Category Archives: What Parents Can Do

Articles and information for parents on the subject of estranged adult children. Includes assistance, strategy, coping, ways to get through the troubling emotional traumas and dilemmas common to parents suffering an adult child’s estrangement.

Call it what it is: ABUSE by adult children

by Sheri McGregor, MA
abuse by adult children

Abuse by adult children: A sad secret

Hurtful behavior, abuse, by adult children toward their parents is covered up to a huge degree. Parents are duped into believing they deserve their adult children’s abuse, sometimes even by professionals. After all, people reason, if they were good, their own flesh and blood wouldn’t hate them. It’s sick, and it’s what keeps many parents from admitting what’s happening to them.

It’s important for you to call bad behavior names, label it, and see it for what it is. That way, you can think clearly about it. This clarity of mind concept and many other practical ideas to help are included in Beyond Done With The Crying More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children.

Related reading

Let me tell you about some heroes

 

 

For parents whose adult children don’t want to be around them: Take charge of your holidays early

parents whose adult children don't want to be around them

For parents whose adult children don’t want to be around them: Take charge of your holidays early

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

About this time every year, emails start arriving to my in-box. Parents whose adult children don’t want to be around them worry about the holidays. For rejected parents, the season can loom like clouds of gloom and doom. This year, I have a mission for you … if you choose to accept it.

Take charge

Those of you who’ve read my book, Beyond Done With The Crying More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children, know that one of my pet peeves is being driven around without a destination. This always sparks my anxiety, which I connect to my Native American roots and to my ancestors who were driven away from their homes on the Trail of Tears. For more about how ancestry affects us and may relate to estrangement, you’ll want to read the book. Today, let’s get out of powerless passenger seat and steer our own way to holiday bliss.

Put yourself in the driver’s seat

Parents may feel like they’re being held hostage on an out-of-control bus steered by their estranged sons or daughters. You may have no choice about what they decide for their holidays, but don’t allow them to ruin yours. This year, instead of buckling up and dreading what comes, map out a successful holiday season for yourself.

Map out your holiday journey

Today is your starting point. Get out pen and paper. Jot down what comes to mind after each of the bulleted items below. You’ll capture first responses—which are often true to your heart. You can use your notes to later do research, make decisions, and attend to details.

  • Focus on what’s within your power. If you were planning a trip, you’d think about all the fun you can achieve, not what you can’t. When I visited New Orleans, Louisiana some years ago, the trip centered on a speaking engagement for a Society of Professional Journalists conference. So, while a day-long historical tour would have been my first pick, time was limited. A short swamp tour, a carriage ride down Bourbon Street, and a steamboat dinner cruise fit—and that’s where I kept my focus. For the holidays, let go of what you can’t have. Seize upon fun, meaningful pursuits that you can. Share a meal with a friend. Write an email or call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Give to a charity.
  • Arrange your holiday itinerary. Every trip needs an itinerary. What will keep you physically, mentally, and emotionally engaged? Who and what will lift your spirits? What new activities can you try? (And what sort of planning will they require?) What old joys can you still do and love? (Remember, some things are better to let go—for now or forever. So, give yourself permission.) Maybe you want to see a holiday musical or attend a show. Tickets go fast, so book early. Check local listings for online events, too. More exist than ever before. You could invite a buddy (even a furry one) and make your sofa the best seat in the house. Try this online event link at meetup.com for a few ideas. Get out your calendar now. Your successful holiday itinerary depends upon it.
  • Schedule some down time. Don’t forget to leave some wriggle room. Packing every day in November with activity may leave you too tired to enjoy December. I’ve learned that several full, busy day in a row leave me exhausted—and grouchy. Emotional well-being is tied to physical wellness. Schedule some downtime, too, and plan wellness activities for those days. Get a few new books to read. Plan some healthful but easy meals and buy what you can now to avoid the holiday rush. Restock any medications and supplements, as well as feel-good items such as your favorite tea, a fragrant candle, chewing gum, scented lotion or nail clippers. Personal care is self-care—and needed during stressful times.
  • Be self-compassionate. Sometimes, the holidays bring pressure to do what other people want. It’s healthy to keep to routines and honor commitments but begging off an event or tradition is worth considering when we’re hurting. A pros and cons list can access logical reasoning but may not honor your heart. If you’re sick at your stomach at the thought of an event, maybe saying “no” is right this time. Remember, declining this year doesn’t mean you will the next. Or it could be the start of a new pattern of self-care that leads to less worry about pleasing others and more about honoring yourself. Most of us parents have loved selflessly and sacrificed our own needs for our children often and in many different ways, for much of our lives. It’s okay to be kind to yourself. Self-care is not selfish. Are you taking good care of yourself?
  • Prioritize. Some parents whose adult children don’t want to spend time with them still have lots of other people and commitments vying for attention. Our needs change at different stages and depending on life circumstances. For your well-being and sanity, start early (now!) to weigh what is most meaningful against your emotional energy stores and what will support your own needs. One exercise in Beyond Done leans on the concept of medical triage, to help prioritize who and what is most important to you at this life juncture. This can help you make decisions while considering your personal needs and those of your family and friends.
  • Opt out. Use the frantic holiday season to accomplish unrelated tasks. Shred old tax records, clear your clothes closet, or de-clutter for a clean slate to start the New Year. Plus, you can listen to your favorite music, stream feel-good movies, or enjoy the quiet while you work. Sometimes, the ears need a break.

Take a positive detour

When it comes to the holidays or anytime, parents whose adult children don’t want to be around them are not doomed to the shadows of the dark cloud of impending holiday gloom. This season, make the days ahead a personal journey to your own joy and fulfillment. Maybe shifting gears this year is just a side trip. But the detour might lead to new adventures and better perspectives on life. Open your heart to the possibility of closing out the year in a way that helps you start the new one with a fresh outlook. What do you think? Do you accept this mission?

Watch this site for more practical holiday tips. Or, put “holidays” in the search box and get links to past articles here at the site. Also, I hope you’ll leave a comment with your own ideas to help parents of estranged adults during the holiday season. We can support one another.

Related reading

How’s your life bouquet?

De-clutter (Chinese New Year)

July 4, 2022: Permission to . . . ?

freedom for parents of estranged adults

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

I know that holidays can be tough, and do my best to produce new articles and content for those special times. For the U.S. Independence Day this year (2022), the task felt BIG. Maybe it’s because of the disunity and distress that seem so prevalent these days. I’m not certain. The truth is that I have always loved the Fourth of July. And like so many of you, the holiday holds many wonderful memories of times infused with joy and pride as well as hopes, dreams, and promise . . . for future connection, the love of family, fireworks, and continued freedom.

This year, I’m not doing anything special. No barbecues. No watching parades. No fireworks. I realized recently that I’m just not up to any of that this year. So, I’ve given myself permission to watch the fireworks displays on television (if I want), to bow out of traffic jams and the dart-and-dodge dance of crowds. I’m not even making a red, white, and blue fruit salad or one of those Jello cakes with blueberries and strawberries made to look like a flag! As of this morning, I had decided not to write an article for the site here either. Then I realized that my decision to bow out is an article: about letting go.

Giving yourself permission

When it comes to continued estrangement from adult children, we reach turning points where we either grow and change or stay stuck and sad. If you’re to move forward, you must give yourself permission to be happy, to enjoy life in new ways, and to let go of what no longer works.

It’s okay to say “no,” to take a break from what you’ve always done or said or been, and to decide you will do or say or even be something different. At this juncture of your estrangement, what are you holding onto that is no longer serving you? Consider that for a moment.

Maybe it’s that idea of a “good” parent, and what that means in terms of sending a special occasion card no matter what. Maybe that means you let go of a negative thought that has kept you stuck, such as, “I can never be happy unless…” Or maybe it means finally admitting that you have endured years of hurtful behavior, which doesn’t improve (or even gets worse), no matter how much effort you exert to keep the peace, give in, or stay in touch.

Maybe you need to:

  •  ratchet back on something you do (money spent, gifts given, time wasted. . .)
  •  spend more energy or time on your needs. (Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s a necessity.)
  •  cut yourself some slack (you’re only human like me with my blissfully boring Fourth!)

Right now, consider what things, activities, or thinking you need to change for your own well-being. And then take an important step: Give yourself permission.

Now and forever?

Remember, if you decided on one course of action (or inaction), that doesn’t mean you are forever bound to that decision. Not sending a birthday card this year doesn’t mean you can’t the next. Saying “no” doesn’t preclude a later “yes.” Sometimes, parents of estranged adults can get so bound up worrying about making a “mistake” in how they communicate or handle estrangement that they’re practically paralyzed. (And unfortunately, this mistakes parents of estranged adults make” idea is one of those dumb themes I often see in the media, and even from people purporting to help–UGH.) Give yourself permission to trust yourself.

That’s all folks

Well, for this U.S. Independence Day, that’s the best I can do. Now, it’s your turn. What can you let go or change up for your own well-being? I hope you’ll offer a comment and engage with other parents of estranged adult children by leaving a reply to this article.

Related Reading

Estrangement: Are you a firework? Or still standing?

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

Parents of estranged adults: Are you tyrannized by the painful emotions?

 

A gift for estranged fathers

estranged fathersA gift for estranged fathers (and estranged mothers, too)

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

As I write this in mid-June, the airwaves are flowing with Father’s Day messaging; ads for “manly” stuff. My guess is that most dads would rather have the gift of time. Well, maybe a few words about how much a child has appreciated all they’ve done. For estranged fathers whose children have cut them off (also for rejected mothers), there is often a pervasive feeling: Time is running out.

Estranged fathers ask: How much time is left?

I hear this question at least once or twice a month, usually from estranged fathers and mothers who recognize the eons of time they say they’ve wasted on hope or strife. They realize they must turn their focus to something they have the power to fix or change: Themselves.

Here, we’ll utilize a few familiar phrases to take charge.

  • Be a leader. If you’re in a relationship, take the lead in making your life great. Sometimes moms tell me their husbands don’t seem to care if their children are estranged. They can shrug it off easier, they say. The dads, however, share that seeing their wives so hurt makes them mad. How could a child who was so well-loved and -cared for be so cold? Estranged fathers, you need to tell your wives how you feel. That you do hurt, that you are sad, but also that you want to be sensible and strong. You still have a life, and you can work to make it great. A little honesty and understanding can go a long way … and help make your time together emotionally close. Then do take the lead in finding things to do and enjoy, despite the estrangement. Whether in a relationship or alone, what would help you to enjoy your life? Beyond Done With The Crying has many examples of ways to move forward both as a couple and alone. Some of what’s included are the prickly situations of one parent remaining touch with an estranged child who rejected the other, divorce situations including parental alienation, protecting your business, and looking out for yourself (and/or your spouse) as you navigate retirement and later life.
  • Know when to quit. In Beyond Done With The Crying, I share the story of a dad who has always been there for his daughter. He paid for her college tuition, even when she asked for “space.” He reached out lovingly on occasion, respected her boundaries, and held out hope that she’d mature, and that they’d be closer again. Eventually, this estranged father came to realize that the only one he could change was himself. He decided to initiate no further contact. He also made some decisions about investing in his own future. He realized that time was fleeting and, regardless of her decisions, he needed to prepare. Whether your situation is similar to this dad’s or completely different, distance, “space,” or full-on estrangement is the common denominator. When is enough enough? Only you know the answer for yourself in your situation–but it may be time to go with the flow.
  • Turn yourself around. If you’ve made the decision to empower yourself and take charge of your life despite an adult child’s estrangement, be patient. Most estranged fathers and mothers find that, at first, one step forward and two steps back isn’t unusual. Setbacks may be caused by emotional triggers like birthdays or holidays, or perhaps adult children reach out and you’re not sure the motives are pure (as described in this article: Adult children who reject parents: Why do they make contact now?). You may need to set some boundaries, and that’s true both when interacting with an estranged adult child and in how you think. You can learn to recognize our own unhealthy thought life and make changes to support your well-being. There’s help to wrestle our thinking into healthier patterns, and techniques to set boundaries in my books. If you do have a setback, the reminder can be painful but also beneficial. While it’s wise to forgive, forgetting may not be. A setback can help you grow stronger for your future.

 Time waits for no one

Many of estranged fathers and mothers have lived by clocks and calendars. Rhythms and cycles are a part of nature, and people naturally embrace them. While it’s true that time waits for no one, making plans provides a sense of mastery. By embracing the cycles of day, night, and the seasons, we can look forward to things we love—and then look back and savor time well spent.

Consider the year ahead (you don’t have to wait until January!). Think of the seasons, special occasions, big holidays, or personal anniversaries or days of remembrance. Reflect upon how you might like to spend those seasons or days. What can you do to commemorate them? Try new ways that honor who you are now and the season of your life you’re in. You can let go of the tried and not always so true, and move into new territory, at any age.

Maybe you want to spend more time with friends, on a fishing boat, or with your feet in the sand. Perhaps you’d like to see a particular site, travel somewhere exotic, lively, or breathtaking. You might visit a relative you’ve missed, witness the autumn brilliance of your hometown once more, or experience snow falling softly on a winter night. Maybe you finally want to get a bird feeder, binoculars, and books to help you identify the feathery variety that comes around. Or, you could join a bird watching group. Is there a particular festival or event you’d like to see? A regional food you’d like to try? This fall, I’d like to visit each of the farms clustered in a nearby area, taste their products (fruit, wine, cider, cheese, beer, baked goods, and more). Can you think of a similar pursuit? Perhaps thinking of the dates ahead brings to mind special people or momentous events in your life. Could you plant a memorial tree in a loved one’s honor, contribute to a place of worship that has special significance for you, or donate or volunteer at a pet rescue where you found a furry friend? What can you plan for?

Without any hesitation or censor, jot down any ideas that come to you. You can dream big, and you don’t have to think realistically—at least to start. Keep a running list over the next several days or weeks, perhaps organized into months or seasons. Later, choose several from your notes, and make plans to accomplish, pay homage to, or simply honor those choices in a personally significant way. For parents who have dedicated so much time and energy to raising children and grandchildren, calendars can suddenly be as empty as arms. Fill those slots with learning, laughter, and meaning.

Looking forward

Looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them.– L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables)

If you’re resistant to this idea, consider whether you’ve become bitter, don’t feel worthy of happiness, or have lost all hope. There’s help in my books to identify your sticking points,  strengthen and flex your emotional muscles, and step forward with a more optimistic outlook. Won’t you join me?

Related reading

Be sure to click the links to highlighted words in the article…many link to related reading.

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

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

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2—Your flesh and blood?

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

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

#3—Are you like an octopus?

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

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

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

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

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

#4—Wowza wrap-up

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

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

Related reading

Mother’s Day 2021: Cancelled!

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

Mother’s Day radio interview with Sheri McGregor

Mothers of estranged adult children: Mother’s Day 2018

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

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

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

Mothering Sunday for UK Moms

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

References

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

Solid growth can change you

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

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

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

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

Parents of estranged adult children: Inside the net?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outside influence

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

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

Break free but stay aware

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

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

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

Providing support

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

Related reading

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

Parents whose children cut ties: Another date with yourself

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

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parents whose children cut ties: Take charge

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

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

Tell us how you did

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

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

Hugs to you this Valentine season and always,

Sheri McGregor

Related reading

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

Understanding estrangement: Countdown takeaways

understanding estrangement
Understanding estrangement and yourself:
Countdown Takeaways

By Sheri McGregor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Takeaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the videos:

Happy New Year to everyone!

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

 

Parents in estrangement: Your year in review

in estrangement
In estrangement: Your year in review

by Sheri McGregor

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

What did I learn?

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

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

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

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

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

Bobbie says she learned:

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

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

What I learned.

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

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

What did you learn?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related reading

In estrangement, do your questions keep you stuck?

Parents are people too

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

By Sheri McGregor

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

Unable to trust

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

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

Forgiveness

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

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

Not the same

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

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

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

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

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

Parents are people too

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

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

Related reading

When the adult child holds onto offenses

Emotional scars after an adult child’s estrangement