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 book: Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children (Fathers, it’s for you too. See Note to Fathers)

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

  1. Lynne

    Hi Sheri, I like this article. I do think about one of the ways, after all these years of estrangement, that I stayed myself was how I dress. As all of us who have gone through self esteem issues during estrangement I was always able to care about having a nice appearance. I am thankful I never stopped caring about how my hair looked, putting on my makeup, and looking nice. Since getting older now I do not enjoy mall shopping as much…but I still love pretty, feminine clothes, jewelry, shoes, etc. I struggle at times with enjoying many things I once did…..but not pretty clothes. Thank you for this article and making me think about with all my losses in life that I never lost this part of me. I am happy you enjoy this too. Love, Lynne

    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Lynne,

      I’ve read your comment four or five times, and every time, I like it even more! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hadn’t really thought of it as retaining a part of me … but yes, it’s true. Thank you for adding to this whole idea with that, because it can inspire others to see and hold onto themselves too.
      Sheri McGregor

  2. Anna

    What would be my “costume” today for the painful constriction around my heart? After seeing a photo of my adult son (in his mid-40s), smiling, handsome, and looking so professional in his business attire at a major investment firm where he has been highly successful, I have quickly returned to feeling like the Wicked Witch of the East, feeling undeserving of any of his love or respect. I have not seen him or talked to him for four years after his last ridiculous bout of blaming me for all of his wife’s pathological behavior, that included her lying/stealing of my cards/money/gifts.

    Reading his short bio about how his “family life is soooo wonderful” with his (delusional, schizophrenic, cruel, cheating, insanely jealous, obnoxious, etc.) wife, along with his two “wonderful boys” (the oldest, who, at barely 3 years old, tried to viciously kill his younger baby brother with a baseball bat while he sat in my lap). This was the first time I had visited them since their wedding (five years earlier), and this was certainly the last time with this “Adams’ Family” scenario.

    My son’s incredible “denial” about his spouse to his friends (who all united to stop him from marrying her before the wedding); and to me, where his painful transferences have been ongoing since marrying this frightening demonic woman almost a decade ago, has been the most painful “descent” (into living hell) I have ever personally witnessed. A formerly loving, athletic, popular, kind, sweet son and happy soul, has slinked into alcoholic depression in order to cope with his terrible stress at home. (I am serious when I say that I would not be surprised if she is sneaking a little arsenic into daily coffee every day so she can steal all his money and be with her other lovers).

    I did not think that looking at his photos today would send me backwards into self-blaming/self-loathing pain, but it did. I have been working well at moving on in my life, and letting go of what I cannot change; but today, it hurt, again. The pain was very intense, all over again. Heartbreaking, yes, because I still love and miss my son. And worry for his life.

    However, while writing on this safe, blessed sight, where we can freely express our pain, as well as our achievements, in grieving the loss of our adult children, I am calming down again and “controlling my descent” into a familiar state of misery. As if talking to myself from a protective, loving parent perspective, not as a the betrayed and abandoned child, I won’t let these emotional downslides define who I am today, as they once did in the past.

    So perhaps, I am not that Wicked Witch from the East that I thought I was earlier. Perhaps I have become Dorothy, clicking my red sparkling shoes together, and saying over and over, “I want to go Home.” Home to me now is where I feel safe, comfortable, free from insane blame and incredible chaos, to a place of peace and kindness, that I look forward to sharing with my husband on a regular basis now.

    1. rparents Post author

      Oh Anna,

      I’m glad that you felt free to share your experiences (and feelings–and yes, let’s all don some sparkly red shoes, click our heels, and make our homes lovely spaces of kindness and peace. I love that sentiment!

      Sheri McGregor

  3. Josefa

    Hello… Thank you very much for these articles… i am right now grieving for my estranged son, the eldest…the last trigger happened the other day at the grocery store… i was devastated … and reading these serves as guideposts to help me in coping with the pain brought about by rejection…. i am grateful for the loving thoughts that goes with it…again, thank you …

  4. Gin Kennedy

    Such a simple idea really-clothing/ costume and I have decided to think about this everyday.

  5. Charlotte34

    I am newly estranged from my 20 year old daughter. She has suffered from mental health problems which have seen me put my own life and needs (and my husbands) on a back burner for a few years now. My new costume will be one of a confident and attractive woman, the woman I left behind when I began to be blamed for everything that had gone wrong in my daughter’s life.

  6. S.H.

    Dear ladies, I feel too sad to make myself look better…I will try to though to start with some jewellery !
    You ladies are an inspiration . I feel like you are talking about my pain!

  7. Lyla

    New here. Havent spoken to our youngest son for 3 years. Hes an alcoholic. My heart is broken. His brother got married and it was beautiful but I felt like I was drowning in sorrow that his brother wasnt there. Hes cut himself off from us completely after we had to discontinue helping him financially because it was just feeding his addiction. He went missing and we filed a report and ended up finding him by getting on a plane and physically looking for him. We miraculously found him and spent a few days trying to reason with him. When we were leaving his dad asked if he would stay in touch and he said probably not and we havent heard from him since. I had police do a wellness check to calm my nerves after a year and they reported he was good. I reached out once to get a message to him that we did love him and miss him but no response. I wear a costume every day to just exist and to be able to get out of bed

    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Lyla,

      I recognize you pain and sorrow and feel for you! I’m really sorry that you needed to come to this site (but I’m glad you found it).

      What you said about wearing a costume “just to exist” is a feeling I remember well. It wasn’t a place to stay, though, and didn’t do me or anyone else any good. It may help to consider more than just existing. How would it feel to thrive? You might consider a “costume” that makes you feel like a happier you, a more confident you. Try it on … you might find that it’s a better fit.

      HUGS to you, dear Lyla.

      Sheri McGregor

  8. Lyla M.


    I started volunteering and took up tennis at 51 and went back to school. I changed jobs and threw myself into living in order to drown it out. I thought if I focused on anything it would get better. But I’m tired and in disbelief and get terrible judgement from people that I find so misguided. Thank you for this place.

  9. Carmen G.

    Love being a new member. I have been estranged from my daughter 5 Years now. My son stopped talking to me three months ago. Tomorrow 10/22 is his birthday and it hurts knowing that I Will not be able to talk to him. My last efforts to either talk or text him have been futile. He chose very disrespectful words and I refuse to allow him to hurt me again. Last time a family member hurt me I ended up in the hospital. Now I know that I can only be hurt if I allow people to hurt me. I keep my mind busy. I do a lot of volunteer work and bowl twice a week so I have a lot of bowling friends. My husband’s family is very loving to me and we do a lot of activities together. In summary what keeps me grounded and strong is my faith in God. I know that I wasn’t a bad mother, I just feel mostly dissapointed but I am working on getting rid of all negativity in my life.

  10. Lyn

    Hi. I am brand new on here. I am an estranged mom to a 28 year old who lives 500 miles away, her choice for 8 years. I was in contact with her until 3 weeks ago. She is in a toxic relationship and every time her and her fiance have a fight I get a telephone call . I am tired of the drama, and I have been told by a mental health specialist that I need to walk away from her. My daughter disrespected me, my husband and my entire family and told me to “f off ” and never see her again. That’s what I intend to do right now. i felt like death did me over! I am trying to hard to accept things, and am so glad I found this website. I am all for the “costume” idea. I plan on shopping tomorrow for a nice outfit after I get myself a much needed mani, pedi and new haircut.


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