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

Mother's Day for moms with estranged adult childrenMother’s Day for moms with estranged adult children:
A few facts to distract you

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Mother’s Day for moms with estranged adult children can be tough. For many years now, I’ve written heartfelt holiday messages to help. This year’s posting is a slight departure, meant to occupy and distract—yet practical.

Distraction can be a healthy coping tool. Research shows that using distractions such as puzzles, music, films, reading, sports, and other hobbies can temporarily halt unhelpful thinking patterns, ease anxious nerves, help to relieve even chronic physical pain, and calm the symptoms of depression and PTSD1.

For more direct thoughts about Mother’s Day for moms with estranged adult children and how to cope, refer to my past articles. I’ve listed some of them under “Related Reading” at the end. That said, here are a few “Mom facts” to occupy your mind. Links to articles here at the site and elsewhere offer further reading on these disparate subjects loosely related to motherhood and moms.

#1—Mom: The same in every language (almost)

Some things are said the same in every language. Like us saying “mmm” when we eat yummy food. Also, what we call Mom is almost always the same.

Common thought among linguists is that the enunciation of “mom” or “mama” matches up the mouth’s motion when an infant suckles. The “mmm-mmm” sounds are classified as “labial.” These sorts of sounds are made by pressing the lips together, and infants are thought to naturally do this because the lips are rich with nerve endings. Perhaps that’s why, with a few variations, “mom” sounds the same in so many languages. For example, the French say maman. Spanish versions include mamá, mama, ma, and mami. In Italy, Iceland, Latvia, and Sweden “mamma” is spelled with a double m. For a distraction, consider your heritage and find the appropriate term. (While most languages use these sounds/names, not all do…I wonder why?)

Try making the “mmm” sound right now. You’ll have to press your lips together.  Who knows? Maybe the action will trigger a wave of physical responses that link to anything good we might have ever associated with making the sound.

Labial sounds paired with another vocal category, “wide vowel sounds,” help infants begin to form words. They press their lips together with the “mmm” sound, and when they open their mouth abruptly, wide vowel sounds naturally occur. Can I get an oooh and an ahh?

We’ll stick with “ah” for now, which makes “mama” or “mom” an easy first word, associated with a mother’s protection, sustenance, and care. Think about it. Mmm+ah+mmm+ah. Depending on when you close and open your mouth, you get mom, mama, or a string of babble. Since the “mmm” sound is so naturally made with the motion of suckling, it’s no wonder babies say “mama” first.

Later, as we become more sophisticated in speech, the ”mmm” sound is used as an encourager during conversation. We typically say “mmm,” or the variation, “mmm-hmmm,” to indicate we understand what someone is telling us. The sound encourages the other person to continue. Next time someone’s talking, purposefully offer this encouragement, and even think about the sweet baby you once knew, encouraging your love and care with labial and wide vowel sounds. Maybe everything has changed, but those sweet moments were real—and can still be savored.

Of course, Mother’s Day, for moms with estranged adult children, might be a triggering and sometimes painful time to reflect upon a child’s growing up years. But savoring good memories fosters older people’s resilience2, something I talk more fully about in my books. Right now, I challenge you to pause and remember a happy time. Choose a single moment, an event, or a day. Travel back in your mind, remember the smiles, the joy, the surroundings … and feel the goodness you experienced on that day. Life is a journey. Enjoy the pleasant stops and the memories … repeatedly.

Now, let’s switch gears and move on to another distracting mom fact.

#2—Your flesh and blood?

No, not exactly. Cells die off and exchange for new ones throughout life, so estranged adult children become their own “flesh and blood.” Well, except for some cells that migrate during pregnancy and persist, a phenomenon known as microchimerism. Research shows that mothers can carry their offsprings’ DNA well into old age. If your estranged adult child is on your mind, that might, in fact, literally be true.

While some research seems to indicate that the presence of these cells could be problematic, other studies show that they offer protective health qualities. Look up “microchimerism” for a plethora of articles as well as speculation, unanswered questions, and some facts. Or, because it’s Mother’s Day, read this one by an M.D. with a positive spin.

#3—Are you like an octopus?

As a young mother of five children, I used to wish for eight arms. I imagined how many hugs I could give (and receive) while simultaneously finishing all my work. A silly dream, of course, but one I used to say aloud. One of my daughters even drew a picture of me as an octopus!

Mother's day for moms of estranged adult childrenAs it turns out, an octopus mom’s life isn’t much about hugs and getting things done. In fact, these fascinating creatures become so single-minded in their parenting that they will neglect themselves for their young. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Recently, researchers discovered this self-sacrifice relates to the optic gland, located between their eyes. It’s said to be something like the human pituitary gland, releasing various hormones at different stages of life. When scientists removed the gland, mother octopuses carried on as if they’d never laid eggs. They left them to fate.

While I can’t imagine having let go of my precious children when they were young, their adult lives become their own. Remembering this fact can help any mom. This may be especially true on Mother’s Day for moms with estranged adult children.

Next time you find yourself sacrificing your own precious life moments for negative thinking, wishes about what could be, and worries over adult children’s choices, think of those octopus mothers with the optic gland removed and imagine you’re free. Get those legs (arms!) pumping and take a deep dive into the colorful reefs of your own life possibilities. If you have any trouble, consider the question: Are you an octo-mom? I wrote an article to help.

#4—Wowza wrap-up

I hope you found this article a helpful distraction. Here’s a final thought: The word “mom,” turned upside down, spells “wow.” That’s what I think of all the moms who write to me and encourage each other at this site. Wow! Just wow. You are amazing women.

What do you have to say? Leave a comment. List a few thoughts about how the helpful distractions you choose. Or offer what thoughts came to mind about what was included here. How can your thoughts help on Mother’s Day, for moms with estranged adult children? I know you’ll wow me.

Related reading

Mother’s Day 2021: Cancelled!

When adult kids cut parents off: Don’t get [sun]burned by Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day radio interview with Sheri McGregor

Mothers of estranged adult children: Mother’s Day 2018

Mother’s Day for estranged mothers: Tending to your heartache

Mother’s Day: Triggering pain for mothers of estranged adults

‘Twas the night before Mother’s Day for mothers of estranged adult children

Mothering Sunday for UK Moms

Getting through Mother’s Day when your adult child is estranged: Six thoughts to help

References

  1. Dolcos F, Iordan AD, Kragel J, et al. Neural correlates of opposing effects of emotional distraction on working memory and episodic memory: an event-related FMRI investigation.Front Psychol. 2013;4:293. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00293
  2. Smith, J.L. & Hollinger-Smith, L. (2015). Savoring, resilience, and psychological well-being in older adults. Aging & Mental Health, 19(3). doi:10.1080/13607863.2014.986647

Solid growth can change you

reconnect with estranged adult childrenTrying to reconnect with estranged adult children?
Your own growth provides perspective

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Fiddle Leaf Fig trees (ficus lyrata) are known for their big leaves. So, when I found a scrawny one at the back of a crowded nursery shelf, I wasn’t worried and took it home. Unfortunately, my waiflike ficus struggled all summer. Pale, misshapen leaves, a toothpick-thin stalk, and holes like windows etching into her foliage was the norm. New buds would start but then dry up before developing.

Discouraged, I donned magnifying glasses and checked for pests—none. I fed and talked to that plant, set her next to fellow fiddles who had already doubled in size, and hoped for the best. Still, her paltry leaves curled. Determined, I pulled her from the pot and was surprised when the soil fell away. Only a plug of dirt near the center clung to the stem. A small net bag imprisoned a tiny ball of roots. No wonder my fiddle had failed.

Online digging–(okay, research)–revealed that some growers use what houseplant enthusiasts refer to as “root cages.” The disdained seed-starting nets are touted as easy for the roots to penetrate. Not the case for my sickly fiddle—and lots of plants people fret over in online forums. The cages can stunt growth.

Parents of estranged adult children: Inside the net?

People usually have wonderful memories of time with their kids and take very seriously the role of parenting. We love our children. When they reject us, we’re devastated. Eager to regain a good relationship, or to prove we’re good parents undeserving of rejection, we may take the high road and keep trying to reconnect with estranged adult children even to our own emotional harm. And there are plenty of opinions out there to keep us stuck.

Like those nets that imprison plant roots, opinions about what it means to be a “good” parent can keep us bound. Idealistic views such as a parent’s unconditional love and ceaseless patience, or even that we’re in control, can keep us in the realm of wishes. It stunts our growth.

Have your attempts to reconnect with estranged adult children been rebuffed or met with silence? After enduring an adult child’s disrespect, disdain, or disregard, parents are wise to reflect and reevaluate. The same is true when mentally ill or addicted adult children refuse treatment and engage in abuse. Deeply rooted beliefs, fears about how we’ll be perceived or what might happen can motivate us to hang on, to our own, or even to our adult child’s, detriment.

My book, Beyond Done With The Crying More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children, covers the way parents’ emotions evolve in a continued estrangement or when there’s difficult, intermittent contact. Our actions may not keep up with our emotional changes, or we may have trouble admitting our feelings. We may think: What father wouldn’t always be there for a daughter? What mother says “no” to a son needing help? What kind of parent gives up? This is particularly true around special times when we may ponder what is “right,” ruminate about how we’ll be viewed or worry how a change in us might affect our adult child’s feelings.

The reality is that estrangement does change us, and those darling kids that exist in our memories have changed too. When we refuse to see them as they are today, we aren’t acting on reality. We risk opening ourselves to repeated hurt.

Some of us do this knowingly for a time. When is enough, enough? Only you can decide when you’re ready to halt attempts to reconnect with estranged adult children. Just make sure you’re facing the truth of your unique situation and not caught up in a net.

Outside influence

Friends and family members whom we love and respect may also influence us—and not necessarily on purpose. Frequently, other people’s opinions for our lives, and their thoughts about what we should do, are misinformed or sometimes self-serving. That’s why it’s crucial to examine our own circumstances, which shift over time. We can renew or refresh our decisions about continued attempts to reconnect with adult children, and whether to acknowledge special occasions, keep them as next-of-kin, or disinherit them. Each of us and our dilemmas are unique. There is no one size fits all answer. However, setting boundaries, in your thinking and in your actions, helps a person cope.

Beyond Done With The Crying More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children includes tools to reflect on deeply rooted beliefs and motivations, as well as the facts of the current situation. Even the wisest, most worthy pursuits may no longer serve us or our estranged adult children. If we can always be counted on, despite mistreatment, then what’s their motivation to change how they treat us? Just as an addict whose parents keep funding substance abuse enables addiction, parents who send the message of unconditional forgiveness without consequences despite meanness and disregard may be enabling abuse.

Break free but stay aware

As I carefully cut the net from the roots and repotted my ficus, I recalled the early daze of my adult child’s estrangement and how my worries, what-ifs, and wishes negatively affected me. But life is not static. To cope and thrive requires self-examination weighed against shifting circumstances, and then recognizing how that relates to enjoying life regardless of one’s ability, or inability, to reconnect with estranged adult children.

A few days after repotting my little tree, I noticed growth. Wow! Without the root cage, a new leaf had unfurled, swiftly followed by another. Overnight, that second leaf swelled to gigantic proportions. It grew so fast that the fiddle’s narrow trunk bowed, threatening to break. Freed now, it seemed to overcompensate for lost time, just as I once did in breaking free. It’s a common occurrence among parents—and apparently in plants.

Breaking free for ourselves can result in a sense of urgency, fueling massive leaps forward that can stress our foundations or cause us further injury. That’s why awareness is so important. In Beyond Done With The Crying More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children, I tell more about my own and other parents’ overcompensating experiences, to help you avoid precarious pendulum swings in how you take charge of your life, parent other children, or otherwise interact. Even when our relationships with our adult children don’t live up to our expectations, if we’re honest with ourselves and focus on solid growth with needed support, we can embrace our own brand of resilience for a fulfilling life.

Providing support

To progress, my fiddle leaf fig tree will require a new strong foundation. For a little while, until her roots grow sturdy, I’ll let her lean on other trees and maybe even provide a brace. I hope this website, my newsletter (subscribe below), and my books will enhance your continued growth. Be sure to read the article comments and leave a reply to other parents’ thoughts. We can encourage each other.

Related reading

Adult children won’t talk to you: What does it mean to cope?

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 whose children cut ties: Another date with yourself

parents whose children cut tiesParents whose children cut ties: Another date with yourself

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Last February, I suggested an exercise to bring the focus back to yourself and your progress for your own well-being and self-care. If you did the exercise for neglected parents and self-love, it’s time to pull out your “same time next year” or Valentine’s note to yourself and analyze how you did.

In the neglected parents and self-love exercise, you were asked to choose your own words to go with each of the letters in the word “love.” And then you wrote a few notes about what those meant to you and how you’d achieve more freedom, set boundaries, and focus on making your life good despite what another adult has chosen to do. Remember, this exercise is about what is within your control (and not what—or who—is not).

The words I shared as examples, and my thoughts about each, went like this

L: Limits. How can I limit how much of my energy or thinking goes toward the estrangement (or: problem, relationship, situation)? Have I spent enough time being miserable? Have I let my adult children surpass the limits of how I would let another adult treat me? Is it time to set some limits now, and get on with living my life? What does that mean to me? What can I do right now to start setting limits and/or enforcing them?

O: Observe. Am I listening to myself think? How often does my mind wander to this problem I can’t solve? What’s a new way to think about this? Do I still think I’m the only one? Do I still blame myself?

V: Value. Does what my adult child say about me, or how s/he treats me, truly define who I am and who I’ve been? (HINT: The answer is NO.) Does this other adult’s decision or opinion change history or define who I am now? Have I been devaluing myself? How can I show myself the value I deserve for all my hard work and loving care?

E: Evaluate. Where am I on this journey as a neglected parent? (Name your spot like a town or venue, i.e., Tearsville, City of Hope, Onward Town.) Where do I want to be at this time next year? How can I get there? (Name at least one step.)

If you didn’t do the exercise or didn’t need this site back then, you’ll find the exercise in self-love here. Take time to read through the comments as well as the instructions—and jot your own thoughts there.

If you did do the exercise, take it to the next level now. Write each of the words you chose again, and this time, and add a few notes about where you succeeded (or failed). As you do, remember that even the smallest steps for yourself are progress. As for the failures, don’t get down on yourself. Consider how and why you fell short of your goals. What circumstances contributed to your loss of focus or control. Learn from the past—and set a few goals for the year ahead.

Parents whose children cut ties: Take charge

My focus for parents whose children cut ties (or are unloving or abusive in any way) has always been to recognize where they can take charge for themselves. That means letting go of what is beyond their control. This is different from many “experts,” who espouse an if-you-do-this-then they-will-do-that tactic that’s focused on doing whatever it takes to get your adult child back. While you may very well be able to start some dialogue and move toward reconciliation, for many parents, that tactic becomes just another eggshell walk—and sets up an inequitable relationship that leads to more pain. Relationships aren’t one-sided and it’s a disservice to us (and to our adult children) to pretend they are.

parents whose children cut tiesIf you’d like to learn more about taking charge of your life and your future, my books in the Done With The Crying series can help. I also offer individual life coaching sessions (on a limited basis) for those seeking more personalized support and/or accountability—but I suggest you read one or both books first. One counselor from a community helping center that has been seeing an influx of parents whose children cut ties recently contacted me to say that she is offering my books as a resource. She told me about a rejected mother whose session was delayed. In the interim, the counselor suggested my work to the mother, and reported that after reading and doing the exercises, the woman said she didn’t need more help. You may feel the same—and I hope you do! However, we are all as unique as our situations. It’s wise to get the support you need. My books also offer detailed information about how to find the appropriate help for your individual needs, which might mean therapy, pastoral counseling, life coaching, or some other assistance.

Tell us how you did

If you’re up to it, leave a comment here about what you did right or what you learned in the year since doing the exercise. Loving yourself includes recognizing that what you learned might help other parents whose children cut ties. While it might feel scary to share your thoughts, your experience may be just what another parent needs to hear. I believe that through sharing we also grow strong.

Take charge where you can, and to the best of your ability, make the year ahead one filled with joy and meaning.

Hugs to you this Valentine season and always,

Sheri McGregor

Related reading

Cut off by adult children: What do you prescribe for yourself?

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

Understanding estrangement: Countdown takeaways

understanding estrangement
Understanding estrangement and yourself:
Countdown Takeaways

By Sheri McGregor

My intention for the Countdown to the New Year series has been to engage you for your own wellbeing. From all the comments, it seems a success! Thank you for participating. I have loved reading l your insights! Here, on the last day, let’s first do a short review, then move on to my overall takeaway—and yours.

December 24—Recognizing and understanding estrangement’s influence on you and your outlook helps you Turn! Turn! Turn! to this new season of life. You can “accept” estrangement without agreeing with it. In acceptance, you can shift gears, turn a corner, and move forward for your own health and happiness.

December 25—Mastering peace in the chaos of estrangement, is a valuable skill worth pursuing for our own well-being. Peace is achievable.

December 26—Coping mindfully can include pastime activities, allowing the struggling mind to rest. For early momentum, understanding estrangement means finding a “good enough” answer to why estrangement happens. But understanding estrangement is a process. Just as the last puzzle pieces coming together provide a sense of completion, identifying cultural influences or family patterns brings closure. My latest book, BEYOND Done, has sections to help.

December 27—Having something to look forward to fuels purpose and meaning. Even the tiniest things that bring us joy, and engage the mind and heart, improve our lives. You were encouraged to find something to look forward to and share.

December 28—You rose to my challenge by choosing a word or phrase to set a positive tone or theme for the New Year. By focusing on a word or phrase, even out loud, helps you shift away from estrangement pain and toward your future. Make it bright.

December 29Parents are people too, and just as socks pulled from a multi-pack never fit back quite the same, you might not either. Even in reconciling, parents must—for their own well-being—consider their needs too. Walking on eggshells doesn’t work. As one mother said, eventually the shells become like broken bits of glass. Remember the acronym—WOE—a fitting description.

December 30—Knowledge is only power when we utilize what we learn. The year in review exercise tasked you to consider each month or season and derive lessons for your own life and future.

December 31—We’ve arrived, and I’m late. It’s 11 a.m. as I write this post, and some of you have already asked why you can’t access today’s article. I’m sorry! The truth is, I was so engaged in activities yesterday—visiting sites in a nearby historic district in this huge “gold country” part of California where I’ve moved—that I lost all track of time. Arriving home after dark I felt easy and refreshed … but also tired. So, instead of heading to the computer to dream up a new post before midnight, I went off to bed.

Takeaways

I planned to do the Countdown to the New Year series a month ahead. I got started on its purpose  … but didn’t get too hung up on what to write or how to say the message. For each one, I sat down with an open mind and a giving heart—and poured it out, quickly! That explains why one of the articles and two of the newsletters in the last week contained typos (sorry! – and thank you, sincerely, to the readers who pointed them out). I didn’t know what I’d say each day, and probably could have done better, but you know what? I was engaged, present in the moment, and enjoying my job.

As announced at the outset, the Countdown was intended for “fun” and for us to “enjoy” the last, sometimes long and boring, week of the year. I did have fun, and judging from the comments and email feedback, many of you did too. However, a few readers protested the very idea of fun or enjoyment. I feel for them. I remember suffering emotional pain so thick it felt like life would never be fun again. There was a sense that no one understood, and I get that.

The reality is that estrangement is devastating. It’s not easy for a parent who has spent a lifetime devoted to the well-being of children to move forward for themselves. But wasting our lives waiting, pining, and dwelling on the pain helps no one—not ourselves and not our children.

I recognize that there are phases of estrangement. The early daze can be so fogged over with sadness and shock that any path out is obscured. But as time goes on, parents must recognize they have a choice. Get the support and encouragement needed to climb out and move forward, or remain stuck in an ever-deepening rut we only dig deeper with negative thinking and dwelling on distress. That’s what my first book, Done With The Crying, with its gentle, caring tone, is all about helping you to do.

What is your choice? For today, tomorrow, next year?

For now, let’s close out the Countdown series with two things. The first is a video showing pure, unadulterated joy. When is the last time you found something so fun that you were immersed in the moment and so engaged that you didn’t care whether you looked like a fool? I wish for more moments like these for you … and for me.

The second video is pure beauty, fitting for the close of a year.

My takeaway for the Countdown had less to do with the messages than the act of creating them, and it’s a mix of these videos. While engaged and joyful, I know that I probably won’t achieve perfection—and it’s okay. There might be a typo, or my immediate word choice, though never intended to, might even offend someone. The reality is that some people will always see me as a jack*ss. Others will find joy in my enthusiasm, recognize the sum of my work for parents of estranged adult children as smart and even beautiful, and see that my overall message comes from a place of understanding. And that the message is sensible and fits.

For parents of estranged adult children, going forward, I hope you will strive for and find moments of pure joy. Just because someone calls you a jack*ass doesn’t make it true. And even if, for a few moments, in your unadulterated enthusiasm you look like one . . . it’s okay.

Here are the videos:

Happy New Year to everyone!

What’s your takeaway from the Countdown? I’m bucking around, kicking up my hooves in anticipation.

 

Parents in estrangement: Your year in review

in estrangement
In estrangement: Your year in review

by Sheri McGregor

When we’re down about someone or something, our minds will search for and drag out evidence to confirm our feelings. It’s that way in estrangement, and without recognizing what’s happening, we may find ourselves feeding an even deeper funk. On the eve of the New Year, the media often looks back on the year’s bad news and pulls us further under. Let’s turn that around. No. I’m not suggesting you look back at the year to find the good and be grateful (although that’s helpful!). Here, I suggest looking at what you learned. You’ll be aware of your growth, even in estrangement—and better prepared for the New Year.

What did I learn?

Start with this question and apply it to each month or season. Write down what happened, in short form, and tell what you learned. Here’s an example:

Last year, Bobbie’s estranged son began calling her before Christmas, down on his luck. The first time he called, Bobbie told her husband what was going on in their son’s life. “David raised his brows and shrugged,” Bobbie says. “He told me, ‘Well, it is the season giving.’ Then he went out to the garage.”

Bobbie understood her husband’s feelings, but she was also a little miffed that he could shrug it off. Even in estrangement, Bobbie says, “I got caught up in what kind of parent turns her back on her own child. Plus, it was Christmas, and there’s the spirit of forgiveness and hope.” So, when her son texted her a week before Christmas, and then called again, she didn’t tell his father. Instead, she wrote a check and popped it into the mail.

“He called early Christmas Eve all happy and saying he loved us,” says Bobbie. “He said he’d call back in a few days and we’d get together.” Bobbie didn’t have to tell her husband about the money. “He gave me a knowing look when I hung up the phone, and I darted away from him. I also had a sinking feeling in my stomach.”

Their son didn’t call in January. He also stopped answering texts.

Bobbie says she learned:

  • Her son hadn’t changed.
  • She’d knowingly let him isolate her from her husband’s good sense.
  • Keeping a secret wasn’t good for her marriage.

“Maybe our son will change one day,” says Bobbie. “But I can’t force him. I can only change myself.” Bobbie’s Year in Review revealed other learning points and truths, but this one had the most oomph. She realized that, in estrangement, her role as a mom had become twisted and strange. She knew she needed to focus more on herself and prioritize her role as her husband’s partner in life. The insight gave Bobbie at least one focus for the year ahead.  One she could use to set goals for and achieve with solid steps and plans.

What I learned.

My own Year in Review revealed a helpful truth about my calendar—and it’s a repeat. When I’m under stress, I sometimes pile on more responsibilities. There’s a positive side to this in that I get a lot done (which helps me derive self-worth…but that’s for another day!). The downside is the pressure I feel. I’ve learned to schedule in time off and give myself real breaks, but am recognizing that, at least at times, I ask too much of myself. When I really examined this fact, I identified one specific habit that I know helps: keeping my calendar current. I tend to take mental notes and fill in later, but the visual aid of seeing filled-in time slots help me be more realistic—and avoid the sticky situation of wanting to say “no” after having said “yes.” Saying “no” is a skill in and of itself.  Begging off after you’ve already agreed is even more difficult.

You might think this isn’t estrangement-related, but if you’re like me, you’ll fill your calendar when under stress–and estrangement is stressful. You might also have the self-worth component, which means you’ll do extra when you’re self-esteem is low. This past year has held a lot of distress and trauma for me, so it’s natural I’d lean on my go-to and get things done! However, taking note expands my awareness, which helps me put concrete changes into place for my well-being.

What did you learn?

Start by writing down a little about what happened in each month/season of the year. How you acted, what you got right . . . or wrong. Then, don’t get bogged in the mire. Instead, recognize what you learned.

In Beyond Done, I introduced one mother whose husband was gravely ill. She had expected to lean on their son and was shocked by his lack of concern. She says, “I needed him then.” After she and her husband survived that crisis, she reflects, “I can’t think of a time I will ever need him going forward.”

This mom learned that they couldn’t count on their son. This realization spurred action to consider what gaps existed in their plans for retirement and as they aged. They then expanded their plans independent of him. Your realizations can similarly guide you.

Maybe things aren’t as hoped for or expected, but we can adapt. Flexibility is one of five elements of resilience described in Beyond Done. Your Year in Review helps you home in on where bending is beneficial.

Don’t get hung up thinking you had to have learned huge or distressing truths either. Simple learned truths, backed by actions, can make huge differences in our lives. Maybe you learned that you are at your best when you spend more time with friends. Perhaps you’ve identified a particular person who has become a true friend, that you are a lifelong learner and happiest trying new activities, or that you need more time to yourself.

Use the Year in Review exercise to identify strengths, weaknesses, and growth points in general and in estrangement. When we’re cognizant of what we’ve learned, our awareness grows. When we’re aware, we can set goals and prepare to achieve what’s best for us.

I hope you’ll try this exercise. It’s one I have often done with my coaching clients to help them step into the New Year stronger. If you find this helpful, leave a comment as to what you learned and what steps you’ll take to grow.

Related reading

In estrangement, do your questions keep you stuck?

Parents are people too

reconciling with an estranged adult childParents are people too—even when reconciling with an estranged adult child

By Sheri McGregor

Have you ever been sock shopping and seen a multi-pack that was already opened? It’s easy to tell. There’s an obvious bulge, an unsealed flap, or the fold lines don’t quite match. Maybe you’re the one who has taken a pair out to check the size. If so, then you know the items just don’t fit back in as neatly—or at all. That’s how it can be when reconciling with an estranged adult child, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Unable to trust

Parents who are reconciling with an estranged adult child often confide they can’t quite trust their son or daughter. Even when things are going reasonably well, they may be waiting for the other shoe to drop. They have memories of hurt and sadness, and in reconciling with an estranged adult child, remain guarded. This may not be in mind every day, but there’s evidence to haunt them.

Old photos may reveal a bad attitude or a harrowing time. Or there are other more subtle negative effects. For example, another family member’s text arrives with attachments, and the notification might trigger panic: Is she forwarding my estranged son’’s abusive texts? Even a required veterinary appointment for a dog acquired as a puppy just before all hell broke loose, so not socialized well during an especially traumatic period, can bring up memories of all that happened before. Life is complex and estrangement situations are often multi-fanged. That’s why when reconciling with an adult child, even when it’s going well, parents might not fully trust.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness helps the one doing the forgiving. However, forgiving doesn’t require forgetting (as I wrote in a previous article). The hurt doesn’t get erased because we forgive. Just as debt may remain for a gambler who changes his ways, even when reconciling with an estranged adult child, there may be consequences. In my opinion, it’s wise to guard your heart, at least to a degree. That’s how you protect yourself.

Recently, one mom, after reconciling with her daughter, said she wished things could go back to the way they were. It’s a wish I hear often, and one I understand. But without a track record of kind behavior, is it wise?

Not the same

Estrangement changes people. Parents who once saw in their children the moon, stars, and a future so bright it was blinding, have had a dose of reality. The curtain is pulled open to reveal truth, and it hurts. When your own child so desecrates the relationship, it’s like pieces of your very heart are ripped away and left for rats to scuttle off with in the dark.

Graphic, I know, but I’m describing what it felt like to me—and what thousands of other parents have said. In the face of such hurt, we’re left with a choice. We can learn, heal, and grow. Or, we can stay the same, let our hearts bleed, and remain open to further gnawing.

At some point, parents recognize that to survive, to enjoy life, to thrive, they must learn, heal, and grow. They can’t always bend, hop back into the package, or fit into the box quite the same—and they shouldn’t. Even in reconciling with an estranged adult child.

I know this goes against the grain of what some teach—to search out and apologize for some tiny grain of truth in the ADULT child’s complaint (microscope needed!), to treat their adult children like toddlers, and always listen and always praise. I hear this from parents who go to psychologists who specialize in estrangement, and I find the advice baffling. Where’s the learning? In fact, where’s the parenting? How is this any different than the toddler in the grocery line screaming for candy?

When indulgence fails, parents recognize the truth. They can’t change another adult. They can take charge of and change themselves. And in doing that, they change their lives.

Parents are people too

In both of my books, you’ll find sensible questions to challenge what reconciliation really means, but the real focus is on you. Portions of the latest, BEYOND Done, help you look at your own history, your family, and culture, and how those may have figured into your outlook and beliefs (or affected the genes). Some say knowledge is power, but it’s what we do with knowledge that makes a difference. You can’t change the past, but you can change your present and future.

Whether you’re currently reconciling with an estranged adult child or only hoping for the future, don’t squish yourself into a box that pinches and flattens you. Just as socks won’t fold neatly back into perfect shapes that scream “brand new!”, parents can’t fit into misshapen or broken molds that hurt them. To learn, heal, and grow includes defining and erecting some boundaries that support well-being, and allow parents to honor their own integrity. That doesn’t mean always getting our way or forever imposing our opinions on others, but it does mean our thoughts and feelings matter.  Parents are people too. We count.

Related reading

When the adult child holds onto offenses

Emotional scars after an adult child’s estrangement

Your focus: Not “estrangement pain”

New Year wordFocus word: Don’t let it be “estrangement”

by Sheri McGregor

Right now, consider how distressed you want to be. Are you on the cusp of another cruddy year spent focusing on estrangement pain? I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. Don’t get stuck thinking you can make someone change. Sure, you can reach out and let someone know you care if you must, you can even apologize if that’s the right thing to do (it sometimes isn’t, in my opinion). But for your own wellness and for the benefit of those who remain close, learn to shift your focus from estrangement pain and bounce back. If you do reconcile, you’ll be stronger for the long haul. There’s no downside.

Setting the tone for the year

In Beyond Done, I included an exercise using language to help you escape reactionary emotional storms and respond to triggers or distress from the executive functioning area of the brain. So you can think more clearly, focus, take charge, and make plans. It’s a way to shift out of estrangement pain and into thinking for your own good. Here, we’ll do something similar.

Deciding upon a word or phrase that you call up and use as to steer, can be your ticket to a calmer, happier year ahead. One year, I decided upon “kindness.” This helped me set an intention and follow through, even the toughest of spots. Thinking “kindness” helped me demonstrate patience or go the extra mile. That meant I spoke a compliment out loud rather than only thinking it, and willfully displayed the word’s meaning as often as I could. The practice might have positively touched a few others but practicing kindness brightened my own days the most, I think. It meant that I felt good about myself and my behavior toward other people.

Words focused on estrangement pain: Lose ’em

With regard to estrangement and how it has affected you, consider what word might represent your behavior and/or emotions over the last 12 months. For me, in the early daze of estrangement, I was “weepy” and “insecure.” Realizing that helped me dry my tears, straighten my shoulders, and walk forward with more strength. I was determined not to remain a weepy, insecure woman, allowing another person’s decisions to ruin my life. As time went on, and I worked at my own wellness, other words fit. Terms like “indignant,” or “at peace,” and “determined.”

Several years ago, an estranged dad called me “brave.” Just when I needed it the most, the word helped me to see myself as he saw me, and I mustered the courage to give a public speech (something I’d quit altogether after the estrangement). Soon, I was thinking of the word whenever I felt scared—and it helped me to press on.

How do you want to see yourself?

Consider what word will help you in the year ahead. A single, calming word such as “peaceful,” that relaxes you if you’re worried or upset might be one to choose as your word of the year. A signal word helps you shift focus for your own well-being. Maybe you use a word like “strong” that helps you develop emotional muscles and flex them (as discussed in Beyond Done).

You could choose a phrase instead. Something to describe or dictate how you will move through life. One mother recently used the term “gliding through.” I think this is genius! Just saying it—gliding through—conjures an image of floating along, effortlessly, feather-light and feet barely touching the ground, even in the tensest situation.

Think and tell

I hope you will ponder this idea, then come up with a word or phrase that might help you in the coming year. No hurry either. You can do it now or do it a month or even six months from now, because your New Year is not bound by the calendar year. We can start fresh anytime.

If it feels helpful, you can also choose a few words or phrases, to fit specific situations. A term like “stinky cheese” might help you stand strong when you feel like you’re all alone (you’ll understand this if you’ve read my latest book!), or words that set an intentional mindset and help you focus, float, dance, or glide through life.

As you consider potential ideas, try them on out loud. How does a particular word or phrase make you feel? Choose something that feels doable but is at least a little of a stretch. Then write the word(s) on notes you tack to your refrigerator door or around the house—but also on your heart and mind so they’re tip of tongue and top of mind when you need them. Oh, and share them here if you’d like. I’d love to know what you come up with—and your words might help another parent. Borrowing allowed!

Related reading

Abusive adult children influence parents’ self-image

Estrangement: Are you an octopus mom (or dad)?