Dumped by adult kids? Get into the Zone

dumped by adult kids

Dumped by adult kids? Get into the Zone

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

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

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

But . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My old friend

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

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

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

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

Creativity, mood, and flow

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

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

My Valentine’s Day research

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

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

The challenge

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

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

Related reading

Mindful photography: Find your “self” in photos

The history of flower meanings

Flower language in the Victorian era



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27 thoughts on “Dumped by adult kids? Get into the Zone

  1. dmckinleyp

    Hi Sheri, Thanks this is one of your loveliest and most useful posts. I heard of that book (Flow) way back then and was intrigued but of course never read it. It reminded me of the state of “Zen tennis” I got into once or twice. Your comments about finding Flow while aging will come in handy as I get older, but fortunately I only have to deal with some neuroma, nothing serious. I am wrapped up in your rejectedparents.net forum and I don’t have time to read all these replies but they are helpful too.

  2. Mary S.

    These replies from all of you are mostly positive and heart warming. Some of you are still suffering. Our daughter and her husband pulled away at the end of a what we thought was a wonderful family visit last June. Cut us off from our two grandsons. It was shocking but with the distance we see things more clearly. We have had difficulties off and on with her for over twenty years
    I was a retired RN. Fortunately I got a very part time position in a family practice office doing follow up phone calls to patients with chronic illness. I go into my zone at work focusing on my patients and helping them. My husband and I have gotten very close. I am closer to my other two daughters. They are a source of joy, even though they live far away. I have a volunteer activity with our church. Have several wonderful friends.
    My husband and I put up with too much disrespect to maintain the relationship. This will not happen again. Life is too short to tolerate that. We are good people and were loving and giving parents. This newsletter and the articles here have been very helpful. Thank you Sheri!

  3. Lynn H.

    I don’t know what I would have done without you for the past 6 years of estrangement from our adult daughter. Her contempt was palpable for several years leading up to the final break and we missed the births of her 6 year old twin boys and the youngest 3 year old. She told us we did not “fit in to her new family” and she never wanted to hear from us again. Yes, she was an entitled child – a USSA ski racer age 10( Junior Olympics)through college (NCAA) and our lives revolved around her sport. It was a full time job to coordinate her race events, travel, hotels and my call schedule. Her father, stepfather and I worked the race courses and at least one parent was present for every race except internationally. We were good devoted parents. I don’t know as we will ever completely recover from the grief.

    Turns out that she got a new therapist in the past year and now has said the estrangement was all her fault and she wants us in her life and in her children’s lives. We travelled from SW Florida to NW Oregon on Christmas Day to meet the grandchildren and reconnect for 3 days. She is a good mother and now says that we were wonderful parents and she will parent the same way that we parented our children! She is reading to her children the same books I read to her every night before bedtime when she was their age. I was able to play floor hockey in the garage with the boys and taught them to play checkers. We had a good time playing mini golf at 40° F one night! I brought her some popover pans and taught her to bake the popovers she loved. The boys loved them, too, and especially watching them pop up in the oven.

    I wonder how much all of this estrangement epidemic has to do with unhealthy therapists keeping their clients as victims to maintain their revenue stream.

    You don’t hear many “happy endings” stories. Our relationship with our daughter is evolving as adults and I have made it clear that no amount of eye-rolling or contempt will be tolerated. She seems completely changed and genuine in her sincerity. Warm and respectful as the daughter we remembered until her early 20s. It is an all day event to travel from our home to hers but she did FaceTime last week and one of her sons wanted a virtual tour of our home so he could see the pool, the dog and where he would be sleeping when they visit! I hear from her almost daily.

    As a retired OB/GYN, I want you to know that you and your work have also touched many lives. I will be eternally grateful.

  4. SS

    Wondering if anyone can provide advice for a Momma who’s 16 year old son seems to be trying to cross over to estrangement. He has also been my boy and we have always had a great relationship however, recently, he has begun shutting me out and being very negative if I ask any questions. In addition, he has randomly become rude and disrespectful to not only myself but his younger sister, grandparents, father and family in general. I feel like I’m in a tough spot as we are still his parents and this behavior is unacceptable. He has always been an excellent student and child, we have rarely had any issues with him to this point. My husband seems to think this is just his way of starting to become an adult but it doesn’t feel like that at all. My heart is breaking! Help please!

  5. Daisy

    Hi All,

    My zone and therapy is crochet. Whenever I feel agitated or unsettled, I bring out the hook and yarn, and within minutes, I’m focusing on the pattern and leave the BS behind.

    My favourite thing these days is to find op-shop/thrift shop woollies, and after washing and drying, unravel them to up-cycle the yarn into market bags to sell.

    I also make baby blankets, toys, afghans, dog beds, hot water bottle covers, socks, beanies, and floor mats, either as gifts, or for my own use.

    I can’t tell you how much pleasure I get from my creations, and the added bonus is that I also get a little bit of pocket money.

    Love to all

  6. JANE

    Dear Sherri, thank you for this beautiful encouragement and inspiration. I experienced this ‘flow after two years of estrangement from my daughter. I created six songs about my journey through estrangement and I would like to write a short stories about my escape from communist country, something that I would never do if my daughter would not estrange me. Dear estranged parents: ” Stay strong, do not give up on life and start creating!”

  7. Shan

    During my first estrangement in 2020-2021, my husband and I were invited to vacation in Hawaii with another child and their family. I took the first book Done With the Crying with me to read on the flight. I must have been “in the flow” because inadvertently left the book in the hotel. I thought that someone who found the book might benefit from it. We were elated when our estranged son reconnected for a brief few months. Now we’re blindsided again in 2023 with no contact again. I’m reading Beyond Done With The Crying and want to avail myself of support groups. My trust and expectations have been shattered. Even with my husband having a life-saving surgery in December 2023, our son did not reach out. Sometimes I find myself saying, “Who is this cruel person I don’t understand and really know anymore?” I feel like I’m living someone else’s life as before this happened to me, estrangement from an adult child was not on my radar at all.

  8. Ellen M.

    It has been. 21/2 years since my daughter stopped talking to me. I have been to counseling and learned to techniques to help me cope with the loss. Since I’m up in age, I will have to make decisions regarding my estate. I would like to join a group of like-minded people. As to the making decisions when I’m hurt.

    1. Misabella D.

      The estranged parents community appears to be growing in this modern era. Although I’m in my early 50s. I face some of the same fears you express… aging and the future. We cannot control any human other than ourselves. As such we must find ways to cope with and survive the pain of estrangement from our children. We really have no other choice but to choose to live our lives despite the agony of the loss. We didn’t ask or plan for this pain especially as we get older. Whatever gets us through today and then tomorrow,is what we can control to some extent. Praying all of us estranged parents find that thing or things in our lives. Know that we all did the best we could for these individuals who today choose to exclude us from their lives.

  9. Liz P.

    Sheri, I love this post, showing several different ways of finding meaning and value after an adult-child estrangement. For me right now, it’s playing piano, writing letters to old friends, helping at my volunteer organization, and staying healthy. It’s working! Your book was my first real step toward getting over this estrangement and seeing it clearly for the first time. Thank you so much. All the other books were so focused on blaming parents, even really good parents, for not being perfect! Yours is much more realistic. And honest.

    The main realization for me in this post is that being a parent is a ROLE—it is not an identity. I am not defined by my ROLE as a parent, which was temporary care and raising of a beloved child until they were 18 (actually 22, after college). Once they’re (in my child’s case) 42, that job is long past over. And that’s natural too, for parenting to be one phase, one part of a life, but not by any means all of it. Sources of joy and meaning in life come from many sources and activities, large and small. Being a parent is only one thing among many things in a life, and it is appropriate for that role to recede when the child is grown and gone.

    Isn’t it a mistake to think that we are only defined in life by any one role, whether that is a job, a family relationship, a hobby, a social status, a sport, or anything else? In a rich, full life, we have many different roles at many times, and none of them will be permanent. But we can always find joy and meaning in activities we choose to do every day. Like the people in your post, whether it is watercolor, or home improvement, or reading, or whatever, there is a whole lot of joy and value and meaning to be found in everyday life. Our lives are bigger, better, and more complete than these estrangements. Thanks again.

  10. Ann

    I can so relate to this article. I stumbled into doing jigsaw puzzles. I can get lost in trying to find the right piece and there is satisfaction as the puzzle grows. It is my happy place.

  11. Gary & Sharon

    This article about flow really describes myself and my husband perfectly. It has been roughly two years now since our 4 children banned together and estranged us. Our flow when we were a happy family was to help our kids with whatever project they needed help with. Now my life has taken on a new flow, by operating a non-profit with my mini horses (I have had horses all my life;they are my therapy) I am a insured, certified mini horse therapy handler and I go into nursing homes and children’s hospitals. Along with my husbands support I am bringing much needed joy and healing. My husbands flow developed into a building a big new work shop at our home. Which some of the building is used for my non-profit. So to help with the pain and help with the healing we are together filling our life with a flow that gives back and even though our children were our world and we were excellent parents, we are moving on and living life because you just don’t know how long you will be able to “flow”. We are all good people and most of all superhero parents.

  12. Millie

    After 10 years of estrangement, .my daughter and I are talking.. She reached out to me because she had learned her husband had cancer and she needed someone to talk with about her situation. She admitted that she had been cruel to me and asked for forgiveness, which I accepted
    We now talk often and realize the wasted time

  13. Maria

    This was perfect. Time is passing and new happiness has to come from letting go of past sadness. Accepting the road ahead of me is as challenging as raising a daughter that denied me the honor or the title of Mother.

  14. Katherine

    Sheri, your writing is always so positive! I am going on two years since my older son turned on us, suddenly and without warning, influenced by a new girlfriend. While it has been heartbreaking and brought me to my knees, I have finally chosen not to sink into despair and ruminate over his sad choices. I have learned to focus on all the good that is in my life, my loving younger son and his sweet fiancé, my wonderful husband, and my supportive friends and family, and the happy activities that fill my days. Your uplifting words always help to keep me going in that good and positive direction!

  15. Sherri M.

    Thank you so much for your articles Sheri. I’ve been reading them and I have your book – Done With the Crying.

  16. Trish

    Funny thing for me is I do my best drawing/writing/designing when my life is in shards. This must be my “flow”. I designed and redid two front porches when I was going through my first estrangement. I should hate those porches, but I don’t. They kept me from depression.

    Sometimes I wonder if the whirlwind life I seem to thrive on has caused some my estrangement problem.

    Something I noticed when reading about other estranged folks is that it seems to happen more when people are going into their golden years.

    I just did something I never did before. I told my estranged child what I thought of the way he has behaved toward me and others. I am no longer supporting and looking the other way at the bad behavior. I was an enabler.

  17. Lynn A.

    I finally went to my attic where all my kids school yearbooks and picture albums were hiding. I got them out, boxed them up and drive past my two estranged daughters houses when they weren’t home and dropped them off with a note that perhaps they would like these and if not they could choise what to do with them. Done. I threw my sons year books out. He lives far away and would not want them if I died. So I am sorting and donating and throwing out everything except what makes me happy. Thank you for giving me hope

    1. Jo Ann Q.

      Wow, I’m doing the same. 1 year after a very traumatic episode, my 26 year old grandson got myocarditis, ended up with mechanical heart, waiting for heart transplant. He’s my first. We were very close. I, an RN FOR 50 years, was kicked out of the process. It was illogical and shocking. It Jan 14/23. Have not seen them since, none of my other grands, nor my 2 daughters. I suffered for a year! And now I’m making steps and reclaiming my life! I’ve been purging! It’s like finally dropping someone’s luggage! I’m finding my hidden self. A writer of my career in hospice. THAT WAS MINE! Tossing what’s NOT MINE, is cleansing. And shockingly, I do not regret it.
      I am sorting thru boxes of photos and will have someone else drop them off. Following lots of therapy, medications for depression(!) I look in the mirror and see me! Your books have been so helpful and truly have lit my pathway!!, I’ve shared them w my therapist! THANK YOU!!

  18. Kristy R.

    Dear Sherri, loved your article and reading about immersing yourself in the flow and people’s stories on coping. This Valentine’s day I sent out a Happy Valentine’s text with emojis to friends and loved ones. Some beat us by sending a Happy Valentine’s text first and we got loving ones back from everyone we had sent one too and did not reach out to estranged daughters this year. We took a beautiful, suny Arizona walk in nature, sat in the sun and watched the birds at our feeders. Cooked a special dinner. Happy Valentines to everyone and try to get something special out of each day because you are special and worth it.

  19. Mary

    I am thankful, at age 74, I can continue to give piano lessons to mostly children. It has preserved my sanity as I am mostly cut off from my 2 only grandchildren who live far away. 6 years since I last spoke to our son-he has forbidden contact with us, even though he has divorced his wife, I believe he is still threatening her if we do have contact via the internet. I doubt I will ever see them again and have to accept that fact and pour my energies into my students. I like the idea of getting the focus off of the situation and transfer it to things that are positive and uplifting. I am a song writer as well, and I really need to get back into doing that more. Keeping busy is such a good plan to help one stop obsessing over what can’t be. Thanks again for your words of wisdom as one of us who has been there and can empathize with what we are going through.

  20. Stanton R.

    I love your acute sense of striving beyond the
    stress of being rejected as a parent.
    The artarticles help but the morbid stain On my self
    doesn’t go away.

  21. Kameela

    Sheri thank you as always for your guiding inspiration. Initially at the beginning of our estrangement with our eldest son[ totally out of the blue) I felt as though I had my legs chopped off below the knees. I was in despair. We would talk about it my husband and I but then he said he didn’t want to talk about it any longer as it was too painful. I was googling rejected parents and found you. So glad I did. Your posts have helped to motivate me back to being in charge of my well being. I wasn’t going to let estrangement eat away at my purpose. Life’s too short.Luckily I had organised many creative activities at retirement and I have to say that I found my flow pursuing them . Every now and then the estrangement cloud appears I peek at it and then watch it float away.My mother told me from a very young age not to expect anything from anyone, that way you’ll never be disappointed. She was so wise. Thank you again. Best wishes.Kameela

  22. Doris Q.

    I have now gotten to the point that I am 100% sure I am better off without people who can be losers like this Do I sound angry? I am not. Was I heartbroken? Beyond belief! Have I missed out on Grandchildren I have not met? Maybe. Don’t know them. Maybe they are nice kids, maybe not. I feel bad that they never got to know their Grandma and Grandpa. Maybe they think we are dead. It’s been over 9 years. And no children were born before the estrangement. But do I ever have great memories of life before this happened. And I can enjoy of all those memories without crying now. Done with the crying!

  23. Nancy C.

    Dear Sheri,
    I have read your books and newsletters…you are an amazing Woman ! It’s been (7) years since my Son estranged and blasted me on Facebook. Now I’ve hit a wall- again ! But this time I’m unable to pick myself up ! My daughter who is less than a year older than my son has my 7 year old grandson . She has been pulling away from me with my grandson whom I’ve had a relationship with since he was born. Why ? I can only guess since she refuses to talk openly about anything. Yes…I have lost it and cannot get back up.

    1. Evangeline

      Hello Nancy, I was just perusing the comments and yours stands out. Hopefully by this time you are back up. You know, I have read so many comments by parents, I’m a fast reader, and there is a common thread in most of them. Bad parents don’t come to blogs and lament children who threw them away, only good parents do that, I’m sure, speaking generally. The thing is, “Honor Your Mother and Father”, is a Commandment from God, and these young people do not do that. It is a sign of our times, and if you think about it, goes perfectly with the general way the world is going. Something is inconvenient for you? Quit. Don’t want something anymore? Throw it out and get a new one. It’s a disposable society. And ditching parents is all the rage, therapists can be at least partly responsible for it. My son is almost 50, and started threatening it when he became involved in transgender issues two years ago. Four weeks ago, he told me he never respected me, that I was a self-appointed martyr, and I never gave him love, compassion, or patience. I’m hurting, but not devastated. He has mental health issues, and was hospitalized at one point, also alcoholism. His therapists encouraged him to sever our relationship. See he’s got to have someone to blame for the mess he’s in, and it can’t be him. He always had an issue with me. So I’m sad, very, very worried about him, and it comes and goes, but life must go on. It does no good to stop life and lay in bed. You have to get up, get moving, and find the joy. God bless you and all the hurting parents out there, what a godsend to have a place to go and find someone in the same situation.
      You know, parents can examine things and hear their child’s grievance, but healthy adults don’t rake parents over the coals for being humans, they express gratitude for being brought in the world and raised at all, and if they don’t, they’re ingrates really. Let’s face it, many of us did far too much for our kids, and they turned into entitled, resentful adults. That was another theme in many comments, obviously overly indulged children. The most spoiled kids I knew when I was a child were three kids who’s mom had an abusive husband. She did everything for them and gave them all she had. They ended up rotten, rotten to her in particular. Ironically, neglected kids often adore their parents. Who can understand human psychology. Anyway, they say success is the best revenge, you don’t need revenge at all but if you really want to get their goat go out there and make a life for yourself! Be happy, they’ll be astounded you can go on existing without them, as if you didn’t live for 20 or so years before them. 🙂


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