Estrangement: What’s your costume to help?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Costumes aren’t just suitable for Halloween. Choosing a sort of “costume” can be a helpful support in times of stress.

estranged from adult childrenMost of us are familiar with the old term, “dress for success.” The idea was that the clothes we wear convey a message to others about who we are and what we can do. But clothing can convey helpful messages to ourselves, too.

Your clothes:
It’s not always about what other people think

Years ago as a young mother of five, attending writers’ conferences and networking events for the first few times felt scary. Having to shake strangers’ hands and present myself as a professional writer had me trembling. On some level, those sorts of things still jangle my nerves a bit, but I learned a trick to help: put on a “costume” and step into the role. Back then, that meant business attire. Looking professional made me feel more confident. The new people I met didn’t need to know that I worked from a home office off my bedroom with toddlers playing at my feet.

Help yourself, help others
How your clothes make you feel

Just the other day, after a couple of stressful weeks full of … well, let’s just call them “situations,”  I fell back on the tactic to help me–and help a friend.

Feeling particularly harried on the day I’d planned a visit with a friend, the last thing I wanted to do was spread my tension to her. She had her own stresses—a daughter with recent health complications, career adjustments, family drama, and general stress. I almost cancelled that morning, but hadn’t seen her in months. So I chose a feel-good “costume” instead.

estrangement of parentsHere I am, exhausted but hopeful in my colorful, elasticized waist, handkerchief hemmed skirt and a bright blouse with embroidery swirls. Rather than trouble myself to style my hair, I swept it into a clip, buckled on my most comfortable shoes, and tossed some beads around my neck. That skirt always feels so breezy and easy. It flows when I walk—and I could imagine myself drifting along, a wave of peace and joy. Maybe it’s silly, but it helped.

I did tell my friend a little of what had been going on in my life, but my “costume” served as a reminder to let the troubles drift away. My costume felt a little like Glenda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz that day, but I was told I looked more like a kindergarten teacher. Either way, my role was one of peace.

Estranged parents: What’s your costume?

That evening, I thought about all the different “costumes” I’ve worn over the years. At one point, I had a sparkly duck lapel pin for an organization’s meetings where I played a leadership role. That pretty little duck helped me remember to let complaints roll right off my back like a duck sheds water. And once, for a trying personal meeting that required emotional armor, I chose a bell-sleeved tunic with a metallic print on the front. That top looked stylish but felt like protection for my heart.

With the holidays approaching, maybe you’re facing uncertain or uncomfortable situations surrounding your adult child’s estrangement. If so, consider what sort of “costume” will help. I wouldn’t feel good in clothes that bind, but someone else might feel supported by more structured apparel. Maybe you wear a soft jacket that’s suitable indoors (for an added layer of emotional padding), or a solid pair of shoes that keep you standing firm.

The clothing you choose can be another form of self-kindness and self-support. You’ve seen me in my good witch teacher “costume.” Now, leave a comment and tell me about yours!

For more information about estrangement and how to move forward after an adult child’s estrangement, read the books.

Related Reading:

Estranged? Enjoy the holidays anyway

Holidays for parents rejected by adult children

When adult children reject parents: Be kind to yourself this holiday season

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25 thoughts on “Estrangement: What’s your costume to help?

  1. Bethann L.

    I have been without my children 8 to 12 years. I divorced my ex, and he threatens the kids to not speak with me. They are 31 and 26, their fear of their father is powerful. We met at my father’s company, worked together for 20 years. We owned a duplex next to my parent’s home. I inherited my parent’s home, he got the duplex in our divorce. He is now selling it. He’s marrying a friend of mine and moving. It leaves me to wonder what my children think, they were classmates their whole life.

    Reply
  2. Diane J.

    Hello
    I am new to this site and want to thank everyone who contributes as it has helped me to have a better outlook on things.
    My story is different to most that I have read here but the bottom line is my daughter doesn’t want me in her life.
    My abusive ex husband absconded with my daughter when she was 14 years old and they lived an isolated unconventional existence travelling around Australia. I didn’t know their whereabouts most of the time. I had sporadic contact with my daughter but she told me not to contact her again and she didn’t want me in her life. I was vaguely coming to terms with this.
    My ex and I had shared care of our daughter, she didn’t want to be with me before he took off with her. She had been groomed and brainwashed for years by my ex into thinking I was mad and an unworthy mother so I understand fully
    her believing this.
    I hadn’t seen my daughter for 7 years until April this year when my ex informed me she was in ICU after having a massive brain haemorrhage and she might not make it. He said I have let you know but stay away as she doesn’t want to see you.
    I found out my legal rights and went to visit her for a month initially and then transferred my job and stayed in Adelaide for a further 3 months to offer my support and love to help her heal. We had some close times together and then all of a sudden overnight things changed, she totally ignored me when I visited and pushed me away when I went to hug her.
    My daughter is in rehab now and has a long way to go, she can’t talk or walk but made it obvious on my last visit with her she doesn’t want me there. She has refused all phone calls and video chats with me.
    I am going to visit her again this weekend and I am fully prepared to get rejected. I will sit in on a few of her rehab sessions and keep a low profile. I feel very conflicted as I don’t want to push my agenda on to her but I want to let her know I am there for her.
    I have to accept things as they are and be prepared to walk away, it is very upsetting though.
    She is constantly on my mind and I am having a lot of, if only she would let me help her, I could help her so much. I work in the disability field so she could stay with me once she transitions out of rehab instead of going into shared accommodation where she may be neglected.
    I have to let go and just pray it all works out for her.
    Thank you
    Diane

    Reply
  3. Ruthanne

    Last week was my daughter’s 33rd birthday. We have not seen her for four years since she got married. Birthdays and holidays are hard, but on her birthday, my husband and I got dressed up and went out to a fancy restaurant and spent the money that we would have spent on her by having a nice dinner ourselves.

    Reply
  4. sue

    The costume I’ve been wearing since the estrangement of my adult son is that of a patient, understanding, and hopeful mother. Inside, I feel devastated and confused, and never stop wondering what I did wrong.

    Reply
    1. Victoria M.

      It will get better hopefully for you , my son has been coming and going from our lives for around 9years now . He says it’s because he was immature and didn’t understand that what he interpreted as interference was in actual fact love and concern. I sincerely hope and pray you will get your happy ending, although now I’m a lot more guarded but I still love him unconditionally. Lots of Love and hugs to you.

  5. Ria

    I think ‘finding your costume’ is a great idea. Very therapeutic, and it really helps give you a sense of caring for yourself and refinding your identity, not just that of a mother or grandmother. Estrangement makes you feel very alone, even when you still have contact with other family members. My eldest daughter has been in and out of my life for many years, finally persuading my grown-up grandchildren to stop contact with me too, and the pain never lessens. Thank you for the site. I’m so, so glad I found it. It feels so good to have new friends that understand.

    Reply
  6. Joan

    We, my husband and I are newbies! We have not lost our daughter to complete estrangement but even a little hurts. We’re praying and preparing for what may come. Friends gave all these wonderful books and links. We are on a journey and bless all who are journeying with us.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Jenny

    Someone mentioned your books on Reddit and how your books helped them. I googled the books and found your site today. Then, I signed up for the emails. I have been on an endless rollercoaster ride that I am ready to jump off of. My husband and I team drive a semi, so I don’t have much time out from under the wheel. Therefore, I have been listening to books as I drive to get my negative voices to stop. I look forward to exploring your books. Thank you for helping us with our pain.

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      Jenny,

      I’m really glad you found the site! I’m so very sorry you needed it though.

      I hope you will find my work informative, soothing, and helpful.

      Take care out there, and I wish you safe travels.

      Hugs,
      Sheri McGregor

  8. Castaway

    It’s been almost a year!!! I’m afraid I’ve been wearing the invisible costume of a sad clown . I read your book Done with the crying 6 months ago and am reading it again. I am going to family councilling I have an excellent therapist helping me through this. Next I will read your next book. Thank you for helping me realize this is not my fault I did not choose this. My son still keeps in contact with my husband yes his Dad which makes it much mote difficult not just for me but both. My daughter has also been abandoned by them and my oldest son has difficulty with this as well. This has affected the whole family but I’m believing this has destroyed my estranged son the most. I have not seen my baby granddaughter since Nov 2021 nor has my husband because he is almost blind and needs me to drive him. What a shame. Now I will wear my skinny jeans with my a big smile on my face. That’ll be my costume from this day forward. THANK YOU

    Reply
    1. Carrie-Ann

      1-17-22
      Good Morning Dearest Castaway!!
      You say you have “been wearing the invisible costume of a sad clown,” and shared your thoughts and experiences of what that entails…As I was reading your comments, my Heart was filled with Compassion & Love for you…I Appreciate that you have really put in your time, energy, and attention with on-going counseling and reading Beautiful Sheri’s books. I also feel such Appreciation for Beautiful Sheri, her books, and this online community…
      And then, at the very end of your writing you put a “big cherry on top,” of the whole deal by saying, “I will wear my skinny jeans with a big smile on my face. That’ll be my costume from this day forward.”
      Sooo, of course, that put a big smile on my face…Sooo, I just had to reply to your comments, In Celebration of your wearing your skinny jeans with a big smile on your face…from this day forward…Amen to that sister!!!
      May You, Your Husband, and All Be Blessed In Body, Mind, & Spirit!!!
      In Gratitude & Friendship,
      Carrie-Ann

  9. Annie

    Thank you so much for this forum. This is truly a healing and safe support group. How we all can identify with the pain, confusion, and sadness of rejection. In my case, this punishment far outweighs the crime. I have three amazing granddaughters that I have been unable to have contact with. I continue to send gifts and letters to them, but only hear ( from my adult son and brother of my estranged daughter ) that they were received and that they miss me very much. I feel like I am losing my mind with mood swings worse than when I went through menopause!! It has effected my relationships with my siblings and husband ( not their father) I am trying to focus on self-love and care and trying to remember myself before I was a mother and grandmother. Therapists often don’t understand the debilitating pain, but the women in this forum do. Thank you. I am ordering the books now. Banishment is the cruelest form of hate.

    Reply
    1. Anne

      Banning someone from a beautiful family experience hurts everyone so much. My estranged daughter now lives about two miles from my close 2nd daughter and her two children, by chance. It really does feel like being punished for a horrible crime. I am a retired therapist and even I don’t understand except that sometimes personality or political differences seem to be enough.
      Warm regards for your progress in reclaiming your sense of self.

  10. MJ

    Just finished the first book and my husband is now reading it also , will be interesting to see how our thoughts , feelings and way of coping and working on things (healing) surface. Looking forward the continuing the journey with help from second book coming out in few days .

    Reply
  11. Sherry H.

    I am just beginning the journey of healing. Finding this site, this book, you, feels like I’ve just gulped my first breath of air in a sea of near drowning for the past 29 years. Thank you, Sheri and everyone who has shared their hearts and stories. I look forward to the healing.

    Reply
  12. Strong

    I use music. You can find this beautiful and empowering song on Youtube: Change on the Rise by Avi Kaplan.

    Reply
  13. Patricia

    So thankful I have found this site! Thank you Sheri for being “ you” so excited to get the book !!!! God be with you all!!!!!

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Patricia,
      I’m thankful you found your way here, too! (Although I am not happy you have the need.)

      Hugs to you,
      Sheri McGregor

  14. Intothemystic

    This is my first time here. I found this idea of a costume so helpful. I won’t see any of my kids on this coming Easter but this year I will put my costume on that makes me feel good and strong. I need goodness and strength right now. I’m grateful I finally found a forum that addresses adult children with parents. I’ve been looking for years and all I find is parents abuse kids. These are very wise words I’ve read here especially the woman who said this, “ it make s me feel good, is very comfortable for the climate i live in (israel) and it reminds me of who i am, not who my estranged daughter thinks i am.” Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      Intothemystic,

      I am SO happy that you have found this site! Thank you for commenting. We do need to dress for our own success … at joy, at happiness, at feeling good.

      HUGS,
      Sheri McGregor

  15. Onlychildmom

    I’ve chosen to wear a colorful apron–the kind that hangs from the neck and ties at the waist. Makes me look like a typical mom and a little old fashioned and vulnerable. When the adult children arrive for dinner they seem to note the change from my usual attire. I think they let down their defenses a bit and begin to relax.

    Reply
  16. melanie z.

    i try conservative with a little flair. i have a plain blue loose cotton and bamboo weave dress, that i wear with a fringed vest in faux leather that is long (the fringes touch the hem of hte dress even) it make s me feel good, is very comfortable for the climate i live in (israel) and it reminds me of who i am, not who my estranged daughter thinks i am.

    Reply

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