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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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18 thoughts on “Disappointing relationships with adult children: Help for the roller coaster ride this autumn

  1. Tovah

    Dolly,
    Thank you for your kind words! I believe that we have such a cherished place of support here and that we can do a lot to give each other virtual hugs.
    Most sites allow “opposing” opinions but that often turns out to be raw hate toward people already suffering. We are safe from that because Sheri won’t permit the haters to enter.
    Thank you, Sheri, for understanding how counterproductive a more “open” forum would be for us. We really need a refuge from what exists elsewhere on the Net.
    Speaking of the Net, there’s a meme going around that I like. It says, “You can’t raise your children like you were raised because that world no longer exists.”
    For those of us here with older generation estranged children this may not apply as much but we have the younger estranged children and it definitely applies to them.
    Often I feel so deeply grateful for having grown up in a smaller, more sheltered world with face to face relationships, respect for teachers, live-in grandparents, stay-at-home moms and so much more that fostered true bonds with your family, neighbors and friends.
    Social media (for young women especially) encourages rejecting your family and investing instead in a set of screens where everything they do is shared and applauded wildly, the reward being likes, followers and the intoxicating but inauthentic belief that all of this constitutes real relationships.
    With the first smartphone I could literally see our eldest run out on us for that fakery. We regretted giving in her to demands immediately but the train had already left the station so to speak. She became drunk on the high of constant validation. It was a bit of a joke between me and my husband that if we were laid out on the floor bleeding she would have stepped over our bodies to get her phone. Sadly, it was tragically close to reality.
    Regarding the realistic expectation that we would be loved and forgiven as human beings should, which you are right about, social media tells them they don’t have to.

    Reply
    1. Dolly

      Tovah,
      I so appreciated your description of the different generations and how they perceive and respond to other people especially their parents. Yes, I truly miss growing up without cell phones or computers. We didn’t have to worry about identity theft or the like. We spent every Sunday dinner with grandparents. We were poor and I only got a dime every week for allowance. I had to work at age ten! We were not spoiled by any means. When I got married at age seventeen, I made sure that my children had everything that I never had. Unfortunately, my good looking son felt entitled and grew up to be arrogant and vein. My daughter wasn’t like that. She was kind and caring and still is at fifty. She wasn’t able to have children but I know for sure that if she had we wouldn’t be banned from their lives. What I have learned is that before we are born, we already have a personality so that is pretty much a done deal. When we raise a child, no matter what we give them, they pretty much turn out the way God meant them to be. So while we are all crushed and hurting so much that we feel like life dealt us a terrible hand, in the end things always happen for a reason. My father was killed in a car accident two weeks after I got married and he never got to see my children. Soon after, my husband’s dad died of a heart attack. So my kids grew up without a grandfather. I too have a child who would not even attend my funeral. My mother died of Alzheimer’s last year and he didn’t even care. But in my dreams, he is a little boy and my heart is not aching and my life has meaning again.
      We all have a story to tell. It really does ease the pain to listen to other parent’s tales of woe. I feel like we are all holding each other’s hands and saying everything will come out in the wash.

    2. hitch

      I fantasize its the “old days” like the wild west or something..before there were so many ways to contact someone… and I can just load up my horse and rifle go on a cattle drive get off the grid disappear for six months maybe a year in the wilderness….let them know mom/grandma has left for a grand adventure, nobody can get ahold of her until she shows up again…i think that is the only way people will really miss you, if they cant find you or get ahold of you……as opposed to this tech generation you’re just a text away, they know you are sitting in the same house year after year, easy to get ahold of if they want……..but what if you weren’t easy to get ahold of? what if they didn’t know where you were? Taken for granted, put on a shelf getting old until they decide they have use for you, or not..what if you just took off on some adventure and nobody could find you, instead of crying, moping for them? Thats when they would care. I can fantasize.

    3. rparents Post author

      Dear hitch,

      I like that you posted this. And … whether they miss us or not, those of us who are able to can disappear into adventures and enjoy our lives. We have this time on Earth. We might as well squeeze every ounce of enjoyment out of it. Crying? Moping? There’s just no time to waste our lives!!

      HUGS,
      Sheri McGregor

  2. Sydney

    Dolly,
    What has happened to you is so similar to what happened to us. After my husband died I worked with a grief therapist who often expressed concern about how our son would use my three little grandsons to control and manipulate me. He has and is doing exactly that. My eyes have been completely opened to his millennial wife who cuts through me like an emotional buzzsaw. I struggle against depression and feel so angry with them. Emotional and elder abuse from utterly self- absorbed narcissists. Most of all, I worry about how they affect my little grandsons.

    Reply
    1. Dolly

      Oh Sydney, I so relate to you as well. I also have struggled with depression most of my life. When my children were little, I enjoyed all the comforting love and felt for once that I had a purpose in life. Never in a million years did I foresee my son turning on me and threatening me and giving me ultimatums when he didn’t get his way. After my husband’s stroke, he informed me that I would never see my only grandchild again because he said he didn’t trust me around his family. It wasn’t the first time he emotionally abused me for no good reason. He has always had anger issues and I can see more clearly now that he just didn’t want to help us in our time of need or to have any responsibilities. To be a mother of such a selfish man is so shameful and so very sad. At first I felt like such a failure as a mother. But lately I realize that he has a very successful career and lots of friends so I was extremely good at my job. The cold truth is that he turned into someone that i don’t recognize anymore. You are correct. These abusers are apathetic, unemotional, ungrateful, poor excuses for human beings. The last thing my son said to me was, ” You are my mother, not my master.”
      It was like your worst nightmare coming true.
      I’m not sure what we are supposed to learn from all of this pain and torture, but I am trying very hard to find ways to cope and to survive. I suffer from severe fibromyalgia and am also a stroke survivor and have a bad leg and use a walker. By the way, years ago when I had my stroke, my son didn’t come to see me. I suppose that no one here will be surprised by that. Please try to hold on. This journey we are on must have better ending. We simply must believe that. Thank you for being you. I feel blessed that you have shared with me.

    2. Dolly

      As more time goes by and especially around the holidays, the memories of how poorly my son treated me come flooding back like muddy waters… right before my stroke several years ago, my husband and I had driven across the country to visit my son and his first wife. Before dinner their big pitbull jumped on me and knocked me down. I hurt my hip and had to hobble upstairs to lie down and asked for an icepack. I asked my son to please put the dog outside in their half acre fenced yard but he refused to do it!!! My husband and I decided to leave and had to find a hotel in the snowy weather late at night. He never apologized even after I had a bad stroke. I forgave him as I always tended to do but as he got into his forties he became even more callous and hardened. As a mother, I kept hoping he would be more loving, but he only got more cynical and harsh. He only called me when he needed to vent. When I offered advice, he informed me that if he wanted my advice he would have asked for it!! But I still stayed in the role of his punching bag. My self esteem was all but gone. I really doubt he will ever contact us again even though we have sent many loving letters for the past two years. But if he ever does, I am not sure if we would welcome him back into our lives. My husband is in his late 70’s and has no desire to ever hear from his only son again after what he had done. I recently spoke with another mother who has an estranged son. It was so comforting to share our stories as no one else can understand or relate to what we are all going through. I felt like God was trying to ease my pain and heartache.

  3. Carrie-Ann

    Reply to Rhonda’s post on October 24, 2022 at 2:58 am:
    Thank You Kindly Rhonda for your Kind words…Yes, we are all in this together…I’m reading/working through Beautiful Sheri’s 2nd book at present…

    Relative to the song, “The Prayer,” May We All Be Safe…This Healing online community is truly a safe place for us…

    Rhonda, sending Love & Hugs to You in Australia…and Each and Everyone in this online community…

    In Gratitude & Friendship,
    Carrie-Ann

    Reply
  4. Carrie-Ann

    Beautiful Beloved Ones,
    Thinking of you this morning…Sending a “Beautiful Weekend Wish” for each of you…Also sending the following lyrics and you tube link…Enjoy!!!
    In Friendship & Gratitude,
    Carrie-Ann

    https://youtu.be/qt_OkgSOrkU“ThePrayer”
    (Andrea Bocelli & Celine Dion) Lyrics:[Verse1: Céline Dion]
    I pray you’ll be our eyes, and watch us where we go
    And help us to be wise in times when we don’t know
    Let this be our prayer, when we lose our way
    Lead us to the place, guide us with your grace
    To a place where we’ll be safe

    [Verse 2: Andrea Bocelli and Céline Dion]
    La luce che tu dai
    I pray we’ll find your light
    Nel cuore resterà
    And hold it in our hearts
    A ricordarci che
    When stars go out each night
    Eterna stella sei
    Nella mia preghiera
    Let this be our prayer
    Quanta fede c’è
    When shadows fill our day
    Lead us to a place, guide us with your grace
    Giveus faith so we’ll be safe[Verse1: Céline Dion]
    I pray you’ll be our eyes, and watch us where we go
    And help us to be wise in times when we don’t know
    Let this be our prayer, when we lose our way
    Lead us to the place, guide us with your grace
    To a place where we’ll be safe

    [Verse 2: Andrea Bocelli and Céline Dion]
    La luce che tu dai
    I pray we’ll find your light
    Nel cuore resterà
    And hold it in our hearts
    A ricordarci che
    When stars go out each night
    Eterna stella sei
    Nella mia preghiera
    Let this be our prayer
    Quanta fede c’è
    When shadows fill our day
    Lead us to a place, guide us with your grace
    Giveus faith so we’ll be safe

    Reply
    1. Rhonda

      Thank you Carrie-Ann that was beautiful. You are so inspiring and I love reading your posts. Peace love and light to you and all of us here. With much gratitude…Rhonda… another sad Mum here in Australia but getting along just fine thanks to this site and Sheri’s books ♥️

  5. Lupin

    Beautiful reminder that life has it’s seasons. Thank you Sheri. I find I get stuck in the mud far more often post-estrangement. I wish for an in-person support group but so far despite living in the crowded bay area have not found one. Any tips welcome. I think this is such a unique journey, and far more rooted in societal changes than personal issues, that our experience is lonely and confusing. I am three years in. Only met my 1st grandchild for a couple hours in the first few months. I raised my sons to be emotionally integrated and independent. My oldest appears to be more co-dependent than he used to be. His wife is oriented towards control and conflict adverse. The type who is capable of lecturing her own father for dropping off a gift without permission. She tolerated our family for 14 years with occasional visits until the birth gave her the opportunity to cut us out entirely. I was not the first target, his brother’s girlfriend was. I have done all the begging, reaching out, sowing the seeds for reconciliation humanly possible. I now see them as abusive. Gotta keep moving on, but that mud is so sticky. I made an error this week and read a hostile to estranged parents rant on that crappy self-publishing site Medium. I felt depressed and hopeless for several days, until I realized, I wholly reject this generation’s lousy ideas about identity, personal happiness, and disrespect for family. They have chosen to worship self and power, the opposite path of love.

    Reply
    1. Dolly

      Lupin,
      I totally relate to your situation. Our son is in his late 40’s and has always been very independent and self absorbed. When my poor husband suffered a stroke two years ago, that’s when my disrespectful son decided to estrange both of us! When I finally stopped crying, I realized that I had blinders on for the past twenty years. I didn’t want to see or admit how cold and uncaring he had become. He treated his first wife poorly and left her when she gained weight. He became very shallow. I often referred to him as Shallow Hal like in the movie. He became arrogant and conceited and oftentimes cruel to me. Not so much to my husband. Just to me on the phone when no one could hear his hurtful words. As he got older, I prayed that he would change and mature and soften. But alas, he married a very controlling and arrogant wife who bore him a child even though he didn’t want one. We only got to see our only grandchild a couple of times. He will be six soon and surely has forgotten us. My poor husband cannot understand what happened and it saddens me to see him wondering what went terribly wrong. But like a typical man, he is very angry with our son and never cried like I did. I am certain that our son chose to estrange us soon after his father’s stroke so that he wouldn’t have to deal with it or help and support us in our time of need. He is all about him and I pray that someday he sees the incredible damage he has done. But we are old and probably won’t live to see that day. This support group has been a Godsend to us! We read the posts every night and find much comfort in everyone here. Thank you Sheri and God bless all the heartbroken parents here. We did our best and that’s all we could have done. We selflessly sacrificed decades of our lives to raise and nurture another human being. And if they don’t appreciate all that love we have given, well then as they say, It’s on them.

    2. Polly

      I, too, have stumbled across those articles published on Medium. They are of the “no contact” variety, and really awful. I’ve looked up the authors, and they are not educated in psychology or any sort of intellectual pursuit of understanding estrangement. They really sound like very immature young women who have found an outlet in Medium to gin up support for the theory that all sadness comes from your mother, and she is toxic and a narcissist. I doubt if these women know what a clinically diagnosed narcissist looks like, but their accusations of “gaslighting” mothers are almost an exact repeat of what I have heard from my estranged daughter over the years. It is a broken record of how I wasn’t there for her, but somehow I have boxes of photos, costumes, cheerleading paraphernalia, play programs, videos, wedding swag and on and on that shows that I was not only there for her, but I devoted much of my life to her in my pursuit of being a good mother. So, I’m staying away from the Medium-style writing and seeking support from sites like Rejected Parents. I also meditate. Enough is enough, and although I am sad to not have my daughter in my life, I also find I have very little chaos, distress and sadness.

      p.s. I am in the Bay Area, so if you would like to get together for coffee, I’m happy to meet up.

  6. Tovah

    I have a lasting memory of my first rollercoaster ride as a child. Someone talked me into it but as soon as it began I found myself screaming and needing to get off NOW!
    There stood my mother on the ground waving to me as we whooshed past her. I screamed as loudly as I could then, directly to her but she just continued waving and smiling.
    I just could not believe that she wouldn’t stop the ride! She had the power to do it. She was an adult! She could tell the person controlling it to stop it. “My daughter is screaming,” she could say and make them stop it.
    She did nothing of the kind. The ride ended. I wobbled off and I carried on like normal. I was in shock about the scariness of the ride and the fact that she did not rescue me from it. Of course all the kids had been screaming. She probably thought my screams were from excitement.
    Either way, I imagine that I told her I hated it afterwards and I imagine that she just patted me on the back and smiled, being the free range parent that she was. (Most of the parents from the sixties were.)
    She expected me to try things, even scary things, as you said, to borrow from experience and learn!
    Parents are not created to make their children’s lives magical or easy. They are teachers there to present opportunities, encourage experimentation and face it all with courage. My mother did just that when she made me try that rollercoaster and waved at me as I wailed in terror.
    I didn’t know it at the time but she did a great thing for me. I can still see that beautiful face of hers and that smile, projecting such confidence in me for trying something I was afraid of.
    In all of our despair losing our daughters I have experienced a heightened gratitude for the mother I have, who I would never reject no matter what.
    Our yard has a thick carpet of fall leaves on it and it is such a treasure to behold. Enjoy your fall display, Sheri! Soak it all in because it will be gone before we know it.

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      Thank you, Tovah. I will enjoy the fall. You do the same…And now you get to be the one to choose, don’t you? Whether to stop the ride or not.
      🙂
      HUGS,
      Sheri

    2. Dolly

      Tovah,
      Your childhood story about your relationship with your mother is so moving and inspiring. It really touched my heart. And then at the end of your post you made such a good point about how parents are not supposed to provide a world soley of fantasy or painted ponies. We spend countless hours that turn into decades full of life’s valuable tools and lessons that we deem necessary and important for physical, mental, creative and spiritual growth. We don’t expect to be given any rewards. However we do expect a little kindness and unconditional love. The type of love we received from them when they were little and looked up to us as if we were perfect and wonderful. And then we hoped that they would always forgive us as human beings are supposed to do for fellow humans. When we gave birth to them we never in a million years thought that they would reject us someday. Otherwise we would never have become parents! I really enjoyed your words of wisdom. Let’s all give ourselves a much deserved pat on the back for all that we have accomplished as amazing parents. No one can ever take that away from us. No one.

  7. Faith

    Another great article, thank you Sheri. We are savoring our favorite season of the year with all of nature’s beauty! We are looking forward to winter with shorter days and cozy nights. A time of a little hibernation while watching the sunrise and the sunset. Savoring the quiet season. Cozying up with a blanket, good book, cup of coffee and watching a good show or movie. Also bundling up with warm clothes to venture out for a walk in the park watching the seasons change. There is so much to look forward to. Blessings and peace to all of us.

    Reply
  8. Toni D.

    Sheri:
    Thank you for the encouraging articles and your wisely written books that help me understand that we can choose to accept what our estranged kids have decided and intentionally build meaningful lives. I am so thankful I found this site and your books.
    Best,
    Toni

    Reply

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