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.

Holidays: Help for rejected parents in Oktoberfest history

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Rejected parents are already talking about the holidays. Canadians will celebrate Thanksgiving in just a few days, and where I live in the U.S., all the hoopla surrounding Oktoberfest events ushers in the holiday season. All the advertisements for local festivals featuring beer, dancing, food, and fun made me curious. Oktoberfest is popular around the world—and as it turns out, its history offers help for rejected parents.

holiday help for rejected parents

Image by Kerstin Riemer from Pixabay

Flexibility: A vital skill to thrive

In 1810, townspeople in Munich, Germany gathered to celebrate a royal wedding. The rejoicing ended with a feast and a horse race. It was so much fun and good for the economy that within a few years, Oktoberfest had extended into a weeks-long event with food, fun, and carnival rides. A statue was created to watch over the revelers raising their glass beer steins (did you know these make great gifts?).

For more than 200+ years, Munich’s Oktoberfest has evolved to fit circumstances (just as rejected parents do). The horse race was suspended, and the agricultural fair was reduced to every fourth year. Due to wars and other crises, the celebration was sometimes cancelled or enjoyed in new ways. Around the world today, Oktoberfest provides community, learning, and fun. This year, as the holiday season begins, remember how the festival changed—yet still thrives. You can too.

Holiday help for rejected parents

holiday help for rejected parents

At one point, your holidays may have been days-long events requiring much preparation to welcome crowds of loved ones. Today, you may suspend customary activities and reach for new or altered ones. The truth is, even if estrangement wasn’t part of your reality, how you celebrate the holidays wouldn’t stay the same.

Halloweens with homemade costumes may have morphed into watching your teenagers or young adults arrive with ready-mades from the Halloween store. Thanksgiving may have once been a time to gorge, but as you’ve grown older, maybe you know better than to eat quite so much—and pay for it later. At Christmas, when your children were young, you may have stayed up all night to assemble bicycles. Many years later, you might have bought a grandchild a tablet or a phone. At one time, Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer may have been real to your children, but eventually, they knew who brought the gifts. As extended family grew, holidays may have broken off into smaller events.

Customs change to fit the times. Oktoberfest expanded and contracted—and yet it thrives—so  can you and your holidays.

Help yourself

Right now, instead of thinking about everything you’ll miss, dwelling on damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don’t dilemmas such as “Should I send a gift?”, cherish the memories. And then expand or contract. Put on a “costume” to help yourself, ground yourself in what is for now, and get busy with a plan to thrive over the holidays.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll offer more specific ideas and help for rejected parents over the holidays. In the meantime, if you’re beginning to dread the season as so many parents of estranged adults do, at least utilize those feelings for your own good. Your thoughts of what you dread can be the start of a plan. Right now, get a sheet of paper or open a word document and write out the things you worry about or dread the most. Then you can begin to turn the thoughts around.

Here’s a sample list:

  • Being the third wheel at my sister’s big event and seeing her adult children and grandchildren gathered around.
  • Having to brave the holly-jolly music and all the crowds at the stores, the gas station, or the roads.
  • Being all alone on those special days.

Give it a  twist

If this were your list, how might you use what you’re telling yourself to come up with a plan?

If you don’t want to feel like a loner or maybe as green as the Grinch with envy at a family celebration, consider doing something different this year.  Just because relatives’ celebrations are continuing as always doesn’t mean yours must. And just because you do something different this year doesn’t mean you have to the next (Munich’s Oktoberfest was cancelled 24 times … and it’s stronger than ever). Plan something different and tell your hosts early enough that they won’t be stressed. Hint: Come up with a script that heads off any argument or has ready answers to expected questions.

Holidays don’t have to be all about family either. Alternative plans can be fun. Around here, Thanksgiving running or walking events raise money for charity. Maybe a health-conscious friend, non-estranged daughter or son would enjoy getting team T-shirts, helping a good cause, and working off calories instead of piling them on. Bonus: With no time to cook, you could dine out after the race.

Holly-jolly music and crowds got you down? Think now about what you’ll need for the next few months, and then stock up early. Grocery stores and restaurants deliver. Today, medications, toiletries, and almost anything you can think of can be summoned right to your door. Avoid fighting traffic and getting shuffled about in the hustle-bustle. Cozy up to a warm fire and play music that makes you feel good. Or, think of the season as a sort of hibernating period, and then emerge refreshed in the New Year.  Bonus: Getting organized for this season could be the start of habit for a more organized life in the New Year.

If you’re worried about alone time on those special days, take a leap of faith and try something new! Parks & Recreation facilities as well as 55+ senior centers often host holiday events.  Some restaurants offer holiday meal events. Being without family for the holidays is more common than you might think. Try being transparent—and offer solutions instead of sadness. There’s still time to suggest an event at your church, hobby club, or senior center. You may have neighbors who would love some company. You might be surprised whom you inspire and who becomes a friend. Your example can help other people.

Get Smart

This holiday season, plan early. The holidays can be what you make of them. So, raise a mug, toast yourself, and plan your self-care, and thrive—Oktoberfest is.

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A New way of life after an adult child’s estrangement

Coddiwomple to a New Way of Life After an Adult Child’s Estrangement

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

life after an adult child's estrangement

Rejected parents are often uncertain about the future. They know what’s happening now, but they can’t believe their adult child’s estrangement will last. They want to move forward, but they’re afraid to make a change. For some, stepping toward their own satisfying life feels like giving up on the son or daughter they hope will return to them, relationship restored. Others keep a room ready, a stash of left-behind things, or try to reach out regularly … and then wait for the reply that doesn’t come or isn’t what they expected.

If this is at all like you, I have a suggestion: a coddiwomple.

Lightening up

Did you know that the first seven days of August are set aside as National Simplify Your Life Week? It fits for me because lately, I’ve been working purposely at simplifying. I’m heading toward change that I know is on the horizon but can’t yet clearly describe.

I’m like a lot of people at midlife who know that changes are (or may be) coming and want to move toward a new way of life that supports the next life phase—but don’t yet have a crystal-clear picture of what or where that will be.

It’s a sort of coddiwomple, traveling purposefully toward an unknown destination. Granted, most people use the word as part of actual, physical travel during which adventures take place along the way (I love that too!), but a coddiwomple fits for this determined work of lightening up for a lifestyle that isn’t yet defined.

Preparing now

The idea of downsizing in mid-life or after retirement is nothing new. People move to smaller homes, better climates, or where they can easily get to shops and healthcare. They look for places where they can access greenspaces to walk in nature and conveniently socialize with friends. But for many, the decisions aren’t easy and the process not quick.

life after an adult child's estrangement

That’s how it is for my husband and me. Do we want to move to another city? Be closer to specific family members? Live in more open space or closer to town? Join a neighborhood that fosters social connections? Or, is privacy and seclusion more important? These are just a few of the questions we’re asking ourselves. In the process, our goal is getting clearer. Financial entanglements and other ties mean we can’t make a move quite yet. And the need to put off final decisions gives us time to consider things from every angle.

We don’t know yet for sure where we’re going or when, but we do know we need to prepare. Better to be ready when the time is right than be forced into snap decisions. That’s why comparing this transitional period toward an as-yet-vague goal to a coddiwomple makes sense.

We’re going to travel a little during this time and check out areas we’ve been curious about. Other people make bigger changes toward an unclear goal. One couple sold their ranch and rented a downtown condo. When their year-long lease ends, they’ll try another city. Eventually, they plan to settle. Maybe near their daughter on the opposite coast. Or maybe in a spot they fall in love with as they coddiwomple across the states.

A single mother nearing age 65 is trying alternative and spiritual practices including meditation, attending sound healing sessions, and visiting churches. She describes this as a six-month sabbatical from making decisions about the rest of her life. It’s a gift to herself. She hopes to gain a sense of peace before taking big steps toward the next phase of life.

Goals and the required mindsets

  • Deliberative: The point at which one gathers information about a potential goal and what will be required to achieve it. The deliberative mindset allows for sound judgment about the goal’s possible viability prior to the action it will take.
  • Implemental: The doing of a goal. In the implemental mindset, focus shifts to how to get tasks completed and actively working toward achievement.

The two mindsets can work together. Right now, my husband and I are taking a deliberative approach about what will be the final goal, but we’re getting started anyway. We’re implementing as we work toward uncertain change by finishing projects like our bedroom floor. We’re redoing a bathroom, cutting some trees, and fixing a fence. We’re also culling material things. For my husband, that means selling equipment and tools. He doesn’t talk about it, but he’s letting go of an outcome that never materialized. One where our sons might take over his business.

Things seem to hold feelings; unrealized dreams, and old ways of life. In stacks of children’s books, I come across slips of paper styled like tickets, hints of long-ago games my children played. They each wrote their names in those books too, their individual handwriting as unique as the people they always were and later became.

It’s an emotional pursuit that digs at ideals and makes us sad. Yet ultimately, letting go of these things shakes us free of old dreams. It prepares us mentally for an eventual goodbye to the place we’ve called home for more than three decades.

Coddiwomple for life after an adult child’s estrangement

Regardless of what an estranging adult will or won’t do, working toward a stronger you will help. Get started, purposefully, on your own well-being. If you do reconcile, you’ll be happy and better prepared when the time comes. If you don’t, you will be happy and fulfilled, living your life to the fullest anyway.

For some parents, figuring out a life for themselves aside from what they thought it would be like is tough. If you’re feeling lost or troubled, imagine yourself on a journey, a coddiwomple, and get going with passion toward your own happiness without worrying so much about the destination. One way is to see how far you’ve slipped away from caring for your oldest friend (yourself!). You can do that with my Self Care Assessment. Another is to get a copy of Done With The Crying in which I’ll show you that you’re not alone in estrangement and gently guide you beyond the doldrums of loss and into a fulfilling life you design and implement.

Related Reading:

Estrangement: When letting go hurts

Dealing With Uncertainty: Help for parents estranged from adult children

Spring Cleaning When Adult Children Want No Contact

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Rejected parents: Your happiness can be independent of estrangement

Rejected parents: Your happiness can be independent of estrangement

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Rejected parents: You can be happy again

In the spirit of Independence Day, step away from the bondage of always thinking about the adult son who betrayed you or the adult daughter who walked away. Instead, think of this Fourth of July as a turning point. Then, support yourself in moving forward.

First off, if you don’t yet have my book, Done With The Crying, get it, read it, and do the exercises. People say it saved their sanity, helped them—finally—to move beyond the pain and sorrow, and to move forward in their own lives.

rejected parents

Rejected parents: Gain independence from the pain of estrangement

Here are six more tips for gaining your independence from the pain of estrangement, which may be the biggest shock of your life:

  • Get started. For some, just getting started in taking care of themselves can be difficult. This primer, Five Ways to Move On After an Adult Child’s Rejection , isn’t so much about moving on as it is about dealing with the thoughts and feelings that can keep you from moving at all.
  • Come to conclusions. Maybe you’re plagued by the Why? It’s a common stumbling block because, so often, parents aren’t told why. There’s simply a cutting-off, with no clear-cut answer. Here’s an article, written as I entered the fourth year of estrangement, that might help you come to a few conclusions. Settling on an answer, even if it’s incomplete, can help you gain independence from the question that can run on an endless loop.
  • Handle uncertainty. Another thing that keeps rejected parents from moving forward for themselves is that, as life moves on and events happen, they worry a son or daughter will have regrets or wait too long. But uncertainties are part of living, and adult children need to learn their own lessons. Learn to deal with uncertainty.
  • Get it out in the open— Our society has been conditioned to believe that adult children would not reject good parents. That’s one reason so many decent and loving, yet rejected parents feel shame and guilt that doesn’t reconcile with who they are or all they’ve stood for. It’s also why they might not talk about estrangement. Should you tell people? Taking small steps in that direction can break you free.
  • Get clear on hope. In estrangement circles, rejected parents often talk about hope, but that can be a two-edged sword. Are you hoping for something you can’t control? Are you bothered by lack of hope that you will ever reconcile? In Estrangement: What About Hope? you can start to clarify how hope can hurt or help.
  • Learn to cope. In the wake of estrangement, rejected parents are tasked with the question of how to cope. After estrangement, learn to cope. It starts with a decision.

Rejected parents: Gain independence

The articles linked within the blurbs above offer just a few of the ways rejected parents can gain independence from pain and suffering—and move toward a better future even after estrangement. If you’re a rejected parent, don’t get stuck telling yourself you can’t move forward until the estrangement ends. Instead, work at making your life great now. That way, you’ll be better off if or when reconciliation takes place later. Your happiness and fulfillment really can be independent of the estrangement. Get started by reading the articles linked above. Read or reread Done With The Crying and be sure to do the exercises. They really help.

For more articles, you can always click on the Latest Posts, or use the drop-down menus under “Answers to Common Questions” or “What Parents Can Do.” There’s also a search box that can help you locate information on specific topics.

Father’s Day: When Adult Children Turn Away

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

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

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

fathers when adult children turn away

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

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

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

This Father’s Day (2019), I hoped that providing George’s thoughts might provide a little insight. Maybe some fathers can relate. Maybe some father’s wives might better understand.

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

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

Fathers of estranged adult children, you’re not alone

Fortitude doesn’t mean “going it alone”

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

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

Why do they make contact now?

 

Elder Abuse Awareness

Elder Abuse:
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (June 15)

elder abuse by adult childrenWhen Mary’s 52-year-old son was in an accident and needed help, she came to his rescue. She agreed to let him live in the second bedroom of her home in the small community she had recently moved to and was sure he’d want his independence and wouldn’t stay long. Mary was wrong.

“At seventy-four,” says Mary, “I’m doing his laundry and cooking his meals.” Mary has noticed some valuable items missing, too. And she’s convinced her son has taken them.

Is the above situation one that involves abuse? Some on the outside would be quick to tell her to oust him, but that’s not always so easy. Mary doesn’t have any other family left, and although she moved to this small community thinking she’d make friends, she didn’t have much time to get started before her son needed help. Although he hadn’t been in touch with her beyond the occasional text or holiday phone call for the last 20 years, his wife had recently divorced him. She felt for her son. He was alone after years of marriage, injured, and coudn’t work. “And he expressed regret,” says Mary. “He said it was a chance for us to get close again.” Instead, Mary stays in her bedroom most of the time now, because to be in the room with her son means enduring lectures about everything she did and does wrong.

Although he’s physically healed, he says he can’t find work. He says he’s depressed, but isn’t getting help. Mary’s son recently told her that if she turned on him too, he didn’t know what he might do. “He meant that he’d kill himself,” says a distraught Mary. “And I can’t be responsible for that.”

Elder abuse: An ugly truth

Although some people don’t want to think about the abuse of older persons, it’s an ugly truth. And as we age, for our own benefit, it’s important to consider.

The abuse of elders come in many forms. Some older persons are bilked out of their savings or denied their needs by a caregiver. Others are physically abused or mentally and emotionally tortured. The list goes on.

One of the most sobering facts is that in 60% of elder abuse/neglect cases, the abuse occurred at the hands of a family member (adult child/spouse). This fact, and many others about abuse, can be found at the National Council on Aging (NCOA).

Elder abuse is grossly underreported. NCOA reports that only one case is made known out of every 14 that occur. People might ask why that is. I’d like to share with you a short clip about a man, a father named Norman who was in his 70s at the time of filming.

The video was produced some time ago by Erna Maurer of Wise Owl Multimedia. She is a senior citizen who continues to put good out into the world.  The thoughts of the students before and after watching the video themselves are as eye-opening as Norman’s. (I’d love for you to share your thoughts about the video in reply to this article. . . you can click “leave a reply” at the top). Click on the screenshot below to view the video.

elder abuse by adult children

Old age: Prepare

One thing the video brings home to me is that it’s important to consider the older age years while you can. In my book, Done With The Crying, there are questions about end-of-life scenarios, and facing the tough questions in advance so that your wishes will be honored. Parents of estranged adult children can have lots of complexities to consider.

Norman is socially isolated. Having suffered elder abuse by his adult children (themselves middle-aged men) who exploit his generosity, to create social ties and seek help has become difficult for Norman. For those reading, consider making changes in your life now, so that you won’t end up isolated and at risk. That means facing reality. At the bottom of this article, I’ve included some additional articles that may be helpful.

Also, here’s a book to help. I like this one because it’s comprehensive and empowering.

Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old?: Plan Now to Safeguard Your Health and Happiness in Old Age by Joy Loverde prepares readers to take charge while they can, and empower themselves for decisions rather than leaving them to chance.

Elder abuse statistics

Often, in discussions among here about adult children who reject parents, the issue of financial abuse comes up. I’ve talked exhaustively elsewhere about the parents who have done so much (contributed down payments on houses, paid for schooling, helped time and time again … ), so I won’t go into that here. Many believe they have been abused financially by adult children, but wouldn’t think to report it as abuse. I wonder how much bigger the numbers in statistics about elder fraud would be if they did?

Recently, a research team broke elder fraud statistics down for a comprehensive examination. Near the end, some links to individual state research offers further breakdown with a variety of stats. It’s exhaustive, and interesting.

The United States of Elder Fraud

Elder abuse is real. I hope you will share that fact, and help raise awareness not only on this designated day, but all year long.

Related Reading:

Abusive Adult Children Influence Parents’ Self-Image

Adult Child’s Rejection: Emotional and Social Fallout

 

 

 

 

 

Grandparent Alienation

Grandparent alienation

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

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

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

June 14: Grandparent Alienation Awareness Day

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

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

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

Grandparent alienation: What do grandparents do?

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

For more information on grandparent alienation:

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

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

Alienated Grandparents Anonymous Canada
Regular meetings, resources and support.

Bristol Grandparents Support Group (UK)
Championing grandparents rights.

Mother’s Day radio interview with Sheri McGregor

Happy Mother’s Day! I hope all the mothers who are estranged from adult children will will glean something of value from this latest interview at Beyond 50 Radio.  It was a second take. The first interview had a technical glitch, so we did it again (I may sound a little tired!).

Mothers who are estranged from adult children can have a tough time with this holiday. Some tell me it’s the worst one for them. Please be kind to yourselves. Remember, it’s about you. Another adult’s opinion doesn’t have to define you.  It’s about you, so please do what it takes to cherish the day. Each one is a gift. Click on the Beyond 50 radio logo for the interview. Or click here.
radio interview with Sheri McGregorRelated:

Previous Beyond 50 Radio Interview (January 2019)

National Association of Baby Boomer Women Interview with Sheri McGregor (May, 2018)

 

Mother Yourself

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

“I’m sorry I hurt you.”

On a lazy weekend evening, the apology arrives by text. The number isn’t familiar, but I have an inkling. When I read the text aloud, my husband shrugs. We know who it’s from. Who else has reason to apologize?

Once upon a time, our hearts would have leapt at those words from my estranged adult son. Nearly a decade since he cut ties with his family, we’re not so easily moved. Not so eager to invest.

kids don't call on Mother's DayAlthough I’ve imagined my share of tearful reunions, hope has led to more hurt. Even so, every birthday, I blow out my candles with a silent wish: Please let my family be complete. On my last birthday, I stood over the glowing candles, the wax melting into the cake. Was the wish now a habit? Detached from any faith? So far, “reconcile” refers to a solo pursuit.

My son has said similar things in the past:

It was all my fault.

I want a relationship.

This isn’t the last time you’ll see me.

A history of soaring hopes. Deflated.

In the years of estrangement, I have changed. I have learned that there is no way out of the pain except to accept his choices. And then to mother myself with tough love, an occasional treat, nurturing food, and wise advice. I counsel myself about the text: Don’t get too excitedAn apology may mean nothing.

The problem of grown children who estrange from loving families is of epic proportions, but I didn’t know that when my son broke my heart. Like so many other parents, I thought I was the only one. It’s not something you talk about much. People are quick to blame parents, or mistake estrangement for a silly tiff. They don’t want to think it could happen to them. I hope it doesn’t. It’s emotionally brutal and not easily fixed. Parents who are in shock, embarrassed, and hurting feel isolated. That’s why in 2013, I started this website,  which has become a healing place of encouragement, information, and advice. It’s also why I wrote the book, Done With The Crying.

Contact from an estranged adult

Thousands of decent, loving parents tell of occasional contact that leads to further sorrow.  Grown sons or daughters reach out, are met with open ears and arms, but don’t follow through. Sometimes, an estranged adult reconciles with conditions for the parents: to babysit, give money, provide documents, or follow some strict set of arbitrary rules. If the criteria aren’t met with cheerful compliance, or if the need disintegrates, the relationship does too.

Other times, contact from an estranged adult child is prompted by outside influences. Mother’s Day (or other holidays) can be like that for an estranged adult. The media images of ideal families, set to music, and with bouquets and hugs, can tug at heartstrings or perhaps stir guilt. Sometimes, there’s an unknown factor in an estranged son or daughter’s life that prompts a call or card.

Often, a few texted words, a short call or a cryptic letter is as far as it goes. Parents may open their hearts, their wallets, and even their schedules, then bite their tongues to preserve what isn’t real. Eventually they get hurt.

After a few go-rounds, parents may view an apology with more suspicion than enthusiasm. Is her birthday coming up? Is he in a 12-step program that requires the making of amends? Why is she contacting me now?

Happy endings are few. Especially as estrangement persists. In the absence of contact, distance grows. People and their situations change. The stories of failed wishes, hopes, and tries that parents share with me abound. After years of false promises and dashed hopes, parents do what they must. They take charge of what they can control: themselves. They give in to a child’s decision and the circumstances involved—a son or daughter’s addiction or mental illness, a selfish heart, a stingy partner, or some other factor that we accept we may never know or understand. And then they get on with living their own lives.

Without this sort of change, the legacy for caring parents who did their best and came up short in their child’s eyes is only more judgment, speculation, and hurt. In our despair, we suffer physical pain and illnesses caused by stress. Mental anguish, grief over friendships that falter, and the loss of identity. Siblings are confused, angry, and grieve. Our marriages suffer. Single, widowed, or divorced parents may long for a partner, but they fear that no one could understand.

Even so, if an estranged grown child asks for a meeting, regardless of how many years have passed, and despite the dread that there may be more drama and disappointment, most parents agree. And many of the moms who have endured long estrangements tell me those meetings are bittersweet. They offer motherly comforts but guard their hearts. Here are a couple of examples:

A Minnesota mom in her late 70s serves lunch to the 50-year-old daughter who indicates that she needs closure. The two haven’t spoken in 14 years. The mother feels for the woman, whose face bears the troubles she tells. But the hurt her daughter inflicted was raw and grinding. It almost killed her. As the short visit comes to an end, she notices her daughter’s thin blouse isn’t warm enough for the weather. She pulls a thick parka from her closet and helps her daughter on with the coat. She can at least offer that.

estranged son called on Mother's DayA Southern California mother makes homemade bread for her son who is recently divorced from the wife who, years earlier, convinced him his mother was bad. They didn’t need her negativity in their lives. He has flown in from Illinois, the home of his in-laws and the now-grown daughter his mother has never met. At the kitchen table, the son sits in the chair his father used to occupy. The resemblance is startling, but the talk is empty. Lost time is the centerpiece. Missed opportunities. A gap they can’t quite bridge. When he stands to leave, he promises to call. She knows he won’t. And she will be okay. She has made a life for herself in his absence. She will return to her hard-won peace. She wraps the bread loaf for him to take.

Taking care of yourself

Whether you are currently estranged from a grown son or daughter, or one is just far away or emotionally distant, take care of yourself. Embrace your present. Fight for your future. The expectations, the goal, the relationship you’ve worked toward may have sifted through your fingers like sand. Don’t let your remaining years do the same.

Learn to “mother” yourself. If you’re estranged from adult children, take yourself by the hand like you once did your young son or daughter. Lead yourself forward. Shape your future into something you can love. Do it for yourself. And then follow through. Don’t squander your own motherly devotion. (I have tried to help with my book.)

As Mother’s Day approaches, I think of my son’s recent texts. His apology had surprised me after what he said the last time we talked. His words had been hurtful then. In these newer texts, he said that we were the best parents. He said that he’d failed us, and that he knew he was wrong. I appreciate those words, but don’t wish on him the burden of guilt or regret. I replied with a reminder that I forgave him long ago: So, you’re off the hook.

Further Reading:

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

Estrangement: What about hope?

College scandal

college scandalThe college scandal.

News of parents who committed fraud to make sure their children got into the best college leaves most of us angry or scratching our heads. I sometimes hear from parents of estranged adult children who wonder if they might have done too much for their kids. They worry maybe they somehow created the selfish adult the child grew into. But my guess is most (if not all) weren’t talking about the level of “too much” that’s been in the news. Nothing like these parents whose enabling rose to the point of committing fraud or paying bribes. And what kinds of lessons are those parents teaching?

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth to have a thankless child.” – Shakespeare

Are these parents buying their children’s love? Infantilizing their adult children? Blocking their sons or daughters from the benefit of valuable life lessons? Yes.

Yet, if they wouldn’t have been discovered, their lives would be going on as if nothing bad ever happened. They’d be chumming it up in family shots on red carpets, smiling in their designer clothes and bragging about their brilliant kids.

If nothing else, the college scandal proves something important: things aren’t always as they seem.

Parents of estranged adults, if you have been shrinking back in shame, don’t. Very often, things that seem too good to be true really are. There may always be people who wonder what you did to cause estrangement, but you can’t let them define who you are or reinvent the truth about your parenting. Besides, their thoughts probably only reflect their own fears. If it could happen to you, that means it could happen to them (and that’s a scary thought).

If you’re suffering from a self-esteem smackdown, fight back. Right now, consider all the good you did. Your intentions as a parent, any sacrifices you made, and all the joy, pride and love you put into the child who has now estranged.

Whether or not your hope is still in reconciling or you’re at the point where you’re done expending energy into what’s become a losing battle, seize the day for yourself now. It’s your life. What will you do with it?

Related reading:

What don’t you know?

The College admissions scandal and estate planning

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

Sheri McGregor radio interview for parents of estranged adults

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

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

radio interview with Sheri McGregor