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.

Mother Yourself

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

“I’m sorry I hurt you.”

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

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

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

My son has said similar things in the past:

It was all my fault.

I want a relationship.

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

A history of soaring hopes. Deflated.

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

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

Contact from an estranged adult

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking care of yourself

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

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

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

Further Reading:

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

Estrangement: What about hope?

College scandal

college scandalThe college scandal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related reading:

What don’t you know?

The College admissions scandal and estate planning

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

Sheri McGregor radio interview for parents of estranged adults

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

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

radio interview with Sheri McGregor

Making friends after estrangement

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

estrangementDuring January and February here in inland Southern California, morning frost can be a mainstay. That doesn’t stop an array of hardy perennials from carpeting the ground like the sprouts that cover a Chia Pet’s back. Some are soft, like a feathery carpet to the feet. Others, like the single-stalked stinging nettle with its serrated leaves, have a bite.

When the deep green, mint-like stinging nettle plants first emerge, they’re difficult to discern among the plant variety that grows here. But walk barefoot and you’ll know it’s present. That’s what happened to my puppy, Gingersnap, whose little feet got stung by the nettle. The next day she was wary—and who could blame her?

Gingersnap had to learn that some plants sting. Others don’t.

estrangement

Beyond the sting

For parents of estranged adults, making friends can feel as scary. I know the feeling of talking about the estrangement and being met with judgment. Once or twice is all it takes to make us wary of telling more. Just as Gingersnap hesitated before stepping into any new growth, we might be fearful of stepping into new friendships.

If you’re like so many parents of estranged adult children who are lonely but fearful when it comes to making friends, read on for a few tips. Not all people bite, and a tiny foray into small talk can not only get you started but have big benefits for you and your life.

Making friends after estrangement: Start small

The benefits of casual interaction are bigger than you think. Chat with the supermarket clerk, share a thought with the postal carrier, or make small talk with someone pumping gas alongside you. Those who enjoy many social interactions, even with weak social ties, are happier and have an increased sense of belonging than those who don’t.

That’s good news for people who may be feeling extra cautious or whose self-confidence has taken a hit. Making small talk is an art in and of itself, and one that can be learned. Not all small talk leads to deeper friendships, and that’s not the point, but it’s good practice and can raise confidence.

Define what friendship means to you

If you’re seeking friendships, first define what you really want. Your lifestyle, schedule, and social style will dictate the best types of friendships for you, as well as help you find them. Ask yourself:

  • How much time do I have to devote to friends? Some hope for constant companions. Other people are happier with more time alone and prefer seeing friends at planned intervals.
  • What are my boundaries? Do you want friends who feel free to call on you at all hours or stop in for unexpected visits?
  • What does friendship mean to me? A writer friend once told me she has her tennis friends, her art friends, her book club friends. . . . While she may occasionally see friends outside their respective groups, her friendships are largely based on mutual interests. Her description contrasts with another friend who considers these group-related friends “associates.”

 Consider what you want in a friend as well as what sort of friend you will be. Maybe you’re like my writer friend whose schedule is always full. Or perhaps you would enjoy fewer groups and a close friend or two who will respect your boundaries and need for solitude.

Friendship facts

Friends are good for us. Those with strong social relationships are more satisfied and live longer. Cultivating a few close ties is worth the effort, so even if you’ve been hurt in the past, it’s wise to try.

Making good friends takes time. A recent study found that it takes around 50 hours for someone to go from an acquaintance to a casual friend and another 90 or more to grow even closer.

Friendship takes interest. Despite the discovery about how many hours forming good relationships can take, more than time is required to create friendships. To grow close, you need to show an interest in the other person and feel the same interest coming your way.

Making friends after estrangement: Know yourself

Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Some people are energized by a crowd and love interacting all day every day. Others feel drained by even moderate amounts of group time. Some feel enlivened in the short run but can later start to feel weary. When looking for ways to make friends, choose situations that are a fit for you.

Finding groups of like interest can foster friendships. Already having something in common with a stranger is like getting a head start. Join a meetup.com group or volunteer for a cause you believe in. If you feel good in a crowd, consider situations where you will be at your best. Maybe you volunteer somewhere with lots of social interaction and people to talk with. More of an introvert? Consider quieter situations such as working one-on-one with people who need help learning to read. Or walk pets at your local animal shelter. Then engage in small talk with other volunteers. Brief, positive interactions can set the groundwork for deeper connections.

Are you the type who will feel more at ease if you have a bit more control of your social situation? Consider starting a group yourself. Meetup.com offers both public and private settings, so you can be extra cautious about who can see your profile online. If you’re the one heading up a group, you also get to choose the purpose as well as how often and where (a public place) the group will meet.

Where I live, there’s an online community group (Nextdoor) that helps neighbors connect. I’ve seen people start hiking and book clubs, a sewing group, and even a morning dog walk. Imagine how you might fit. Maybe the security of your four-legged pal in tow is right for you, or you have a closet full of sewing supplies you could share with new friends.

Be a friend

The best way to make a friend is to be one. The old saw is as relevant today as ever. Bring treats or something from your garden to share with the team down at work. Offer to help when a moment presents itself. Just holding a door, offering to refill a coffee cup, or asking if anyone needs something from the corner store since you’re going anyway, reveal that you are kind, friendly, and interested in other people’s feelings. Maybe you’re not a witty conversationalist or need time to feel your way toward trust. Your good will, demonstrated through acts of kindness, sends a positive message and makes you a friend.

To deepen friendships, you’ll eventually need to talk about yourself. As you become more comfortable, sharing bits about your life makes others feel at ease sharing bits about their own. Disclosing information about ourselves, as it turns out, makes us more likeable. We also feel closer to those with whom we share  Of course, there are limits to sharing. A friend isn’t a place to dump all our emotional trash.

Social anxiety after estrangement

Emerging from the shadow of an abusive relationship, which is true of some parents of estranged adult children, can cause social anxiety. Some parents are out of touch with their own value. They wonder where they fit and whether anyone would like them. After years of eggshell walking, careful not to state an opinion that will start a tirade, it can be difficult to converse at all. In our increasingly “social” world, it can feel as if everyone else is outgoing and has a million friends. A quieter person might wonder if they seem strange, but there must be a reason we have two ears and one mouth. A friend with a quiet nature can be a welcome change in a noisy, look-at-me world.

Worth the work

Try not to get discouraged. Just as Gingersnap had to learn which plants would sting, and which were fun to get closer to, finding companions with whom we can truly connect and trust takes time and patience. This may be especially true after complex issues such as estrangement muck up our lives and self-confidence.

estrangementRemember, friends come in all shapes and sizes. Finding good ones is worth the work.  Friends can help build our confidence and lend a caring ear (or shoulder!) that can buffer stress and even boost our immunity and overall health.

References:
Sandstrom and Dunn (July, 2014). Social Interactions and Well-Being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Holt-Lunstad et al. (2010). Social Relationships and Mortality Risk. PLoS Medicine.

Hall, Jeffrey A (2018). How many hours does it take to make a friend? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Hall, Jeffrey A., and Daniel Cochece Davis (2017). Proposing the communicate bond belong theory: Evolutionary intersections with episodic interpersonal communication. Communication Theory, 27.1: 21-47.

Collins and Miller (1994). Self-Disclosure and Liking. Psychological Bulletin.

Uchino, B.N. (2006). Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 29: 377. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-006-9056-5

Related reading:

Beyond the Shadow of Estrangement

 

In my garden . . .

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

son doesn't like meIn my herb garden, thyme and oregano become woody in the face of cold. Sometimes, I think they won’t recover, but when intermittent warm days hint at spring to come, the fragrant leaves begin to sprout. Even when the air again chills to icy frosts, they know the future is bright and they thrive.

Not all growing things have such a strong internal clock. A string of warm fall days can trigger plum tree blooms. Like tiny pink bows, they peek from between the drying leaves, eager to give. Too eager. When winter winds blow, they flutter and fall. Energy expended but no fruit produced. Still, the trees have the good sense to rest. In the silent months, separated from their loving sun, the trees grow strong. So, when the timing is right, they are ready.

son doesn't like me

 

The apple trees, a crabby variety bred for drought, are resilient. Their blooms open in January, cling and remain. By June, they have ripe fruit. Their branches may be drooping, heavy with apples one day and then picked clean by coyotes in the dark of night. Often, the apples start afresh, and the trees bear a second crop, though smaller than the first.

The pomegranate trees are late to lose their son doesn't like meleaves. Then their pale gray branches stubbornly resist the sun’s flirtation. A few fruits that are left hanging grow tough through winter but can sustain a wayward bird with an insistent peck.

The chaste tea tree is numbed by winter. So much so that as, all around, spring springs and greenery greens, the barren sticks seem dead. Every year, I am nearly fooled. I snap off a twig and find it wick. This makes me laugh. There is life inside. It only needs nurturing.

As the years have passed and estrangement endures through its seasons, I have seen myself in all of these. The herbs with their steady inner clocks. The plum trees that are, at times, too eager.  The pomegranate trees that grow tough and stubborn but eventually live up to their varietal name (Wonderful). And the chaste tea tree that numbs and deadens. I am wick inside. If only I will not be fooled.

Using the garden to heal

Whether you like growing things, just spending time in a garden, or even looking at plant catalogs, can you parallel your growth or endurance in estrangement with that of plants and trees? Seeing ourselves reflected in a garden’s growth can be a healing. Can you imagine yourself recovering from the cold of a stressful season by stretching toward the sunlight? As you add water and special food, imagine treating yourself to loving care. Can you see yourself blooming? Even if you feel numb, as if your leaves droop and you thirst for sustenance, can you imagine you are quietly doing the work of resting, like my plum trees do in winter? Are you seeing bulb flowers sprout through the snow? If so, can you imagine yourself pushing up through the muck of a difficult relationship or the icy cold of rejection?

Whether you call it horticultural therapy or just call it fun or relaxing, cultivating plants or spending time in gardens has benefits. Reductions in stress, anxiety, and feelings of isolation, as well as enhanced self-esteem are all known positives.

If it’s still too snowy to do any outdoor gardening, consider getting started inside. I hear geraniums do well in pots. Or maybe just remembering being outdoors last summer would feel good. Imagine your feet, stepping into a soft carpet of grass, or the sunlight warming your back.

son doesn't like meAs the dead of winter marches toward spring, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment to this article about your own garden and how it helps you. I like reading about people’s gardens, and others do too.

 

 

Estrangement in the New Year: The Blanket of snow

by Sheri McGregor

estrangement

Photo source: Pikwizard

Don’t let the pain of estrangement ruin your New Year.

On this beautiful morning, no matter where you live or what the weather is like, imagine the world before you as if a soft blanket of snow has gently fallen in the night.

Gone are the muddy footprints and trails to nowhere. Erased are the well-worn ruts to unhelpful thinking, worries, whys? and what ifs?

On this blank slate of the New Year, take a little time to imagine the trails forward you will make. While it’s true that any of us can start fresh anytime, today it’s official.

Are you excited? I am.

Even in estrangement, make this a terrific year.

It’s time to start.

Think of the changes you will make. Maybe it’s to alter how often you reach out, or to let go of expectation or a desired outcome. Perhaps it’s to leave the strife behind entirely, and embrace your own happiness—and if so, what does that mean? Your goals are your own. Make them now and begin to work toward them. Yes, work may be involved. But it doesn’t have to be grueling. Even tiny steps inch you forward.

Take a few minutes to really consider what you’d like to leave behind. Get a pen and paper and jot down your thoughts.

Estrangement: Time and energy wasted

For many parents of estranged adult children, so much time and energy has been consumed by the emotional pain that they’ve missed the good that’s beside or in front of them. Others have striven for a goal that is beyond their control. Don’t let next year dawn with regret. Consider how 2019 will be different.

Turn back to the goals section in Done With The Crying, and consider what improvements you can make. One mother wrote to say that she had read the book but would start the exercises today. Her responses will be her own unique road map to make 2019 about moving forward with purpose.

Just want peace and happiness?

Some who have suffered the raw emotions and hurt of estrangement say all they want is peace and happiness in the coming year. Even this takes a plan. Without preparation, the same old issues, hurtful thinking, and habits will return. Consider:

  • What will you do when your mind wanders to the same old pointless questions?
  • How will you handle an uninformed question?

Consider whatever it is that robs you of peace and happiness. And then you can make a plan. Without forethought, even the most useful resolutions can go awry. In Done With The Crying, there is an exercise to get you thinking about each area of your life and how you can make it better. Try it. Work on just a few areas at a time. Make a plan to move forward, and also how not to slide back.

I would love to hear about your plans for the New Year, and what you share by leaving a comment will help other parents, too. You’ll also find a few links below, to articles here at the site that can be of use as you move forward.

estrangement New YearEven if estrangement has muddied things up for you this past year, imagine that beautiful blanket of snow for the New Year. What helpful trails will you make in it? Where will your tracks lead?

HUGS to all. ~~ Sheri McGregor

 

Related Reading:

Estrangement: Shape your new normal

Give yourself a break

How to cope when your adult child cuts you out of their life

Estrangement and the holidays: Your perspective can help

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

estrangement and the holidaysWhen it comes to estrangement and the holidays, feeling joyful can be a challenge.

This time of year, parents of estranged adult children can feel very down. They wish things were the way they used to be, they look at all the other happy families, and find themselves alone. In estrangement, for many, the holidays equal pain. This holiday season, won’t you join me in considering how a change in perspective can change our experience?

Estrangement and the holidays:
Change your perspective, change your experience

There’s a funny internet article (or two) about how social media models use perspective to change how they appear. Camera angle and posture work like magic to change the viewer’s perspective, and voila! Abdominal rolls flatten, the booty looks bigger, and the models look slim and fit.

Of course, with estrangement, it’s not as simple as sucking in your estrangement and the holidaysbelly so you look thin or tucking your tongue to the roof of your mouth to lift a double chin. But when it comes to estrangement and the holidays, your perspective really can make a positive difference. This is true in both how people see you, and how you see yourself and experience the holidays.

Below, I’ll share just a few short thoughts on perspective. These are meant as jumping off points for your own unique ideas and specific ways to view the holidays in a positive light.

Estrangement and the holidays: Are you really alone?

In the U.S., many senior citizens are alone for the holidays. Millions of seniors are by themselves over the holidays. You may feel alone, but you’re not.

When you read that, what did you immediately think of? Did you imagine people sitting at home alone, maybe with a sad face? If so, it’s because of our conditioning about the holidays.

estrangement and the holidaysWe’re conditioned to think of families and togetherness as the perfect holidays. And that can set us up to believe that if our holiday isn’t like that, then it’s not a good holiday. Seeing the holidays with a more realistic view puts your situation into perspective.

There are many, many people who choose to spend the holidays alone. They’re tired of the hoopla and commercialism. Or perhaps they choose to focus on what’s at the core of holiday meaning for them and view the time as a period of rest and reflection.

Estrangement and the holidays: When will this end?

There are 365 days in a year, and only a few are holidays. Don’t get caught up in the commercial ploy that tries to make everyone think holidays-holidays-holidays for months on end.

Estranged or not, holidays evolve

For all of us, the holidays have changed over the years. This is trueestrangement and the holidays whether we face estrangement or not. Think back to the different ways the holidays have evolved for you…even from childhood. To have a good perspective about estrangement and the holidays, consider this just another phase.

When your circumstances evolved in the past, how did you change up the holiday activities to fit? Think about it, when your children were young, you did certain things…. Then you moved to more age appropriate activities. Maybe you used to get together with extended family, and then you no longer did. Families get complicated, and activities change. Sure, we didn’t want or expect estrangement, but it’s our reality (at least for right now). We might as well make the best of the holidays despite it.

If it helps, consider clear back to the first holidays you remember. Make a timeline, or even a scrapbook if that appeals. It’s proof that holiday joy changes.

When things change, we must change, too. We have been flexible before, and we can again.

What will you do now to make YOUR holidays bright? Don’t forget to let YOUR light shine.

Estrangement and the holidays: Is this a plus?

You may be so focused on the sadness and loss that you’re blinded to any positive aspects. Answer honestly: What won’t you miss?

estrangement and the holidaysMaybe you won’t have to cook (or cook as much). Maybe you’ll have more money in your budget. Maybe you don’t have to travel. Maybe this way, the holidays won’t interrupt your healthy lifestyle. Maybe, for once, you get to do what you want.

In my book, there’s an exercise to get you thinking about what you don’t miss about your estranged son or daughter. Alter that exercise for the holidays. Doing so can help.

To change your perspective, consider what you will not miss.

Estrangement and the holidays:
Acknowledge your feelings

This is not intended to minimize the sadness parents of estranged adult children can feel. The holidays really can be difficult.

Sadness, longing, anger, envy, bitterness, hatred. . . . All the emotions we don’t like can pile on.

It’s okay to acknowledge those feelings, cry, vent, or reach out for support if you need to. But don’t get stuck there.

If you start to feel down, consider your perspective.

  1. Remind yourself that you’re not alone in being alone.
  2. Remind yourself of the way the holidays have changed throughout your life, and think about how you changed right along with them—you’re more flexible than you think.
  3. Instead of thinking about what you’re losing this holiday season, think about what you’re gaining in the loss. We can all come up with one or two things that are positives.

Be thankful for the good in your life, and take on perspectives that make you feel better.

HUGS to all of you,

Sheri McGregor

P.S. — Read the related posts below for holiday help … and use the search box on the right of the page, using the word “holidays” for even more articles.

P.P.S. — as always, I’d love to hear your perspective on what you can change up to make the holidays good/fun/enjoyable/bright despite estrangement. Leave a reply to this article.

Estrangement and the holidays: Related reading

Abandoned parents, let your light shine

Estranged? Enjoy the holidays anyway

Estrangement and the Holidays: How to manage them

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Estrangement: When letting go hurts

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Michelle, a mother of three whose two daughters are estranged, said that after four years, everyone else was moving on. “No one wanted to talk about the girls anymore,” she says. “No one seemed to miss them anymore,

Michelle still wanted to hold the good memories and to speak of her daughters as if they would one day return. The people around her had come to an ending point. For her own good, they wanted Michelle to accept the estrangement, too.

“But accepting their estrangement felt like saying good-bye to hope,” says Michelle.

Estrangement: Destinations unknown

estrangement between parents and adult childrenAs a mother who had given her all to her children, Michelle felt that letting go was like abandoning her daughters as well as everything she stood for.

Parents like Michelle may continue to reach out repeatedly despite harsh replies. Or, they cry for days afterward when the only answer is silence. Some may have stopped attempting contact and accept the reality of estrangement “for now.” Yet when faced with the idea that estrangement might be permanent, they fall into depression or describe themselves as “numb.”

“As long as I felt hope, there was a reason to go on,” says Michelle. “Without the belief that the estrangement would one day change, my life seemed to have no destination.”

Before estrangement, there were assumed expectations: marriages, births, and year-to-year traditions that bring families close and connect the generations to the past, the present, and the future. Estrangement disrupts the expected pattern.

estrangement between parents and adult childrenIt’s as if the future is an endless sea, with no shore in sight. Even when other children and family members remain close and loving, estrangement may loom in the present as well as in the past. Or even worse, on the horizon of possibility, placing a pall on relationships with other children.

Estrangement: Does the mourning end?

Maybe it’s you who is done with the sorrow and stress of estrangement, and you want your spouse or other relatives to move on, too. You’re tired of talking about your son or daughter, reliving the pain, the shock, or the disbelief. Or maybe you’re like Michelle, who feels a sort of second abandonment, because no one around her holds out hope.  Perhaps you have come to accept the estrangement but discover a secondary sort of grief in the process.

Wherever you fit, your feelings are not so unusual. It’s okay to feel hurt at the very idea of moving on without your son or daughter or even grandchildren in your life. It’s normal to wish it were different, or to feel a sense of guilt in getting on with your life. It’s not unusual to feel different than your spouse or other relatives do, or to recognize that accepting the reality of estrangement brings its own sorrow.  These types of emotions (and more) are ordinary stops on the estrangement journey.

estrangement between parents and adult childrenIf you’re parked in a place of withdrawal, guilt, shame, anger, sadness or feeling numb, get the support you need. For some, reading and doing the exercises in Done With The Crying has been enough. Others have found that meeting with a therapist provides a safe space to gain perspective. Or they utilize the peer community here, where members understand and empathize.

It’s wise to mourn the loss. It’s fine to mourn the abandonment you may feel when no one around you wants to keep the estrangement alive in the present, too. But you also must recognize that a season of mourning is just that: a season. We are not meant to be forever sad. Even in the uncertainty of estrangement, we have the right to be happy today.

None of this means we must forget our child, the love we once shared, or even give up hope that the love will be restored. But we cannot let estrangement debilitate us.

Tell me something good

In a recent Huffington Post article, I was one of several who spoke positively about talking to yourself. In my book, I tell parents to pay attention to the things they tell themselves. Mindfulness is discussed in the early pages, because being mindful brings awareness of what you think and the words you mutter to yourself and others. When it comes to healing from estrangement, those things matter.

Now more than ever, it’s important to take care of yourself. Falling into a habit of negative thinking and unhelpful self-talk never helps. Neither does catastrophizing or believing that you will “never” get over the pain.

You might as well tell yourself something that helps. Here are a few ideas:

“I was a good parent. One day they will realize that and return to me. So right now, I’m making the most of my life.”

“I can’t watch her right now, but God is.”

“Whether he comes back next week, years from now, or never, if I live well now, I won’t have wasted my life worrying.”

“I wish him well. I wish me well, too.”

“I may not like this, but I can learn to live despite it.”

“When he comes back, he’ll find me happy and strong.”

The truth about reconciling

estrangement between parents and adult childrenWhile we may imagine a happy reunion where everything falls right into place, often there are complications. If you’re in a long-term estrangement, accept the reality, even if it’s with a “for now” mentality. Then concentrate on your health and happiness. In so doing, you will be prepared when (or if) your child wants to reconcile at a future point (if you’re willing).

The truth is, your strength and well-being will be necessary to see any reconciliation through. Strength to help a daughter who desperately wants a relationship but who struggles with an issue you previously knew nothing about. Strength to stand firm and demand equanimity—even when a reconciled relationship feels like it’s going south again. Strength to admit mistakes, yet not forever pay penance or remain in guilt. Strength to forgive. Strength to move away from communication or family patterns that, in the space of estrangement, you may recognize as less than healthy.  Strength to remain true to yourself despite false accusations or baiting. And even the strength to say no, if the reconciliation will not work.

If you have reconciled, will you share your thoughts in my short survey?

Okay with estrangement

As counterintuitive as it may seem, being “okay” with the estrangement can help you prepare for a future reconciliation. You don’t have to give up hope. Just park it on a shelf for the time being. For some, that means keeping a memento in plain sight that allows you to wish your child well despite what’s happened. It could be something like the little wooden bird I wrote about putting out over the holidays. For others, it’s saying “enough” and no longer talking about the estrangement when you drive near a certain area or experience some other emotional trigger (as was written about here). Maybe you need to limit discussing the estrangement to a few minutes a day or relegate it to prayer.

If you’re like Michelle, and want to keep the good memories alive, consider writing them down. Slips of paper with specific memories you can pull from a jar and think about may help you feel connected not only to your memories but to what a good parent you have always been.

Of course, you will need to determine whether you’re at a point where reflecting in this way will be helpful rather than hurtful. For those new to estrangement, recalling happy times may be painful. You may want to consider the articles linked in this one and at the bottom for help that fits where you’re at in the estrangement journey.

estrangement between parents and adult childrenYour turn

What can you tell yourself that’s good? What would you say to Michelle?

Related Reading

Estrangement: What about hope?

Prodigal children: How many adult child return?

Estrangement: Are you an octopus mom?

A few points on reconciling

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

reconciling with adult childrenSome of you are aware of my survey about reconciling with adult children. I’m still gathering results. If you’ve reconciled, I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can access the survey (and some others) on the surveys page. ‘

Recently, I responded to some questions about reconciling. The writer used some of my comments in his site posting.  I already talked about this on the Facebook Page, so this is for those who don’t go there.

My comments are numbers 1 through 4 in the article and are derived from the results of my survey about reconciling with adult children. If you click through and read the article be aware that the photo doesn’t quite match our focus here.

I’d love to see some UP votes to the comments!

See the article here.

I’ll have much more to share about reconciling with adult children later.

For now, HUGS.

Take care…

adult children who have gone no contactJust a quick post to let all the parents of estranged adults know I’m thinking of them. With the hurricane barreling in and set to hit, I know many of you are worried and upset.

Adult children who have
gone no contact

Every time there is a major event like this about to start, or during the after-effects, parents whose children have gone ‘no contact’ and live in the affected areas suffer stress. They are faced with a dilemma about what to do.

Should they call the adult son who has rejected them?

Should they reach out to their daughter who is ‘no contact’?

If they do text or call, will the estranged adult child reply and put the parents’ mind at ease?

It can be a trying time.

adult children who have gone no contactIn the past article (from August, 2016) titled: When your adult child is estranged: What to do about life events, one presented situation is a hurricane. If you’re facing a dilemma about this storm (or other life event) and could use some clarity, I hope you will click through. Included questions can help you explore your thoughts and feelings, and come to some conclusions about what to do.

Meanwhile, if you’re in the affected areas or have loved ones who are, take good care. You have this community of thousands of hurting parents cheering for you, sending prayers and positive energy.

Hugs to you!

 

Sincerely,
Sheri McGregor

Related reading:

National Hurricane Center for up to date information