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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)?

From sadness of estrangement to meaning

sadness of estrangement to meaningFrom the sadness of estrangement to meaning:
Anticipation, purpose, and positively shaping your outlook

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

When we’re distressed, we can fall into what’s known as “catastrophizing.” That means we think one bad thing will lead to the next and, before long, our entire outlook is clouded by doom and gloom. The good news is that we can shift gears, turn a corner, and create something to look forward to. That sweet anticipation helps us lose anxiety with its negative side effects such as compromised physical immunity and depression, and shift to a positive expectation, which makes us happy. It is possible to go from the doldrums of estrangement to meaning and purpose.

Right now, with so much worry and uncertainty filing the airwaves, we might feel as if we have little control of what’s to come. Giving ourselves something to look forward to activates what’s known as our sense of “agency,” and helps us to feel in charge and moving toward a desired goal. In my book to help parents of estranged adult children, Beyond Done , I talk more about how each of us can take charge, in unique ways that fit our circumstances. We access and shape our unique brand of resilience.

From the sadness of estrangement to meaning: Possible?

Research shows that when people anticipate future happiness, they engage in activities to reach that goal. Shaping activities to reach a goal ends up enhancing meaning and purpose in life too. Something we can all benefit from.

Here’s an example:

Right now, one thing that brings me joy is collecting and caring for houseplants. They give me something to do (water, feed, check progress, talk to them!), and something to look forward to (baby plants, cleaner air in my home, beauty . . . .). Do the plants give me meaning and purpose? In a small way, yes. They provide my life with structure, make me feel needed, and nurture my need to give.

An offshoot of my interest in houseplants and caring for them is that they enhance my social well-being. Who knew there were online groups where plant lovers talk about our green babies, share care or propagation tips, or just show photos? In the future, I may give some of my propagated plants to friends and family, bringing joy and beauty through houseplants to other people, and adding value to my own life in the process.

My experience with houseplants is like what I learned when I conducted a study to complete my master’s degree a few years ago. I researched happiness and gardening. One of the things that motivated gardeners was sharing their bounty with neighbors and friends, which increased their feelings of joy. As an aside, the lifelong gardeners reported the highest levels of overall happiness among the participants. That pleased me since I’ve gardened most of my life. Earlier on, when busy with my growing family, my gardening was based on practicality, which meant growing food as well as basic landscaping that served family gatherings and child’s play, and also creating serene spaces in the yard. Now, I can focus more of my time on ornamental gardening, such as indoor greenery and blooms. We do Turn! Turn! Turn! with every season of life.

Meaning, purpose and a happier outlook

Whether you think of daily things to look forward to, or plan bigger events such as a fun vacation, the anticipation is mostly positive, and you’ll shape your interim activities to achieve your future. There is no downside.

So, TODAY, right now, think of something—even a tiny thing—that will make you happy, give you something to look forward to, and positively shape your life. Then follow through. This can be something simple such as ordering a new book or making a date with a friend. Or opt for something more complex such as getting out grid paper, planning your seasonal garden (press “skip ads”), perusing the seed catalogs, and imagining the bountiful offerings you’ll share with neighbors and friends. As an alternative, consider what you’re already doing that brings you joy, accesses positive anticipation, and provides your life with meaning.

Please, leave a comment here about what you’re looking forward to, what future pursuit lifts your spirits, and provides life meaning. I am waiting with pure joy, excitedly anticipating your responses. Knowing that I have helped you in some small way provides my work here with meaning.

Related reading

Restful respite: A moon garden

In my garden

 

Why estrangement happens: Puzzling it out

why estrangement happensWhy estrangement happens: Puzzling it out

By Sheri McGregor

Why? It’s the million-dollar question. Ask on the Internet and you’ll find a lot of theories and blame. The parents are often negatively stereotyped in myriad writings that confirm an existing bias: parents must have done something to cause the estrangement. Providing theoretical answers to why estrangement happens has become a sort of global pastime but just because we live in a blame-the-parent era doesn’t mean we’re to blame.  However, trying to find answers is a natural response.

Questions have a way of taking over the brain and its thought processes. Puzzling things out is human nature, which is troubling when, so often, there is no logical answer. No wonder so many parents of estranged adult children report being distracted and getting hurt or suffering from brain fog. That’s one reason why, in Done With The Crying, I suggest parents settle on a “good enough” answer, at least for a time. That way, they can rest their mind enough to move on to a better question: What now?

Coping mindfully

We’ve all done a puzzle at some point. Puzzles are foundational among learning toys for even the youngest children. That’s because they help with visual acuity, spatial recognition, problem solving and more—plus they’re fun.

Puzzles help adults of all ages derive the same sorts of benefits, and during the pandemic lock downs, puzzles have increased in popularity. They fill time, and even in an uncertain atmosphere of fret and fear, they engage eyes and minds on something safe and even predictable.

Also, when pondering something big like why estrangement happens, we can benefit from a more relaxed mind. When not focused on the problem, our subconscious mind will work at the issue behind the scene, often in new ways and with better results. A break in struggling to understand why estrangement happens to good parents may shift toward a question that’s more within our reach. Like, “What can I do to take care of myself?”

Puzzlers know the activity keeps them present and focused on a task. That’s good for parents of estranged adult children whose minds may wander down rabbit holes of worry and emotional pain. In my books I talk about coping mindfully when estrangement happens. I’ve only recently realized that doing puzzles, brain teasers, and challenge games can be an absorbing and rewarding part of that.

Lately, I went online to purchase a couple of jigsaw puzzles and was surprised to find that there are puzzle boards with sorting trays to keep pieces contained. Some trays come with a cover so even in-progress puzzles can be safely stowed. For the dedicated puzzle builder, there are tables, preserver sheets, pushers, magnifiers. . . . Have a look at some of the accessories. You might be as surprised as I was by what you find.

Puzzles, brain teasers, and other games don’t have to be expensive. They’re staples of dollar and discount stores. Some neighbors even set up puzzle trades on social media platforms, so they can be passed along (free). You can find free game apps in the play store on your smart phone (free versions do have annoying ads.) Or, opt for free games online, completing brain teasers and puzzles on your phone, tablet, or computer. A search will locate a variety of sites. Here are a few options:

  • Jigsaw Planet. Choose your challenge level by selecting the number of pieces, starting with as few as 24. It times you, too, so you can track your skill progress and see if you get faster at recognizing patterns and fitting shapes.
  • Free Games.org. Brain teasers, puzzles, quizzes, speed games, word searches, matching, and mazes to test your memory, sight, and mind. Share your scores to social media or remain anonymous.
  • The Jigsaw Puzzles. A puzzle of the day, desktop icon for convenience, and downloads to print and cut out paper puzzles. This site places a picture of the completed puzzle at the top right of the puzzling space so it’s easy to refer to as you work.

Why estrangement happens: Putting the pieces together

Even if you haven’t done a puzzle since childhood, you’ll remember the sense of completion you felt when those last few pieces fit into place. Answers about why estrangement happens aren’t always so neat and tidy. Parents are frequently in shock and, at least at first, point at themselves for the answer to that hideous question: Why?

In time, and with encouragement, they examine their history and recognize all the good they did. Parents frequently write to me after reading my first book on the topic, Done With The Crying. They say it helped them give themselves credit. They did their best by their children and were good, decent parents. Not toxic or deserving of disdain.

Recognizing patterns

Once you can view the estrangement with a clearer head and a calmer heart, you may want to delve into family history, culture, and genes as I have. My latest book, Beyond Done With The Crying: More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Childrencan help. Along with practical information and encouragement, a few sections guide readers to explore and fit together the pieces of their own lives (or even their ancestors’ lives). Familial traits and patterns may include or contribute to estrangement. As with any puzzle, fitting together our personal pieces, bits of knowledge and history, can provide a sense of completion, closure, and even peace.

Related Reading:

Why do adult children estrange? Let’s look at nature or nurture

Peace: Achievable in the chaos of estrangement?

 

Peace: Achievable in the chaos of estrangement?

chaos of estrangement

December 2021 sunset in Northern California

Peace: It’s achievable

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Peace on Earth . This time of year, it’s written on greeting cards and painted on shop windows. Elvis even croons it over the airwaves. The goal is beautiful, and for many, holds a deep spiritual message. While global peace may seem elusive–as it does in the chaos of estrangement–we can achieve peaceful moments, a peaceful attitude, and even inner peace.

Achieving peace in the chaos of estrangement

Peace within ourselves is a good goal, and one that first requires awareness. In Done With The Crying, I point to being aware of your thinking in order to recognize how often your thoughts tread into mucky waters, and then to shift to a better thought. It’s a form of mindfulness and gets at a way to detach. In the chaos of estrangement and its effects, some people even use the word “detach” as a dictate to remind themselves to let go. The idea of detaching, which is based on the Buddhist beliefs about a person’s relationship with their thoughts and emotions, makes much sense. Still, for me, the word has taken some warming up to. To “detach” brought up imagery that didn’t feel good. Let me explain. . . .

Likely influenced by society’s enthusiasm around the space program, which was so prominent a focus in my early childhood, I imagined “detaching” like a cast-off spaceship part that was left to aimlessly float. However, my research reveals that the part that detaches is the main capsule, which holds the astronauts. After separating, the capsule then moves swiftly toward completing its mission. No wonder so many people use the word and find it helpful. That’s a much better image!

Even so, my mind wanders to the part that’s discarded. Therefore, I prefer different reminder words such as “stop,” “let it go,” or “let it be.” Or, I might think something like, “not mine to decide” or even “stay in your own lane.” The point is less about the words than it is about an effective message. So, choose whatever works for you, and then use the word or phrase to move yourself toward more peaceful thoughts.

Calming moments

The effects of stress can pile on and be cumulative. That’s why it’s important to build resilience with peace and joy. Every day, even within a full schedule that includes some chaos of estrangement and its resulting emotional distress, we can build in moments of peace. Some of us are naturally better at this than others, but we can all learn the beneficial practice of becoming aware of our circumstances and our response to them. Then we can  consciously shift to better responses, for our own benefit.

Life offers each of us numerous “barbells” to lift. These can strengthen and empower us but we still need peace. So, it’s a good thing we all have the ability to pause and reflect, notice and appreciate, detach and focus. I suggest strengthening this self-care muscle.

A few ideas:

  • Notice birds fluttering in a pool of water and ponder the simple elegance of their lives—or just enjoy them.
  • Really look at the people you encounter (cashier, postal worker, fellow person in line) and sincerely connect in some way.
  • Take a real break where you put down the phone or worries and use the time to relax and be present in the moment.
  • Look at the sky, let your eyes outline the clouds, notice subtle differences in coloration, or see sunlight peeking through.
  • Listen to the variety of sounds around you. Then settle on one that brings you peace (a neighbor playing music, the breeze rustling through tree leaves, a child’s laughter. . . .)
  • Whisper or think of a saying that helps, such as “This too shall pass.” Take a few counted breaths and be thankful for any blessing.

A more global peace

When you’re ready, my latest book, BEYOND Done With The Crying, takes the concept of awareness to another level. The ensuing chaos of continued estrangement requires looking at “big picture” concepts, estrangement’s possible causes and its more global effects in your outlook, in your family, and your overall life. And then your awareness of how you reflect upon and deal with those going forward.

Peace: Right here, right now

Despite all that’s happened or is still happening, how do you find peace in the moment? Leave a comment so you can help those who may be struggling.

Related reading

Does healing from estrangement mean you’re cold-hearted

 

How to accept estrangement?

By Sheri McGregor

How to accept estrangement? Embrace the season

I’ve always loved the song by The Byrds, Turn! Turn! Turn! Our lives do have seasons within them, and the song’s lyrics encourage us to accept and embrace those phases. It’s a smart notion, and a sensible way to think about how to accept estrangement.

Parents of estranged adults sometimes balk at the word, “accept,” but it doesn’t mean you agree with their behavior or that it’s acceptable. Acceptance means recognizing facts, and also recognizing that a child’s bad opinion of you or their decision to estrange does not change the truth about you as a parent.

How to accept estrangement: Move forward by looking back

When it comes to moving forward, acceptance also means examining how the situation has personally affected you.  That’s why my first book on estrangement, Done With The Crying, includes guidance, advice, and written exercises that allow you to explore in detail just how far the trauma of the situation – discord, abuse, emotional blackmail – has infiltrated so many areas of your life.  Your health, mood, quality of sleep, how you’ve withdrawn from other relationships and activities … The estrangement may have affected you spiritually and dampened your general enjoyment of life.

When I took pen and paper and really took stock of how deeply my adult child’s cutting off had affected me and my life, it served as a wake-up call. I had allowed another adult’s decision to control my life and outlook. That’s why I feel it’s so important for parents to take some time to really look at the facts. How much time do you and your spouse spend talking about the estranged adult child? Have you started avoiding other people at work because you know they’ll be talking about their happy families? Do you avoid or dread social situations? Have you stopped exercising or are you eating or drinking more? When you look at these changes to your behavior and outlook, you have no choice but to accept the reality—and then you can Turn! Turn! Turn!—to the things you can do right now to take charge for your own growth and benefit.

How to accept estrangement when it continues on and on

Your acceptance may mean recognizing that during every holiday season you can start to feel down. The same goes for other special dates or places. You can plan for these triggers and make changes to support yourself. How did you rise above the funk the last time? What can you do to hasten your turnaround this time?

Remember, you are in the driver’s seat. Don’t keep steering toward dead-ends and roads that only double back to sadness. Don’t drive in circles, revisiting old pain, and wishing things would change. . . . Instead, get the support you need to refuel, follow a new roadmap, and drive onward in your own treasured life.

Over time, most parents come to realize that it’s much less about looking within for the reasons why the cutting-off occurred  and more about how to accept estrangement and love your life anyway.

When you subscribe to my newsletter, continue to read at this site, get my books and do the exercises, leave comments and talk with other parents here, you are following the wise advice of a catchy old song derived from the third chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes—Turn! Turn! Turn!

Countdown to the New Year

As the year comes to a close, let’s have fun! The last week of the year can feel so long. Let’s countdown to the New Year. For a bit of inspiration, come back daily between 12/24 and 12/31 as each date “unlocks” to a new blog post. You’ll have to click on the dates BELOW the picture … I hope you’ll enjoy! – HUGS from Sheri McGregor

Sheri McGregor

Countdown to the New Year!

December 24

December 25

December 26

December 27

December 28

December 29

December 30

December 31

When your adult children don’t like you, lean on the bear necessities

When your adult children don't like you

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

I’ve been thinking about bears lately. The massive “Caldor” fire took out much of a nearby town called Grizzly Flats. Acres and acres of forest burned, so the bears (and other wildlife) have been on the move.

Here in the foothills, sightings aren’t typically very common, but more bears are around right now. That means we’re alert when we tread the long path to the mailbox or let the dogs out after dark. We also put our garbage cans out in the morning rather than at night, and we keep pets and their food indoors. People aren’t encouraged to feed wild animals like they were when I was a kid. Back then, we drove through Yellowstone National Park and fed snacks through the car windows to wild bears who stood in the road waiting for treats.

In my neck of the woods these days, we’re striving to dissuade the bears dislocated by the fires, but knowing they’re here is exciting! Neighbors share Ring camera footage where bears step onto porches and amble up streets. They climb tall deer fencing like it’s nothing, and dogs that typically chase wildlife off their property only stare.

The other day while out hiking, I saw a bear in the wild—and it was smiling! You can see from the photo it was really just a tree stump, but I’ve had other sightings. In the shadows of twilight, even a boulder kind of looks like a bear . . .  .

Bears are fascinating and resilient creatures. So, it’s no wonder they symbolize power and courage in Native American spirituality. Ahem . . . bear with me now, as I share more about what these powerful beasts can teach us..

When your adult children don’t like you: Adapt

Bears are good at adapting. They’re omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and meat—and their diet changes based on what food is readily available. Bears don’t get stuck in emotional or behavioral ruts and they will travel long distances to survive.

Bears adapt to “social” change as well. At Grand Teton National Park, researchers have discovered that black bears alter their habits in areas where black bears and grizzly bears both reside. The black bears do more daytime foraging than ones who don’t live in grizzly territory. It’s a tactic to avoid the bigger, more aggressive grizzlies (smart move!).

When your adult children don’t like you, you can learn to think like a bear and adapt too. You can avoid their aggression by not answering the phone. Don’t acknowledge mean texts, have your email program place correspondence in a separate file automatically, or even set up a block. To protect yourself, adapt—physically and emotionally.

When your adult children don’t like you: Listen to your gut

Did you know that bears sometimes wake up to forage during hibernation periods?  I was surprised to learn that they will stir from winter sleep and venture out into the elements to get what they need for more long, cold days ahead. It’s not so different than Winnie the Pooh with his “rumbly” tummy. He never second guesses his needs. Neither does Paddington Bear, who loves his marmalade.

How can you “listen to your gut,” and support your well-being? Maybe a hibernation period helps. Or maybe you’ve been lying in bed, wallowing in sorrow for long enough?

Healing when your adult children don’t like you: A way to fight back

Bears have been known to fight back even when injured. For this reason, some Native American lore paints bears with the ability to heal their own wounds. They’re resilient.

Like the shy bears who try to avoid human-animal confrontations, parents of estranged adult children don’t go looking for a fight. A lot of us won’t fight back, physically or verbally, with adult children who attack us either. Whether or not we should, as well as how to defend ourselves is a topic for another day. Focusing on our own healing is a peaceful and productive way to fight back against the trauma and stress. In healing ourselves, we exhibit the strength and power of the bear.

As we support ourselves, we set a positive example, too. And we’re better equipped to offer an empathetic and helping hand (or paw!). In doing that, we help ourselves even more. By modeling recovery from such a deep wound as our own children’s rejection, we might even help a son or daughter to heal from trauma they might one day face. In that way, even from afar, we can be a momma or poppa bear to a wayward cub.

In what ways have you healed? How and to whom can you be a representation of power and strength? How can/does your own healing help those around you?

When your adult children don’t like you: Appreciate solitude

Bears spend a lot of time alone. Some bear legends depict characters who face trials and challenges underground, and then enjoy a triumphant return to the light of day. These may be representative of bears’ hibernation periods—from which they emerge  curious, hungry, and alive.

When you have alone time, make it productive. Use your cave time to reflect on ways that move you positively forward. Bears need alone time, and so might you. Cuddly and grumpy bears deserve love … and/or respect. Even self-love and self-respect.

How can you take time for yourself? What thoughts come to mind about this subject? What are some activities that nurture you, yet you’ve been putting off?

Bears sometimes break rules

To survive, bears will move into new areas. They’ll even eat out of trash cans or find pet food left outside to devour. They break the “rules” when they must. Maybe there’s a lesson in that.

When your adult children don’t like you, it’s common to start looking for the “right” thing to do. Parents want to fix the relationship and often follow all sorts of advice to try. * Don’t “guilt” your child. * Take the high road. * Don’t give up. It boils down to an endless stream:  Do this. Don’t do that. Advice is endless, and sometimes senseless for our own healing.

Is it time to channel your inner Yogi Bear? I don’t know if he was “smarter than the average bear” as he professed, but he did like to eat, laugh, and enjoy his life. Maybe like Yogi Bear, parents could stop following a bunch of rules, stop chasing adult children, and start pursuing the picnic basket of a full and well-enjoyed life.

When your adult children don’t like you: Shadow work and your inner bear

You’ve been through a trauma. With sporadic, unhealthy conflict that brings continued strife, you may still be in its claws. Do you smile and pretend everything’s okay? When your friends ask how Susie-Q-daughter is, do you grin and bear it, hiding the truth of your pain? Maybe you have always been the benevolent, long-suffering, quiet, and strong one in your family … so letting out a growl doesn’t come naturally or even seem “right.”

In psychology, there’s a practice called “shadow work,” which sometimes means exploring secrets and repressed horrors from the past, or even the darker nature of ourselves. However, shadow work isn’t always scary or traumatic. It can be about rediscovering bits of our nature, or the desires of our heart, which we’ve tamped down to fit social norms, culture, or how we were raised.

For instance, maybe you’ve spent most of your life in service to others. Yet, upon reflection, you realize you’ve always wanted to travel the world, join a theatrical troupe, or spend more time lazing around with a good book. These parts of yourself can be “shadows,” simply because you have denied them or hidden them away in the cave-like recesses of your mind.

You might not have followed these desires because you got the notion, somehow, that honoring your own needs was selfish. Or, you may have been busy raising a family, working, or in other ways serving others. Because of those important pursuits, you didn’t prioritize yourself.

Sometimes, what’s uncovered in shadow work finds beginnings in other people’s approval, which doesn’t necessarily mean assigning blame. Kids sometimes add more importance to something than parents (or teachers or coaches or . . .) intend to convey. So, while you might have been asked to “be still” in church (I was), you might have thought being still everywhere was right, and carried the behavior into other parts of your life. I’m offering these thoughts because shadow work is not about making other people wrong (even though you’ll find the topic presented that way at times). It’s about discovering your inner self.

Foraging ahead

When your adult children don’t like you, it’s beary sad. My books help you to look at the past, see what’s current, and make changes to support yourself and adapt going forward. This journey may have begun because of another person’s behavior, but as I say in Beyond Done, you must make the healing path forward about yourself.

Related Reading

Abandoned parents: Are you “chewing”?

Just for fun, for toy bear and holiday lovers:

Negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adults: It hurts

negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adults

Negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adults:
It hurts

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Lately, there have been quite a few articles on the Internet about estrangement. As I say in my latest book, Beyond Done With The Crying: More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children, what used to be a taboo subject is now more known. If you’ve read some of these articles though, you may have been disheartened to find them negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adults. They frequently depict rejected parents as racist, homophobic, abusive or toxic, often evidenced by some vague reference by the estranger—and sometimes backed by a therapist’s overreaching conclusion. One recent article at a site called “VOX” featured the latter, and it was brought to my attention by Tony, a rejected father whose adult child told of a similar “professional” judgment.

Tony loved and tried for many years to do right by his daughter, who had been 17 when he and his wife divorced. He knew she’d been shocked and suffered. So, he was patient and understanding of her mood swings toward him, even when they worsened (rather than improved) in her mid-twenties. Her behavior alternated between friendly, aloof, verbally abusive, and complete estrangement.

When Tony suffered a health crisis, he knew he had to make some changes for himself. He reevaluated his up-down and on-again-off-again relationship with his daughter and realized he couldn’t take the stress anymore. “I asked if we could show each other mutual respect,” he explains. “Instead, she cried foul to a therapist and called later to say the doctor had confirmed to her that I am an ‘emotionally distant’ dad. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

For this father, the article he says is another example of “negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adults,” confirms a general bias against rejected parents. “That we’re deadbeats, abusive, or just don’t care about our kids.”

I understand this father’s concern. When these messages are repeated time and again, people tend to believe them. The assumptions hurt. In the case of rejected parents, they confirm a bias that already exists., partially because people who love their children and do their best as parents don’t want to believe this could happen to them. The recognition that this can and does happen is growing because estrangement has become so common. When I talk about estrangement by one’s children, people will often know someone who is going through this horrific experience or have had a taste of it themselves.

Even so, the prevalence of such negative stereotyping of parents of estranged adult children confirms the bias still exists. Judging from all the recent material, it may even be increasing. And for supportive parents whose children turn on them anyway, the negative portrayals can cause distress. As I say in Beyond Done, when people feel judged and perceive discrimination, as many parents of estranged adult children do, their physical and mental health can suffer.

OK Boomer

The dismissive phrase, “OK, Boomer,” came to mind when reading a recent L.A. Times op-ed written by a Manhattan psychoanalyst. In all honesty, her piece makes some true and sensible points. Among them are that adult children who cancel their families pay a psychological price, and that learning to adjust and to work things out is preferable to estrangement.

Too bad that buried between her sensible points is a descriptive massacre. She injures the already hurting parents of estranged adult children by generalizing them as “narcissistic” and “intrusive.” She asserts that “. . . baby boomer parents are especially troubled,” a generation for whom it’s difficult to “acknowledge or even recognize their aggression.” In a backhanded compliment, she states that Baby Boomers tried to raise their children in ways that “at least appeared to prioritize their children’s needs” (emphasis mine.)

That op-ed made its way into media outlets around the U.S. (and probably the globe). It’s among several recent writings that serve up a dangerous, misleading message that generalizes older people, the parents of estranged adult children, as nosy, unbending, and self-absorbed.

Tell that to the parents who have given their life savings to help their “kids,” some of whom have drained the Bank of Mom and Dad well into their middle age. Or the single parents who worked their fingers to the bone so their kids wouldn’t have to do without. And to the parent whose ex-spouse fed the children lies and alienated their affections.

Years of energy, love, kindness, patience, and support … for eventual estrangement.

These opinionated pieces, which are sometimes billed as “news,” trudge right past—or even trample—all the good the parents ever did. They bolster estrangers’ assertions that Mom and Dad are emotionally immature, have unmet needs, or that their motives were selfish (<—–read that as narcissistic, toxic, or both).

Negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adults isn’t always done in such a blatant way either. Even in books and articles that are a bit fairer to the older generation, the negative bias exists in the set-in their-ways, know-it-all, overbearing cliches that are routinely slipped into the writing. More subtle maybe, but still there. Online, you’ll find that even material aimed at the senior citizen suffering a difficult relationship with an adult child, purportedly to help, is often accompanied by photographs of a bossy older person, haranguing a frustrated young adult.

The reality is that most parents zip their lips and try to get along. They walk on eggshells, sometimes for many years, to avoid another put-down, explosion, or a cutting off—sometimes just to see the grandchildren. The acronym for walking on eggshells is fitting: WOE. Walking. On. Eggshells. Woe! The reality is that when we’re so busy trying to please another adult, we can miss out on the beauty that surrounds us and fail to be present to enjoy our lives.

Negative stereotyping of parents of estranged adult children

photo courtesy pixabay

Dangerous words

Stereotyping Baby Boomers may be prevalent these days, but that doesn’t make it right. The negative grouping is just another “ism,” at a time when other isms are not tolerated. It’s also irresponsible. This is perhaps especially true now, when our society is suffering from increased polarization, hate, and even violence. That so many in the helping field appear to believe the stereotypes, and that venues spread these negative messages, is worrisome and maybe even reprehensible. Right now, the aged population is growing exponentially around the globe. What’s known as the “Silver Tsunami” is underway. The negative classification of older people may be providing an excuse for more intolerance.

Besides, negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adults, and depicting older people as rigid, unbending, or rife with “narcissistic” and “intrusive behaviors” doesn’t ring true. Research reveals that older people crave peaceful interactions and will often go out of their way to try and achieve social harmony. That the adult children who have rejected their parents based on differing opinions or worldviews can’t “live and let live”—like the Baby Boomers and those even older learned to do—is a shame, and is increasingly asserted as the cause of estrangement. As I say in Beyond Done, if we can try on our adult children’s perspectives (and we do), they can afford us the same courtesy.

Does anxious parenting beget anxious parenting?

I’ve been hearing more about a social theory that Baby Boomers engaged in what’s being termed by psychologists as “anxious parenting.” They’re saying it’s s at the root of adult children so vehemently rejecting their parents. The thinking is that adult children must draw a line in the sand and not allow their parents past it, so that they can steer their own lives.

Like many ideas that get bandied about in our world, this is just another theory. Maybe there’s even truth in it. As I have written in the past, my husband and I gave our kids a lot of freedom, so for me personally, the theory doesn’t hold and sounds like more negative bias. You know if this is more true for you. History does reveal that a shift in our society capitalized on parents’ fears and replaced the tried-and-true methods and advice of family elders with parenting “experts.” As discussed in my first book, these experts partnered with commercial marketers. Loud messaging does have influence.

To me, it’s interesting that if these adult children estrange from their parents because they must to become independent, their self-awareness is pretty limited. It doesn’t expand to raising their own children when they engage in anxious parenting themselves. As one recent BBC article several parents told me about highlighted, kids are cutting parents off because their values don’t match. That they don’t agree with their parents’ values is a big duh to me, as stated in a previous article, but my point here is that they sometimes cut off parents to keep their kids from being exposed to their beliefs. The article mentions racism, albeit without detail. As the LA Times op-ed said, engaging in dialogue would take work but perhaps have better outcomes. Such discourse, though painful and tough, could even pave the way for these adult children to engage in discussions with their own children. This could be a “teaching moment” about differing values, how society evolves, and how we might compromise.

A skewed view

As I was preparing to write about the flux of negative stereotyping of parents of estranged adult children, several rejected moms and dads also shared their thoughts. Among them were parents like me, who (thankfully) also have good relationships with some of their adult children. We may suffer estrangements, but we’re not all grouchy tyrants, growing old alone.

In those relationships, the adult children see their folks as human beings, raised in a different era and holding onto some of those beautiful values, yet also learning new things and adjusting to modern life. We’re not a bunch of crotchety codgers, stuck in the past, barking orders, and demanding that our kids fall in line as we intrude on their lives. Like everyone, we disagree at times, just as all people do. Yet, for the most part, we see our adult children as whole beings, too. Not as stereotypes. We get along. And as I say in Beyond Done, “We can treat each other kindly.”

Letting go

As always, my message in my books and in this blog is for the hurting parents to learn to let go of the adult children who don’t want them. Reach out sometimes if it feels right, but don’t let their rejection forever rule or ruin your life. You can learn to move forward and be happy, even while holding out hope.

According to that L.A. Times op-ed, the children who reject their parents only flip the pain of abandonment onto themselves. I know how this sometimes plays out: Exhibiting blatant projection, the “children” may accuse their parents of abandoning them. It’s something I hear about frequently and have experienced myself. The parents may also buy into it, feeling as if a “good” parent should forever keep trying, no matter how much it hurts (and the idea is bolstered by plenty of supposed experts).

Parents sometimes express that letting their children go feels like abandoning them. But after trying repeatedly, suffering cyclical rejection and even abuse, many parents come to realize that in all their futile efforts, they have abandoned themselves.

You may not actually be “done with the crying” yet, but my books can help you be on your way. Done With The Crying provides a way forward. The next book, Beyond Done, tackles the grittier details you won’t find in in op-eds that talk down to baby boomers, or even in the popular advice that Beyond Done debunks. It offers plain talk and solutions to a variety of complex realities that often plague parents and other family members in the wake of an adult child’s heartbreaking exit.

Don’t be among the parents who wait so long that they become physically ill from the stress as Tony did. Some parents suffer trauma to the level of PTSD, withdraw from people who care about them, and find themselves aging more rapidly. Learn from these parents of estranged adult children who wish they hadn’t waited so long to recognize they must let go to hang on—to their own identity and self-worth. It’s never too late to reclaim confidence, well-being, and a zest for life.

Negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adults or older people in general is wrong. Seeing that negativity in the media can be unsettling, but if you work toward your own well-being, you’ll be better prepared to debunk those stereotypes by your very presence. You’ll feel more self-confident and even happy. In time, you may find, as I have, that talking openly about estrangement is a part of your healing.

The strength of a tsunami

They don’t call the aging population a silver tsunami for nothing. We’re a force to be reckoned with—and no amount of negative stereotyping or “OK Boomer” put-downs can hold us back.

Related Reading:

Abandoned parents: Let your light shine


References
:

Birditt, K.S. & Fingerman, K.L. (2003). Age and gender differences in adults’ description of emotional reactions to interpersonal problems. The Journal of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 58, 237-245.

Birditt, K.S. & Fingerman, K.L. (2005). Do we get better at picking our battles? Age group differences in description of behavioral reactions to interpersonal tensions. The Journal of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 60, 121-128.

Birditt, K.S., Fingerman, K.L. & Almeida, D.M. (2005). Age differences in exposure and reactions to interpersonal tension: A daily diary study. Psychology and Aging, 20, 330-340.

Blanchard-Fields, F. (2007). Everyday problem solving and emotion: An adult developmental perspective. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 26-31.

Levenson, R.W., Carstensen, L.L. & Gottman, J.M. (1994). The influence of age and gender on affect, physiology, and their interrelations: A study of long-term marriages. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 56-68.

Pascoe, E.A. & Smart Richman, L. (2009). Perceived discrimination and health: a meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 135(4), 531-554.

Estrangement by adult children: Weathering the storm

estrangement by adult children


Estrangement by adult children: Weathering the Storm
By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

“Hollowed out.” That’s how one father of estranged adult children recently described how he feels. “Weak.”

I understand this. It’s how a lot of parents feel when they have given their all for a child, even to their own detriment, yet come up empty.

Estrangement by adult children: The Breaking Point

Here where I live in Northern California, we recently endured an historic storm. What’s called a “bomb cyclone” merged with a level five “atmospheric river” (new-to-me terms). The combination brought strong hot and cold winds, and boatloads of rain, over a very short period of time. We were all stuck inside, hoping for the best.  Satellite TV faded in and out, broadcasting alarming predictions of flash floods full of dangerous debris that could sweep down from nearby burn scars left by recent wildfires.

As the sun set and the steelwool sky grew darker, a loud crack split through the pounding of rain, followed swiftly by a muffled thud. I went to the window and wasn’t surprised to see big branches from one of our heritage oaks lying on the ground. Uprooted trees and fallen limbs had been reported all around the area. I went to bed that evening hoping the stately oak outside my bedroom wouldn’t surprise me with a broken limb crashing through the roof during the night.

The next day, the air was still. Shafts of sunlight strained around cotton clouds, sparking rainbow prisms in droplets clinging to the crimson leaves of the maple tree out front. I put on boots and tromped around the back of the house and down the hill to examine the damage to the oak. An offshoot of the tree’s massive trunk had broken in two and lay on the ground, exposing its empty middle. Hollowed out.

Just last week, we had sought an arborist’s advice. That sunny day, as we walked the property, looking up into the canopy of several ancient oaks, he had confirmed our suspicions. The majestic trees that had so bewitched me upon first seeing this place in the winter of 2020 had been neglected. Heavy deadwood hung precariously in a few of the oaks that stood at the base of the hill. The trees nearer the house had been trimmed more recently, but even those showed signs of neglect. Many, the arborist said, needed airing out for lightening, and some limbs cut back for shape and strength. A couple of the biggest trees appeared to have root damage or were hollowed out.

Estrangement by adult children: The constant drip

estrangement by adult childrenOne reason for root damage and hollow trunks is apparently the result of slow-to-heal wounds that are left open when a tree limb is cut or cracks off on its own. In rainy months, the constant drip-drip-drip, over time, can form a channel inside the trunk. Water trickles down and weakens the tree at its core. I frowned upon hearing this. The hole I had marveled over when fledgling birds peeked out a few months earlier was really a weak spot the arborist said should be covered with plastic during the rainy season.

Too late now, I thought on that morning after the storm. I squatted next to one of the fallen halves with its gaping center. The end of an earthworm peeked from disintegrating wood, like soil, inside. Shelf fungus had also taken up residence inside the tree. Boring insects probably also get in through the holes, and further weaken vulnerable trees.

We’re not so different.

When betrayed by a loved one, even the mightiest of us are not so different than those towering oaks. Rejection by a child who has been so big a part of us and our lives, the cutting off, is like losing a limb. We suffer a wound, and for many of us, the wound gapes, allowing for even more hurt to get inside, to penetrate our very core. The reality is that we don’t want to close ourselves off and grow hardened to our own child. So, many of us will hang open, waiting, hoping they’ll return to their senses and join us again. That is what will heal the wound, we think.

Meanwhile, there’s a constant drip. Shame. Judgment. A steady rain of worries, what-ifs, and whys.

In the fragile shadow of an adult child’s abandonment and/or abuse, our identity gets blurred. Estrangement changes everything. Who are we if we’re no longer a parent? How can this be fixed? What have we been doing all these years? What can we do now?

No wonder that father rejected by an adult child said he felt hollowed out.

Estrangement by adult children: Take care.

Just as an arborist can provide education about a tree’s needs, trim out dead bits, and protect wounds during stormy seasons, rejected parents must learn to care for themselves. We must get support to protect ourselves, clear out faulty thinking that weakens us, hollows out our confidence, and makes us vulnerable.

Whether you have been estranged for many years and know the drip-drip-drip of estrangement pain or are new to the situation, I’m glad you have found your way to this website. A literal forest of parents—thousands each month—come to this site, read the articles, and leave comments to help others. I hope you will join the conversation. Some parents arrive at this site so emotionally gutted that they believe they have nothing to offer. But even expressing their deep and cutting pain can validate another parent’s feelings.

My books are another way to learn about estrangement and ways to heal. Give them a try. I hear from parents every day who tell me Done With The Crying (2016) has changed their lives. My latest book, Beyond Done With The Crying: More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children just hit the shelves a few days ago–and I’m hearing that it “goes deeper” and is “helpful in a whole new way.” Also, I spoke to many more fathers this time, and included them in more examples. Parents appreciate the practical information and help with the complex problems that can plague them due to estrangement by adult children. The research, reflection questions and exercises in both the books prompt new perspectives, promote growth, and enhance well-being.

I hope that my work can be a little like an arborist, helping you to trim away the deadwood of faulty thinking and let in sunlight to illuminate the slow drip that’s part of estrangement by adult children and help you heal.

Estrangement by adult children: New beginnings

As I looked at that broken, hollowed out tree and remembered the words that father of estranged adult children used to describe himself, I hoped he could see that, even in brokenness, all is not lost. Our wounds can make the way for new life, just as those birds found the perfect nesting spot. The lowly earthworm and the shelf fungus found a fertile core for new beginnings. We can too.

Related Reading

Estranged by adult children: Parents, use weepy days for your own good

The shadow of estrangement

Sending a card

estrangement situations

In parent and adult child estrangement situations, we deliberate over sending cards. Moms and dads stand in the card aisle reading verse after verse, wondering how it will be received. Will my estranged adult child read an unintended message between the lines?

Parents click through electronic greetings for just the right words, images, and animation. Is it too jolly, too mushy, or does it overstate the current relationship?

Even when parents find what they consider an appropriate card, they wonder if the effort might be rewarded or only bring them more grief.

  • Will she misinterpret the message?
  • Do I dare hope for a rekindled relationship?
  • He might be mad that I didn’t enclose a gift card or cash.

It’s so sad that, in parent and adult child estrangement situations, contemplating something as simple and lovely as sending a greeting card can trigger such grief.

Consider reaching out a gift

Argentinian poet Antonio Porchia had it right:

“I know what I have given you, I do not know what you have received.”

In the end, the card’s design, colors, pictures, or message, no matter how carefully selected, will be interpreted by the receiver in a way that they choose.

The answer? Give freely.

My intention here is not to tell those parents in estrangement situations that they should or should not send a card. Each situation is unique. Those sorts of decisions are not mine to make or judge you for. But at this time of year in particular, I hear from a lot of parents who are deliberating.

My suggestion: If you do decide to send a card, do so freely—as you have so many kindnesses toward your child from as long ago as forever. And then let the outcome go.

Always remember:

parent and adult child estrangement situationsHugs from,
Sheri McGregor

For more sensible information and answers that help parents in estrangement situations, try Sheri’s McGregor’s books.

Related reading

Parent and adult child estrangement situations: What about hope?

Thanksgiving for estrangement situations.

Thanksgiving for hurting parents of estranged adult children