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

  1. Liz P.

    My Costume: what a good and fun idea.

    Let’s see: if I have to visit or be visited by the Adult Child, I’ll wear my “Ready and Alert” costume: my red turtleneck (red warning: do not try to attack this person because she has a vivid red sense of when emotional danger approaches, and will no longer put up with it; the sweater is like a stop sign to the toxic child) and my sleek black pants and little flats (this person is also lightning fast, has legs /endurance, and will immediately leave any situation where her boundaries are being crossed).

    I feel better already!

  2. Tracey

    Thank goodness I found your book and website. I;m so angry with so called experts stating it;s ALWAYS the parents fault. None of my 3 adult children have any contact with me in 3 yrs. I was devastated more by my Daughters than my Son whom I’ve had a lifetime of troubles with. I believe it is he that started this. Last time I saw my Daughters we were out for brunch for my eldest;s birthday. No arguments or disagreements. We went out regularly & had regular contact. I gave willingly of my time. Due to ill health I retired. My youngest wasn’t too happy when I discussed not being able to financially help her out every week due to my reduced income situation,which she said she understood. After that Birthday brunch there was nothing. They wouldn’t take phone calls,answer texts. 2 have moved housing so I don’t know where they live currently. I got so sick of feeling bad about the situation. I even stopped Birthday texts & Christmas texts this last year. My health continues to worsern so before it’s too late I have booked myself a BIG bucket list trip while I still can enjoy it, I worked for 42yrs ,raised 3 children alone so I think I deserve to put myself 1st for a change. Haven’t totally finished your book but am 3/4 of the way through it 7 so far it’s resonating with me. I thought I was alone but now I know that I am not. Thank you for writing the book so I don’t have to listen to ANY of those so called experts again & be filled with even more guilt & shame for something I don’t know what I did!!

  3. Kimberly H.

    In short…My stepdaughter recently planned a trip from TN to IN on the grandkids spring break to come see us. Of course we were delighted. They always get a hotel. So when our house sold (downsizing) and I told her we would be moving and they might like to get a closer hotel she suggested her coming alone instead, to help us move. (My her dad had a widow maker type heart attack last August). When I welcomed her, she changed their vacation plans, never came to help us move and now doesn’t speak to me. She recently came to Indiana for her brothers college graduation and left town without a word to me or her dad (has happened many times in the past also). So…It looks like we have been written off. I don’t understand and she won’t say other than she was surprised at how quickly the girls spring break plans to visit got changed (her idea mind you.) My heart goes out to everyone here, I believe we’ve all been misjudged and blamed for what we don’t know. I’ve tried so hard to be a wonderful stepmom and grandma. Feeling lost yet knowing life is too short to be mistreated or “punished”. I’m ready to figure out what my costume is and get it on!

  4. Military wife

    I have tried so hard for the last 20 years to have him as a friend. If he wasn’t yeah, my son, I would have nothing to do with him. He is a very nasty person.
    To be honest, I am relieved that I can finally walk away from him and not be hurt any more. I’m done crying! (hint: that would make a good title for a book)

    1. candleinthewind

      Frankly, I think we can try too hard. We wouldn’t bother with someone else, as you said. Motherhood becomes some kind of mockery; we need to wise up. We need to match their lack of care with a similar nonchalant attitude. Very challenging for those of us who love to love and be loved.

  5. RMCarlyle

    I knew you (plural) were out there somewhere and when the time was right the teacher would cross my path. My separation is only 11 months, but as long as my child is with her present partner, I expect the estrangement to be a lifetime. They have a child together.
    I spent the spring n summer in total shock until I realized she told a different story to anyone who asked. Then I got very, very, angry resentful n negative. 6 months in I woke up to the reality that this is not me. I’m a positive, optimistic n encouraging person. So I began my journey of “letting go” culminating with taking on that discipline for Lent. Using the UNITY Lenten lessons for daily scripture learning “how” to “Let go”. I am blessed to have found this group for support n Continued lessons in “Letting Go” of the beautiful Sweet child I raised and accept the adult she chooses to be.

  6. Jane

    Our adult son pushed me away from his family and life in the blink of an eye. We went from “great” to “you are toxic for me” overnight with no explanation. My husband, my son’s father of 45 years, and our daughter and her husband feel as though we have been gut-punched. I fear that I will never again see our son, or our third grandchild born in the spring of 2021. The wrenching pain I feel seems to have no bottom. I feel blessed to have found you, your books, and this site, without which I don’t know quite what I would have done.
    I know that I want to reconnect to life, after a wretched six months awash in depression and anxiety – and shock that anything could have toppled my strong, capable self so quickly. I love our son and pray for his safety. I want to be able to forgive him for doing this. But despite my initial outreaches to him asking what he finds “toxic” about me so suddenly after a lifetime of wonderful times in our family, I have been given no answers. I would never have expected this level of cruelty from him.

    1. Kathy C.

      Thank you for sharing Jane. My story is similar to your’s. My son is 43 and recently did the same thing. Our as he puts it time out from the family ( my husband and I have been married for 53 years) was presented to me with a change in his behavior at first. He used to be a caring, compassionate, fun loving, adventurous person. Since he has married an unhealthy, mentally ill person his behavior has been sarcastic, disrespectful and discourteous and his thinking has become distorted. For the 12 years he has been married we have put up with her dismissive behavior. She has not ever met our side of the family. My son no longer has adventures in his life and is isolated at this point from everyone in his life but her. We are a small family with a daughter and a grandson who is 17. Had a discussion with her recently about the present state of affairs and she is not surprised because we could see things leading in that direction for awhile. She claims she is not upset and I believe that is her way of shielding herself from the pain. It
      must be really difficult when there are children involved too. My heart goes out to you. Here I am thinking I am glad my son doesn’t have children so I don’t have to go through that pain too. Not exactly what I envisioned while raising my son and daughter. Grateful to have found this resource. It is helpful to keep me on tract to accept the things I cannot change and detach from the present situation with my son and be happy for the things and people in my life that bring me joy instead of grief. Wishing you peace and comfort.

  7. 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.

    1. Amy L.

      Thanks for sharing. I really appreciate your courage to post your story. It let me know that I’m not alone in my journey. I have a 36 yr old daughter who has Down Syndrome. It’s been over 10 years since I divorced my emotional abusive husband. My daughter and I were always close. She’s very high functioning (has a job,involved in her church,etc). Her Dad has convinced her that I am a horrible person and never wants her to associate with me. In the beginning she would call me,tell me how much she missed me,but never let her Dad know that she’s contacted me. She’s terrified of what his response might be. She lives pretty independently in a wonderful home with a few other special needs adults and a very loving, caring and generous care giver. I’m not allowed to even know where she lives. My ex has poisoned the care giver regarding me. I am a retired business owner and have lived a very productive life. I miss her desperately and pray for a solution. I wish you all the best. Thanks again from my heart.

  8. Diane J.

    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

    1. Sally L.

      My heart goes out to you! My grandson is the one that won’t see me. I do send him a birthday gift and Christmas gift. He does text back and say thank you. He did not want me to come to his graduation . He did say why he did not want me in his life. None
      Of the things he said were not true. I have come to terms with
      His behavior. My biggest concern now is my niece. Her Mother was my closest sister. She passed so I feel like I should help her out. Her youngest son after he married and had a baby told her
      He never wanted to see again. She has been crying nonstop. She was a good Mother. She gave her daughter-in-law a baby shower. Also sent flowers to the hospital when she had the baby. I am concerned with helping her. I have come to terms with my grandson. My niece needs help. She has a rare genetic disease and was in the hospital already once since her son and daughter-in-law won’t even let her see her new grandchild. Like I said she is crying nonstop. I hope you and others could help because she means a lot to me and I don’t know how to help anymore. I did talk to her father and her daughter-in-law’s mother. It was like talking to the wall. I gave her this sight. Maybe your kind words can help. Being it is Christmas she is feeling so bad.

  9. 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.

    1. That Jo

      Thank you for this comment, I’ve been dreading my Daughters birthday coming up in August. I will dress up and go out, and do my very best to not cry. This will be our first year apart 🙁

  10. 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.

    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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

    1. rparents Post author


      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.

      Sheri McGregor

  14. 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

    1. Carrie-Ann

      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,

  15. 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.

    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.

    2. Louise

      I feel for you. I also feel so alone on this heartbreaking journey of not talking to my daughter and 2 Granddaughters. I did everything for them. My daughter even told her 3 year old how ‘Grandma is mean to her ‘ I had a nervous breakdown. I felt so blind sided. The pain was like my daughter had died. She has her reasons.. too long to explain.. no abuse. Just me telling her to not go down the wrong road with alcohol. That was it… now I don’t see my Grandchild. Best of luck to you. Keep praying God brings them back to us. Xx

  16. 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 .

  17. 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.

    1. Grace

      Dear Sherry

      I just joined the newsletter yesterday and scrolling through I saw that you have been estranged for 29 years and that completely filled me with panic. I wanted to reach out to you and give you the biggest hug and lift you out of that quagmire of misery that can consume us. I am 6 years into this emotional abuse and maybe at Christmas time it is overwhelming but I cannot do this anymore. I decided yesterday that I will cut all ties ( without telling them) and see how long it takes them to think of me … seeing 29 years and that is gut wrenching.
      A crushed heart from the stomping of our insensitive adult children is the worst abuse . It takes such strength to keep standing up .
      Much love to you Sherry x

  18. Strong

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

  19. 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!!!!!

    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

  20. 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.

    1. rparents Post author


      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.

      Sheri McGregor

  21. 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.

  22. 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.


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