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.

Parents of estranged adult children: Is it Groundhog day?

adult children's decisionsParents of estranged adult children: Is it Groundhog Day?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

In the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a self-centered weatherman assigned to the yearly event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He’s in for a surprise when the same day keeps repeating itself. That sort of rut is what this article is about.

In the throes of estrangement pain, we can become stuck, going through the same old motions, and hoping things will change. Even our thoughts may run on repeat, replaying traumatic memories like movie scenes, and bringing us to the same old looping refrain.

  • Why?
  • How can I make him change?
  • If only I had . . . . or hadn’t , , , X, Y, or Z (fill in the blank).

Unfortunately, as our thoughts cycle on repeat (without the rinse!), our behavior often follows, and we sink into a rut. At some point, we need to wake up and realize we have a life to live regardless of our adult children’s decisions to live without us. That doesn’t mean you must give up hope … but it does require a shift in attitude toward a better perspective.

Adult children’s decisions: A new day

As the tradition goes, the groundhog emerges from its hole and, depending on if it sees its shadow, winter continues or ends. The roots of the holiday can be traced to a variety of lore, as well as to different hibernators who emerge on this day that’s halfway between the winter solstice and spring. If the sun’s out, as the legend goes, the groundhog is scared by its shadow, prompting a retreat to darkness and heralding another six weeks of winter.

Can you relate? Many of us have spent numerous months or even years in a “winter” existence, hiding from the reality of our lives. We may have dreamed up fantasies that our estranged adult children will come around, that they will love us again, and that we’ll pick up where we left off. We may have believed others who told us this was just a phase and that our kids will wake up when they have their own children. We may have even told ourselves we can’t be happy until the relationships resume, that a good parent would never stop trying, or some other lore that keeps us stuck.

Time grows short, and most rejected parents do eventually realize they must take charge of their own happiness. As several books and song titles tell us, it’s an inside job. Yet, when they emerge after a long “winter” of distress, they can be as wary as a groundhog startled by its own shadow. Learning to live well again requires adjustment, which also takes time. My question: Why wait? Embrace your life now. What have you got to lose?

Adult children’s decisions: Face facts

I’m disheartened by some of the suggestions I’ve seen out there that keep parents of estranged adult children stuck. Even when parents are advised to reduce or entirely halt their efforts to reach out, it’s frequently intended as a tactic to prompt change in the estranged adult children—as in maybe they’ll miss you and come running. While that’s certainly a possibility, the idea keeps parents attached to an illusion of control.

The parents who read my blogposts and books are at varying stages of estrangement and its effects. Some are brand new to the disconnect. Others are years, and even decades, along. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all advice, but no matter where you fall on the estrangement continuum, the reality is that the only one you can control is yourself.

For parents who are in the early daze of estrangement, that lifesaving fact might be clouded by the belief that you must have done something wrong. Why else would your own child disown you? <—-you may think. There are plenty who jump on the “blame the parent” bandwagon, but that doesn’t mean they’re right. While none of us were perfect parents, most of us did our best. In both of my books, I help parents manage their shock over adult children’s decisions, see their emotions in a new light, and look at themselves with clear eyes unfettered by a loved one’s revisionist history or downright abuse (link to article).

As one parent recently said, “Your books are like programs, with specific steps and support that helped me move ahead at my own pace. Finally, I’m feeling free to live my life, and now, I’m looking forward to each new day.

Other parents who have made the decision to face facts and move forward for their own well-being have shared with me in recent emails:

  • “In your two books on estrangement, you spoke to me in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I totally related to you and your approach, and it felt like a cool glass of water on a very hot day. Thank you so much for that.” Elle, a psychologist, and an estranged mother
  • You and your books have helped me so much. I have trained my mind not to reflect on the negativity.” Korrie, mother of two estranged adult sons
  • Thank you for the article referencing stalking estranged adult child. I found comfort in this topic because I decided to stop following my daughter 6 months ago. It was too painful to see my grandchildren. Also, your books are very insightful. I am keeping hope but facing the reality of what happened. Moving forward to recover from loss is my personal journey.” Diane, mother of an estranged child and grandchildren
  • After your books and writing things out, I am so super excited for the future! I will always miss my girls…but I can’t go back. I tried my best and they were always my first and foremost. Now it’s time to go forward for me!” Suzanna, mother of two estranged adults

Changing yourself

Just as Murray in Groundhog Day made a shift in himself, parents can take hold of what’s within their power to change: themselves. That means first recognizing the need for change, and then digging out of old habits that keep you burrowed in distress. That’s true whether in your thinking or in what you do.

In Murray’s case, the shift included being more thoughtful of other people. Most of the parents reading this will need to be kinder to themselves. Some will also recognize that their sadness and preoccupation with the estranged one(s) requires the need to better appreciate the loyal ones in their lives.

Self-examination and commitment to positive change puts you on the pathway to self-care and fosters individual growth for your own well-being regardless of another adult’s choices. Whether there are clouds or sunshine, won’t you join the thousands of parents who have made the decision to nurture themselves and grow into a new way of life?

Take courage, face your shadow, and step toward a new season of your life. You can embrace your own brand of resilience and take charge of your well-being and your life. Your adult children’s decisions may have put you on this lonely road, but you can choose your route now. Make this your halfway point, the juncture where you make a turn, steer away from wintry sticking points of estrangement pain, and move toward spring.

Related reading

Solid growth can change you

Groundhog Day: History and facts

Are you “stalking” an estranged adult child?

stalking estranged adult childrenLurking parents:
Are you “stalking” an estranged adult child?

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

The last time divorced mother, Vanessa, reached out, her daughter, Lynn, replied with a string of cruel texts laced with profanity that sickened Vanessa. Lynn then blocked her. Three weeks passed before Vanessa could go half an hour without tearful rumination and worry. Something must be dreadfully wrong. Vanessa would want to help, yet Lynn had pushed her away—again.

Other than a few blips of hopeful contact that never failed to disintegrate, they’d been estranged for more than five years. Mentally and physically exhausted, Vanessa knew it was time to go with the flow. She began working in earnest to develop a satisfying new normal, and to regain her sense of humor, confidence, and joy. A year later, she was doing well. She had a new job she enjoyed, a couple of trusted friends, and had even begun to consider dating. Life looked good. Then a relative said he’d seen her daughter emerging from a church’s evangelizing van—and the cycle of longing, compulsion, and emotional distress began again.

Vanessa researched the church online and discovered they broadcast livestreams of every meeting. After seeing Lynn, dressed in a long skirt and high-neck sweater like the church sisters she hugged and sang hymns with, Vanessa hunched over the computer screen every Sunday, hoping to catch another glimpse. She’d found a window into her daughter’s life.

In hand with her daughter’s erratic pattern of high enthusiasm followed by waning interest or even sudden disdain, Vanessa wasn’t surprised when her daughter stopped showing up on screen. She must have quit attending. Still, for several weeks, Vanessa watched each meeting in full, and then stayed tuned for the laying on of hands afterward. No Lynn. On Wednesday and Friday nights, she watched the prayer meetings online, but still didn’t see her daughter.

Consumed with worry, Vanessa felt compelled to reach out. When she did, she was still blocked. The cycle of emotional distress gripped her again.

Monitoring your adult children: What’s your purpose?

Observing our children is nothing new. Most of us had regular prenatal checkups including ultrasound imagery to monitor our child’s development in utero. Later, we installed baby monitors, watched over our children on the playground, and oversaw school progress with report cards and teacher meetings. Those old parenting habits are difficult to shake … but when it comes to adult children who want little or nothing to do with us, do we have the right? Or does it boil down to parents stalking an estranged adult child? Maybe that depends on who you ask. But is monitoring them good for us? Or for them?

Many parents tell me they keep track of their adult children over social media, via an employer’s website, or in some other way. If you monitor your estranged adult child’s life from afar, consider this: The definition of “monitor” includes a purpose. A proctor for test takers, a security guard’s camera views to watch over a site, or a lifeguard’s function all include that element. Supervising children is a necessary part of parenting. But if your contact with an adult child is unwanted or non-existent, what’s your purpose?

Parents “stalking” an estranged adult child online:
Could there be surprise effects?

In science, there’s a concept called “the observer effect.” Quantum physics explains this at the subatomic level, where the movement of tiny particles is altered when observed. In psychology, this effect refers to people’s behavior changing when they are observed. Researchers seek to minimize the effect by using unobtrusive methods. What’s this have to do with monitoring your estranged adult children? In today’s world of internet cookies and algorithms, your observations may not be unobtrusive. Your estranged adult child’s online experience may be affected by yours.

Have you ever done a search for some product or need—and discovered that an advertisement shows up for that very thing the next few times you browse, even on unrelated websites? It can feel like you’re being stalked. Have you ever signed onto a social media platform and seen a friend recommendation for someone you don’t know? Chances are they’re connected to you in some way. Maybe a friend of a friend clicked on your picture when you liked a post. Or an inadvertent “like” of a shared meme shaped an algorithm and put you in a mutual categorical slot. Is it possible that our monitoring of an adult child’s social media puts us on their radar? Are we suggested as a “friend”? Do our internet pathways link us in ways that affect the ads they see, or who might be suggested to them? And if so, do they think of us in negative ways? (Mom must be stalking me again.)

I’ve seen threads on estranged adult children’s forums that talk about how they feel when parents “bother” them or they’re watched. Some ask for advice and get lots of me-too replies about parents they consider stalkers. They’re angry and view their parents as pitiful and weak. Some of the posters suggest changed behavior in response to being watched—the observer effect.

Monitor stress

Recently, a ten-year-old told me his classroom job as “test monitor” meant making sure everyone had a packet on test days—and he felt stressed. He always tried to hurry because the tests were limited on time. To beat the clock, students sometimes snatched a packet right out of his hand and immediately got started. Meanwhile, he couldn’t begin until he finished his job. Also, he confided, invariably, someone discovered a page missing, and it was on him to stop his own test taking, get that person another packet, and make things right.

The poor kid. He felt powerless. I suggested he talk to the teacher about his feelings, and he later told me he had. She apologized and changed the format so that everyone had a packet and checked for all pages before anyone started the test.

In this case, speaking up helped, but in monitoring … ahem … stalking an estranged adult children’s life from afar, identifying problems won’t come with that option.

Vanessa worried about her daughter’s mental health, but there was nothing she could do about it. Other parents see some changed behavior and guess about the cause. They become stressed but are powerless.

Instead of “stalking” an estranged adult child,
monitor yourself

Vanessa had worked hard to escape the tug of heartstrings toward a daughter who engaged abusively or not at all. Then her relative offered a tidbit of information, propelling her back into a cycle of hurt. Even the most well-meaning relatives sometimes can trigger emotional longing or worries that tug our heartstrings and halt our progress.

This and other family tug-o-wars are covered more in depth in Beyond Done, and I hope you’ll read that book. For now, if you’re triggered somehow or feel compelled to monitor your adult child, the first step for self-care is recognition. Be aware of your feelings and make sound decisions rather than act on impulse or emotion. We hear a lot about boundaries, mostly as they relate to other people. But boundaries are good to impose upon ourselves as well. Vanessa could have recognized her compulsion when she sat down to look up the church. She could have drawn a line in the sand toward her own behavior. She could have shut her laptop and walked away.

The simple act of observing yourself—your thinking, your actions, your feelings—can affect your life. Make the observer effect work for you.

“Stalking” an estranged adult child: Are you hurting yourself?

Are you monitoring your estranged adult child? Reflect. Does the behavior help or hurt you? Rather than putting front and center something (or someone) that makes you feel powerless and reminds you of hurt, focus on your own life and where you can make positive change for your own contentment. I hope you’ll share your thoughts by leaving a comment on this article. Interacting with other parents of estranged adult children provides insight and support as you monitor your responses to estrangement, become more aware, and grow.

Related reading

What is the observer effect in quantum mechanics?

What is the observer effect in psychology?

What about quantum physics observer effect?

When adult children aren’t speaking to parents: Eating alone

when adult children aren't speaking to parents

Eating alone: When adult children aren’t speaking to parents

By Sheri McGregor

When adult children aren’t speaking to parents, holidays can be especially painful, partly because of lost mealtime traditions. Recently, several parents have told me they will be eating alone. Most aren’t looking forward to the experience, yet they’re planning ways to make the best of their solitary dining experience.

These parents’ plans remind me of a poem called Table For One. I can’t remember the exact words or who wrote it, but I do remember the care with which the loner served himself. The specific lines escape me, but the feeling remains, the way it moved me to see another way of daily life that, at the time, was so foreign to me.

Wanting to share the self-care embedded in that haunting poem, I searched for the poem but found only others by the same and similar titles. I also found lots of talk about eating by oneself—most of it telling people we shouldn’t. That’s not so helpful when adult children aren’t speaking to parents, which sometimes creates other family divisions. But eating alone isn’t all negative news. Dining solo, whether for the holidays or every day, has its positive points.

When adult children aren’t speaking to parents: Eating your way

Many parents tell me they’ve come to value the quieter holiday times. They may cook a full-on meal for themselves, enjoying the traditional recipes they love and leaving out the ones they don’t. Dominique, a widow with one daughter who is estranged, says, “I don’t miss having to make her favorites.” With a laugh, she adds, “I don’t miss the big cleanup while she sat on her tuchus either.”

Barbara has come to enjoy her right to choose the menu, too. She plans to cook a turkey breast in her crock pot this year, adding sweet potatoes right in with the bird. “It’s what I want and it’s healthy,” she explains. She’ll toss a green salad and also enjoy dessert—but keep the splurge sensible. “I sliced and froze a pumpkin cheesecake. I’ll thaw a piece and save the rest for special treats.” Her plan is a far cry from the over-stuffing that’s so often a part of family gatherings. Eating alone allows for better portion control, some studies report. And when you’re the chef, pushing away from the table doesn’t disappoint the cook.

Eating alone: The adventure

When adult children aren’t talking to parents, eating alone can become routine. For some, throwing something on a paper plate and nuking it in the microwave, eating fast food, or munching while watching TV can become the norm. But mindless eating is associated with cardiovascular disease and weight gain. Avoid that by making solo meals self-care. Some parents tell me they light candles, set the table up nice, and drink from a crystal glass. They know that eating—alone or in groups—is one of life’s pleasures.

Whether you use cloth napkins or paper ones, mindful eating (link) helps you savor your food. Eating can be such a rich experience when we consider textures, flavors, and how different foods make us feel. Lately, my favorite breakfast is organic oatmeal with a sliced banana and a dollop of plain yogurt. Sometimes, I’ll add a handful of blackberries, raisins, or sprinkle cinnamon over top. With the right attitude, food is like medicine—only fun.

Eating alone: Sad or stimulating?

One mother of three estranged sons says she’s spent holidays in restaurants by herself in the past. “I didn’t enjoy those meals,” she says of the awkward feeling of sitting alone with her gaze lowered in shame while, all around her, families made merry. This year, having finally admitted the truth of her sons’ brutality toward her, she says, “I’m done.” No more hoping, wishing, and chasing. This life is hers to live.

She reserved a table for one at a nearby Inn and plans to go with an open mind. By holding her head high, maybe she’ll notice others who are on their own, and therefore feel less alone. The odds are she will see others who have ventured out alone. In 2020, one in nine Americans spent the holiday season all by themselves. If nothing else, without the distraction of eating companions, she can share a few words with and brighten the plight of the server—who will be spending the holiday at work.

Another woman, whose two daughters want nothing to do with her, will dine at a farm-to-table restaurant she has been wanting to try. The restaurant, which serves local and in-season foods, is owned by a local couple whose son is a culinary genius. They made a point of advertising to solo eaters for the holidays. “They have family style tables with benches,” she says. “Along with the award-winning food, I’m looking forward to seeing who they seat me with.” Never mind that the chef went to high school with her daughters. “If he or his folks recognize me, I’ll tell the truth about why I’m alone,” she says. “It’s been almost six years, and I’m tired of covering up for abusers, even if they are my flesh and blood.”

In my books, I help parents to recognize and leverage their unique brand of resilience, partly derived from their own history, for the issues that crop up in estrangement.  DeeDee, a retired military officer who now has two adopted children who are estranged, provides a good example. In her career, she spent many holidays by herself. Although usually invited into others’ homes, she says, “It often felt better to be alone than in someone else’s crowd.” DeeDee recalls the year she was stationed on the island of Guam as most memorable. “I bought a plane ticket and flew to Saipan for the weekend.” Once there, she rented a car and drove all over the island exploring the WWII sites. After a long and interesting day, she ate a solo Thanksgiving dinner at the hotel. She says, “It’s all about mindset.”

Before the pandemic, one father who’s estranged from his two sons took a steamboat dinner cruise each Thanksgiving. He says he was always surprised to see other lonely ones. After two years off, he’s looking forward to this year’s event. “Mostly, the singles like me all eat while looking at our tablets and phones,” he says. “We’re alone but we’re also together.” This year, he plans to try striking up some conversations. “The pandemic lockdowns taught me how important face-to-face small talk really is. I’m rusty like so many people are, but we can’t spend the time we have left isolated and living in fear.”

Eating together, even alone, all around the globe

In my work with estranged parents and through this site, I count myself blessed to hear from lovely people all around the world. Some have exchanged friendly emails with me from time to time over the years, and food is frequently a way to connect. One woman living in Japan sends me gorgeous photos of interesting and appetizing foods, served on colorful dinnerware at her table set beautifully for one. Another mom shares YouTube videos where cooks demonstrate making easy, healthful foods. One woman writes me from her cozy home in the countryside, telling me about her simple, yummy creations: whole grain toast drizzled with honey, toasted, slivered almonds atop creamy bananas, or organic, ready-made soups.

We all have to eat, and some of us alone. Let’s share ways we enjoy meals, even when we’re on our own. Leave a comment to this article about where you’ll go or what you’ll cook. How do you make eating enjoyable? Healthy? Fun?

As an alternative, find a poem, essay, or other creative work that relates to solo dining. Provide the link, and share what you liked about it, how you can relate, or why the words, art, music, or other creative work moves you. I’ll start: Like the father mentioned earlier, many people learned to eat alone because of the pandemic. Some people hunched over a door-dashed meal or smeared peanut butter on bread and called it a day. Others learned new recipes in cooking classes delivered via Zoom to people from far flung regions. In this essay, called “Food for Thought,” the writer savored not only her food but her memories, which touched me in their honesty, innocence, and joy. (I especially liked the part from childhood and the Seder.)

When adult children aren’t speaking to parents, they tear a ragged hole in traditions that once brought the family close. We can come up with new ideas, and I am always thankful for your comments. Your innovative perspectives and caring can help another parent to feel less alone. Bon appetit.

Related Reading

For parents of estranged adults: Can Thanksgiving be a time of harvest?

Thanksgiving for hurting parents

Eight steps to mindful eating

The amount eaten in meals is a power function in humans of the number of people present

Spontaneous meal patterns of humans: influence of the presence of other people

 

Disappointing relationships with adult children: Help for the roller coaster ride this autumn

disappointing relationships with adult children

Disappointing relationships with adult children:
Help for the roller coaster ride this autumn

by Sheri McGregor

In my area, the leaves are just starting to flutter softly from the trees. Oak acorns and the tiny feet of red fox squirrels pitter-patter on the roof. It’s autumn, a time of letting go and preparing for what’s ahead. These activities are a perfect fit for parents anguished by disappointing relationships with adult children.

Autumn always reminds me of family outings and trips when my children were growing up. After the busy summer, when everyone’s traveling, we went to theme parks in the off-season of fall.

I’m not big on thrill rides. I was often the one waiting in line with my loved ones, not wanting to drag down their fun, yet sometimes exiting through the last possible turnstile out. Over the years, I’ve measured fun versus fright and climbed aboard a few. As I strapped in, my neck muscles cramped and my heartbeat pounded in my ears. The ride jolted forward, and I wondered how the people around me could laugh with expectant delight all the way up the clackety tracks to the peak. Meanwhile, my whole body was tensing with fear.

The last thing I’d see before squeezing my eyes shut were excited riders raising their hands high with glee. Then whoosh! Down we’d go, me gripping the bar so tightly my hands would hurt. Finally, with the final splash and the sound of jaunty music ushering the log or car to a sudden stop, I’d open my eyes and smile—glad to get off but often faced with another decision—my companions wanted to go again.

Life can be similar when it comes to disappointing relationships with adult children. We tire of the ups and downs but feel compelled to try again, to get back on the emotional ride.

 How will you wait?

Every roller coaster includes a line and a final chance to change your mind. Knowing there was a possible out ahead, I learned to enjoy the wait. I used the time to joke around with my companions, relish the excitement of kids eager to get on board the ride ahead, and witness the joy of families when they disembarked and ran to find their picture at the photo booth. Or, just savor a much-needed caffeinated drink. The wait is the same when it comes to disappointing relationships with adult children. We can choose to spend our time torn and distressed, or we can seek out people and activities to savor, finding the good in our lives and experiences.

Disappointing relationships with adult children: You can choose

At the crest of every coaster, there’s a moment of no return. Over the years, I’ve learned that lifting my arms high helps me fare better or even enjoy the descent. Rather than holding on so tightly that my knuckles bruise and my muscles ache for days, I can bounce along in my seat, even keeping my eyes open to see the end getting closer.

All riders have experienced the instant of descent when our gut hesitates. We don’t have a choice about that, but we can borrow from the experience and learn. We can grip so tightly we hurt ourselves, or we can lift our arms in surrender. We can let go.

When it comes to our sons and daughters, even when we know it’s time to disembark the relationship roller coaster, we may feel compelled to stay on the ride. We may cling to disappointing relationships. Adult children are our flesh and blood. Aren’t we supposed to remain connected?

That’s what we learned and believed. However, even as parents, you have the right to choose. You get to decide when you’ve had enough—and you know what? It’s okay to protect yourself, to move forward, to treasure your life. Give yourself permission to get off the ride and gravitate to the sights and sounds of autumn such as the colorful fallen leaves, pumpkin spice lattes, and steaming apple cider.

A time of transition

As the leaves fall and nature grows still, there is work taking place beneath the surface. There is preparation for the new growth and enlightenment of the coming spring. Won’t you join in with the natural thrust of the autumn season? Subscribe to my newsletter so you’ll receive notice of updates here at the site. You can leave comments and interact with other parents who’ve also experienced abuse, rejection, and otherwise disappointing relationships with adult children. You’ll also want to read my books, engage with the exercises, and join thousands of others who are approaching the point of being “done” with the crying and adopting new avenues of fulfillment and joy. Use these resources to help you do the work necessary to enjoy your life while you wait or get off the coaster ride entirely. Prepare for your coming spring.

Related reading

From sadness of estrangement to meaning

Rejected parents ask: When should we get on with our lives?

History of the roller coaster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for the good

parents of estranged adult children

Ocotillo and more at Anza Borrego Desert State Park

What are you attuned to? Looking for the good

By Sheri McGregor

With the Canadian Thanksgiving arriving in just a few days, and other holidays lining up before us, I’ve been taking charge and looking forward with a sense of joy and excitement. That’s so much better than the dread that can so swiftly sweep in as the daylight hours shorten and the longer nights usher in the season. When we’re expecting things to be crummy, we’re sure to find evidence we’re right. I’m dropping that attitude to make sure I’m ready for good instead. Won’t you read on and join me?

Adapt

In the arid California desert where I’ve hiked hundreds of miles, the plants adapt to the arid climate. That’s how they thrive. Drought tolerant bushes cup their fuzzy leaves, ready to catch and hold the slightest morning dew. Others, such as spidery ocotillo, spread shallow roots that easily soak up scant rain, and then quickly sprout leaves. These gorgeous, otherworldly plants then bloom in the driest periods, providing lipstick red color to the barren hills.

As we move into the holiday season, don’t focus on lack and look ahead with dread. Take a lesson from nature. Adapt. Be flexible. Dress in colorful clothes to brighten the coldest winter days. You’ll be a spot of cheer for yourself as well as others. Putting on a funny, warm hat can bring a smile. Wear fuzzy flannel and open your heart to the possibility of any joy. Then capture even the scantest moments of social rainfall to later savor.

Your assignment: Cultivate this positive habit

Starting now, set aside a few minutes every day to contemplate looking for anything positive or joyful in the world around you. Do this in the morning so you’ll be setting the tone for your day ahead. You’ll find “good” in the music of birdsong, the way the wind rustles through trees, or how a neighbor waves each day.

Attune yourself so that you’ll listen and really hear. See and really notice. Take a mental (or written) note, snap a photograph, or mention the good to a companion. That way, you’ll commit the positive bits of life to memory. Instead of habituating negativity and dread, train your brain to look for the good.

You can also find good in yourself. Did you remain calm in a stressful situation? Let someone ahead in traffic? Maybe you lovingly care for a partner or help a friend (even your oldest friend: you!)

Finding miracles?

One parent who reads here commented that her pastor suggested she look for miracles every day, in nature and in the world around her. His advice was intended to build her faith that miracles are possible, even in families broken by estrangement. What a gift, because even independent of that hoped-for result, she’s looking for miracles in her everyday life. She’s attuned to look for and find the good.

Your turn

Where else might you find “good”? I’d love to hear how you accomplish this assignment, so be sure and leave a comment. Let’s cheer each other on, serving as holiday lights for ourselves, other parents, and the people we meet.

Related reading

March and sing into….

Call it what it is: ABUSE by adult children

by Sheri McGregor, MA
abuse by adult children

Abuse by adult children: A sad secret

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

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

Related reading

Let me tell you about some heroes

 

 

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

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

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

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

Take charge

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

Put yourself in the driver’s seat

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

Map out your holiday journey

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

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

Take a positive detour

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

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

Related reading

How’s your life bouquet?

De-clutter (Chinese New Year)

July 4, 2022: Permission to . . . ?

freedom for parents of estranged adults

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

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

Giving yourself permission

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

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

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

Maybe you need to:

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

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

Now and forever?

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

That’s all folks

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

Related Reading

Estrangement: Are you a firework? Or still standing?

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

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

 

A gift for estranged fathers

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

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

Estranged fathers ask: How much time is left?

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

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

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

 Time waits for no one

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

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

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

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

Looking forward

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

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

Related reading

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

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

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

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2—Your flesh and blood?

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

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

#3—Are you like an octopus?

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

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

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

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

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

#4—Wowza wrap-up

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

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

Related reading

Mother’s Day 2021: Cancelled!

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

Mother’s Day radio interview with Sheri McGregor

Mothers of estranged adult children: Mother’s Day 2018

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

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

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

Mothering Sunday for UK Moms

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

References

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