enhance autonomy and connect to a bigger purpose for your life—right now or into the future. Time passes much too quickly. You might as well spend some of it the zone.

Related reading

Mindful photography: Find your “self” in photos

The history of flower meanings

Flower language in the Victorian era