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.

Healing from adult children’s rejection: Persevere beyond “backdraft” to freedom

Healing from adult children’s rejection:
Persevere beyond “backdraft” to freedom

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Among the parents who’ve joined my online community, or worked with me individually, or shared email or phone conversations, some hail from difficult families. They may have been raised with guilt as a motivator, been “parentified,” or served in a scapegoat role. These parents willfully rose above their circumstances and parented their own children with a determination to treat them right. Regardless, one or more children grew up to desert or otherwise abuse them, and these parents find themselves puzzling over what went wrong. Like most parents, they go to their own actions first. Where did I go wrong? What can I do now? They may also think, I’ll do anything to fix this. 

When nothing works or their continued efforts are met with increasingly stiffer demands, they long for peace. Stepping away from their children and the drama feels like taking their lives back. Frequently, once away from the chaos, they begin to feel free to make the most of their own lives. They begin in earnest to work at healing, not only from their adult children’s abuse, but from the suffering inflicted within their family of origin.

Delia was one such parent. Her son and daughter, both from an early and short-lived marriage, had nothing but ill will toward her. They were similar in personality to her mother, an icy woman, whom Delia was, nevertheless, loyal to. Delia had raised her children with affection, always praising their success, supporting their endeavors, and making sure they had good dental care, including braces, as well as stylish haircuts and clothing. This was nothing like her hand-me-down history, mouthful of crooked teeth, and her mother’s “about time” attitude at any of Delia’s accomplishments.

Delia’s kids both graduated high school early and attended college Delia and their stepfather paid for. She was proud of them and, in their successes, found some self-worth. But it came with a price. “Since the teen years, our relationships were prickly,” says Delia. “As they finished college, married, and started their families, they got closer to my mother and my siblings. I became the odd one out.” She chuckles. “I’m used to that.”

While Delia is occasionally allowed to take her grandchildren, now boys of 8 and 10, she no longer seeks meaningful relationships with her son and daughter. “I’m no longer willing to accept abuse,” says Delia, who wasn’t always this self-compassionate or assured. At one point, as she processed her emotions and identified her history as the family scapegoat, the pain of moving forward was almost worse than agreeing she was the problem. “It was crazy,” she says. “Intellectually, I knew I was deserving but I couldn’t be good to myself. I looked at my children’s rejection and the way they aligned with my mother as proof that I was no good.”

For six months, Delia turned to alcohol to quell her anger, sadness, and negative thinking around what a loser she was and how no one would ever truly love her because she wasn’t worthy of love. “Not falling down drunk,” she explains. “Having a civilized glass … or three … of good red wine with dinner.”

When Delia realized she was using alcohol to escape the pain, as her father had done, she quit drinking. “I didn’t want to die young like he did,” she says. “But I also needed to learn how to live.”

Delia’s downward emotional spiral after beginning to offer herself the love, caring and nurturing she’d been craving her whole life and had always given to others, is an example of what self-compassion proponents and researchers call “backdraft.”1,2,3,4,5 The term comes from firefighting where “backdraft” occurs when a door or window is opened and fresh oxygen rushes in, causing the fire to flare into the space. Similarly, a new practice of self-compassion opens the door to old memories and negativity, fueling painful old behaviors and aggression, negative beliefs, and feelings of shame and guilt.6

Affording oneself kindness, empathy, and understanding as you would another has been shown to increase psychological well-being, decrease anxiety and depression, enhance interpersonal connection and motivation for self-improvement, and increase overall life satisfaction.7,8,9,10,11,12,13 Awareness of the possibility of backdraft, though, is important. Thankfully, mental health clinicians and researchers are taking an increased interest in this phenomenon, which doesn’t always occur.

Once Delia became aware of what was happening, she could be mindful of when and how the old thinking reared its head, explore its birthplace in her childhood as well as where and with whom she’d re-assumed the familiar caretaking, cheerleading, and selflessness. Delia had assumed those old roles that had once kept her safe and helped her to belong. With self-compassion for the little girl who had been so smart in doing what she had to do to survive, Delia could acknowledge the old trauma and hurt inflicted upon her. This allowed her to take steps toward an identity and future she herself chose, in a new way of life and for her survival now.

Perhaps you have also noticed old memories and hurts getting stirred up when you’ve begun to move forward in self-compassion and deliberative work toward your own healing. Frequently, there are many layers to healing. We revisit old wounds, clear away the emotional debris as we can, and then move on. We also return to old hurts, with or without the “help” of adult children who return to trigger the pain. In my award-winning 2021 book, Beyond Done, which was written as a follow-up to the consistently popular Done With The Crying, I discuss how these reminders, when viewed with discernment and self-compassion, can benefit our forward momentum. As you work at your own freedom in healing, it’s wise to prepare for potential setbacks and triggers, which can be a part of your progress.

Related Reading

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

Estrangement: Are you a firework, or still standing?

References:

  1. Germer, C. K. (2009). The mindful path to self-compassion. The Guilford Press.
  2. Germer, C. (2023). Self-compassion in psychotherapy: Clinical integration, evidence base, and mechanisms of change. In A. Finlay-Jones, K. Bluth, & K. Neff (Eds.), Handbook of self-compassion (pp. 379–415). Springer Nature. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1007/ 978-3-031- 22348-8_ 22
  3. Germer, C. K., & Neff, K. D. (2013). Self-compassion in clinical practice. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8), 856–867. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp. 22021
  4. Germer, C. K., & Neff, K. D. (2015). Cultivating self-compassion in trauma survivors. In V. M. Follette, J. Briere, D. Rozelle, J. W. Hopper, & D. I. Rome (Eds.), Mindfulness-oriented interventions for trauma: Integrating contemplative practices (pp. 43–58). The Guilford Press.
  5. Germer, C. K., & Neff, K. D. (2019). Teaching the mindful self-compassion program: A guide for professionals. The Guilford Press
  6. Neff, N., & Germer, C. (2022). The role of self-compassion in psychotherapy. World Psychiatry, 21(1), 58–59.

7 . Brown, L., Houston, E. E., Amonoo, H. L., & Bryant, C. (2021). Is self-compassion associated with sleep quality? A meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 12(5), 1–10. https:// doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01498-0

  1. Cleare, S., Gumley, A., & O’Connor, R. C. (2019). Self-compassion,self-forgiveness, suicidal ideation, and self-harm: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 26(5), 511–530. https:// doi.org/10.1002/cpp.2372
  2. Ferrari, M., Hunt, C., Harrysunker, A., Abbott, M. J., Beath, A. P., & Einstein, D. A. (2019). Self-compassion interventions and psychosocial outcomes: A meta-analysis of RCTs. Mindfulness, 10(8), 1455–1473. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-019-01134-6
  3. MacBeth, A., & Gumley, A. (2012). Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review, 32(6), 545–552. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr 2012.06.003
  4. McArthur, M., Mansfield, C., Matthew, S., Zaki, S., Brand, C., Andrews, J., & Hazel, S. (2017). Resilience in veterinary students and the predictive role of mindfulness and self-compassion. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 44(1), 106–115. https://doi.org/10.3138/jvme.0116-027R1
  5. Shattell, M., & Johnson, A. (2018). Mindful self-compassion: How it can enhance resilience. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 56(1), 15–17. https://doi. org/10.928/02793695-20171219-01
  6. Zessin, U., Dickhäuser, O., & Garbade, S. (2015). The relationship between self-compassion and well-being: A meta-analysis. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 7(3), 340–364. https://doi. org/10.1111/aphw.12051

 

Rejected fathers: Living beyond estrangement

Rejected fathers: Living beyond estrangement

rejected fathersby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Judging from the emails I receive from rejected fathers, there are a lot of good men out there suffering estrangement. Men of substance, heart, courage, and grit. Dads who sacrificed their hearts, their bank accounts, and sometimes even their beliefs to support their children …. Only to be ignored and abandoned later. Many of these men say they long to impart their wisdom to the offspring they hope will make the world a better place. Beyond the loving and fun parts, that’s the crux of fatherhood, isn’t it? Leaving a legacy of wisdom for the next generation?

Rejected fathers: You can still make a difference

I’m amazed at the fathers who tell me that, despite the sorrow of what’s happened in their families, they’re making thoughtful, strong choices, and getting on with their lives. And they’re doing great things, leaving a legacy of love and support in places and with people who appreciate their time, effort, and wisdom. Here’s a sampling.

Curtis, whose daughter was alienated from an early age by his ex-wife (I hear this frequently) updates me after nearly every newsletter. He tells about all the good he’s doing in a poverty-stricken area of the world. There, whole villages of children and adults appreciate him. He provides material help and is hands-on in restoring historic buildings alongside the people he serves. He has also remarried to a local woman who is equally community-minded, and says, “There’s joy in it all.” Curtis has decided he won’t be leaving money to his daughter. He’s too busy leaving a legacy of fresh water, food, medical supplies. “And besides,” he explains, “we spoke a few times after she graduated college. My daughter made a lot of promises about us getting together, took any cash I’d give, and mostly just blew me off.” Curtis decided he could sit around and be angry or get back to doing something useful. He chose the latter.

Another rejected dad, Mike, says that his sons look down on him. “I crawled under houses to replace old plumbing and snaked out clogged pipes my whole life just to send them to college,” he says. “They’re both in tech and snicker at my frugal lifestyle, which afforded them the education that got them the fancy living they now enjoy.” Mike and his wife are debt free. Meanwhile, he sees his sons living in “a house of cards.” Now, Mike helps people who appreciate him. He started an interfaith food pantry, distributing groceries to those in need. He sets aside cash to buy food staples for the pantry each month. “It’s being there at the site that makes my day,” he says. Mike is as generous with the food as he is the hugs he shares with struggling parents or older people whose kids often don’t make the effort to help them.

Other dads write memoirs to impart their knowledge, or they volunteer at everything from train and aerospace museums to wildlife and conservation efforts. Some have launched late-life businesses, are involved in political activism, have started churches, or serve on their local community boards. Many are content to spend time with sons and daughters who remain loyal. These dads enjoy their grandchildren, putter in the yard, or help neighbors who are less able. While they miss the grandchildren they aren’t allowed to see, and wish they’d have known then what they know now, these men still strive to be good, giving human beings. They care about the world and the people in it.

Rejected fathers: In their own words

There are plenty of rejected fathers doing wonderful things with their lives. In this blog post, I’d like to honor some of these fathers by allowing them a public voice to share what they have learned from estrangement to help other rejected fathers and mothers.

To that end, I’ve combed through more than 21,000 emails looking for notes from estranged dads and have chosen those representative of the most common themes and messages. So, without names, with unique details changed to protect their privacy, here are their heartfelt thoughts.

“In my estranged son’s eyes, I’m only useful for one thing. I don’t learn all that fast but I’m in my seventies now and have come back to an old Beatles truth. Money can’t buy me love.”

“Two years ago, I set up an agreed upon meeting with a family counselor for myself and my daughter. She cancelled at the last minute. I have left the door open and tried to connect via voicemails, emails, and texts…. My thought going forward is to stop any such attempts since it is falling on deaf ears. My daughter will have to make some indication that she has some interest in moving in a different direction. If this were anyone else, I would have stopped trying much earlier.”

“I pray for them every day. And also for myself, for help to focus on where I can best be of service.”

“I’ve done all I can. I plan to write a final letter, asking for us to talk. If nothing comes out of it, I will wish her a happy life, say good-bye, and get on with living. She may talk badly about me and blame me for this rift, but better a horrible end than an endless horror.”

“Yeah, this hurts worse than anything, but I’ve had lots of other disappointments and heartaches in life before this happened. I’m down but not for the count.”  

“At 74 and with heart trouble, I know my days ahead are fewer than those behind me. I’m done torturing myself, trying to convince them I’m worthy of their time or love. Fact is, I’ve tried it all. I will always remember the way they came running to me, calling me ‘daddy.’ I gave most of my life up for those kids, years beyond the end of mutual caring. Now, I’m keeping good company with myself. I’m thinking good thoughts, seeing lovely things, and enjoying my life without them. It was their choice.”

“Sheri, thank you for helping us parents see that our lives have value beyond raising children. I can’t fix these grownups who are now in their late thirties. Their lack of character isn’t my fault or my responsibility. I can still be a dad to the one son who didn’t desert me, and I can honor myself and stop chasing what amounts to wind.”

Your legacy. Your heart.

Rejected fathers and mothers sometimes respond to estrangement differently from one another. To read another post that addresses that, click through to A gift for estranged fathers. I’ve included a few past Father’s Day postings under “Related Reading” below.

To all the rejected fathers out there, do assign yourself some honor. It’s your day … Maybe even your era.

Hugs and Happy Father’s Day,

Sheri McGregor

Related Reading

Father’s Day when adult children turn away

Father’s Day 2023 and estrangement

A gift for estranged fathers

 

When adult kids show no interest: Parents, it’s time to take charge of your life

adult kids show no interestWhen adult children show no interest:
Parents, it’s time to take charge of your life

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

In the last 20 years, one simple question posed to clients becomes one of the most powerful:

  • What’s stopping you?

After fumbling a little for an answer, usually one of two responses occurs.

Often the person will smile and say, “Good question,” realizing immediately that they’re getting in their own way.

Others will start in with a list of reasons why they haven’t been able to change, or even can’t change. They may have ideas of how they’d like to shift focus to themselves and their future now but continually swing back to all that should be happening at this point in their lives. Often, that’s an old vision that no longer fits. Some lament the things they wished they’d had the chance to do … but won’t entertain the idea of alternatives. Others say they don’t have the energy, don’t know if they can, or don’t know how to start. Some say they’re content to give up on people entirely, yet they complain of loneliness. Frequently, they’re continuing to keep company with those who hurt them. Endless thought loops keep the past, and those relationships, alive.

I get it. In the early daze of estrangement, I worried about ending up alone, how I’d be judged by others, and whether mustering the strength to pick myself up and move forward was even worth the effort. How could I, a loving mother, just go on in life without my son? What would life even look like if a child I’d poured my heart and soul into could up and dump me? And sometimes, keeping the pain in front of us feels like a shield. If we don’t let anyone get close, they won’t disappoint or hurt us.

The reality is that all of us have grief, experience loss, and wish some things hadn’t happened or were different now. In my role here, I don’t talk much about the trauma I’ve suffered in addition to estrangement. I know what it’s like to suffer narcissistic abuse, have people I love be addicted, mentally ill, or make me their target. And I work with people every day who know these sorts of troubles as well as (or as a feature of) estrangement. Many are all alone now yet gathering the gumption to embrace each moment and carry on. People who are grieving the past, treasuring today, and still working on tomorrow.

Where do you fit?

When you think of that question—What’s stopping you?—how do you respond? If you’re like the ones in the first group, bravo. Close your eyes, imagine slipping a Team Your Name jersey over your head, and get ready to work. You realize that to move forward requires steps … and you’re willing to lace up your boots, fuel up your stores of energy and resilience, and get moving.

If you’re in the second group, use the exercise in the first chapter of Done With The Crying to get a better idea of where you stand. You may not be prepared yet to move forward for yourself. We all move at differing paces and need various levels of support. Get the assistance you need.

You could join the Done With The Crying peer community where members who have been there and understand will embrace you like a comforting shawl on a chilly day. They’ll witness your unique pain and offer their own experiences as a guide to getting unstuck. If you haven’t yet, at least sign up for my newsletter (free).

You may find therapy useful. And don’t forget your physical health. Taking care of the body also boosts mental and emotional wellness. And when we’ve been through the trauma of adult kids’ rejection, our health can suffer. Do what’s necessary. You count.

When adult kids show no interest: Go “all in” for yourself

Some of you won’t feel comfortable with that sub-heading. Going “all in” for you might sound like giving up on your kid, but it’s more like giving in to the facts. And it not selfish to stop sacrificing your own well-being when adult kids show no interest or are abusive to you. You can hold out hope that one day things will be different, but if holding out hope for them to change is all you do—then you really are giving up—on yourself.

Whether our adult kids show no interest or we’ve experienced other betrayal, trauma, or distress, it’s up to us to take charge in our lives. Otherwise, we can fritter our days away in wishful thinking, unhealthy hope, or even bitterness that does no one good.

Adult children who show no interest may never change. Even if they do, wouldn’t it be nice to have done or learned something interesting in the interim? Places you’ve seen, causes you’ve contributed to, or friends you’ve enjoyed?

There’s a great big world out there, with people and ideas at our fingertips. Even if you’re not ready or able to physically mingle, the internet becomes a lifeline. Interest groups and classes meet and converse in real time via computer (no driving needed)—and can be the start to more in-person activities (if you want and when you’re ready).

Your mission (if you choose to accept it)

Whether you’ve been estranged for one year or ten, I invite you to recognize the situation as it is. Your adult child has set you aside. For now, or, possibly, forever. Take up the torch for yourself: your care, your interests, your development and vision for your life without them. Don’t worry, you can always choose to chase after them in the future. For now, though, at least for a time, give a rest to focusing on the ones who have abandoned you.

Do what’s needed to become strong. Don’t hesitate. Go “all in” for your own well-being.

It’s your choice whether to remain torn and in turmoil, or to commit to your well-being. Imagine being in a boat alone when a leak springs at either end. You can’t reach both. You stick your finger in one hole, but water still pours in the other. Switch holes you plug and you’re still sinking. It’s like that when you plan to take care of yourself but remain in chase mode, checking social media or reaching out to crickets, and stirring up sadness, anger, and pain. Why keep hurting yourself? It’s a losing prospect.

Abandon the adult-kids-show-no-interest boat. Swim to shore instead. What’s stopping you?

Related reading

Estranged parents: Get out of the comfort zone

Is your adult child estranged? Be careful

Are you “stalking” your estranged adult child?

 

Minding your mental health

Mental healthby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

As parents who’ve been hurt in the drama and trauma of estrangement, it’s especially important to mind our mental wellness. Like this frog who blew in on a winter storm and is now living his best life in our front pond, we can hop on or off lily pads, rest awhile, and find new ways to mind our mental health.

This short list of items known to hold benefits for our well-being is intended as a hopping off point. You surely have activities that you know are good for you — and I hope you’re making a point to partake.

  • Reflect on leaders or mentors who brought out the best in you.
  • Reflect on people who have made you feel seen, heard, and valued. Be around them if you can.
  • Meditate
  • Pray
  • Practice Yoga
  • Do Tai Chi
  • Get a massage
  • Be physically active
  • Find something hopeful in your future and focus on it. If you can’t think of anything right off, get busy and create something you can look forward to.
  • Foster loving support, and joy in your primary relationships.
  • Help someone!
  • Love on a pet.
  • Nurture playfulness.
  • Walk in nature (or sit/walk in a garden, a patio with a tree or fountain). Just hearing the sounds of nature helps.
  • Initiate inspiring conversations. You can start with something you share in common with the other person(s) that relates to a positive value, vision, or story. Not sure how? Think of someone who made YOU feel good and then emulate how they did that in your interactions with another.
  • Practice mindfulness.
  • Be fully present.
  • Be emotionally aware. What’s your baseline today? Think: how was my sleep? How much am I preoccupied with what must get done? Then be self-compassionate and honor your needs.
  • Prioritize sleep. A lot of us do not prioritize this very basic need. Don’t push the envelope here …  Did you know that just about every type of mental/emotional instability has poor sleep in common? Take charge of your recharge.

    We owe it to ourselves to take kind care of ourselves top to bottom, inside and out.

Related reading

Letters to estranged adult children

Does healing from estrangement mean you’re cold-hearted?

 

Mother’s Day (for mothers of estranged adults)

Getting prepared for Mother’s Day (for mothers of estranged adults)

A short presentation with Sheri McGregor, author of the Done With The Crying series of books for parents of estranged adult children. NOTE: The live event mentioned at the end of the video was cancelled due to illness, but we’ll try again. And, there are past replays of other live events in the membership area.

Related Info — mentioned in the presentation

Join the peer support for parents of estranged adult children membership community

Golden Girls (YouTube)

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

Mothers of estranged adult children: The white carnation

 

Difficult adult children? Three tips for better sleep

difficult adult children

Image by GrumpyBeere from Pixabay

Difficult Adult children? Three tips for better sleep
by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

As we head into spring, and with summer on the horizon, increased daylight hours typically aid our sleep. That may sound counterintuitive but exposure to natural light is the key. Indoor lighting can confuse our bodily circadian rhythms, which influences patterns of sleep. Harsher weather and shorter days combine to keep us inside under artificial lighting and limit our exposure to natural light. That explains why, in winter, people frequently get to sleep later at night than in summer. (Counterintuitive, right?!)

As parents of estranged or difficult adult children, the last thing we need are sleep hindrances. When winter stubbornly holds back spring sunshine (grrrr), it’s tougher to get outdoors. But natural light helps regulate better sleep. That’s why making the effort to get outside is so important.

Even on cloudy days, outdoor light has a stronger impact on the body’s clock than indoor light, counteracting the sleep-delaying effect. Morning daylight exposure is particularly helpful. Which is why I’ve made this the first of these three tips for better sleep.

Difficult adult children? Three tips for better sleep

#1. Spend time outdoors each morning. Outdoor light, particularly in the morning hours, assists the body’s natural circadian rhythms. While you’re at it, notice nature, which has wonderful calming and restorative affects.

#2. Increase your optimism. More optimistic people tend to enjoy more restful sleep. Thankfully, optimism isn’t an either-you-have-it-or-you-don’t trait. Every one of us can develop more optimism. One way that research shows works is to visualize and focus on yourself at your very best. There’s an exercise to help you do just that in Done With The Crying.

#3. Stop watching the clock. Recent research reveals that “time monitoring behavior” (TMB) exacerbates insomnia. Instead of meditating, rhythmic breathing, or sipping chamomile tea, there you are in the dead of night, your face lit by the glow of your wristwatch. Yet calculating the time left before the alarm goes off and the hours already lost only increases frustration and stress. Not exactly conducive to drifting off. TMB holds no value for restful slumber. So, at least overnight, ditch your watch, smartphone, or clock.

Related reading:

For parents abandoned by adult children: Sleep can be elusive

Restful respite: A moon garden

Is your adult child estranged? Be careful

Estrangement: What about hope?

Research studies related …

Daytime light exposure . . .

The association of optimism and sleep . . .

Use of … the role of TMB . . .

 

Ignored by adult children: The stops and starts

ignored by adult children

Ignored by adult children: The stops and starts

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

I stand at the window. Another day of cold and rain. Even snow is expected tonight. My mind wanders to the flower seeds and bulbs I purchased last week during two days of sunny, springlike weather. Those days had been a gift. And now they’re gone. Spring weather snatched back by the bony hand of winter’s grip.

Outside, in the distance, the wind whips at the neighbor’s brittle Eucalyptus trees. One day those closest to the fence we share will break like the trees that used to separate his property from his neighbor’s to the south. The carved rounds now lay in mountainous piles at the side of his house. Some grow moss. Others rise in wispy chimney trails that disintegrate into the dull gray sky. If only the Eucalyptus had been tended to. Trees need care.

Irritated, I turn from the window, my shoulders slumped under the weighty wool of another stormy day. “Will it ever end?” I ask my pitch black dog, Marilyn.

She wags and, when I open the door, she leaps out into the cold and misty morning air. If only I could be so glad. Another day to live, happily, despite the gloomy weather.

Feeling brittle myself, I go to the sack from the nursery and pull out the seed packets. The colorful pictures of zinnias, cosmos, and showy milkweed lift my spirits.

Ignored by adult children: Back at the window

Watching my dog romp through the green-green grass, her thick black fur clotting with falling rain, I remind myself that sunshine will return. As a native San Diegan, I’m not yet used to the more distinct seasons of this Sierra Foothills home. In a way, this late winter period reminds me of the early daze of estrangement from my son. For the first couple of years, I would get myself in order, be moving ahead, aware of the “sunlight” that still existed in my life and, that through my own intention, action, and focus, I could even generate, cultivate, and renew. And then a storm would hit, and the tender shoots of hope would wither. I’d be snatched back toward the pain.

The rhythm

Spring comes in fits and starts. It’s the same with other seasons. Spring rains alternate with fog and sunshine before settling into sauna-hot days. Summer then folds into fall with early storms that clear back to blazing heat before breezy days build to leaf-plucking winds, and the pelting hail or snow of winter’s grip.

It’s natural to move in fits and starts. A baby learns to walk while gripping at a table, falling, and getting up again before walking freely. Plants grow in stages, stopping to rest and gather nourishment, even in a single season. It’s nature’s way. Why then, when something as tumultuous as estrangement occurs, do we expect to immediately cope?

Resist

I look out again. Against the dreary backdrop, the grass is bright. A dusting of early red maple blooms swept off in the storm litter the brilliant green. Sparks of color. The promise of spring.

My dog paws at a shallow patch of dirt and then bends to eat the soil. What is it about this earth here? Even my tiny teacup poodle paws and gnaws at this magic dirt.  I go to the door and open it a crack. I patiently wait as my dog’s gaze follows a bird into the tree. She looks back at me and wags. Finally, she steps toward me but stops, shaking the rain from her thick black coat. She sniffs the air, savoring the moment.

I actually love it here, I realize. Wild turkeys are a daily encounter. Deer graze and gaze with enchanting curiosity. And elusive birds like the Northern flicker drill the wet ground in plentiful flocks. There’s something to say for this season that settles in like sleepy day. One that always lasts too long but reminds me to rest as I anticipate the spring I long for but is impossible to force.

Related reading

Bend and twist (like daffodils)

Why did my child disown me???? Making the “why?” question work for you

why did my children disown meWhy did my child disown me???? Making the “why”?” question work for you

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Why? Of all the questions I have received from thousands of parents over the years, this is the biggie. Parents who were there for every game, rehearsal, birthday, and skinned knee are asking: Why did my child disown me?

Then comes the self-examination. We put ourselves under the microscope and comb through every possible offense. And because we’re so trained on finding a reason, anything to make sense of the estrangement we never imagined possible, we even find some reasons. Frequently, these answers align with the blame and judgment we so readily find on the Internet. We did too much, or too little. Gave too much, or not enough. Were too strict, or too lenient. The list goes on almost endlessly, and parents wind up in the same sinking boat.

In Done With The Crying, I devote a chapter to this question and all the mining we do to find the cause, take responsibility and, hopefully, make it right. And no matter how many experts recommend parents write amends letters (For what!?), or offer the pathway to reconnect, it’s often a fool’s gold expedition.

Done With The Crying offers specific ways to cope with and move beyond the Why?, to remember who you really are and have been, and to move forward in a life that befits a loving human being who was dealt an injustice. Let’s turn that question around and find the real gold of a fulfilling life—no matter how far along you are on the journey.

Why? Flip the script

What’s your big why? Not “Why did my child disown me?” Not about taking the blame, making sense of their actions, or trying to wrap your head around the nonsensical. I’m talking about the why of your own well-being.

Both of my books devote time to the subject of reconciling, in a realistic way. Even if that is the ultimate hope, you need to function and learn to live with your new normal now. Rather than focusing the why question on the past—on answers that make mountains out of molehill-sized mistakes or honor invented facts that are anything but—let’s make the “why?” about something we can take charge of, own, and live with: Ourselves.

What’s your “big why?”

Working as a life coach for the last two decades, I’ve often heard the “big why” question. When you’re setting and working toward goals, your big why gets at the values and meaning that sustain your motivation. Parents work long hours to give their children what they need. A mother rises early before work or puts food in the crock pot so dinner will be done. A father cuts the grass at twilight so he can take his kid to weekend sports.

I’m stereotyping, but you get the point. People make sacrifices and alter habits for an overarching goal. That’s what I’m suggesting you do. Whether you’re still reaching out regularly to estranged adult children, have released them with love, or have decided it’s over for good (you have that right), what are you willing to do for yourself? For your own happiness, joy, meaning, overall wellness, and future? And why?

The doubts

Many parents realize, intellectually, they deserve to let go of what’s beyond their control. They understand they need to make peace with what has happened if they’re to move forward, meaningfully, in their own lives. Even so, doubts often creep in. Frequently, these are the same doubts that existed from the start. What will my child think if I stop trying? What will other people think of a mom or dad that gives up on his/her own child? What will . . .? What would . . .? What might … ?

What comes up for you when you consider letting your adult child own the decisions they’ve made, and you contemplate letting go of the rope?

When you listen to the things you tell yourself, the worries that come up about what other people, society, or even your adult child will think, you can begin to put them into perspective. You can take off the magnifying glasses (or minion goggles!) that are so trained on this problem you didn’t create and start to look at your own path … toward meaning, happiness, and your future.

NOTE: This topic of the “big why” for moving forward in your life was explored more deeply In the membership community at  a recent live event. To watch the replay, join me and other parents like you in the community. You can do that here.

Related reading

Effects of estrangement from adult children: Are you still carrying the weight?

Parents: Angry at adult children?

Dumped by adult kids? Get into the Zone

dumped by adult kids

Dumped by adult kids? Get into the Zone

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Yesterday, as I returned to my car, I noticed a woman emerging from one of the shops with a bouquet of heart-shaped balloons and remembered—Valentine’s Day! I had contemplated the holiday weeks ago while thinking of what to write about it for this site. But I had become so engrossed in what I found that I forgot the day altogether. Immersed in my research, I had entered a state of “flow.”

The wonderful experience of being so caught up in the moment that you’re oblivious to time or pain has been studied extensively. The benefits are clear for increased learning, enhanced creativity, and joy.

As a writer, I’m no stranger to the state of flow—and my guess is that many of you have experienced it too. In 1975, researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, first coined the term “flow,” which has since been studied extensively. The flow state is most often associated with meaningful work, predicts higher performance, productivity and, in business settings, financial gains. But being in the zone, which is another way to describe this state, is also achieved during hobbies and other pursuits. Finding activities that provide meaning—and getting engrossed in them—is one key to a purposeful life.

But . . .

Sometimes I hear parents lament their advancing age, health woes, and lack of connection, all made worse by estrangement. I can certainly empathize. It’s hard to accept and deal with life’s challenges. And some of us have more to deal with than others do. I also know that, no matter our circumstances, purposefully focusing our energy on meaningful pursuits can transport us toward peace.

Midge, a mother of estranged adult children who is in her mid-80s, has multiple auto-immune conditions that limit her life. When she found herself all alone and suffering, she did her share of crying. Then she took up an old hobby she loves: watercolor painting.

With simple brushstrokes and vibrant colors, Midge enhances cut and folded card stock she then inscribes with positive messages, some scriptural. Midge sends these in bulk to helping organizations where the cards raise the spirits of individuals they’re distributed to. “I can get lost in that work,” says Midge. “It has helped me escape the pain … both physical and emotional.”

Midge’s work is attached to homelessness, which is sometimes connected to addiction or domestic violence. All of these have touched Midge’s life, so her form of flow brings deep personal meaning that connects to a larger pursuit. But not every entry point to flow must join with a social cause.

One widow, Sally, has made it her mission to clear out her home. Sally’s husband began “collecting,” after their daughter left the family. Fourteen years post-estrangement, he died and left Sally with mountains to clear. “There are a few pearls among the trash heaps,” she says of the dusty, sometimes moldy collectibles that range from magazines, to record albums, to miniature statues, and art. Sally, who has arthritis and circulation problems, is taking it slow, organizing a clearing process that increases her own safety and ease of movement: The entry hall’s floor, then the table, and then on to the shelf. The path to the dining table, the chairs and tabletop, and beyond. . . .

“It’s a job,” says Sally, “but I can get lost in looking at each item, and releasing it to donate, offer to my son, trash, or sell.” Sally remembers the mess her father-in-law left behind when he died, and that memory motivates her progress. “I wouldn’t wish that job on anyone,” she says. Her son lives far away but he’d be the one tasked to clear the house if she doesn’t. Working on making her current living situation safer and more enjoyable, plus acting for her son’s future ease, brings motivating meaning that drives Sally’s daily forays into flow.

A father, Thomas, who was dumped by adult kids, still lives in the home where he raised them. He says he’s getting “lost in a good way” in fixing up his home. “I’ve got some life left in me,” he says. “So why live with leaky toilets, creaky cupboards, and the uneven back steps that have bugged me for so long?” He hires out some of the work but enjoys the planning too. “I can get lost in home design photographs, imagining what tile flooring will best transition from one room to the next.” Thomas has been an outdoorsman most of his life. “But I have to protect my skin now in the Florida sun.” Thomas has had several skin cancers removed. He added gazebos and other shade structures all around his front and back yards. “Even planning that stuff got me in the zone,” he says.

Is there a bigger sense of meaning to Thomas’s pursuits? “To live,” he says. “To arrange things for my own satisfaction. To make my home a place I really love to be.”

Sensible Thomas remembers what it was like when the kids were young, and his wife left them all. “I raised them alone and did a good job of it. Now they’re all in touch with her again but I refuse to let them steal my joy. This is my life.” With a chuckle, Thomas adds, “Maybe when my house is done, I’ll have a beautiful place for a beautiful second wife after all these years.”

My old friend

I’m an old friend to the flow state—and also know its downsides. When writing Done With The Crying, I was so in the zone that I’d forget all sense of time and space. At some point, after hours of work, I’d wake up from a sort of spell and realize I’d been fixed in the same position for hours. That inactivity took a toll on my body, but the work was so meaningful, and that meaning brought me joy (as did the state of flow itself). This downside experience is why I invested in a standing desk, which is where I write most of the site articles and create presentations and other work. I still get into the zone doing this work to help parents dumped by adult kids, which I still find meaningful, and consider my life’s work.

As time has marched forward, I’ve experienced limitations that have changed my ability to get into a variety of activities that take me to that state of flow. A few years ago, I realized that some elements of gardening hurt more than they used to. I’m not alone there—which is why there’s a hot market for ready-made raised beds, knee pads, padded shovel handles, and even gardening chairs.

Changes to our abilities don’t always require a total loss. We use reading glasses as our vision’s flexibility changes with age. A colorful folding cane can make stability a fashion statement. White hair can be dyed with streaks (a friend of mine has purple hair) or shaved entirely.

Like I have done with my standing desk, find ways to adapt your doorway to flow. Looking for solutions is a form of creativity. Thank goodness for ingenious, creative solutions that make life better.

Creativity, mood, and flow

The state of flow has been closely connected to creativity, and much of the research began on creative pursuits such as music and art. But work of almost any kind can envelope flow. Like my writing, or someone’s building or teaching or some other vocation.  Where a person has some sense of autonomy and control, creativity becomes part of the work, and dovetails with flow.

A 2011 study found that deep engagement, especially in work fueled by intrinsic motivation (rather than strictly extrinsic motivation, such as a paycheck), sparked creativity that lasted for many days. Both flow and creativity are also associated with more positive moods. So, finding and enjoying meaningful work can help us let go of suffering states, connect to deeper meaning, and experience the relaxed but attentive state of flow that’s beneficial to our well-being. (I’ll be sharing more about this in the future.)

My Valentine’s Day research

So, what was the research that began weeks before Valentine’s Day and aimed at what I might write for the site? It was flowers. My internet surf for related ideas brought up the secret language of flowers from times past when specific flowers said what could not be said aloud. That led to flower meanings, which led to which ones I might want to grow as beautiful messages of healing and productivity for myself.

I haven’t decided for certain yet which flowers I’ll add to my landscape, but imagining a bright thicket of Black-eyed Susan whispering “justice” on a summer’s breeze makes me smile. So does the thought of a colorful patch of Butterfly Weed reminding me to tell old rumination loops in my thinking to “let me go.” The concept brings a whole new and creative element to my annual late winter garden planning!

The challenge

When we’re dumped by adult kids, it’s up to us to take charge of our well-being and make something more of our precious time on the Earth. For your own good, to find meaning, spark creativity, and enhance your mood, I challenge you to consider your own past experiences with “flow.” Then, get creative with how you see your interests, your work, your hobbies, and your life. You can find flow in purging your kitchen cabinets of family-size bowls and bins you no longer need. Or dive into day-long cooking you can freeze in small portions for easy, healthy dinners that will nourish you all month. Re-do your home for your next life phase, connect a much-loved hobby to a bigger social pursuit, or find meaning in decluttering for your own ease and to someday help an heir.

No matter your life or circumstances, consider how your pursuits can enhance autonomy and connect to a bigger purpose for your life—right now or into the future. Time passes much too quickly. You might as well spend some of it the zone.

Related reading

Mindful photography: Find your “self” in photos

The history of flower meanings

Flower language in the Victorian era

 

 

Hurtful relationships with adult children: Have you lost yourself?

hurtful relationships with adult childrenHurtful relationships with adult children:
Have you lost yourself?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

On my dad’s birthday when I was seven, he arrived from work holding a bakery box. His blue eyes alight, he set it on the table. “My friends at the office gave me this sponge cake.”

“A sponge cake?” I hung back, feeling strangely uneasy as he opened the lid.

“Well, come on,” he urged with a grin.

My siblings and I sidled up to the table to see a gorgeous rectangular cake with pillowy white icing. Other than a smeary spot at one end, perfectly piped yellow frosting framed the words “Happy Birthday” written in looping blue.

My mouth watered.  “You didn’t eat any yet?”

“Nope.” My dad winked at my siblings. “I saved it for you.”

Puzzled, I looked from him back to the tempting cake.

“Here,” he said. “I’ll let you cut it.” He motioned to my mom, who pulled a knife from the drawer. They exchanged a glance as she handed it to him. “Go ahead,” he said, pressing the heavy handle into my little hand.

Something wasn’t right. Still, I carefully pressed the blade into the cake and pushed. It didn’t budge. I pressed harder, and the knife started to slip.

Everyone laughed as my dad wrapped his hands around mine and took back the knife. He spread aside some icing to reveal a thick wedge of man-made foam rubber. “They thought it’d be funny,” he said of his office friends.

My mom explained that there really was a dessert called “sponge cake.” Then she brought a real birthday cake to the table. After the song and candles, we all ate the chocolatey confection with vanilla ice cream. My dad recalled aloud how his office mates had laughed when he’d tried to cut into the cake.

You and your gut

My dad’s long-ago birthday is my first conscious memory of knowing without knowing that something wasn’t right. That day, I had been persuaded to ignore my siblings’ nervous smiles, my parents’ odd decision to hand a 7-year-old the knife, and a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. My innate inner wisdom was overrun by the people I’d come to trust. And let’s not forget the tempting promise of delicious cake.

Obviously, nothing sinister happened that day. Fooling the youngest in the family had been in good fun. And at the office, my father had also been tricked. But as I look back now, trust and temptation achieved the desired result. I had ignored my gut.

My remembered incident is a benign example, but some future incidents weren’t so innocent and full of love—even if I thought so at the time and was duped. Maybe you remember times when you ignored your gut, whether in fun situations or ones that resulted in harm.

So badly wanting a bond, loving parents in hurtful relationships with adult children sometimes fall prey to similar scenarios. They listen to other people, overlook painful history, squelch their own wise inner voice, and ignore their gut. The temptation of sweet grandchildren they’d love to know, the memories of how things once were (so, how they might possibly be again), or the desire to go along to get along, or to make other family members happy can overrun better judgment.

The point of no return

Parents in hurtful relationships with adult children may be shaken awake with escalating psychological or physical abuse. Some parents invest their life savings in real property based on the promise of family togetherness in a joint living situation. They may even deed the real estate to their son or daughter, thinking this will simplify paperwork for their heirs upon their eventual death. Then, when it comes time to move in, the adult child suddenly makes blindingly clear the plan won’t be happening. Some parents endure a medical crisis and discover the one holding their health proxy isn’t reliable, or worthy of trust. Then, still healing, and grateful to be alive, they scramble to re-choose and redo their documents.

Sometimes, such a turning point leads to parents finding this website and my books. And then they may realize their grown child has been detaching for a lot longer than they were willing to see or admit. These parents had ignored their gut, their eyes, and even their ears for an elusive ideal they later realized with sudden clarity existed only in their hopes and dreams.

“I used to see my son’s name on the Caller ID,” says divorced mother Tammy, “and my stomach would drop.” Tammy’s gut instinct was not to answer but she felt she couldn’t say “no” to her son. She explains, “My endless giving was the relationship.”

Tammy knew from the past that if she didn’t give, her son would initiate the silent treatment, which would last for days, weeks, or even months. And during that time, she’d suffer physically with indigestion and a tight chest. Meanwhile, in her head she’d be playing familiar guilt tapes from other relationships. If she didn’t love them enough to help, then she wasn’t a good wife, sister, or mom. Even friendships had left Tammy with baggage. If she wouldn’t do “this one thing” then she was cold-hearted or wasn’t the person they’d always thought she was. If she didn’t give in to someone else’s will then she wouldn’t be loved. “I thought even God wouldn’t love me,” says Tammy.

Truth tracks?

On some level, we all carry what we unconsciously regard as truth tracks. Never mind that these reverberating words in our thinking are often far from the truth. They are manipulative talk or tactics from those who controlled us in the past. In our own voice, our inner critic will frequently use the language we’ve heard from authority figures, siblings, the pulpit, or society at large.

In Done With The Crying, I wrote that one of the first elements needed in my own escape from the quicksand of estrangement pain was becoming mindful of my thoughts. Once you’re aware of your thinking, the thoughts can be examined, questioned, and put where they belong—and sometimes that’s the trash heap.

In my second book (Beyond Done ), I discussed this thought analysis and the connected shifts in the sections on self-imposed boundaries, which I have also called internal or inward boundaries. As mentioned in Beyond Done , “Boundaries don’t always involve another person’s behavior. Sometimes, it’s your own behavior or thinking you must halt.”

Instead of taking on a mean or shaming voice, we can offer ourselves compassion and love. Instead of focusing on all that’s wrong—and getting caught up in an emotional pain loop—we can shift our focus to something in our physical world, bring our attention to the present moment, and take charge where we can. (Watch for more on this topic in the near future–join the newsletter so you don’t miss out.)

Well, hello there, Self. . . .

Whether you have been playfully tricked, or painfully duped or shamed into ignoring your gut, or you’re just out of practice at hearing your own voice and tuning into your body’s innate wisdom, you can change. Making a practice of getting more in touch with yourself can be very beneficial. The human brain and gut are directly connected via a network of neurons. It’s the gut that synthesizes much of and measures out neurotransmitters and neurohormones that affect moods and our bodily functions in response to our moods. When we get cues from the environment, our gut interprets them chemically. If we’re in touch with these subtle cues, we’re better prepared to interpret them in ways that allow us to utilize them in our decision making, relationships, and everyday lives. If, on the other hand, we’re used to tuning out those signals that, in the past, may have kept us safe or feeling loved, then like Tammy, we’ll probably ignore them and tune into old programming that’s become an inside job instead.

When we’re under stress, overwhelmed by hurtful, confusing relationships, or fighting to save them, we don’t have the space and calm to be truly mindful of what we feel or think. It’s vital for parents in hurtful relationships with adult children to gain enough distance to take a calming breather, look honestly at the situation, take note of how they feel, and hear themselves think. That’s why I tell parents that it’s okay to shelve it all, at least for a time, and get out and enjoy your life.

My newsletters, my articles here, the exercises in my books, and the meetings and discussion inside the membership community where parents like you are taking charge of themselves and their lives, are all designed to help. With gumption and support, you can be like so many who come to terms with estrangement and take back the power over their own precious lives.

Laura is a 77-year-old mother whose son, now in his 50s, walked completely out of her life two years ago. Laura was devastated but, during the silence, she read my first book and did the exercises. Then she started the second book, and things grew even clearer. “One never wants to believe that their own child doesn’t love them,” she says. “But I realize now that he began treating me badly way back when he was eighteen.”

In the stressful decades of frequent interaction, and under the spell of his warped reflection of her, Laura hadn’t connected her feelings of despair and bitterness to her unkind son. My books and their included exercises have helped her begin to, as she says, “see the light.” She adds, “It still hurts me, of course, but I suddenly realized I could change and do better. I feel lighter and much more positive.”

If Laura’s son wanted to reconcile, she knows she couldn’t go back to the way things were. He’d have huge changes to make because, in his absence, she has learned to take care of herself. She is like so many parents who emerge from hurtful relationships with adult children and begin to see themselves without the muddy, blame-the-parent veil. In short, Laura and many other parents step away from hurtful relationships with adult children and use the time to tune into their own needs and self-worth.

Related reading

Abusive adult children influence parents’ self-image

Call it what it is: Abuse by adult children

Just for fun:

Face cake prank

Birthday cake with a “pop!”