Fortitude doesn’t mean ‘going it alone’

support for parents of estranged adult childrenBy Sheri McGregor, MA

On California’s coast, a tree known as the Lone Cypress stands on a rocky precipice overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The tree is hailed as a symbol of fortitude, and people pay to drive a 17-mile loop just to see it. Many years ago, I was one of those people—and at first, was let down by the sight.

The tree makes a nice photo, and I liked the conveyed idea: a tree that clings to life, thrives despite adversity, and symbolizes courage, strength, and resilience. It spoke to a spirit of independence and strength that I admire.

Parents of estranged adult children: Even the strongest benefit from support

But if you make the trip, you’ll find out that the tree’s “fortitude” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In the blowing Pacific winds, partially hidden cables actually hold the tree up in place. Seeing those, I remember thinking the tourist write-ups had pulled a fast one.

But as time passed, and the storms of life pushed and pulled at me, I began to see the Lone Cypress and its moniker as a symbol of fortitude in a new light.

The word, “fortitude,” means strength in the face of adversity. Once-upon-a-time, a seed fell into the rocky soil. Its inner strength defied the harsh elements at the edge of the cliff. The seed began to grow.

Many of us are just this strong and independent, perhaps to a fault. We’ve survived adversity. We’ve even thrived in life’s rocky soils. But for me, as for many of us, there comes a time going it alone isn’t the best choice. Just as the tree might have lost its footing and crashed into the ocean if it weren’t for the cables, even the strongest among us, at times, need support.

Thankfully, we can choose to step away from the precarious cliffs of manipulative or one-sided relationships, calm the winds of negative, circular thinking, and plant ourselves among the nourishing forest of help and support.

How can you support your well-being?

Parker, a divorced father, tried to maintain a relationship with his daughter, who was 12 when his marriage ended. Their relationship grew increasingly tenuous, and after she graduated college, she made room for her father only for holidays. She’s now in her 30s. Over the last several years, Parker has repeatedly reached out to try and foster a relationship with her and his young grandchildren, without success.

“I needed to get free of trying so hard,” Parker explains. “In the last eight or nine years, the only time she contacted me was when she needed money. I’d give it to her, and then she’d go back to ignoring me. On the odd occasions we did spend any time together, or if she answered her phone, she’d pick a fight. It always ended badly.”

When Paker made the decision to give in, and lovingly disengage from the one-sided relationship, he realized just how much self-criticism and negativity had been taking up psychological space. “I was always wondering what I’d said or done wrong, and how I could be more careful next time. What would I say when I called her next? What possible ways could she react? How could I adjust what I said to avoid that response? It was exhausting.”

Entrenched habits can be difficult to break. Parker isn’t the type of person who readily asks for help. Like others who pride themselves on their independence and strength, Parker is used to being the ones other people ask for assistance. But even the Lone Cypress, a symbol of strength and fortitude, requires support.

My book, Done With The Crying, is not just for moms (as explained here). Since early last month, it’s also now available as an e-book, too.

Fathers, feel free to join the online support forum for parents of estranged adult children as well. While most of the members are women, a few men have joined and occasionally post. Quite a few fathers populate the Facebook Page too.

Are you a symbol of fortitude, standing all alone on the edge? Don’t suffer through the experience of estrangement all alone.

Related reading:

Fathers of Estranged Adult Children: You’re not alone

Father’s Day for Fathers of Estranged Adult Children

What do you prescribe for yourself?

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6 thoughts on “Fortitude doesn’t mean ‘going it alone’

  1. Lynne

    Hello to all who, like myself, are survivors of estrangement. I enjoyed this article Sheri. It so much reminds me how I have become stronger with each passing year. I had not thought on the word ….fortitude ….but I agree that I have Had to develop this trait to survive. I do have strength now I never thought I would ever have again. I really am a joyful person. I feel strong now! I should say this did take 10 years. After years of my brother judging me he is now experiencing estrangement from his grown daughter. I believe he keeps his feelings inside as men often do. I want him to know that I fully understand his pain. I have much compassion and express this to him. Thank you for this site Sheri. Love your thoughts. Lynne

    1. rparents Post author

      Thanks, Lynne. You can be a great support to your brother now! You do sound like a very strong tree.
      I’m glad you find the site helpful, and I appreciate your commenting here.

      Sheri McGregor

  2. Yvette

    Thank you for this site. I still often feel that I’m a member of a very small minority of parents. I still hurt every day my daughter refuses to connect. I’ll get the book at some point. I really need to stop thinking about this pain constantly.

  3. Pamela E. J.

    Hi this is another very good article. I just don’t know how I would be able to go on if I hadn’t found this site. Is it stupid to say I continuously feel guilty but I can’t say what exactly I am guilty of. It is such a painful existance, living knowing your ED believes you to be something your not, it takes away who you really are. I apologise for sounding so miserable. x

  4. Lynne

    Hi Pamela, Never any need to apoligize for your feelings here. I felt guilty for a very long time. This got better with time. Yes, I really understand the feelings that you are feeling. My ED thinks I am not worthy for her to love me. The rejection is sooo painful. I hope you have Sheri’s book. It does help so very much. Sending empathy and best wishes to you. Take good care of yourself. You are not alone. There are so many of us now.

  5. Mary J.

    To find other parents that REALLY understand the depth of this pain is extremely comforting. “Done with Crying” just arrived at my house. In some ways I’m afraid to open it-while in other ways-I want to read it from start to finish in one sitting in the hopes of finding answers, suggestions, coping mechanisms, comfort and a path out of the pain. I want a magic pill, a magic wand, a “do-over”, or someone to wake me up from this nightmare that is 2 years running… To the two women who echoed the constant nagging sense of “misery” and “guilt”-I just want to say, “yes-I get that too…I also feel those sentiments daily. I don’t know if you ever stop crying or have closure-but to find comfort in a shared pain that none of us probably ever saw coming is a respite. Thank you for your candor and vulnerability.


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