by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
It’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.
One 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 her 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.
They’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.
In 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.
New Year’s Resolution (not clinging to the loss)
Parents of Estranged Adults: Declaring Independence 2016
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I just found this site and hope it’s ok to ask a question?
My daughter cut ties with me six months ago, but she is willing to communicate with my husband (her father). I am grateful that she continues to communicate with him because that way I at least know she’s ok. I admit it’s painful to hear about her life second-hand and my husband empathizes with me. Hubby told her all he wants for Christmas, birthdays, etc. is for her to be willing to reach out to me. She refuses, sometimes in ways that are unkind.. While I appreciate him for making these requests and believe his heart is in the right place, I fear his gestures will make the situation worse and possibly lead to her cutting ties with him, as well.
I’d love to hear from anyone who might have advice for our situation.
Our daughter asked for No Contact May 1st 2022. She emailed this to her Dad 6 months later:
Happy Birthday Dad! I hope you are enjoying your time wherever you are. (She knew exactly where he/we were) I’ve been thinking about you a lot recently and felt that I’d like (of course..it’s what She’d like) to be able to start communicating more this way if you’re interested. I miss you and love you lots.
My husband and I are not going to play that game. This was his response:
Thank you for the birthday wish! It’s crazy that I’m almost 60! If email communication is a way for you, Mom and I to get to the next step in our journey we’re all for it. Mom and I love you so very much and hope you are doing well. Please give our love to (son-in-law) and lots of love and hugs to (grandson).
Love you and miss you! Dad
She did not return his email.
Deborah, in case you think you are crazy and all alone, my experience is identical to yours expect that I have 4 not 5 children. For me, it has been 3 years estrangement. Kicked to the curb and then blamed for it. I never thought this would happen to me because I loved them completely and never doubted they felt the same. I wasn’t perfect but I was always honest and did my best. Now I try to keep my life private. I don’t assume anything and I take care of myself on teary days and moments. I am very proud of myself for surviving this grief. I still define myself as a mum because it’s what I did daily for 30 years and it would be ridiculously dishonest to claim otherwise. However. This life is my only one here on earth and I owe it to myself to keep being my fabulous, broken, imperfect and warm self. I will not allow my children to take my spirit away. That is not their right. As the mother in their life – unwanted or not- I won’t give them that power. Debora, be brave, hold your head high and find peace and enjoyment. I for one am cheering you on!
I’m taking an Adult School course on professional writing. Even if I don’t actually publish, I will tell my story.
“He that wastes [mistreats] his father and chases away his mother is a son that causes shame and brings reproach.” Proverbs 19:26*
“Whoso curses his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness.” Proverbs 20:20
“A fool despises his fathers instructions”. Proverbs 15:5*
“… a foolish man despises his mother.” Proverbs 15:20*
“A foolish son is grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bare him.” Proverbs 17:25
“A foolish son is the calamity of his father.” Proverbs 19:13*
“There is a generation that curses their father, and does not bless their mother. There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness. There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.” Proverbs 30:11-14.*
“The eye that mocks at his father, and despises to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young shall eat it.” Proverbs 30:17*
“They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of [God’s] children:they are a perverse and crooked generation.” Deuteronomy 32:5*
“To me [God] belongs vengeance, and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.” Deuteronomy 32:35*
So! You know my son VERY WELL!!!!
My daughter has minimal contact. We have always been able to enjoy the 4th with our grandson. We were not invited this year as it was only for “friends” although other family were present. I did miss watching my grandson. It hurts as it was a constant struggle with the manipulation and control.
I appreciate this site so much. I too, have experienced the sadness and deep darkness of estrangement. My 43 yr old son told me Sept. ’20 that he didn’t need me & couldn’t have a relationship with me. He was extremely angry because I had called his mother in law to discuss his wife’s paranoia regarding germs. I only wanted to check with her to see if things were ok because my son & his wife never tell my husband & I anything. We always here any news they have from others. We were very concerned that his wife was not doing well as we were told she was losing a lot of weight. Apparently, my son’s mother in law twisted everything we had discussed to make me look like a trouble maker. I couldn’t believe she had done that deliberately to cause trouble between us. I felt I could trust her because I had helped her one time when she called me all concerned about their relationship.
I’ve made many attempts to contact my son via texting, however, he has never responded. I’ve apologized, asked to allow me to apologize to his wife but still no response. I’ve made him a birthday cake, given card with money and left it at his door (on verandah) – no response/reply.
I realize that his silence/no response/reply is his way of telling me that he’s not interested. I’ve finally accepted this. It has felt like my son has died without a public funeral. It’s been tough to say the least, however, I have no other choice but to respect his wishes.
My husband & I are doing better now. It’s been 9-1/2 months since we last spoke with our son. We miss our son but not this adult man who has disowned us.
God Bless you all and stay strong!!!!
Well, I’m sure there’s someone else who would heartily appreciate a birthday cake delivered to their door. I’ve just had my birthday and always make my own.
I also miss my son the other son! Not this rude and ignorant thug his wife made him with his consent!!!
My first hint was when she told him no more cigar bar nites?
I saw it coming in little pieces!!! She always was nice to me in front of people but when we were alone…….UGH!!! They are their best with no audience and then turn the situation to suit them!
I have done it all! Apologized till my heart bleed, almost lost my life and ……….blah! Blah!
Nothing we as caring parents have done deserve this treatment!
The heartache from both my sons is unforgivable! One thing I
Am most positive of I NEVER should have had kids!!! I am now alone anyways to take care of my crippled body ALONE!!!!!
They always said they would help me in my elder years! Well, here I am……..there they went!!!
Dear Rosemary and everyone
I have just read what you said and my goodness – those could have been my words too. This is exactly how I feel about my son. I don’t recognise who he has turned into. He is a total stranger to the loving boy I brought up to be kind, considerate, unselfish. We were so close, shared all his childhood making our Traditions throughout the years, making memories of such happy times. I miss that child – but he is gone for good I fear. No chance of him ever coming to me and apologising for his Narcissitic behaviour which he only showed to me. I manage to have 2 photos of me and him around the house, when I look at us, hugging each other, to see us deeply in love with each other – my mind somehow doesn’t understand where he has gone.
Time will tell, but in the meantime, I don’t miss the abuse and hurt from him – I’m living again, thanks to Sheri’s amazing insight for all of us who are estranged.
Best wishes to all
It is very difficult letting go of the past. Accepting that what you expected, worked for and hoped for will never be.
But in order to survive, one needs to let go and make the needed changes in their lives.
My son was never close to me, or his father and sister. I spend years praying and hoping for him to “mature” and be the family member I would like him to be.
I no longer expect that. I tolerate and accept him as someone living in my house. I do not think of him as my son any longer.
My son has been estranged from us for 7 years. He & wife have twin daughters who are now 16 years old. I have tried as did his Dad to reconcile to no avail. My husband, our son’s Dad died June 24, 2021 & our son did not come to his Father’s funeral. How can a beloved son, wife & twin granddaughters be hard hearted as we had were so helpful, caring, loving to each. It breaks my heart my son refuses to have anything to do with me, his mother. I don’t know what to do as I am very sad everyday.
My son told me on April that he no longer wants anything to do with us, My husband and myself. And like, other posts, I feel that he is no longer the son I once knew.
He married in 2014 becoming increasingly close to his wife’s family and keeping us at arms length. Her family comes from wealth, we are middle class.
As we age, I am 72 and my husband is 74,. I feel that he doesn’t want to take on responsibility for us
His in laws are in their 60s.
I have 4 children: 3 sons and my daughter who have all decided they want nothing to do with me. For the past 14 years I’ve spent most holidays, my birthday and Mothers day alone. I am lonely but find relief from the verbal, emotional and financial abuse. They, too, have chosen wealthy in-laws who are their new mom and dad. They went so far as leaving me homeless for 2 years and in poverty the past 10 years. It’s been difficult to let go and find my way forward being single.
Our daughter stormed out of “our” restaurant (the restaurant was her idea) 16 years ago. We moved to another State to be near her, son in law & our 5 yr. old grandson. We all agreed to work their dream (we financed), eventually selling to them & retiring. We continued the restaurant on our own amud gossip & brunt’s of many jokes about our folly. Fast forward they now live in another State & rarely communicate with us or visit. During a tense Face time call, she admitted she only spoke to us because her husband told her to do so. He is close & respectful to his parents. Blessedly, our grandson has visited us. I had saved daughters baby clothes, artwork & offered to her. She refused. The other day I noted a small handprint on our inside patio window. It was my grandson’s handprint I hadn’t cleaned that one patio door window for 16 years for fear of loosing that one loving memory of him! We cleaned that window two months ago & tossed the baby clothes, etc. We plan on retiring to another State & starting a new adventure. Time to let go. Freedom.
We have one 46 year old daughter , that we, mostly me must have spoiled. She was our life. When she had 3 children in 3 1/2 years, we could not do enough, but all our love , because they are sweet and innocent went to them. I did make comments to my daughter when she hurt their feelings or they both put them down, because we were so close. Our daughter is slowing taking our grandchildren from us who are 10,12 and 14. I don’t care about the parents anymore, but I want to end my life if I can’t see my grandchildren!
I’m really sorry your daughter is alienating you from your grandchildren. If you are seriously wanting to “end your life” please get help locally. This site is not equipped to help other than to empathize and refer you to the “crisis” page (under the “about” tab in the navigation bar. Please take kind care of yourself. As grandchildren get older, they can see things for themselves. They may surprise you.
Hugs for you, dear Tricia. I’m sorry to harp but feel it necessary to address this sort of speech by referring people to help and crisis lines.
I understand everyone’s pain. I’ve spoken to my daughter 4 times in 7 years. She was our only daughter & we gave her everything. She met someone & walked away. I pray for her often. Through meditation & Sheri’s book I have accepted that she has gone & I’m moving forward.
My son estranged me and I did not even know it!!! Ha-Ha on me!!!
Where have these evil monsters come from!!! I sometimes can’t understand it or even believe who they are! Their cruelty is some where driven by evil! Vindictive!!
Is this the old cowboy scene from our days good against evil?
In movies good always won but in this real life the good and giving parents are squashed like a bug and flicked away????
Where did this evil come from? Or do some of us know?
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?
Sit down and have a nice cup of tea and some chocolate.
I have five children who I raised on my own. I did my best. They were loved, we were, I thought, a very close unit. The four boys had the normal growing up issues, but all in all they grew up to be good and decent young men . My daughter, the youngest was a lovely girl, we talked make up etc, had films we’d watch , and I thought were close. Mmm how it changed. None of them talk to me anymore. Over time there were various rows about nothing really, and that’s the point, it’s the way I was so easily kicked to the kerb. Rows that could have, SHOULD have been sorted, were used as a reason to paint me as some sort of demon. It’s as if they have all encouraged each other and added to the legend of how I treated them. I swing between bewilderment, utter pain, anger and back again. I have 7 grandchildren. Two I cared for for a while before all this. 5 I’ve never met. It’s left me questioning who I am and because my children were my life, what do I do now. Im 59 and this has been going on for 8 years. I miss them but they are unrecognisable to me now. Sorry to ramble on!
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.
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.
Your post will be very meaningful to many, many parents. Thank you for your courage and honesty.
Came across this site, as I look for help understanding why my son dislikes me.
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.
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.