Freedom for a new era (parents rejected by adult children)

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

parents rejected by adult childrenIt’s the end of an era. Changes that were once far out on the horizon are here. My husband’s retirement, my pursuit of a rigorous academic goal, and a few other life-altering situations. I recognize that trying to hang onto the old while embracing the new will only hinder my progress and keep me living in the past. That’s why decisions are being made, changes to support the changes. And I feel good about those.

Even so, as I contemplated giving up our decades-old landline, a pang of sadness hit me. That phone number is the one my children committed to memory when they were young. The one they shared with their friends before cell phones became a thing. The phone that rang at all hours. It was one of the few threads left connecting me to my estranged son, to the ideal of family I envisioned and worked so hard to achieve.

But why hang onto something we no longer need? Why pay a bill for what has become clutter? It’s a small thing, really. A tiny toe dipped toward even more changes to come. Disconnecting the thing became a test, too. With special offers to retain me as a customer, if I’d just keep it for another year. I didn’t. And the disconnection brought a sense of relief. One less thing to hold onto just in case.

What are you holding onto?

Parents rejected by adult children have lots of similar decisions to make. I know how it feels to find a faux fur-framed photo of an estranged adult’s first love—and wonder how long to hold onto it. I know about high school yearbooks, odds and ends left in an abandoned bedroom, handwritten cards or a box of artwork made by a dimple-faced son who once adored his mom. It can be difficult to let that stuff go.

There’s no rule about how long to hold on, but when something drags you down, it’s time to take action. Maybe that means putting stuff away and out of sight (if you have room for it). Or, parents rejected by adult children could choose to inform their son or daughter of a decision to hold the items for only a specific period.

parents rejected by adult childrenOne mother whose two adult sons have abandoned her couldn’t part with the lovely artwork her talented son once created. She also couldn’t stand to look at it. A few years earlier, he had requested she keep the items for him, but since their only communication dwindled to an occasional text in which he ridiculed her, the works that once brought her pride and joy grew heavy with hurt. Seeing them decorate her home kept her longing for happier times.

Although she was at one point so anguished over her sons’ abandonment that she considered suicide, this mother sought support and made a change. And as she clawed her way toward a better perspective and a happy life, she knew her environment needed modifications. She had her own endeavors to pursue. A new life to live, working toward social change, career goals, and at her own creative pursuits. Her son’s artwork had to go. Her solution was to put them away in parents rejected by adult childrenher attic. “For now,” she explained, thinking he might have children one day and want the art. But she also decided to revisit the decision in the future. If she ever moved, she would discard, donate, or give up the art then. For now, though, out of sight out of mind.


With the items put away, she could display her own works, and fill her home with things that represented her interests and brought her joy.

Will you adapt?

The truth is, even if estrangement weren’t part of the equation, our lives change. That’s why people retire to warm climes and downsize. If we’re smart and resilient, we modify our very selves to survive and thrive. An adaptive spirit is healthier (and more fun) than clinging to an old ideal—even a good one—if it no longer exists. Strategies, plans, and ways of being that protect and satisfy us in one era of our lives often don’t work in another. If we don’t adapt, we fail.

Are you a wily coyote? A clever crow?

In the three decades I’ve lived in this semi-rural area, the additions of a school, a church, new tract homes, and a shopping center have changed things. Traffic, noise, and people have increased as the natural landscape with its native resources has shrunk. Yet, the coyote population that has lived here longer than I have continues to thrive. The coyotes have adapted quite well.

parents rejected by adult childrenThey’re like the crows who live in this area. Twenty years ago, when the school was built, the city cleared a grove of old pecan trees. For many years after that, come fall when the nuts would have ripened, flocks of crows could be seen circling above the spot where the trees once were. It was if they were puzzled about where their food source had gone. Now, the crows are as prevalent here as ever. They feed from a tree on my property each fall and fill in with whatever else they can find all year. Their loss and longing evident as they circled the skies in search of the trees, they have nonetheless adapted. Like the coyotes, they’re survivors.

What’s your style?

Like the mother who couldn’t part with her son’s artwork, you may need to preserve the past for now. Or maybe you’re more like me, steadily letting go, never rushing but making forward progress. You may be like the coyotes, who quickly adapt. Or like the crows, who circled for years, puzzling, before letting loose the dream of nuts no longer there.

It isn’t so much the style of our acceptance that’s important, but the forward momentum that allows for change. We can hold onto memories, savor them as I say in my book. Reliving the good memories is good for us. The trick is to hold onto the joy without clinging forever to the loss of what we once thought would be, and the wishes that are beyond our control.

Adapting brings freedom

For some, embracing a new era may mean embracing relief. One mother recently sent me an email in which she recounted the experience of an estranged adult daughter who has come in and out of her life for many years. This mother, like many parents, instigated reconciliation after reconciliation. Unfortunately, the facts of their relationship never changed. Her daughter’s verbal, financial, and emotional abuse continued. The last time her daughter left, this mother admitted to a response she couldn’t previously accept: relief.

By owning the feeling, by voicing it to someone who could understand, she was free to finally begin the work of adapting to a new way of life. She could let go of the guilt and failure that had kept her chained to trying, to her own peril. She’s learning to adapt.

parents rejected by adult childrenIn adapting our attitudes, our environments, and our behavior to support us in the current era of our lives, we become free. This Independence Day, you may be thinking of past times. Of fireworks displays you oohed and awed at with someone to whom you were once very close. If you have good memories, hold them dear. Relive and savor those moments for the joy the hold. I hope you will also contemplate of the holiday in terms of your personal independence. Consider your own sense of freedom, and more specifically, whatever may be holding you back.

Through the Facebook page and in emails, I frequently hear from parents rejected by adult children. Many of these parents are doing wonderful things with their newfound freedom. Some continue to hold out hope for a renewed relationship. Others no longer entertain the idea. Regardless, they’re enjoying and finding meaning in their lives. You can too.

Won’t you help others by sharing your thoughts in a comment to this article?

Happy Independence Day 2018! Great big hugs to all the hurting parents rejected by adult children.

Related reading

New Year’s Resolution (not clinging to the loss)

Parents of Estranged Adults: Declaring Independence 2016



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8 thoughts on “Freedom for a new era (parents rejected by adult children)


    I am very glad to have stumbled upon this page. I am feeling completely lost just now. We have 4 children and we know we completely failed one of them and she ended up not living with us, but we know we were good parents to the others, except we are now judged solely on how we failed her. It doesn’t seem to matter how much good parenting we have done because none of it is relevant to them. We tried our very best and ofcourse we made mistakes but we do not deserve to feel completely alienated. I even suggested mediation and that also has descended in to chaos with a very ‘us’ and ‘them’ standing point and I didn’t even make an appointment. Everything is micro analysed and pulled apart and I too am feeling it is far more damaging to my mental health to continue if they think so little of us. I cannot figure out what we have done that is so dreadful to justify such hateful behaviour. I doubt they even realise that as adults they also should be looking at their own behaviour and taking responsibility for some of this breakdown in relationship. At this point I see no way forward since we are already seemingly 100% in the wrong. What am I supposed to do with that?

  2. Susan

    My oldest daughter will turn 47 this month. Since she married in ’99, she and her husband have repeatedly shut me out of their lives. The most painful time was when their son, my first grandchild, had just turned one. She said that if he wanted to see me when he was grown up, he could. He just turned 18 this October. At that time, it would be 4 years before I saw them again and they had added another son to their family without telling anyone else. That reconciliation only lasted a few months. 2 weeks after my son’s 8 week old baby girl died, they cut me out again. I ran into her and the boys a couple of times after that, which made me hopeful, but it didn’t last. But finally, in 2012, I wrote her a letter to which she replied. A few months later we all celebrated Family Day together. She said at that time that this reconciliation was going to be permanent. However, 18 months later, another estrangement began. A letter came to me from her stating that she no longer wanted me to be her mother. So now it has been over 5 years. The last time I saw her was at her father’s Celebration of Life in April 2015. Recently, I learned that she and her whole family had COVID. Today I am awaiting my test results as I learned 2 days ago that I had been exposed at my work. My other 2 children are very supportive, but live farther away. She lives not far from me. I have accepted this estrangement. My daughter is not the same person I raised. She has changed. Her husband has had many issues with his parents in the past and I believe he has projected some of his past hurts and feelings of rejection onto me in the form of anger. He is highly sensitive. We were getting closer this last time. I try not to think about it, but Christmas time and her birthday make it hard. Plus, I am 68 years old. I think that she is hurting herself more than she is hurting me.

    1. Rosemary D.

      I too feel that my estranged son is not the same person I raised and was close to. It may sound terrible but I found it really helpful and a little cathartic to write an obituary/goodbye letter of sorts for my son. It was just for me not to be sent or shown to anyone else. I think it helped me to come to terms with the fact that the person I raised and was close to no longer exists and even if there is some kind of reconcilliation in the future I won’t be expecting that lovely young man I raised to be in my sons body. That body belongs to someone else now.

    2. rparents Post author

      Dear Rosemary,

      Your post will be very meaningful to many, many parents. Thank you for your courage and honesty.

      Big hugs,
      Sheri McGregor

    1. Karen

      Iris, my adult son has done the same and we were extremely close. It’s has been devastating and is happening at a time when I need him the most. Please know you’re not alone. I was a really good mother I feel and don’t think I would have done anything differently. I am contemplating suicide because the pain is so severe but I’m praying for strength. I’ll pray for you too.

    2. rparents Post author

      Karen, there is light ahead! Please lean on people who care. You’re stroner than you may think.

      If you need help or are in danger please find local support. Access the crisis page here for options. It’s under the about page in the navigation bar.

      Meanwhile, know that you count. I’m sure you were a great parent. You can make a good life despite this situation. Please, be on your own team! Do something good for yourself.


      Sheri McGregor

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