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.

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

Your focus: Not “estrangement pain”

New Year wordFocus word: Don’t let it be “estrangement”

by Sheri McGregor

Right now, consider how distressed you want to be. Are you on the cusp of another cruddy year spent focusing on estrangement pain? I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. Don’t get stuck thinking you can make someone change. Sure, you can reach out and let someone know you care if you must, you can even apologize if that’s the right thing to do (it sometimes isn’t, in my opinion). But for your own wellness and for the benefit of those who remain close, learn to shift your focus from estrangement pain and bounce back. If you do reconcile, you’ll be stronger for the long haul. There’s no downside.

Setting the tone for the year

In Beyond Done, I included an exercise using language to help you escape reactionary emotional storms and respond to triggers or distress from the executive functioning area of the brain. So you can think more clearly, focus, take charge, and make plans. It’s a way to shift out of estrangement pain and into thinking for your own good. Here, we’ll do something similar.

Deciding upon a word or phrase that you call up and use as to steer, can be your ticket to a calmer, happier year ahead. One year, I decided upon “kindness.” This helped me set an intention and follow through, even the toughest of spots. Thinking “kindness” helped me demonstrate patience or go the extra mile. That meant I spoke a compliment out loud rather than only thinking it, and willfully displayed the word’s meaning as often as I could. The practice might have positively touched a few others but practicing kindness brightened my own days the most, I think. It meant that I felt good about myself and my behavior toward other people.

Words focused on estrangement pain: Lose ’em

With regard to estrangement and how it has affected you, consider what word might represent your behavior and/or emotions over the last 12 months. For me, in the early daze of estrangement, I was “weepy” and “insecure.” Realizing that helped me dry my tears, straighten my shoulders, and walk forward with more strength. I was determined not to remain a weepy, insecure woman, allowing another person’s decisions to ruin my life. As time went on, and I worked at my own wellness, other words fit. Terms like “indignant,” or “at peace,” and “determined.”

Several years ago, an estranged dad called me “brave.” Just when I needed it the most, the word helped me to see myself as he saw me, and I mustered the courage to give a public speech (something I’d quit altogether after the estrangement). Soon, I was thinking of the word whenever I felt scared—and it helped me to press on.

How do you want to see yourself?

Consider what word will help you in the year ahead. A single, calming word such as “peaceful,” that relaxes you if you’re worried or upset might be one to choose as your word of the year. A signal word helps you shift focus for your own well-being. Maybe you use a word like “strong” that helps you develop emotional muscles and flex them (as discussed in Beyond Done).

You could choose a phrase instead. Something to describe or dictate how you will move through life. One mother recently used the term “gliding through.” I think this is genius! Just saying it—gliding through—conjures an image of floating along, effortlessly, feather-light and feet barely touching the ground, even in the tensest situation.

Think and tell

I hope you will ponder this idea, then come up with a word or phrase that might help you in the coming year. No hurry either. You can do it now or do it a month or even six months from now, because your New Year is not bound by the calendar year. We can start fresh anytime.

If it feels helpful, you can also choose a few words or phrases, to fit specific situations. A term like “stinky cheese” might help you stand strong when you feel like you’re all alone (you’ll understand this if you’ve read my latest book!), or words that set an intentional mindset and help you focus, float, dance, or glide through life.

As you consider potential ideas, try them on out loud. How does a particular word or phrase make you feel? Choose something that feels doable but is at least a little of a stretch. Then write the word(s) on notes you tack to your refrigerator door or around the house—but also on your heart and mind so they’re tip of tongue and top of mind when you need them. Oh, and share them here if you’d like. I’d love to know what you come up with—and your words might help another parent. Borrowing allowed!

Related reading

Abusive adult children influence parents’ self-image

Estrangement: Are you an octopus mom (or dad)?

From sadness of estrangement to meaning

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

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

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

From the sadness of estrangement to meaning: Possible?

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

Here’s an example:

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

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

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

Meaning, purpose and a happier outlook

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

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

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

Related reading

Restful respite: A moon garden

In my garden

 

Why estrangement happens: Puzzling it out

why estrangement happensWhy estrangement happens: Puzzling it out

By Sheri McGregor

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

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

Coping mindfully

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why estrangement happens: Putting the pieces together

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

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

Recognizing patterns

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

Related Reading:

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

Peace: Achievable in the chaos of estrangement?

 

Peace: Achievable in the chaos of estrangement?

chaos of estrangement

December 2021 sunset in Northern California

Peace: It’s achievable

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

Achieving peace in the chaos of estrangement

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

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

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

Calming moments

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

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

A few ideas:

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

A more global peace

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

Peace: Right here, right now

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

Related reading

Does healing from estrangement mean you’re cold-hearted

 

Countdown to the New Year

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

Sheri McGregor

Countdown to the New Year!

December 24

December 25

December 26

December 27

December 28

December 29

December 30

December 31

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

When your adult children don't like you

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

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

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

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

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

When your adult children don’t like you: Adapt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bears sometimes break rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foraging ahead

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

Related Reading

Abandoned parents: Are you “chewing”?

Just for fun, for toy bear and holiday lovers:

Negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adults: It hurts

negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adults

Negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adults:
It hurts

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK Boomer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Negative stereotyping of parents of estranged adult children

photo courtesy pixabay

Dangerous words

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

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

Does anxious parenting beget anxious parenting?

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

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

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

A skewed view

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

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

Letting go

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

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

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

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

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

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

The strength of a tsunami

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

Related Reading:

Abandoned parents: Let your light shine


References
:

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

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

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

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

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

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