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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

2021 Giveaway Events: giveaway #2

Event with Sheri McGregor

This giveaway is over, but the book (by the mother of an estranged adult child) is still available.

Sheri McGregor’s 2021 GIVEAWAY EVENTS: HERE’S #2

parent of estranged adultI am excited to announce the second giveaway event for 2021!

In my book, Done With The Crying, I mention the poetry some parents of estranged adult children in my online peer support community here at the site wrote as part of their healing. Some funny, some sad, it was joy to read those poems and to know that in writing them, those mothers had changed their momentary outlook … and eventually their lives.

For this giveaway, I have ONE copy of a book of poetry written by another parent who knows the emotional pain of estrangement from an adult child. Poems from the Heart for Hope and Healing: For Those Who Have Experienced Estrangement from a Loved One, by Claire L. Cunning, is a heartfelt collection written to express her pain, as well as offer hope.

My assessment? You may shed a tear or two because the poems are moving and touch the heart. Others may make you laugh. You may recognize yourself in some of the verses, and feel the pull of the past and to times you cherished … as well as look forward to a good future ahead.

One lucky reader here at RejectedParents.Net will be randomly chosen from among those who follow the instructions at the end of this post and take action.

The author has divided this poetry volume into into three sections:

  •  Grief and Hurt
  • Anger and Denial
  • Hope and Healing

Cunning chose to organize the poems as a way to help. She explains to readers,  “That way you can choose a section of poetry depending on your feelings for that day. It is my hope that you can find some comfort in my poetry knowing I’ve been there with you.”

To enter the giveaway, you will need to be reading this and enter by commenting as instructed between 9 p.m. PST on 1/29/21 and 9 p.m. PST on 2/1/21. Don’t worry if your comment doesn’t show up immediately (all comments are moderated and must be approved for publication). Your comment must meet specific criteria, too, so read closely.

To enter, here’s what to do.

Leave a comment in reply to this blog post as follows:

Leave your first name and last initial as well as a working email address in the form where it asks who you are. Also, in the comment post itself, you’ll need to share three things:

  1. Who is estranged from you (just a title, no names please)? Is it a son, daughter, step-child, adopted daughter or son?
  2. In no more than three sentences, please share: How long you have been estranged and whether this is the first estrangement, part of an episodic estrangement, etc.
  3. In ONE sentence from your own experience, share the most important thing you would tell another parent whose adult child has become estranged.

Got it?

The winner will be randomly drawn from a hat or jar into which all names have been placed. I will contact the winner, who will need to reply to my email by 9 p.m. on 2/2/21, with their full name and the correct email to send the pass. In the event of no reply, another winner will be drawn.

Remember, to enter for this book of poetry by Claire L. Cunning your comment must be received here by 9 p.m. PST on 2/1/21. Don’t delay. Leave your comment as instructed for a chance to win.

Good luck! I can’t wait to read your comments, and by sharing a bit here, you will help other parents.

Hugs to you all. Take kind care of yourselves, Sheri McGregor

 

Kneaded: Resilience illustrated for parents of estranged adult children

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

adult child won't talk to me

Photo by Life Of Pix from Pexels

During the first year, I took up making bread from scratch.  I bought glossy, coffee table recipe books with beautiful photos of freeform artisan breads, out-of-print books with healthy recipes requiring obscure ingredients, and fat paperbacks chock full of variety that became well-worn. I bought a pizza stone, a pizza peel, loaf pans in an array of sizes, serrated knifes and a countertop slicing guide. I experimented with flatbreads, made dinner rolls and cinnamon rolls and bagels. I made bread every day. It kept me occupied. And in looking back, I can see that it was also about my family, about breaking bread together and all that means.

I tried a bread machine with a kneading function, but it wasn’t the same. There was something therapeutic in the hands-on approach. As I kneaded, working up a sweat and toning my arms in the process, the dough became stretchy and strong.  I could feel the gluten strands doing their magic in the way the dough held together, smooth and soft, tough yet pliant. I could see that too, in the little “windows” that revealed themselves in stretched-thin dough that didn’t break.

I learned about the need for moisture in the oven and what a difference a few degrees of heat can make. I learned how yeast functions, too.  Even with the scientific knowledge, leaving a small, smooth ball in an oiled bowl, and returning later to find a puffy pillow, doubled or tripled in size was nothing short of a miracle to me. And each time I punched it down, it would rise again, resilient.

The toughest lesson was the need to wait. While the air swirled with the scent of fresh baked yeast bread, patience was essential. Hot loaves crush rather than properly slice.

My favorite recipe was one that made my family happy. It added bits of cold butter and powdered milk to the dough. The bread required longer kneading, and a third rising period that brought it spilling over the bowl. All that beating and punching down, yet it rose ever higher—the finished loaf as light and fluffy as a cloud, yet also strong.

As I would knead that dough, I sometimes imagined it a bit like me. My son’s estrangement had me emotionally rolled, twisted, and flattened. Punched down and left on a shelf. And like the gluten in that dough, I imagined the strands of my soul growing stronger, more flexible, and holding together. I could take an emotional kneading, a punching down, and be resilient like that bread dough rising yet another time. As the years have passed, I have found this to be true.

In my daily life, I am tough like that dough. Pliant and flexible and holding together.  On some days, I’m even as light and airy as the finished product.

You can be resilient too

Thousands of parents have read Done With The Crying and found it informative and empowering. I think you will, too. It’s chock full of ingredients to help.

Related Reading

Adult child won’t talk to me: Is it time to go with the flow?

Adult child won’t talk to me: When the world is scary, bend and twist

Father’s Day: When Adult Children Turn Away

Fathers: When Adult Children Turn Away
by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Most men don’t talk much about estrangement. At least that’s the consensus among a lot of the fathers who do reach out to me (and among their wives, too).

“There’s nothing I can do about it,” says George, father of a 42-year-old daughter who hasn’t spoken to him in years. “I don’t want to talk about something that makes me feel like a failure.”

fathers when adult children turn away

George’s own father wasn’t around much, so being a family man was important to him. He did all the things he thought was right. Attended school functions, worked hard for the family, and spent time with his daughter. They had a good relationship. “Yet here we are,” he says. “I know this isn’t because of me. I don’t have guilt, but I also can’t fix it.”

George’s pain over the estrangement makes him angry, too. “Because of my daughter’s choice, I can’t make my wife happy anymore. It’s just us two now, and the loss of our daughter and the three grandchildren we don’t know is always between us.” George tries to be supportive, but it’s difficult to see his wife so sad. “She used to be so cheerful,” he says. “Always humming. Always making plans.”

George distracts himself with work and hobbies. He tries to cheer up his wife, too. Sometimes, the trying backfires. “She thinks I don’t care about it all,” he says. “And I do.”

This Father’s Day, I hoped that providing George’s thoughts might provide a little insight. Maybe some fathers can relate. Maybe some father’s wives might better understand.

I hope to be sharing more about the experiences and feelings of fathers when adult children turn away. While it’s still mostly women who answer the surveys, lately, more fathers have been contacting me to share commentary, news, and feelings.

Meanwhile, here are a few more Father’s Day and other articles.

Fathers of estranged adult children, you’re not alone

Fortitude doesn’t mean “going it alone”

What about Father’s Day for fathers of estranged adult children

Cut off by adult children? You may feel lonely but you’re not alone

Why do they make contact now?

 

Grandparent Alienation

Grandparent alienation

“I’m over my estranged daughter,” says Cleo. “It’s my grandchildren I worry about now.”
grandparent alienation

Cleo is like thousands of parents around the world who are not allowed to see their grandchildren. A daughter or son’s estrangement, which can happen for a variety of reasons, usually means the grandchildren are also cut-off. It’s a breakdown in the family where innocent children are hurt.

Some grandparents have formed groups, organize rallies and awareness campaigns, and are fighting for changes to law that would support their efforts. And legislation is moving along the judicial pipelines with some success.

June 14: Grandparent Alienation Awareness Day

It’s a tough road when the grandchildren they have so bonded with are yanked away. “I always wonder what the kids are being told and what they’re thinking,” says Cleo. “Are they wondering if I don’t love them anymore?”

It’s not always estrangement that causes the separation. When one parent or both is incarcerated, sometimes one set of grandparents will swoop in and make it difficult for the other.

One mother whose son (in his 30s) went to prison, spent a small fortune in legal fees fighting against his in-laws for visitation of her young grandchild. Although she was an upstanding citizen with no criminal record and a history of emotional stability, the in-laws alleged that if she raised a son who committed a murder, then there must be something wrong with her. Her son’s was a crime of passion, and he had no previous offenses. Do you think what they alleged is automatically true?

Grandparent alienation: What do grandparents do?

Are you suffering grandparent alienation? Perhaps in connection with estrangement from adult children or for some other reason? Some grandparents consider their options, and decide it’s in the best interests of their grandchildren not to pursue a legal remedy. Others choose to fight with all their might as well as rally for more awareness. Each situation is unique. I hope you’ll share your thoughts by leaving a comment in reply to this posting.

For more information on grandparent alienation:

Alienated Grandparents Anonymous, Inc.
Offers telephone support calls, news of legal efforts, and groups in 50 states and 22 countries.

Grandparents Rights Advocates National Delegation (GRAND USA)
Legislative news and resources and support in 50 states.

Alienated Grandparents Anonymous Canada
Regular meetings, resources and support.

Bristol Grandparents Support Group (UK)
Championing grandparents rights.

Mothering Sunday for UK Moms

I know it’s tough when moms are estranged on Mother’s Day. Make sure you honor yourSELF for the day. You were there, you did the work, and you deserve to make the day good for YOU. Use the search box here to find past articles and search for Mother’s Day that offer help for estranged moms.

In honor of spring’s arrival (here in the U.S., at least), I wanted to share this card with you. Do the puzzle if you feel like it (you can choose the difficulty level), and then maybe go out and count a few butterflies in your garden or a local park. Here where I live, a mass migration of the beauties in the last few weeks was a bit like colorful confetti blowing on the wind.

Happy Mother’s Day to my UK friends. Click on the butterfly below to go to the card & puzzle.

 

estranged mothers

This photograph was taken on a mindful photography outing, in Anza Borrego Desert State Park (for which I wrote a hiking book, btw).

Hugs,

Sheri McGregor

 

Sheri McGregor radio interview for parents of estranged adults

In February, I appeared on Beyond 50 Radio for a talk with host Daniel Davis. As it turns out, he is also a rejected parent, with an estranged adult daughter. We touched on many facets of estrangement. I hope you’ll find the radio show helpful. Please give it a thumbs-up.

If you’re the parent of an estranged adult, listen up. You’re not alone in this heartbreaking situation. And you can be happy again. Click the Beyond50 banner below to go to youtube and listen.

radio interview with Sheri McGregor

Family Estrangement: The Unabomber was estranged

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

estrangementOften, parents contact me in emotional pain. They tell me that abusive comments on social media, horrible lies that depict them as monsters, and continued baiting and meanness have been a part of the estrangement.

estrangementMany parents receive nasty letters from their estranged adult child, in which there are accusations and/or they are called names. These letters and accusations don’t happen in all estrangements (thank goodness), but in the ones they do, the shock is real, the words hurt, and parents’ self-esteem and self-image can suffer.

From the desk of an estranged adult child

At the outset of estrangement, upon reaching out to try and reconcile, long into an entrenched pattern of no-contact, or amidst a series episodic estrangements, some parents say their adult son or daughter pens pages-long correspondence that outlines just all the awful things they say the parents did. The criticisms are sometimes over things that don’t make sense or validate the estrangement in any way. Like asking a ten-year-old to comb his hair or not chew gum in bed. Others accuse ailing parents of faking a very real illness just to get attention, or assert a catalog of events that parents don’t remember ever happening. Sometimes an estranged son or daughter refers to what they see as a childhood theme. They say things like:

  • You never supported anything I ever did.
  • You never loved me.
  • You were always focused on my brother (or sister, or work, or fill-in-the-blank).

Ill-fitting shoes

estrangementIn my book, I refer to research showing that most parents try to understand a son or daughter’s views. They step into their child’s proverbial shoes, and try to see how the son or daughter they have always loved could have felt the way they say they did. Unfortunately, apologies aren’t always accepted. Sometimes, often even, an apology seems to validate the grown child’s perception, and invites more abuse. In the book, I also talk about the apology letters that are sometimes recommended,, and share some of the parents’ results.

Estrangement: More than meanness going on?

Recently, a Dr. Phil show that dealt with a “sort of” estrangement situation was brought to my attention. It’s the October 15, 2018 episode. It features a daughter in her thirties whose son was removed by protective services. He is being raised by his grandmother. The parents and step-mother are at their wits end, which is understandable, and Dr. Phil seems to think there is more going on. The parents obviously saw that, too.

I won’t link to the show here, but you can find it by doing a search online if you’re interested in watching. There is also a thread about it in the support forum for estranged adult parents. At first, I hadn’t watched the show, but I did later and posted another note in that thread. You may find the thread of interest, and can see it here.

If you watch the show, share your thoughts. Do you think there is more going on than a bratty child-woman? I think so. And it may be more than the toxicity that’s brought up in the show, too. In fact, mental issues may be at the root of many estrangements, which brings me to the title of this posting. In light of the mailed pipe bomb packages that have been on the news the last couple of days, I happened t come across an interesting fact that for some reason I hadn’t previously noted: the unabomber was estranged.

There’s an article from 2016 that, among other things, talks about a 23-page letter to his mother in which he talks about his childhood and the rules his mother enforced about dirty socks. The article, which you can find here, is an interesting read. It’s written by his brother, who also wrote a book, Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family.

What’s my point?

I don’t mean to frighten anyone. As the linked article mentions, mental illness doesn’t often result in violence. But I do hope to shed a little light on the subject as it may play a part in some estrangements. In the television episode, it was sad to see a kind, loving family who was at their wits’ end. It was an example of the powerlessness so many families feel. And thanks to the magic of television, the young woman was sent for what looked like some very good help—and of course, she was willing. As some of you well know, that’s not always the case. Families often have no choice but to disengage, and pick up the pieces to make the best of their own lives (and that’s understandable).

As I mention in one of my posts to the support group thread about the show discussed above, research is uncovering more about our brains and how they function every day. Perhaps in the future, the topic of mental health will become more mainstream, with more knowledge and help available and easy to obtain (without stigma). Maybe this will also have a positive affect in family relationships. 

Hugs to all the hurting,

Sheri McGregor

Related reading:

Intervene for Yourself

Beyond the Shadow of estrangement

Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children Takes a Prize

Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult ChildrenIn September, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children  won an award. It took a bronze medal in the self-help/personal growth category of the Living Now Book Awards, which had more than 800 total entries.

That’s actually a medal hanging over the book in the photograph. It came on a grosgrain ribbon. Maybe one day, I’ll put it around my neck and actually wear it. Maybe I’ll have a tee-shirt made with the image, too (even more fun to wear!).

Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children–Only the bronze?

While it would have been great to win a gold or silver medal, the fact that this book for a niche audience among many aimed at more general audiences feels like taking the gold!

I can’t help but think that this award is not only validation that Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Childrenis a helpful and well-done book that fulfills the contest’s motto—Books That Change Lives—but that this win also demonstrates that people are starting to take more notice of the masses of adult children who now estrange themselves from loving families. You may recall that last year, Done With The Crying was a Book of the Year Finalist. This time, it got into the winner’s circle!

Isn’t this proof that the topic of estrangement is becoming much more mainstream? Hopefully, that means more people are coming to realize that there are many kind and supportive parents who are absolutely shocked when their grown children choose to hurt them. The loss is devastating, and the secondary trauma of being judged unfairly makes it that much worse.

Let’s celebrate!

Please join me in celebrating this award. I want to thank all the parents of estranged adults who visit this site and who have read Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children. This victory is yours.

If you’d like to see some of the other contest winners, you can go to Living Now Book Awards page. Done With The Crying is listed on the second linked page of winners.

Celebrate and share your thoughts by “leaving a reply” to this article.

HUGS to all the hurting parents,

Sheri McGregor

A sampling of articles to help hurting parents of estranged adults (you can use the pull-down menus to find more, or use the search box to look for particular subjects)

 

Struggling with estrangement from adult children? A liberating moment

I’m so very grateful when my book, Done With The Crying, is mentioned positively by other parents who know what it’s like to be struggling with estrangement from adult children. In the September/October issue of The Saturday Evening Post, a writer shared the progression of her feelings until she came to a liberating moment. That’s when she mentioned me and the book. (Thank you to Karen Westerberg Reyes.)

Struggling with estrangement from adult children?

With the intention of recovering from the heartache and a bit of work, you too can have a liberating moment that gets you free.

You can read the full article  as it appeared in the September/October 2017 issue of the Saturday Evening Post.

Coping with Estranged Adult Children