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Freedom for a new era (parents rejected by adult children)

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

parents rejected by adult childrenIt’s the end of an era. Changes that were once far out on the horizon are here. My husband’s retirement, my pursuit of a rigorous academic goal, and a few other life-altering situations. I recognize that trying to hang onto the old while embracing the new will only hinder my progress and keep me living in the past. That’s why decisions are being made, changes to support the changes. And I feel good about those.

Even so, as I contemplated giving up our decades-old landline, a pang of sadness hit me. That phone number is the one my children committed to memory when they were young. The one they shared with their friends before cell phones became a thing. The phone that rang at all hours. It was one of the few threads left connecting me to my estranged son, to the ideal of family I envisioned and worked so hard to achieve.

But why hang onto something we no longer need? Why pay a bill for what has become clutter? It’s a small thing, really. A tiny toe dipped toward even more changes to come. Disconnecting the thing became a test, too. With special offers to retain me as a customer, if I’d just keep it for another year. I didn’t. And the disconnection brought a sense of relief. One less thing to hold onto just in case.

What are you holding onto?

Parents rejected by adult children have lots of similar decisions to make. I know how it feels to find a faux fur-framed photo of an estranged adult’s first love—and wonder how long to hold onto it. I know about high school yearbooks, odds and ends left in an abandoned bedroom, handwritten cards or a box of artwork made by a dimple-faced son who once adored his mom. It can be difficult to let that stuff go.

There’s no rule about how long to hold on, but when something drags you down, it’s time to take action. Maybe that means putting stuff away and out of sight (if you have room for it). Or, parents rejected by adult children could choose to inform their son or daughter of a decision to hold the items for only a specific period.

parents rejected by adult childrenOne mother whose two adult sons have abandoned her couldn’t part with the lovely artwork her talented son once created. She also couldn’t stand to look at it. A few years earlier, he had requested she keep the items for him, but since their only communication dwindled to an occasional text in which he ridiculed her, the works that once brought her pride and joy grew heavy with hurt. Seeing them decorate her home kept her longing for happier times.

Although she was at one point so anguished over her sons’ abandonment that she considered suicide, this mother sought support and made a change. And as she clawed her way toward a better perspective and a happy life, she knew her environment needed modifications. She had her own endeavors to pursue. A new life to live, working toward social change, career goals, and at her own creative pursuits. Her son’s artwork had to go. Her solution was to put them away in parents rejected by adult childrenher attic. “For now,” she explained, thinking he might have children one day and want the art. But she also decided to revisit the decision in the future. If she ever moved, she would discard, donate, or give up the art then. For now, though, out of sight out of mind.

 

With the items put away, she could display her own works, and fill her home with things that represented her interests and brought her joy.

Will you adapt?

The truth is, even if estrangement weren’t part of the equation, our lives change. That’s why people retire to warm climes and downsize. If we’re smart and resilient, we modify our very selves to survive and thrive. An adaptive spirit is healthier (and more fun) than clinging to an old ideal—even a good one—if it no longer exists. Strategies, plans, and ways of being that protect and satisfy us in one era of our lives often don’t work in another. If we don’t adapt, we fail.

Are you a wily coyote? A clever crow?

In the three decades I’ve lived in this semi-rural area, the additions of a school, a church, new tract homes, and a shopping center have changed things. Traffic, noise, and people have increased as the natural landscape with its native resources has shrunk. Yet, the coyote population that has lived here longer than I have continues to thrive. The coyotes have adapted quite well.

parents rejected by adult childrenThey’re like the crows who live in this area. Twenty years ago, when the school was built, the city cleared a grove of old pecan trees. For many years after that, come fall when the nuts would have ripened, flocks of crows could be seen circling above the spot where the trees once were. It was if they were puzzled about where their food source had gone. Now, the crows are as prevalent here as ever. They feed from a tree on my property each fall and fill in with whatever else they can find all year. Their loss and longing evident as they circled the skies in search of the trees, they have nonetheless adapted. Like the coyotes, they’re survivors.

What’s your style?

Like the mother who couldn’t part with her son’s artwork, you may need to preserve the past for now. Or maybe you’re more like me, steadily letting go, never rushing but making forward progress. You may be like the coyotes, who quickly adapt. Or like the crows, who circled for years, puzzling, before letting loose the dream of nuts no longer there.

It isn’t so much the style of our acceptance that’s important, but the forward momentum that allows for change. We can hold onto memories, savor them as I say in my book. Reliving the good memories is good for us. The trick is to hold onto the joy without clinging forever to the loss of what we once thought would be, and the wishes that are beyond our control.

Adapting brings freedom

For some, embracing a new era may mean embracing relief. One mother recently sent me an email in which she recounted the experience of an estranged adult daughter who has come in and out of her life for many years. This mother, like many parents, instigated reconciliation after reconciliation. Unfortunately, the facts of their relationship never changed. Her daughter’s verbal, financial, and emotional abuse continued. The last time her daughter left, this mother admitted to a response she couldn’t previously accept: relief.

By owning the feeling, by voicing it to someone who could understand, she was free to finally begin the work of adapting to a new way of life. She could let go of the guilt and failure that had kept her chained to trying, to her own peril. She’s learning to adapt.

parents rejected by adult childrenIn adapting our attitudes, our environments, and our behavior to support us in the current era of our lives, we become free. This Independence Day, you may be thinking of past times. Of fireworks displays you oohed and awed at with someone to whom you were once very close. If you have good memories, hold them dear. Relive and savor those moments for the joy the hold. I hope you will also contemplate of the holiday in terms of your personal independence. Consider your own sense of freedom, and more specifically, whatever may be holding you back.

Through the Facebook page and in emails, I frequently hear from parents rejected by adult children. Many of these parents are doing wonderful things with their newfound freedom. Some continue to hold out hope for a renewed relationship. Others no longer entertain the idea. Regardless, they’re enjoying and finding meaning in their lives. You can too.

Won’t you help others by sharing your thoughts in a comment to this article?

Happy Independence Day 2018! Great big hugs to all the hurting parents rejected by adult children.

Related reading

New Year’s Resolution (not clinging to the loss)

Parents of Estranged Adults: Declaring Independence 2016

Freedom

 

Don’t get caught in a meddler’s web

alienated adult childrenby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

There’s an old saying: What a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive.

In raising our five children, my funny husband recited an altered version: What a tangled web we weave, when we practice to conceive! He infused humor into the trials and tribulations of parenting. We never imagined estrangement, but here we are. The saying still fits.

Another spider saying comes from parents with estranged or alienated adult children whose extended family gets involved—sometimes for malicious reasons. They say that meddlers weave a “web” of deceit.

After hearing their stories, I feel the term is appropriate.

A Finely tuned trap

Spiders tighten and tune individual web strands like guitar strings so that other spiders and prey can be easily distinguished. Spiders are adept at attracting the prey they want. Some lure the unsuspecting with sweetly scented silk. A finely tuned web provides varying feedback from individual insect types, so the spider knows just how to snag the unsuspecting. Plus, spiders are adept at positioning their trap, and know just when to weave it.

Of course, I’m not writing about spiders. This is about meddlers and others who interfere. They say they want to help, but sometimes spin a web of deceit.

One mother of an estranged adult son said her husband’s brother called to say her son was having a baby. This man is still in contact with the estranged adult son.

“This might be the perfect time to reconcile,” he told the mother, who was mortified to hear from him about her first grandchild. He advised the parents to get in touch. But when they did, their son called it harassment.

“My husband’s brother has meddled in the past,” says this mother. “Always with bad results.”
Other parents with estranged or alienated adult children tell similar stories. Unfortunately, just as spiders are adept at spinning webs for malicious purpose, people can be just as cunning.

Many parents of estranged adults have come to accept the reasons their son or daughter makes contact and then disappears again. For you, it may be a third party who lures you back into the web of emotional pain just when you’re moving forward in your life. Learn to trust your gut instincts. “I knew it was wrong to listen,” says this mother, who wishes she’d have trusted herself.

Tempting trap

On early fall mornings, spider webs are a lovely sight. Pearls of dew. Rainbow prisms in the light. The sheer magnificence of the intricate engineering is wonderful to behold.
Meddlers can be just as adept. Often, they have had lifetimes to perfect their weaving. They know just when to call and what words to say to take advantage of your vulnerability.

A change of perspective

alienated adult childrenNext time someone wants to help you reconcile or calls with news about the son or daughter who doesn’t want you in his/her life, be wary. Pause and reflect. It may be that this individual truly does want to help. Not everyone who meddles is purposely manipulative or hurtful. Some people just don’t understand estrangement.

One thing to keep in mind is that it’s often a wise course of action to try and gain information rather than be the one to talk. If you’re feeling ill at ease about a meddler for any reason, stay quiet and ask questions.

Depending on the circumstances, you could:

  • Ask them why they’re getting involved.
  • Change the subject.
  • Thank them for wanting to help, but explain that it’s not something they can fix.
  • Explain that you’re letting a little time go by right now.
  • Tell them you’re doing research or seeking counseling before taking any further action.
  • Ask them not to interfere.

If these suggestions are not helpful, consider the situation more closely. If interference is common, you’ll have time to reflect. Be honest and write out your thoughts. Then answer these questions:

  • Does this person truly want to help me?
  • Can this person really help?
  • Do I have misgivings about this person? And if so, could taking his or her advice hurt more than help with regard to the estrangement?
  • Has this individual steered me wrong in the past?
  • Does what this person says seem too good to be true?
  • Is this person attempting to make me feel guilty?
  • Have I heard my words to this person come back to me, only altered (even ever so slightly) in a way that made me feel uncomfortable?

Your answers can help you detect potential or actual manipulation so you can steer clear of the web.

In order to move forward in their own lives (whether hoping to reconcile or not), parents who are estranged or alienated from adult children must gather their strength, choose support wisely, and view their circumstances with clarity.

If you don’t already have my book, Done With The Crying, consider getting it. The examples and exercises in the book can help.

Estranged or alienated adult children can have effects on the family overall. I’m doing research to learn more about these effects. You can help. Please consider filling in my survey. If you have other children who have been hurt by a sibling or step-sibling’s estrangement, the survey works for them as well (if they’re over the age of 18). Consider asking them to complete the survey, too. Here’s the link.

Too busy right now, or need a quick way to refer someone to the survey? You can find this one, as well as a few others, on a page all their own: RejectedParents.NET/surveys

Related reading:

Spiders tune in

Adult children who reject parents: Why do they make contact now?

 

Estate planning (estranged parents) Is the paperwork done?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

estate planning estranged parentsOnce upon a time there were parents who loved their children. They devoted their energy and time to those kids’ well-being, and for the most part, they did well. As time passed and the children grew, those parents adapted. They let loose their hands as those darling children headed into kindergarten for the very first time. They saw those growing children through sports and scrapes. They were nervous when they went to middle and high school and learned to drive a car. But they smiled and let them grow and go. That’s what parents do.

With some of those children, the love went on, shared and returned. As adults, those children were more like friends in some ways, but the parents still played a supportive role. The parents listened when the young adults confided about college or work or a new love in their lives. They offered advice when asked, injected a wise comment here or there, and watched with pride as their adult children matured into good citizens of planet Earth. They were there to celebrate a promotion, help when someone got sick, and step into the role of grandparents to new darling loves they knew would grow and go. But for now, they would hold their grandbabies, love them, and cherish the moments. Time goes fast, and that’s what parents do.

estate planning estranged parentsHowever, somewhere along the way, one child (or sometimes more than one) changes. It can’t be considered growing in the typical way. It’s a veering off, and then looking back through eyes that no longer see the good. It’s revisionist history, a new story, a tale that doesn’t tell the truth. And sometimes it’s a twisted game. A cruel activity that tugs at heart strings and then chokes them off, repeatedly. It’s a weird racket that says I don’t want you, but you must still want me—forever.

The parent, remembering the person they once knew, hopes that son or daughter will return. Perhaps that hope never really goes away. But there comes a time when abuse, in whatever form, cannot be tolerated. So, the parents give in, move forward and make the best of things. Sometimes, that requires words (I won’t play this game anymore), or actions (block the phone number). Other times, it’s a decision to let the distance remain and even grow. The gaping gap gets knitted over because it must be. A bridge is required for a path forward. Maybe there are grandchildren from an adult child whose eyes have not changed. Maybe there are other reasons. Things like a decision to retire, an illness that puts priorities firmly on self-care and health, or a need to settle things so that firm ground is underfoot.

estate planning estranged parentsYou have a measure of closure in that decision. And you move on. You’re even happy—with the people who love you, the hobbies you enjoy, important work that brings meaning into your life. Whatever it is that makes you you—because you are back, maybe even better.

But doors that are closed can still be opened. And because you’ve seen the twisted hindsight, the abuse or manipulation, you make a more final move. One that protects the people you love who are part of your life. You decide to change your estate documents.

You’ve deliberated for years.  You know it’s all right to remove a child from inheritance, or perhaps to make a specific, limited gift. To exclude the children of an estranged adult child because they’re not born yet, you don’t know them, or if you have a son, he might have children out there somewhere. Your attorney says she’s seen people come out of the woodwork with claims. And you can always change the paperwork later if you need or want to. Your attorney tells you she advises people to do what is right for them at the current time. And the timing is right…now.

Estate planning: Estranged parents may be sad

estate planning estranged parentsAs you drive away, you feel secure. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t feel sad. Maybe you even cry. Maybe you wonder: What if you have it all wrong? What if my son or daughter doesn’t expect this, and will one day be filled with regret? You imagine that handsome face twisted in pain. You see tears welling in those beautiful eyes. And then you remember the truth. Those eyes have changed. And so, you tuck the sadness away. You’re practiced by now. And it feels good to have taken the action you’ve been putting off. You’ve signed the paperwork for a reason.

Your attorney has validated your worries. She sees estrangement all the time. After the parents are dead and gone, she has seen the disinherited try to guilt a sibling into splitting their rightful share. You don’t want that to happen, the manipulation and abuse. So, you have protected the ones you love. You have shut the door to added stress to the ones who will be sad when you die. You can always change the paperwork, but for now you have gotten your things in order. Because that’s what parents do.

More on end-of-life Decisions and estate planning for estranged parents

To find more specific help about making end-of-life decisions and on estate planning for estranged parents, there is a chapter in Done With The Crying devoted to this topic that provides examples, tools to clarify your feelings and come to decisions you can feel secure about.

These decisions are not necessarily easy, but they are important ones. And there is the security in knowing your wishes will be honored.

Mothers of Estranged Adult Children: Mother’s Day 2018

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

The generally recognized founder of the U.S. Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, never profited from the holiday. She fought against commercializing it, but Mother’s Day is commercialized. And all those newspaper ads and television commercials can trigger pain and sadness for mothers of estranged adult children.

The White Carnation

Did you know that the carnation does not lose its petals as it dies? Instead, it hugs them to its heart, according to Anna Jarvis. She likened the carnation to mothers whose love never dies and who hold their children close. Jarvis was against commercializing the holiday, but she sure knew how to spin a persuasive line. So do today’s marketers. The holiday is so ingrained in our culture that mothers of estranged adult children begin worrying and talking about it months in advance. What will they do to get through the day? What won’t they do, in order to protect themselves?

Before we get into some solid answers, let’s consider that maybe all the lovely images the media projects about Mother’s Day aren’t as accurate a portrayal as they seem. As I say in my book, the Norman Rockwell image of the family doesn’t truly exist. Even the happiest of families have their troubles.

Sheri McGregorMy article, What don’t you know? , features an honest portrayal of after-holiday conversations among neighbors and friends. Odds are everyone is telling the good stuff while leaving out the conflicts.

Mothers of estranged adult children may also pare their comments down rather than let it all hang out. And who can blame them? Many mothers of estranged adult children relate that they have experienced judgment. It’s common for people to suspect that a parent has done something awful to cause estrangement. But as I discuss at length in my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, it’s sometimes possible to get past the judgment. Parents can sometimes be honest, and then steer the other person’s response. You can do this by acknowledging a negative response as understandable, which lets the other person off the hook. A gentle correction can follow, because estrangement by adult children who come from regular, loving families is actually rather common. By steering people past their initial responses, we can begin to enlighten society to the epidemic of estrangement. But gosh, don’t feel obligated to do so. As mentioned, it’s perfectly acceptable to keep it to yourself. Especially in the beginning.

Early on, it was difficult for me to talk about my son’s estrangement. As time has gone on, it’s grown easier. I also see it as important, so speak out publicly to shed light on the issue of estrangement. In the fall, when my story was told to a Good Housekeeping magazine interviewer, she edited it down, and then they added dramatic headlines that appeared as if they were my quotes. When I agreed to that interview, I had no idea the story would be passed along to media outlets all over the world. As a result, I was bombarded by hateful, judgmental comments. I completely understand why some parents choose not to tell anyone about estrangement.

However,  beyond enlightening society to the problem, my intention remains the same as when I when I wrote the book: To help parents of estranged adult children. If parents can manage to let go of the whys and what-ifs, they can live a fulfilling life. Though the article that went viral generated hate, it also reached the audience it was intended for. I heard from many parents, some of whom had suffered alone for many years. They said they had no idea there were other caring parents whose adult children abandoned them. Just by sharing my story, I had helped!

Sheri McGregorSimilarly, a mother in the support forum shared that she bought herself a beautiful bouquet for Mother’s Day—to honor herself for all she’d done as a mother. The florist asked if she wanted to sign a card, and she ended up revealing the truth. It just so happens that the florist was also a mother of estranged adult children. The two shared a hug. This story is like others I often hear, where one mother lets down her guard, and discovers she has helped another by sharing.

If you’re not ready to open up about your estrangement, don’t feel bad. I completely understand, and have suffered enough suspicious stares to know how you feel. We are each on our own path. Although we share a bond in estrangement, our individual circumstances are unique, and so are we. Depending on the duration of the estrangement and any further contact that places you on an emotional roller coaster or uncertain about hope, you may or may not be willing to open up. And it’s your choice whether to let people in on your plight. Just as a carnation holds its petals close, you may feel the need to protect your heart—and that’s OK.

Mother’s Day: not always happy

Mothers of estranged adult children are not the only ones who dread the day. Last year, a newspaper reporter gave my thoughts a little space among experts and mothers for whom the holiday isn’t all lovely and fun. The article offers helpful tips and insights from mothers in other situations that make the day stressful. It’s unfortunate that my quotes come next to a those of a therapist who suggests we mend the rift. So be aware of that before clicking on the link. Mothers of estranged adult children know mending the rift is not as simple as that (and the therapist speaks of teens rather than adults).

Mother’s Day: Manage, get through or even enjoy it

First, don’t feel bad about your feelings. In acknowledging our emotions, we honor ourselves. And that often frees us up to more fully appreciate and enjoy the day with others who love and want to celebrate with us. For more specific tips and discussion, see Tending Your Heartache.

Second, take care of yourself in the days leading up to Mother’s Day. This involves recognizing the feelings the holiday triggers and making a few decisions for your own happiness. Be mindful, and then act. Even the tiniest of steps help, because positive action for yourself results in momentum. Be good to yourself.

Third, remember that holidays can influence a person’s thinking. If you find yourself contemplating doing something out of the ordinary to try and reconnect, take a little time to reflect and consider your actions more carefully. Like one mother who felt compelled to reconnect with her adult sons, ask yourself a few key questions. You may decide, as she did, not to act. See her story here.

Fourth, realize again that you are not alone in this situation or the feelings that come with it. Recently, I reached out to the women behind a website for women. They contemplated, and then ran a thoughtful review of my book because they realized they both knew people who were estranged. These days, it’s common that someone is estranged within most circles. The support forum for parents of estranged adult children at this site is filled with parents of estranged adult children who offer one another care and kindness. You may find it beneficial too.

Fifth, take care of yourself. If that message hasn’t been set forth clearly so far, let me say it now: Take care of yourself!

More help for Mothers estranged from adult children

Sheri McGregorThroughout this article, I’ve embedded links to others with more specific tips, techniques, and strategies. Below, I’ve listed a few more of the Mother’s Day and holiday related articles to help (and the opportunity to get a free audio book). Why not get out a notepad, and as you read the articles, take a few notes about what might work for you. As always, the comments, too, contain wonderful suggestions from other parents like you.

Can you help other mothers estranged from adult children? If you have a comment about Mother’s Day that can help others, please share. Thousands of people visit this site every month, and in the weeks surrounding Mother’s Day, the traffic spikes with hurting people looking for help. I hope you’ll take a moment to make a comment here.

As a special Mother’s Day gift from me to you, I have two digital copies of the audiobook version of Done with the Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children to share. Here’s how to possibly receive one:

  1. Comment directly to this article with a thought about Mother’s Day to help mothers estranged from adult children. You can do this by using the box below, or by clicking on “Leave a Reply” at the top of this article. In your comment, be sure to talk a little about your estrangement–and don’t worry, although the comment form asks for your email address, that will not be shared or visible on the page when your comment appears. (Your comment will not immediately appear, so don’t worry when you don’t immediately see it. Comments are moderated for approval.)
  2. Do include your real first name.
  3. Comment between now and midnight Sunday, May 13, 2018 (Pacific time).The two winners will be chosen randomly by draw. You will receive a redeemable code to use directly from the audiobook publisher’s website. Until next time, Happy Mother’s Day! And lots of HUGS to the hurting parents.

Sheri McGregor

Related articles

Getting through Mother’s Day when your adult child is estranged: 6 Thoughts to help

‘Twas the night before Mother’s Day

Holidays, how to manage them

Happy Mother’s Day

Greetings from estranged adult children

Mother’s Day for estranged mothers: Tending your heartache

Mother’s Day: Triggering pain for estranged mothers

The mother who isn’t, the grandmother who isn’t allowed

 

Ask Sheri McGregor: Should I go to their workplace?

Sheri McGregorI often receive emails from readers. Sometimes the questions and dilemmas are ones that are common. Therefore, I’ve decided to begin sharing some, in the hopes they will be helpful to other parents of estranged adult children.

As always, my thoughts are based on my own experience as well as knowledge about estrangement gleaned from researching my book. At the time Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children went to print, I had heard from 9,000 families. As of this date, nearly 30,000 have answered my survey. Thousands more have participated in the forum, commented here, or emailed me.

Below, I’ve included a recent exchange. Perhaps it will be helpful to you.

Note from Sandra,
mother to twin estranged adult sons

Hello Sheri,

Thanks so much. You have been a tremendous source of inspiration, strength, support and encouragement for me (and many others) throughout these difficult years of mine. I am doing well, all things considered. However, as Mother’s Day approaches, as well as my sons’ 36th birthday, I find myself experiencing different pockets of emotion–sadness, guilt, anxiety, depression, anger. I am sure this is normal. 

Those times are still very challenging as the families celebrate and it certainly brings back memories. It has been 3 years for me in terms if my twin sons being estranged. After reading your “wonder” book “Done with the Crying”, I have tried to use many of the strategies which you suggested. I still have bad days, but the good thing is, I am not where I was, however, still not where I should be.

I am always holding out that my twin adult sons will somehow reach out to me. It has been 3 years and everything has gone silent. No phone calls on my birthday. I have had to block them from sending me emails, for all I ever received were horrible, slanderous emails and text messages full of vitrole. I feel bad having to block them both. I had to find a way to preserve my heart from crying whenever I received those messages. However, my home address has not changed and they are still able to contact me if they ever wanted to. 

I recently heard that I have a new, second grandson. I do not know where my sons reside. But I was able to look up one of them on the internet and saw where he works and his phone number. My other son, I also have a phone number. Both of these adult men have been horrible, very abusive, and so I am unsure if I should contact them. I truly do not want to subject myself to more verbal abuse. Especially as Mother’s Day approaches. I have come a long way in terms of my depression, grief and anxiety. I still suffer from insomnia.

Question for you:

I am tempted to make a connection with my sons at their workplaces. Would this be a good idea? I would like your honest input. I truly would like to see my sons and know how they are doing. 

Thanks so much, Sheri, for taking me that far. “Done With The Crying” has worked wonders for me.

Sandra

Sheri McGregorAnswer from Sheri McGregor

Dear Sandra,

My inclination would be to  discourage you from going to your sons’ workplaces. They might feel like it’s an invasion of privacy, an embarrassment or stress of some sort. Even if you contacted them by letter, or by phone in an unobtrusive way, it may be a mistake in terms of your hard-won forward progress that you mention.

Before you make any calls, consider very carefully what the intention is. If you’re hoping for a good response, and have had horrible verbal abuse in the past, I wonder how you will feel if you receive that again.

Here are a few more thoughts:

  • Your sons know where you are and/or how to reach you. (They could at any any time and have not. Do they want to?)
  • What do you hope to gain from the call?
  • What if you don’t get that?
  • If you want to know how they are (as you said) is there another way to satisfy this curiosity?

The decision is up to you, obviously. It is wise to think it through from a variety of angles, and then consider which is best for you:

  • call or don’t call?
  • try or don’t try?

In light of all contemplation and full accepting of all possible results, which of these can you live best with?

Consider your thoughts

Pay close attention to the thoughts that come up for you. Get out a pen and paper, and jot down some notes.

  • What are your worries?
  • Are they things you can influence or are in charge of?
  • Are your worries about uncertainties that are beyond your control?

I hope this helps a little bit… It’s so difficult to answer questions like this because the possibilities are so wide.

I’m so sorry you’re faced with this and the continued loss of your sons. As you said, you’re not where you once were with all of this. You’re turning a corner though. That may be one of the things that is propting the big question for you about the birthday.

HUGS, Sheri McGregor

 

Sheri McGregorConclusion

I later received another note from Sandra. In it, she shared what many parents do: the feeling of an echo that occurs. Feelings that run so deep they’re like habits. Parents who have loved and nurtured their children experience echoes, hiccups of what once was. In Sandra’s case, there was clearly verbal abuse. She decided not to subject herself to the abuse again at this time. And it is true that her sons know where she lives. If they wanted to reach out, they could.

Have you had experiences similar to Sandra’s? I hope you will share a few thoughts by commenting on this article. Monthly, there are thousands of visitors to this website who can benefit from other parents’ thoughts—-many so fearful of judgment and filled with shame over this situation they didn’t choose and cannot change that they are silent. Won’t you help them by letting them know they are not alone?

Hugs to all of you,

Sheri McGregor

Abusive adult children influence parents’ self-image

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

abusiv

 

 

NOTE: I don’t often use the word “abuse” when talking about estrangement. For some, though, the term fits. Estrangement itself, by adult children toward caring parents, can be viewed as a form of abuse. If you’re not comfortable with this terminology, use the search functions to explore other articles with specific topics relevant to parents of estranged adult children. — Sheri

Abusive adult children: a scary reflection

Have you ever looked in one of those magnifying mirrors that highlights every imperfection? Fine facial hair looks forest-thick, and skin pores appear as large as craters. But there’s a value in looking closely—even if, as a friend says, “Those magnifying mirrors are scary.”

Whose Mirror?

The perverse opinions of abusive adult children can make parents see themselves in a warped mirror. One that distorts them so much they no longer recognize themselves. This might have happened over time, or overnight.

abusive adult children“All I could see were my failures,” recalls Barbara. “My own daughter told me I ruined her life, and she had a million detailed memories of how I did everything wrong.”

Imagine waking up one day and seeing a monstrosity reflected. That’s how parents can feel when an adult child’s abuse includes blame, accusations, and twisted memories.

In the beginning, Barbara spoke up. “It was as if my daughter woke up one day and had brand new memories,” Barbara explains. “She recounted her life with a black cloud of doom over her head, and the cloud was me.”

Because the vast majority of parents want their children’s happiness above all else, they reevaluate themselves through the son or daughter’s perspective. They’re willing to look at how their choices may have been seen through their child’s eyes. All parents make mistakes. Also, it’s possible a child didn’t understand a parent’s choices, the motivation driving them, or what might have been happening behind the scenes. Those sorts of things can be discussed and worked out by willing parties.

Unfortunately, of the one hundred or more emails I receive from parents of estranged or abusive adult children each week, many of them have tried—unsuccessfully. Barbara certainly did. Offers for mediation, counseling, or to just sit down and talk, have been met with such things as flat-out refusals, silence, or more abusive rants.

Seeing the real you

Many parents are surprised to find that there are so many like them who have suffered from cruelty, abandonment, put-downs, and endless blame. And because it’s a controversial subject, they’ve been afraid to tell anyone for fear of judgment. Or, as is often the case, they’re keeping quiet to protect their adult child’s reputation.

Barbara knew she had done her best. She’s like other parents whose self-image can get lost to a flawed reflection provided repeatedly by abusive adult children. I routinely hear from parents convinced they’re failures, deserving of the pain or abandonment their sons and daughters inflict. After all, they reason, if they were a good mother or father, their children would love them.

They may try everything to maintain a relationship. Barbara’s daughter threatened to keep her grandchildren away, so she walked on eggshells.  “If I said anything out of line, which could be anything depending on her mood, then the tirade would begin.” Eventually, Barbara’s then 36-year old daughter began posting lies on Facebook about her. At the time, Barbara was recovering from surgery. At her breaking point, she replied, publicly asking her daughter why she’d lied. The postings were deleted, but Barbara’s daughter went no-contact. “It wasn’t the first time,” says Barbara. “But it has been the longest estrangement so far.”

With a health scare that became a turning point, Barbara knew she had to make a change. That’s when she began to look for help. But after years of warped opinions from an abusive adult child, she had little self-confidence.  “If I raised this person who turned out to be so cruel, then how could I be a successful mother?” she asks.  “My daughter had reminded me what a failure I was every chance she got.”

Take a closer look.

abusive adult childrenWhen suffering parents discover my book, they tell me they’re shocked to read so many experiences that mirror their own. And although it’s sad to know there are so many suffering, the knowledge is also heartening. They’re no longer alone. In reading other parents’ accounts, they get a clearer view. They see themselves in others’ stories, and recognize they were also good parents who did their best.

Once parents have a clearer reflection, they can explore positive changes to help themselves move forward in their own lives. One of the first steps is to look more closely at how much an abusive adult child has affected their lives. The inflicted suffering entails more than sadness and grief. Bitterness, lack of confidence, anger, fear, and anxiety have often crept in. In Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, there are many exercises, and one designed specifically to help with this vital step. Holding the magnifier up to examine changes in themselves is one of the first steps to making positive, concrete plans to regain confidence, find meaning, and happiness again.

Take action.

One woman who found this website and my book after 20 years of grief described her life as a “living death.” Now, she’s glad to have found a way out of the rollercoaster of emotions, the shame and sorrow, and to stop crying and to start celebrating life.

abusive adult childrenBarbara says it’s too late to reconcile with her daughter. There has been too much heartbreak, and her daughter has refused any sort of counseling or mediation. “I miss my grandchildren,” she says, “but I’m hoping to one day see them again.”

Barbara’s expresses the sentiment of many grandparents who, due to estrangement, have lost touch with precious ones. But I sometimes hear from grandparents who have received their wish. There’s a knock at the door one day, and it’s a grownup grandchild with that same sweet smile, wanting to reconnect. When that happens, you’ll want to be ready, so take care of yourself. As one grandmother recently advised, “Get dressed and put on lipstick every day.”

Don’t wait and hope, mired by inaction that only adds to your grief. You can clean the mirrors of guilt and shame and see yourself for the loving parent you have always been. Like thousands of parents who are learning to accept what they cannot change, and see their goodness again, you can be done with the crying. Take action for yourself and your happiness by reading more of the articles at this site, getting Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children and committing to the included exercises. Subscribe to my email newsletter (below) and take the survey using the link on the right. By taking action, you can be like so many parents who have recovered from the sadness and pain caused by abusive adult children, on-and-off or full-on estrangements. Treasure your life. You can find happiness and meaning again.

Related reading:

Rejected parents: Should you tell people?

Parents: Have you had enough?

Elder Abuse Statistics

Beyond the shadow of estrangement

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

The Shadow of Estrangement.

When the sun is high in a brilliant blue sky, our shadows are short. As the sun moves, our shadows lengthen, shorten, and change position—sometimes on the right, other times on our left.

But this isn’t a lesson on shadows! It’s just how I choose to view the shadow ofestrangement.

Estrangement’s “day”

The presence of estrangement can change over the course of time. With acceptance comes the admission that you cannot control another adult’s decision. You can move forward, and whether you believe it or not at this moment, you can be happy;  so that you no longer think of your estranged adult children and are no longer plagued by the shadow of estrangement, even for very long periods of time. Still, with the arrival of a life storm or two, a birthday, a holiday or a brush with death, the presence can shift, grow, or reappear.

shadow of estrangementThis is true even for people who’ve reached the high noon of acceptance over what they know they cannot change, who have moved forward in joy and are cherishing what’s good and creating new meaning and purpose in their lives. Even for many years.

People write to me all the time with a situation or date that has caused them grief. Times when the shadow of estrangement looms. Statements like these are common:

  • I’m back to square one.
  • I’ll never get past this loss.
  • What if I haven’t tried enough?

The Shadow of estrangement: Make a choice

But we do have a choice. We can see the setback as oppressive and horrible and something we just can’t shake. Or, we can make the choice to see the shift as temporary. We can tell ourselves it’s a minor setback, that we will feel better, that we are still strong and will move beyond this day. We can envision ourselves leaping forward again to square four or six or ten or one hundred—and then we can do what’s necessary to make that leap.

Estrangement: Is there a gift in the pain?

shadow of estrangementWe can even choose to find the value in revisiting the pain. Maybe it provides an opportunity to remind ourselves we did all we could. Perhaps in re-examining the facts, we re-identify the words and events and decisions that a parent’s forgiving memory has softened. In the shadow of estrangement, we can bolster ourselves with reality and mourn the loss as we might for a loved one who is long deceased, with good memories and a tinge of sadness, longing, or regret.

Or, if we feel the need, we can reach out again (always with an emotional insurance plan).

One woman recently wrote that she had been doing so well, but then her estranged daughter made contact, and it wasn’t for reasons that made any good sense. There is was again: the shadow of estrangement. This estranged mother wrote to me, saying, “I’ve pulled out your book again. It helped me before, and it will help me again.” Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children was her first line of defense.

shadow of estrangementOthers look at a favorite article here at rejectedparents.net, or do a search for ones that fit  their experience. You can use the collapsible categories to the right to look through all past article titles, and then click through. Or, there’s a search button to the right to help you find specific subjects.

Maybe for you it’s a good friend who will be sad to hear what’s happened, but there to make you laugh. Perhaps it’s getting close to God, to your spouse, to nature, or a loyal pet—and then reconnecting with the activities you enjoy. Maybe it’s a combination of these things.

The sun will set, the stars and moon will shine, and the next day brings a new beginning. We can choose to see the shadow of estrangement as a reminder that we are okay, that we can reclaim our space and happiness despite it.

“The landscape of loss is fertile ground for growth.” Sheri McGregor

In time, we may even find gifts hidden in the shadow of estrangement, as so many parents tell me they have. Gifts of strength and clarity and growth. Gifts in seeing how other puzzles within our lives fit. Or even the gift of peace. Have you found any such gifts? Feel free to comment here on this article so that other parents can benefit from your experience.

Related reading

Estranged Adult Children: Why Do They Make Contact Now?

Estrangement: Dealing With Uncertainty

Estranged from adult children? Done With The Crying Audiobook release

estranged from adult childrenEstranged from adult children?
I’m excited to announce that earlier this month, the audiobook version of Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children was released by Tantor Media.

adult children estrangedFor awhile today, Done With The Crying took the number one spot for new releases in its category at Amazon. As I write this it’s at #4. I’m happy the book is helping people, but it’s also sad proof of a common breakdown in today’s families: estrangement.

Have you been waiting to read the book? If you’re estranged from adult children, I do recommend the print version because the tools and exercises provide real help to move beyond the pain, and there’s space provided in the printed book. But you could listen to it for free right now, plus get a bonus.

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

Please know that although you may feel alone in the estrangement, you are not. I hear from parents every day who are estranged from adult children, suffering similar pain and looking for solutions. Please, take care of yourself. There is a good life ahead, and you’ll want to be strong and well to enjoy it. Buy the book, and take a step forward today.

Done

Estranged Adult sonYour feelings change over time. You’re on with your life. You’re well and wise and happy. You figure so much time has passed that there is no chance. You accept that—everyone else has after all.

But on a quiet night, you still wonder. You send a text, or call. And then you discover that nothing has changed. The person you think might have changed, has not. He has grown worse.  He (or she) has settled into the sick, loveless person who estranged to begin with.

You listen to the self-righteous talk. Hoping to break through, you mention that you’re getting older. And then you hear the laughter. You’re surprised, sickened even, by the comment that  people do die; that you will too; that that’s what happens.

You realize there is no remorse. It is all about a lie … A story … A tale that makes what they have done ok–in their mind, and to the people near them.

And you realize that you are really done. It is sad, but also freeing. So, so freeing.

It is the story I have heard from thousands of parents. It’s my story, too.

Good bye you say. And for the first time ever, you know you mean it.

 

 

Estrangement: Are you an octopus mom?

by Sheri McGregor, MA

estrangement

Sheri, diving in a pool
Photo credit: J. Wininger

Octopuses are smart. They can learn how to work through mazes, figure out how to open jars, and they like to play—all signs of intelligence. That’s why it surprised me when a friend mentioned that a mother octopus lays her eggs, then devotes herself so selflessly to them that she dies.

 

In one documented story, scientists observed a giant Pacific octopus who brooded over her eggs for more than four years. She neglected her own care, going without food to the point of death—and then her offspring floated off into the ocean to live their lives alone.

Caring for children

When our children are young and growing up, we protect and care for them. For us, it’s more than preserving the species as it must be for the octopus. We love them. We want to develop good relationships with our children, expecting they will grow older and we’ll remain emotionally connected and close. But that’s not how it is in situations of estrangement. The children we nurtured and loved grow up and cut ties. The distance can range from never talking to an occasional text. Or, worse, many parents say their adult children only call when they want financial help.

It’s fine to help people you love, but with estrangement, I routinely hear from mothers (and fathers) who have repeatedly neglected their own care, health, and happiness. Some have sons or daughters who are in their 40s and even 50s and have a history of anger and abuse toward the parents they blame for all their troubles. These parents come across my book or this website, and that’s when they discover they’re not the only ones.

Estrangement: Don’t be a mother octopus

In the shame of estrangement, parents will sometimes give more than they can really afford to sacrifice. Trying and trying even though the estrangement is beyond their control. As one woman on the FB page for rejected parents recently said, “Didn’t break it. Can’t fix it.” (I’m paraphrasing from memory.)

Parents brood for years over an adult who wants nothing to do with them. Hoping their son or daughter will one day decide to change, and end the estrangement. Waiting, remaining emotionally invested to the point of exhaustion—but the adult children move on in their lives alone.

It’s okay to remain hopeful. It’s fine to think that one day your son or daughter will return. But there’s no sense neglecting yourself while you wait. Go on and enjoy your life. Find some meaning. Do what makes you happy and strong.

If that Pacific octopus would have eaten a few of those crabs she nudged away when they got close, maybe she wouldn’t have withered away while standing faithful.

estrangementObviously, we aren’t octopuses. Maybe it’s a stretch to even use this fact to draw a parallel for parents suffering in estrangement. Then again, maybe it’s not such a big stretch at all. . .

In estrangement, don’t neglect your own health and happiness.