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.

Forgive for your own good

by Sheri McGregor

It’s often said that we should forgive for our own good. To forgive sets us free. That’s different than the forgiveness that comes when someone who has wronged us is remorseful and wants to make things right. To forgive doesn’t always require that we forget.

Forgiven or not, a person’s bad behavior often has consequences. Forgiveness can be a solitary act. To forgive doesn’t require that we forget everything and place ourselves, precariously, in a position to be hurt again. Read more about that, with a fuller look at forgiveness, in this article:

Why Forgive?

Today’s look at forgiveness is short—and oh-so-sweet!

forgiveness

Hugs to all the parents of estranged adult children. Your forgiveness is a gift to yourself.

~ Sheri McGregor

Neglected parents self-love exercise

By Sheri McGregor

Valentine’s Day post

Most holidays, you will find new articles here because I know how lonely those special days can feel for neglected parents. Adult children who rarely call, have cut their parents completely from their lives, or only reach out when they need something, leave their parents’ hearts in shards. For neglected parents, the only way beyond the emotional pain is through. That means digging deep for your own strength, looking for ways to support yourself, and then taking action. Valentine’s Day provides an opportunity to let your love loose on your own life and for your own benefit.

In my work as a life coach, I’ve routinely used exercises and questions to help people guide themselves through a variety of situations, increase productivity, and get out of their own way as they move way forward. Today, I’m including a short exercise for neglected parents and, in honor of Valentine’s Day, we’ll use the word “LOVE.”

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • An open mind
  • A willing spirit
  • A sheet of paper
  • A pen or pencil

Option: Fancy paper and/or colorful pens/pencils. Use what makes you feel good.

Don’t discount the first two bullet points. Those may be the most important.

FIRST STEPS

As you see in the photograph, fold your paper in half and then half again. When you unfold the sheet, creases mark off four sections. Eyeballing the space is okay, too. Or use a computer document and not worry about space at all. There is no perfect way to do this exercise other than to see it through for your own benefit.

BEFORE YOU START

You’ll be writing, so make up your mind not to censor yourself. If this exercise prompts you to spill out your feelings with no action steps, let it happen. You may be holding onto energy that needs a place to land. Let those thoughts and feelings emerge. Your feelings are valid—even the ones you judge yourself for.

GET STARTED

To the left of each of the four paper sections, write each of the letters in L-O-V-E, one per section, so that the word is spelled out vertically. Use flowery writing or make it bold—it’s up to you.

Below, after each letter, I’ve chosen a word that starts with that letter. You’ll also see a few questions. Spend a few moments answering them as they pertain to your unique situation:

  • Estrangement from adult children
  • Coping as a neglected parent
  • With a disrespectful adult child living at home due to Covid-19 (or for some other reason)
  • Your unique circumstances

This and similar exercises work for a variety of situations where the aim is to analyze thinking and behavior, and then move toward better self-care and past the problem.

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.)

Same Time, Same Place

Once you’ve spent some time considering each of these and writing out your thoughts, fold the paper so the writing is all on the inside. Then pen yourself a silly note on the blank side: Same time, next year. Or, Will you be my Valentine? Whatever feels right. Then tuck it away somewhere safe. Next year, pull this out and see how far you’ve come.

If the thought of looking at this later to observe your progress pricks panic, don’t ignore the feeling. If you worry that you will still be crying and miserable, take action now. Let this be a solid step toward your progress. It’s for your own good. Get your copy of Done With The Crying, read it again and use the WORKBOOK, or do the exercises for the first time (some readers skipped them). To move beyond the pain, you must set goals and work toward them. After a while, taking care of yourself becomes a helpful habit.

EXERCISE YOUR OPTIONS

If you have ideas about how to make this exercise your own, feel free to put them into action. Creative pursuits are freeing and fun. Honoring your own ideas is validating and helpful. Here are a couple of options:

  • Use your words. My example words for each of the letters aren’t set in stone. Come up with your own or even choose a word other than LOVE to start. The point is to get your thoughts on paper, begin the work of setting goals for your own happiness and self-worth, and move toward a fulfilling life only you can design. You’re in the driver’s seat on this self-love train. Don’t get sidetracked or derailed.
  • Get crafty. Create a keepsake. Once you’ve done the exercise and tucked it away, use the basic words (limits, observe, value, evaluate) as a visual reminder. Make a painting or a Valentine card and display it as a gentle reminder of where you’re at and where you’re headed. Make a bookmark and tuck it into something you read daily so your goals will be in front of you—or just as a reminder that you deserve your own kind care. (I’m tucking my folded page with my note into a book where I can see it often, plus find it next year.)

Do you gain insights from using this exercise? I’d love to hear about your experience. When you comment, you help other neglected parents move forward too.

Hugs to all on this journey, Sheri McGregor

Related Reading

Cut off by adult children and feeling lonely

How do I love me? Let me count the ways

Estranged from adult children, Love Yourself

 

March and sing into 2021

disrespectful adult child parental estrangement

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Disrespectful adult child? Estranged?
March and sing into 2021 anyway

At a tense moment around the kitchen table in the movie, Moonstruck, the grandfather says, “Someone tell a joke.”

Although 2020 held miserable news and troubles, approach the New Year with a new attitude. That might very well mean telling a joke—or trying another action that supports and empowers you.

TENSION AS THICK AS A BRICK

This article is for parents who are estranged from adult children, but the term, “estranged,” isn’t always cut-and-dried. I hear from many parents who live under the same roof with their estranged adult children or have “reconciled” but find regular contact tougher than they thought. Typical scenarios include:

  • Disrespectful adult child (young) who can’t take care of themselves (yet)
  • Move-back-in situation when an estranged adult child has lost a job or gone through some trauma
  • A reconciled relationship that is wrought with distrust, explosions, and/or an eggshell walk
  • Adult children who just don’t seem interested in keeping a relationship with you

Whether or not you’re in a situation like one of these or are cut off from all contact, read on. We’ll lighten up, get grounded, and march forward with feel-good and empowerment techniques.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

When an adult child moves in after leaving a bad relationship, losing a good job, or some other trauma, distress can hang like a dark cloud over your home. Ditto when a young adult you’re trying to remain patient with “as they mature” spends most of their time behind a closed door. Parents may worry for their child about a past abuser’s continuing psychological hold, the ongoing effects of trauma, or problems with physical and mental health.

While you can lend a generous ear, step gingerly around explosive subjects, and focus on any good, you must also take care of yourself. Listening too much can cause secondary trauma—or prompt your (unwanted) advice. Avoiding explosive subjects or moderating every word builds resentment. Worrying isn’t healthy. 

Parents aren’t always ready (or able) to insist on big changes, kick a disrespectful adult child out of the house, require a son or daughter to get counseling, or address relationship issues head on. Those are subjects for another day. Here, we’ll get to what parents can do in the meantime—for themselves

Regardless of circumstances, recognizing what you can and can’t control helps. Maybe you can’t calm an adult child’s mood swings or emotional distress, but you can work on your own moods, support your own well-being, and get on with living. This article isn’t about solving the bigger issues or even examining them. Instead, let’s look at a few easily implemented ideas to lighten the dark tone that may be filling your physical or mental home and also raise your spirits:  

    • Sing. Singing reduces stress levels and can stimulate the immune system—plus it feels good. Make up a theme song (or adopt one that makes you feel good) and sing it every morning. Or sing while you go about your work or play. Don’t worry if it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song! You might have even been singing that last part like The Carpenters or Shirley Bassey
    • Music. A little music can lift moods and provide a distraction. Today, it’s easy to find music online. Music apps are available on our phones, and there are whole channels that play only music on some television services. Don’t forget the radio either. Choose something that makes you feel happy and energized. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find yourself dancing, too (maybe even the Cha Cha Cha)!
    • Exercise. Physical movement like dance is good for you, but movement as simple as putting one foot in front of the other for a walk increases blood flow to the body and also to the brain. Walking boosts creativity, which may mean you’ll return refreshed, and able to tackle tough problems in new ways. Walk! It’ll help you think.
    • Crystals. Stones from the earth hold vibrational energy that can improve mood, aid clarity, and promote calm and peace. In the past, therapists recommended a rubber band around the wrist to snap as a reminder to manage bad habits or think better thoughts. Touching the smooth stones of a bracelet composed of crystals with energetic properties is a less painful variation. Try rose quartz, known for its loving energy, or get a kit with several crystals collected to conquer stress or promote healing. Etsy.com has a variety of crystal kits and jewelry created by artisans. You might find them helpful—and they’re beautiful.
    • Ground yourself.  “Earthing,” by walking barefoot to connect with the earth and its conductive energy is purported to heighten mood, decrease pain and inflammation. So far, studies are few but I can tell you from experience that it feels good. Be safe where you walk, limit exposure in cold weather, and enjoy. My recent move has taken me farther from the coast, but I used to live within half an hour—and Earthing along the beach felt wonderful and freeing. Earthing among the nettle that grew profusely beneath a towering pine was also energizing. Don’t like going outdoors barefoot? Try relaxation meditations where you’re aware of your breath, your body, and how the soles of your feet “root” you to the ground. 
    • Engage in a project.  While any project you enjoy is helpful, let’s stay grounded and talk about gardening. Imagine yourself blooming along with the flowers you raise. Plant seeds indoors for healthy seedlings ready to go outdoors in spring. Allow yourself to marvel at the bits of growth you see each day. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty either. Friendly bacteria that’s present in soil works as an antidepressant, raising levels of serotonin in the brain.
    • Laugh. Just as the grandfather in Moonstruck knew the right timing for a joke, I lean on laughter to help. Distracted by nature during a recent walk, I stepped on a rough spot and fell on my face. “Crack some jokes,” I told my husband. “Make me laugh or I’ll cry.” Glad to oblige, he compared my fat-lipped profile to Donald Duck and told me I had kissed the ground. Laughter stimulates the organs and soothes stress. Over time, it’s thought to have positive effects on the immune system and work with your body to relieve pain, too. Besides, it’s fun. Find comedians you like on YouTube, or watch silly animal videos. Here’s a really short one that always makes me laugh:

EASY-PEASY

If you’re feeling so low right now that these simple tasks look momentous, at least try a few ultra-low-effort tactics to take care of yourself. 

  •  Get out your softest blanket or throw and enjoy the texture.
  • Wear feel-good cologne and sniff your wrist often.
  •  Stroke a pet who will love you for it.
  • Wear cozy socks.

Whether you’re fully estranged, living with an adult child who avoids or rejects you, have reconciled but don’t feel all joy-joy and wonderful about how things are progressing, or are affected in some other way by estrangement, don’t make your life all about another adult. Sometimes, the tiniest gifts we give ourselves help the most.

Consider listening in on the free eventfree event for family struggles that takes place later this month, too.

Hugs to you for the New Year and beyond.  ~ Sheri McGregor

Related reading:

Happy New Year 2020 posting (includes a beautiful link a reader sent to me)

Holiday talk: Parents alienated by adult children, Cha-Cha-Cha 

Holiday Talk:
Parents alienated by adult children,
Try the 3-step Cha-Cha-Cha

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

parents alienated by adult children

Image by DarkmoonArt_de from Pixabay

How we talk and think can make a big difference in how we feel. As the holidays approach, many parents alienated by adult children are filled with dread or sadness.  Without even realizing it, a dreary voiceover may narrate their days, shaping a gloomy outlook. I’ve got a solution: Cha-Cha-Cha.

No, I’m not necessarily suggesting you do this Cuban dance that began its long mark on international culture in the early 1950s (per Wikipedia). A few simple steps get people out on the dance floor and having fun with the Cha-Cha-Cha (sometimes shortened to Cha-Cha) but here, I’m borrowing the name and the fun that made the dance style so popular to illustrate my three steps to overcome the holiday blues:

CHEck your self-talk

CHAllenge your beliefs

and 

CHAnge 

Okay, so it’s really CheCha-Cha, but you get the idea. (Say the first one with a forced Southern U.S. accent and it sounds correct. Say it that way out loud now. It’s fun!)

Here’s how the process works:

FIRST, CHECK your self-talk

What are you telling yourself? Without even realizing it, are you using words or sayings that hurt you rather than help you?

Anne Marie, a mother of three, says that when the calendar hit October 1, she always thought, “Okay, here we go.” When her kids were younger, this helped Anne Marie focus and gear up for the season where she went all out for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Although she had a full career plate, her holidays were dictated by costumes, school pageants, and parties—all of which she made perfect, memorable, and fun. She was an unsung hero behind everyone else’s holiday joy, but Anne Marie was proud of the good times she created for her children.

Her kids are grown now. Two of them are estranged. As one of the multitudes of parents alienated by adult children, these days, her “here we go” thought stirs resentment for her. Yet come each holiday season, those words still run through her head.

As we chatted, Anne Marie explained her difficulty in moving beyond the sadness of her adult children’s estrangement over the holiday season. “Traditionally, this has been a hard time of year for me,” she said.  

Traditionally?” I asked, emphasizing her word choice. 

Thankfully, she laughed with me when I pointed out that she had made a ritual of feeling bad about the holidays. A tradition like that becomes a habit. Those can be hard to break, but the first step is becoming aware—and that’s what Anne Marie did

CHECK your thinking. What do you tell yourself about the holidays? Right now, stop for a moment and reflect. Do your thoughts help or hurt you? Are you building yourself up or tearing your spirits down?

The thoughts or spoken words we direct to ourselves, our self-talk, is important. Everyone talks to themselves, as is explained in this Huffington Post article that quotes me and other experts. The trick is to make your self-talk useful.

Why give yourself a poop talk when a pep talk is more motivating and uplifting? Becoming aware of the words you use can help you to help yourself. Don’t make a tradition of feeling bad. While it’s wise to be aware of triggers that bring up emotional pain, you also need to find new traditions and let the old pain go.

We’ll explore more about changing the way we think in a moment. First, let’s move to the second syllable in Che-Cha-Cha. Is what we’re telling ourselves even true?

CHALLENGE your beliefs

“Holidays are all about family so this will be tough.” That is what one father recently related.

“Are holidays really all about family?” I asked him.

Seasonal TV commercials and movies do a number on our views. The truth is that, for many, the holidays are a time to reaffirm spiritual beliefs, help those who are less fortunate, and give to causes they find meaningful and that bring them joy.

When this dad of one son who won’t talk to him realized his holiday thinking set him up for loneliness and disappointment, he challenged himself to find new ways to celebrate. He watched religious movies, started to pray again, and sponsored needy children through a local charity.

Where can you find new meaning for the holidays? What can you do to challenge old, negative, unhelpful thoughts and take action that makes the holidays more fun?

Finally, CHANGE

Anne Marie called friends in another state who had never had children. She figured she could learn a thing or two from this couple in their 60s whose holidays have never been about family. Listening as they talked about their fun plans for the season that included trying out snow-shoeing in a piled-high meadow near their home and watching a local theater group’s holiday comedy offered this year over Zoom, she couldn’t help but smile. Despite a Covid-19 lock-down, they were making the holidays fun!

Anne Marie has decided to use the holidays to research how she can reclaim an old hobby, dancing, she gave up as a teenager but had always missed. She started by listing every word that came to mind when she thought of dancing. This meant being realistic about her abilities at age 62, but also how liberated and happy dancing always made her feel. She also subscribed to a topic magazine and eagerly checks her mailbox daily for the first issue’s arrival.

During her days off work this season, Anne Marie plans to locate local resources, join related social media pages, and maybe even touch base with questions. These are first steps in her plan to restore the wonder of childhood and bringing a sense of awe and fun into her life now. Anne Marie sees this gift to herself for the holidays as a launching pad to nurture herself with self-care all year.

Who can you learn from? Whose habits can you adopt, adapt, and make all your own? What beliefs or old thinking can you check, challenge, and change? No matter who you are or what the holidays have meant to you in the past, you can start new traditions that better suit and support you at this phase of life.

If you find yourself dreading the holidays or feeling low, remember: Check, Challenge, and Change. Just as Anne Marie plans to dance, you’ll be doing the Che-Cha-Cha in no time!

Parents alienated by children can be happy. Give yourself the gift of moving forward for your own happiness. Get Done With The Crying and the accompanying workbook.

Still thinking about the Cha-Cha-Cha dance? Learn the basic steps or hear oldies with the videos below.


 RELATED READING

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

Abandoned parents: Are you “chewing”?

abandoned parentsAbandoned parents’ reflections: Are you chewing?

By Sheri McGregor, M.A. 

I’ve been gradually moving over the last several months, to a new home far away from the one where my husband and I raised our kids. On my most recent return to the blazing Southern California heat after a week away, I discovered that my little man-made pond had evaporated by half. And there, among the tangle of lily pads was an old friend: a plastic manatee I’d forgotten even existed had popped up from the depths. 

Seeing its emergence from where it had somehow been buried beneath the surface, made me think of an old Simon & Garfunkel tune. The song starts out, “Hello Darkness, my old friend; I’ve come to talk with you again.” Those lyrics remind me of the way emotional pain can pop up and imprison abandoned parents in a looping reel of dark thinking. But is it wise to make an “old friend” of the stuff?  When there’s no solution to a problem you keep going over and over and over, you’re ruminating. That sort of repetitive thinking carries the negative side effects of anxiety and depression.  

The word “ruminate” derives from a centuries old Latin variant that means to “chew the cud.” This makes sense because “rumen” is the English word for the first of four stomachs found in animals that chew a cud. Multiple stomachs help cows and other ruminant animals to break down their diet of coarse grass. There’s a purpose to the process, which is the opposite of chewing the same old emotionally draining cud. That kind of chewing gets you nowhere. 

A previous article covered the weepy days common to abandoned parents and how they can use them for good. Here, let’s look at your emotional cud from a new angle. Like Simon & Garfunkel’s old friend, darkness, has your rumination grown so familiar that it’s become a companion?  

In the distress and uncertainty of an adult child’s rejection, ruminating can become a habit, and even bad habits are something we can count on when our world has gone topsy-turvy. If you’re in the habit of thinking negatively—when you’re trying to get to sleep, whenever friends talk about family fun, wherever you see grandparents with grandchildren, or there’s some other trigger that sets you off—maybe it’s time to recognize rumination for what it is, an emotional rut, and bid the old buddy good-bye.  

Abandoned parents: Mindfully letting go 

One of the first steps to letting go is recognizing when you’re holding on. That means noticing when your thoughts turn down that familiar alley. In Done With The Crying, there is detailed material toward recognizing and measuring how often dark thinking plagues you. Awareness is necessary to begin the practice of consciously letting rumination go.  

It’s normal for our minds to want to chew on things that trouble us, but at some point, we must realize the cud is just old grass. As time passes, and with work that builds happiness, confidence, and fulfillment despite the pain, you can make sweet milk of your life despite estrangement. Even then, like an old wound that only bothers you in bad weather or when you’re tired or ill, the old cud of estrangement pain can pop up. Then what?    

Reflections 

Seeing that manatee brought a spill of memories. After my son cut us off, building beauty in my garden became my therapy. Clearing weeds helped clear my head. Tending to things that bloomed helped me to bloom. Seeing the cycle of life echoed in plants and trees helped me see myself in new and resilient ways. But spotting that manatee rising from the depths where it had been caught and lurking brought back pain.  

I sat on the garden wall, remembering how I’d worked my hands until they were as rough as sandpaper. In my vegetable garden, I had looked up with hope if a passing car sounded like my estranged son’s, and then hung my head and went back to my work. I remember uncovering ugly grubs in the soil and getting tricked by Fool’s Lettuce. That insidious weed sprouted as tender and soft as the sweet greens I’d planted, and eventually took the whole bed over, complete with thorny edges and thick roots that made the imposter impossible to pull. And, right or wrong, I found parallels in my son and those he’d chosen to go off with. Appearances can be deceiving. Those parallels were helpful to me at the time.

abandoned parentsTired from the long drive, as I sat on the garden wall, a misting of tears surprised me. The cute manatee had popped up from the depths, an old friend who tugged at memories and pain. I took a breath. The sky was still and blue. A mockingbird shouted an alarm call to guard its nearby nest. A trail of ants hugged the garden wall near my feet. Life moved on. That painful time was over. I was here and now. I didn’t need to chew the cud or talk with the darkness that was no longer my old friend.  

Bobbing lightly in the pond fountain’s trickle, the manatee seemed to smile. I smiled too.  

Related reading

Emotional triggers: Abandoned parents, set yourself free

In my garden

 

Estrangement: Parents, use weepy days for your own good

Estrangement: Parents whose children have rejected them may have weepy days, but they can use them for their own good 

By Sheri McGregor

my son hates meThe 18-year-old face that looks at me from the photocopied passport is strong. It’s my handsome son—only I’ve seen a more recent photo on the Internet, and he doesn’t look the same. He’s changed so much that if I passed him on the street tomorrow, I might not recognize him.  

Stapled to the top left corner of the page is a receipt for registered mail. Many years ago (it seems like eons now), I made the copy before sending the original to an address my son had given me. He was moving far away, so I would send it for safekeeping to the mother he’d exchanged me for. When he married, he got a new sister, brother, and father too. I don’t know who he’s with these days (and it’s none of my business anyway).   

I pause in my clearing of the desk drawer to remember the day we got our passports. We stood in line at the post office, filled in the paperwork side-by-side, and had our photos taken. We needed passports for an out-of-country trip we were taking together. Just him and I. Back then, I could never have imagined all that later transpired, that he would reject me and his whole family, and that I would look back on years of estrangement that have become the norm. 

The desk chair rocks slightly as the memories fill my head. On that trip with my son, we took dozens of digital photos. Mountains and cows and fields and sky. Tourist spots, views from a paddle boat, and a banana-sized slug we encountered on a trail.  It was a fun trip. When we got home, I printed out a few of the photos, and then asked my techie son if he would burn the rest onto a CD—that’s also here in the desk drawer. In black Sharpie ink on the disc, my son’s strong, square handwriting says, “Trip With Mom.”        

I feel my mouth droop into a frown, but I don’t cry. I’m long past the early years of estrangement when finding a photo or some other memento could instantly reduce me to tears. One thought would lead to another and before long I’d be having one of those weepy days. Most parents of estranged adults have had them, those days when the question pounds—why?–and we feel so powerless that several days might be lost to sad, looping thoughts. Or we spend several nights sitting up in the dark, our faces streaked with tears lit silver in the moonlight.  

 Get a new perspective 

I grew tired of those sad, out-of-control days. I didn’t like feeling powerless, unable to change the reality of my son’s decisions, yet still enslaved by them. I learned to overcome those tearful days when a memento sent me reeling. I saw those times as a chance to reaffirm the truth.  

Before I explain, let me tell you about a technique called “imaginal therapy.“ Commonly used with people who suffer PTSD, imaginal therapy safely exposes the person to past trauma, triggers distress in a neutral environment, and helps them to process associated feelings, come to conclusions about the experiences, and even resolve their sense of guilt, powerlessness, or responsibility for them. Repeated exposure to past trauma, through safely imagining and recounting the experiences, promotes healing.  

Next time you come across something that triggers all the pain of estrangement, consider sitting with the reality, confronting your feelings, and using the remembered exposure to reaffirm the truth for your own good. We’ll get to more about how in a minute. 

When adult children hate parents, it’s time to reaffirm the truth 

Parents cut off by adult children first blame themselves—and there are plenty of people out there to echo those thoughts.  We must have been too nice … or too mean. We did too much for them … or not enough. We were too strict, too lenient, too this or not enough that. The stories we come up with ourselves or accept from authority figures to try and empathize and even justify an adult child’s rejection, go round and round and dump us off in the same old place: We failed and it’s up to us to fix it. 

The trouble is we often can’t fix the relationship. Certainly not when the “child” comes up with revisionist history, is hellbent on blaming us for his every problem, or won’t talk. To continue trying keeps us in the line of fire or suffering repeated rejection. While we stall, hope, and fret, we remain in limbo, unable to move beyond the pain or get on with living life. And since we’re surrounded by memories and mementos, reminded by relatives who ask if we’ve reconciled, or faced with uncertainties about how to handle the holidays or whether we’ll run into our child somewhere and whether they’ll make a scene, our lives become mine fields for emotional triggers.  

As a mother of five, it was second nature for me to forgive my children. Spilled milk, lost library books, a dented car.… Parents forgive and forget. It can be the same in estrangement. In an adult child’s absence, even when it’s an abusive one, we might idealize the good times or qualities we miss, while dulling the memories of the bad that we don’t.   

The next time you have a weepy day, use it to reaffirm the history as it really went down. Instead of howling down an alley of despair, find a safe, quiet space, and go over the events as they occurred. Re-imagine the traumatic experiences, write them down even, all the while recognizing that you lived through those times. Tell yourself you’re growing stronger and more able to move beyond the pain. Imaginal therapy allows for repeated exposure through memory and recounting so that it becomes less traumatic. The process can be the same when we remember the incidents of estrangement. 

Remembering the painful experiences involved in my son’s cutting-off has helped me remember details and come to conclusions I originally missed or wasn’t ready to accept. At first, most parents remember episodes or events through a lens of personal failure and imagine that if they had done something different, they could change their child’s response or prevent the estrangement. That’s why I recommend an exercise in Done With The Crying (and in the WORKBOOK) that is designed to help parents remember all the good they did and validate the job they did as parents. All parents make mistakes, but once we lose the self-blame that so often darkens our memories when our children turn on us, we can see the events as they occurred. 

My son’s choice to estrange from our family didn’t start with anything his father and I did or didn’t do. My husband and I are loving parents who accepted and supported our kids the best way we knew how. By looking at the hurt by reliving the trauma, we’ve moved beyond it.  

The last laugh 

I take another look at the photocopied passport, marvel at the strong face of the handsome son I once held in such high esteem, notice, and then detach from the longing that surfaces. It’s only the mom in me. Setting the photocopy aside, I pick up the CD, and put it in the disc drive. When the album loads, I begin to click through, instantly confused. The same picture appears, over and over and over. Is there some message here? No. It’s just an ordinary scenery photo taken from the car window. Nothing of significance.  

A memory hits. A day when he came to see us a year after his estrangement began, and he fanned the flames of hope he later extinguished. I remember the quirk of a smile on my son’s lips when he asked if I still had the pictures from our trip. I thought it was because he had happy memories of our time together. He told me he had only one photo left.   

I look at the repeated photo on my computer screen, thinking I should be angry or sad, but realizing that I’m not. I’m confused. Did he purposely copy the same one over and over?  Was he asking me about the pictures that day to see if I’d discovered his trick? I take the disc out and re-read his strong handwriting marking our trip in thick black ink. And then I laugh—at my clever son. I can still appreciate his precocious nature that once enchanted me. I loved that boy. I thought the world of him. I place the disc in its sleeve and tuck into the box I’m packing for my new home. Whatever the joke is, I guess it’s on me.  

 Related Reading

Estrangement: In my garden

Wall of silence: An artistic expression about living with estrangement

 

Restful respite: a moon garden

by Sheri McGregor

ways to get to sleepWhen the still of night hits, rejected parents often have difficulty soothing their minds and settling into slumber. Hot summer nights (and unrest in the world) can add to the trouble of getting any sleep. Don’t just lie there feeling miserable as the whys and what-ifs loop through your restless mind. Get up and take a dose of the moon! Create something fun and calming: a moon garden. 

In the early days of my estrangement from my son, I would often wander outdoors in the evening. By the light of the moon, the bright, sunny colors of my daytime garden faded, making room for more demure features to shine. The chalky leaves of Artemesia and Dusty Miller, a shallow, solar-lit bowl, and glowing spheres that mimicked the moon itself became a tonic. 

A dose of the moon 

There’s a poem I love: The Moon, by Jaime Sabines. It speaks of taking doses of the moon for a variety of ailments, including insomnia. In my moon garden, the blooms of Angel Trumpet softly scent the evening air. Tiny toadstool-shaped lights glimmer from the backdrop of shadowy bushes along a meandering walk. In the quiet of evening, the softest breeze rustles unseen leaves. The tinkle of a fountain soothes my ears.  

I hadn’t planned my moon garden where the pale flesh of an echeveria seems to glow in the moonlight. It was purely by accident that I chose a few plants with silvery, ashen leaves and white blooms that took center stage at night. That accidental moon garden was restorative for my estrangement-weary soul. As Sabines’ poem says, there is no better tonic. Taking my moon garden in doses calmed me and helped me find the peace to sleep. 

Your moon garden 

Next time you have trouble settling in, go outdoors. Find what’s already in your moon garden and then enhance those features. Even a patio or terrace can transform into a restful respite by night. Add a comfortable chair, a table for a cup of calming herbal tea, and a soothing sound like a tiny tinkling fountain or bamboo chimes.  

Recently, we have begun a long-distance move to a new location with the most enchanting yard. Tree frogs sing, owls hoot, and ponies occasionally whinny when startled by a passing deer.  Periodically, a string of dragonflies around a tree trunk blink on, their wings a rainbow flash in the night. As we settle into our new home, I’ll be adding elements to enhance my new moon garden. Sabines is right. There is nothing better than the moon as tonic.  

Related reading:

Moon garden design

About the history of moon gardens

For parents abandoned by adult children, sleep can be elusive

Abandoned parents, let your light shine

Troubling dreams, why do I have them?

The turning point

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

rejected by sonAll over the world, as businesses shuttered and people sheltered in place during the Covid-19 lockdown, parents rejected by adult children began to hope. Maybe their sons and daughters would have a change of heart. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of members to my Rejected Parents Facebook page and/or this site, their hope was fruitless.

For those who did hear from their estranged adult children, it was by text, in conversations  that often went something like this:

How are you?

Dad and I are fine. How about you? Are you and XX okay?

Fine.

That’s good. I’ve been thinking of you. Love you guys.

Then comes S-I-L-E-N-C-E.

done with the cryingAs the social distancing and isolation has continued, more and more parents have expressed their dismay. If a pandemic can’t get a wayward son or daughter to care about them, then nothing will.

Have you experienced this sort of letdown? Did you hope, maybe send a text or two, yet receive little or nothing in response?

Many moms and dads call the lack of concern shameful, a disgrace. Deafening silence or a a bare minimum response triggers a resurgence of all their emotional pain. Even parents who have worked hard to regain their footing feel bewildered and rejected again. They find themselves back to asking WHY?

Don’t Get Stuck

The takeaway from this pandemic is something others have learned in other ways:

  • A father whose heart attack and near-death experience didn’t prompt his daughters to care or call.
  • A mother whose life-threatening illness brought nothing but meanness, and accusations the disease was her own damn fault.
  • A parent whose adult children didn’t care when a grandparent faced life-and-death circumstances or a beloved family pet died.

Don’t get stuck in the sad stage. Don’t allow the shocking cruelty of someone you once knew and loved to dictate your life.

Turning point

Is this pandemic, and the lack of care or concern from your estranged adult child, a turning point? Make positive changes for yourself now. You’ve done your best to love your child, to empathize, to try to understand….

If there was ever a turning point, this is it. What will you do to change for the better?

I hope that you will use my book, Done With The Crying, to help yourself. It’s available in paperback, as an e-book, and on audio. If you get the e- or audio book, be sure to get the accompanying Done With The Crying WORKBOOK: for Parents of Estranged Adult Children so you don’t miss the exercises.  What can you do today to fight past the shock and dismay, and move toward your own healing and happiness? The book’s exercises offer specific assistance to aid your journey forward.

If you already have the book, what did you find most useful? I hope you will leave a comment. Parents who come to this website find relief in knowing there are other parents who understand.

Hugs (and happy Mother’s Day 2020).

Sheri McGregor

Related reading

Put on your 2020 vision

Do your questions keep you stuck?

Don’t get [sun]burned this Mother’s Day (when adult kids cut parents off)

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

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

when adult kids cut parents offA few days ago, I learned of an annual event called “World Naked Gardening Day.” Held the first Saturday in May, the event encourages people to tan where the sun doesn’t shine (usually, anyway).  The event that encourages getting as naked as a jaybird in the garden doesn’t (yet) pull at heartstrings to make a commodity of the holiday. That isn’t true of another well-known holiday which, here in the United States, also falls in May—Mother’s Day.

Those who follow this blog know the serious tone of my work to help when adult kids cut parents off. However, once in a blue moon, I can’t help getting a little cheeky. So, please bare with me as I use World Naked Gardening Day to expose a little more of that now.

Mother’s Day when adult kids cut parents off

When Anna Jarvis first founded Mother’s Day, she didn’t intend it to become commercialized. The naked truth is that marketers realized Mother’s Day was a gold mine for their bottom line. Especially for greeting card companies, candy makers, and jewelers who cash in on the day. Knowing that may help you to cope as the holiday draws near each year.

While it’s nice to be recognized, we all know that a duty-bought bouquet or a one-line text doesn’t do motherhood justice. As mothers of estranged adult children, you have some skin in the game as to how you respond—even if an estranged adult child reaches out.

Don’t get caught with your pants down. Have a plan!

when adult kids cut parents offWhen adult kids cut parents off, it’s important to prepare ahead for situations that cause parents pain. For many of us, Mother’s Day qualifies. Below, I’ve stripped down to the basics of getting by.

 

  • While plans help, it’s okay to recognize your heartache. Mother’s Day can arrive like a bunch of wilted flowers on a day you would rather skip. You may feel sad or angry as you mourn the loss and wish things were different. Even gardeners who wear their birthday suits know that a sad, wilting, and maybe wrinkled plant needs attention in order to thrive. Your heart can be like that. Read on about tending to your heartache.

 

 

  • Part of your plan must be looking ahead. I hope you’ll get my book, Done With The Crying, and take the time to do the included exercises that focus on your emotional healing and future happiness. When adult children cut parents off, those who have processed the pain and strengthened themselves will be better prepared if or when any reconciliation does occur. It may be the night before Mother’s Day now, but tomorrow will come. Will the world be your oyster?

 

This Mother’s Day, clothe yourself with preparation by reading through the articles linked above. You can find more about how to cope when adult children cut parents off by using the site’s search box and inputting key words of your choice (Mother’s Day, holidays, etc).

In all Seriousness

I hope you were not offended by this blog post. I don’t typically let it all hang out with silliness. If you look past the puns, my real message is visible to the naked eye. As a mother whose adult son estranged himself, I understand your pain. I hope that this Mother’s Day and every day, you will allow yourself to laugh. It’s good medicine.

Related reading

Mother’s Day 2019 radio interview with Sheri McGregor