Freedom

Parents of Estranged Adults:
Are you tyrannized by the painful emotions?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

estranged adults

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Another year has rolled around to Independence Day. America gained its independence 241 years ago. But do you feel free now? Or are you tyrannized by painful emotions caused by an estranged son or daughter?

For some parents of estranged adult children, the shock is so new that disbelief sets in. You can’t imagine the cutting-off could possibly continue. Yet you worry how long it will, and how much time is passing. Emotionally raw, your mind plays and replays vile words or a torturous final scene. Troubling dreams wake you in the night—if you sleep at all.

I know the agony of feeling powerless over a situation. I’ve suffered the tears, anger, and bitterness that result when an adult child walks away.

But I also know those feelings can change. With a conscious decision and proactive steps to support yourself, parents of estranged adults don’t have to remain in pain.

Independence

I can honestly tell you that my heart no longer aches for my estranged adult son. If I sat and dwelled on the experience, then I could conjure up and recall the pain. But doing so would be a choice. Although it feels odd, maybe even harsh to say, the truth is, I don’t think of him all that often anymore. My life has moved forward. I have stepped into new places and situations. There is good in my life—and there are also more pressing hurts.

My estranged son lives his life, and I live mine. On the occasions he comes to mind, I wish him well. There’s no more imagining the what-ifs. No more putting myself through the torture of wondering whether he’ll come back. I don’t contemplate whether he’s okay, if I’ll ever meet his children, see him again, or even hear his voice.

I made a decision not to ask the questions that lead to endless loops:

  • Why did this happen?
  • What happens if he comes back?
  • Where did I go wrong?

Instead of wondering why he made his choices, I think: Why go there?

Even for parents of estranged adults: Peace in the present

It helps to have processed the hurt, examined where the
experience has changed me and my estranged adultother relationships, hopes, and dreams. Taking steps to make changes where they help, and make important decisions for the future can set the mind at ease. In my books in the Done With The Crying series, you’ll find ways to explore the future and make those sorts of decisions. How far will you go to reconcile, and what does that word mean? How does your estranged adult child fit into the end of your life—and how will your decision affect the others who are important to you? Realistically contemplating these and other situations, making decisions, and taking practical steps toward them paves the way for peace in the present.

Love

Many parents write to me about unconditional love. The word “unconditional” implies that love is not withdrawn for any reason. Does that mean we’re required to put ourselves in danger to fulfill this sort of love? Does loving another human being, an adult child, mean that we allow them to hurt us forever?

I love my son. But it’s love that’s sort of frozen in time. I remember the cuteness of him, the curves of his young face taken over by angles as he matured, the way his eyes lit, the strength of him not to flinch when his brow was stitched as a young boy. I remember my pride when a teacher complimented him. Or, as he grew into a strong young man, the way he calculated the space between things—demonstrated by a ball tossed to the basket or in eyeballing a length of string that he cut to perfectly fit. I remember the amazing things, and feel glad to have been a part of them.

If I really wanted to, I could think of him now in a similar way. I could imagine him as a husband who loves his wife and as a son-in-law who honors her parents. As a man, he must go about his days being courteous to others he meets along the way. And I can stop there. I don’t have to examine and re-examine the things he doesn’t do. The years we spent together were a season, a time. Now I’m in a new time. To be fair, so is he.

Where are you?

We can get stuck in the disappointment. We can put ourselves back in the hurt. Or we can move on.

Some parents of estranged adult children continue to reach out and try. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you choose to do so, it’s wise to honor yourself in the process. Set some goals that support your well-being. Contemplate practical issues such as how often you’ll reach out, how you’ll handle the possible disappointment of being rejected yet again, and how you feel about the choices you make—there’s help in my books for those things.

Among the thousands of parents in sustained estrangements who have shared their thoughts with me, the ones who have reclaimed happiness also stop putting themselves in the way of continued hurt. It’s a choice we make whether to give an estranged adult child the opportunity to continue to inflict pain. We can let the person know we’re willing, if at some point, they change their mind. We can set boundaries. We can decide what we would need from any future relationship. We can even change our mind at any time. And we can go on with our lives before it’s too late.

Stepping out

We can heal. The research, examples, question sets, and exercises in my books are designed to help you move forward one step at a time.  Parents of estranged adults can support themselves with self-compassion, our own wisdom, and the help of others who have walked a similar path. As thousands of parents will tell you, the path ahead gets brighter.

Related:

Spring cleaning for parents when adult children want no contact

Estranged from adult children: Take care of yourself

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13 thoughts on “Freedom

  1. Ann

    I very much relate to the “Frozen in Time” example. It’s only been 4 months since she stopped talking to me or acknowledging any contact from me, but it feels like an eternity. We used to talk 3-4 times a week. I walk around my house looking at the many family photos, I get Facebook memories popping up of happy times together. We were a happy family. A good family. I’m not a perfect mom, but I wasn’t so bad that I deserved to be cut off or so bad that she would be damaged so badly she had to distance herself from us. After working through the tough high school years and admittedly some family problems that we were a part of. We’ve had 9 years of a really great relationship with her. One year ago this month, before her wedding, she wrote individual full-page letters to me and to my husband (her dad). She said beautiful things about us and about how she felt about us. I’m now realizing that maybe she was just pretending. I’m also overanalyzing everything, wondering if her husband convinced her she was a victim and that our relationship wasn’t as good as she thinks. I am just in a tornado of emotions every day. Constantly thinking of what the future holds. will she ever come back or is this it, if she does come back, what will it be like, how could it possibly be the same again? Having lived through my own rejection trauma earlier in my life, I am very gun shy about putting my hand back on potentially hot stove. How can I give her what I gave her before and risk this pain again. Pain that I’m still reeling from every day. I know I need to move through this. I need to be fully present in heart and mind for the people in my life who love me. It’s not fair to them or me. I just can’t shake this overwhelming feeling of grief and sadness. I’m afraid to send another card or message because the silence I get in return shatters me. For now, I’ve decided not to reach out. Of course, that decision terrifies me as well, will she hold that against me later? Will she say why didn’t I try harder? I just don’t know what the answer is. I’ve ordered your book, I want to be hopeful, but I’m just not there yet.

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Ann, Thank you for sharing your story here. I know that other parents will be grateful and see some of their own feeling and circumstances in yours. It’s such a heartbreak, and I feel so sad for you. At the same time, I am relieved you’re stepping toward YOUR OWN happiness. You really only have charge of you. At some point, you will recognize that you must consider what you will think, how you feel about yourself and your actions (rather than her thoughts and opinions). You know what kind of mom you have been! YOU get to be the one who judges your integrity.

      Hugs to you! And peace!
      Sheri Mcgregor

    2. Aubrey

      I have been in deep crisis with my daughter since this last New Year’s Eve. In March she revealed a very painful relationship she had been hiding for over 6 months. Our family’s great concern for her just pushed her away. I continue to reach out, tell her we’re here for her, and that we want to support her being as healthy as possible. But instead of seeing the toxic 43 year old man standing next to her (she’s 19 and he helped raise her since 1 and a 1/2) she now thinks I am the sole cause of her pain. Even though I keep reaching out, he continues to state she’s been abandoned by her family. Everyday I feel like I’ve just had the wind knocked out of me. Everyday I pray I’ll wake up from this nightmare. I birthed my daughter at home, her father caught her in his hands, and we cherished that child everyday as a blessing we never felt we fully deserved. Lately, I’m struggling to connect with my younger children because the pain I’m in is so excruciating. On a whim, I thought maybe the only way through this is to connect with other parents that have been through something similar. My friends are amazing but none of them have been through this yet, of course I hope they never do. When I read your post, I cried and… for the first time, didn’t feel so flippin’ alone. Thank you for sharing. Tonight I hope you know you have my complete gratitude for feeling that level of empathy and connection.

  2. Holly S.

    I’m really struggling as a mom, my 26 year old daughter abandoned me 8 months ago for the 2nd time over a Christmas dinner invite to my home I live 30 mins away. I have an autistic son who’s 18 now, my daughter is from a previous marriage and my son is from my 18 year current marriage.
    My daughter left home at 15 she wanted to live with her alcoholic father that didn’t work out for her either…I fought for her in court the Court system said let her go! So I did I was devastated, I was a stay at home mom going to night school at the time finally getting a college degree, I had 2 sick parents, my son who I was trying to get all the help for him I could.
    Fast fwd years, I started my career and focused on my son and marriage. We moved 30 mins away from her.
    She later came back into our lives.. but didn’t want to deal with anything that caused her to leave home at 15.
    I have been in therapy 10 years over it and still going!
    I might not have been perfect but I made sure my kids had a beautiful clean home, every single meal for them,
    many gifts for xmas, birthdays, always made them my 1st priority.
    And yet she hates me! She refuses to drive 30 mins to a dinner that I have always cooked for the whole family each holiday! She sent me text on everything she hates about me as a person, and blocked me. It’s been 8 months and I’m right back to feeling like life will never get better. I do know she has mental issue whether it’s bipolar or mood disorder that is untreated.
    I tried reaching out in other ways sending card and flowers to her job, emails that got rejected, and I still don’t understand I don’t know why….I can count on 2 hands how many times we’ve seen her in 10 years, I’ve tried, begged, and was told to back off she’s busy. I’ve accepted her sexuality and life choices with out zero judgment, truly was happy for her, she can’t say I didn’t love her for her because I do love her.
    Now she’s abandoned her little brother as well pretty much the whole family. My mother who took her in for 4 years she even walked away from her grandparents. At what point do you move on?? And try…. to live a happy life with what is left? It’s devastating. Especially to go through it twice in 10 years.

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Holly,
      Ten years is a very long time. YOU hold the answer as to when to “move on.” (Your words.) One thing that perhaps will help is to recognize that moving on for yourself and those who love you does not mean you are necessarily closing the door on her. You can leave it unlocked, and then get on with your happiness, fulfillment, joy, peace. Your daughter could make choices to see you in the future. If she does, by bolstering yourself now, you’ll be better equipped to help her, weather future storms, etc. She made choices and you can too. Actually, you must. Let’s get real: you are a kind and forgiving person. You’re forgiving. You have tried and tried. At least for now, none of that has affected the outcome. You can, however, change your future. Stay stalled, sad, distressed, chasing a person who bites you. Or, walk forward. I hope you will get my books and DO the exercises. You can even use them with your therapist. The two of you can work on new goals for YOU.

      Hugs to you. Let this be a turning point for yourself.

      Sheri McGregor

    2. Carrie-Ann

      Just reading the comments this morning…Beautiful Sheri’s words for Holly S. really about sums it up…

      What this whole “experience” is like…”chasing a person who bites you.”

      I had to stop and jot the words down in my Quote-Affirmation Journal…To read for future reference to help me in my “Radical Acceptance” challenges…

      In Gratitude to Beautiful Sheri, Holly S., & Each One In This On-Line Healing Community…May All, including All estranged adult children, Be Blessed In Body, Mind, & Spirit…

      This Is Your Life…This Is Your Moment…Live It…

  3. angela c.

    HUGS to Sheri,her husband and other children too.Most in this ‘undefinable epidemic’are fortunate to have support and true love in your lives.
    Authentic and Genuine I’m caregiver to all,caregiven by none-Helping others feeds my soul,what a world…
    I was balancingand just living my final chapter until May 2020
    I read Anna FN just now…I was Born STRONG by God for this unpredictable journey to Endure more than my share…is an ‘understatement’for the small majority of Lifetime Survivors like myself.

    Pandemically defeated this Strong Independent Unconditionally Loving Selfless IMPERFECT Me…..ALONE w/o mygreatest kids of allOver a yr.now in/out of others homes as ‘He’ sends me in purpose to others.
    ‘On the road Nonna’in Gods graceful hands only-I woke up today 5 senses in tact=All else a bonus! I continue to send wkly/biwkly pkgd.Love to my grandson of 9 5 2020 I will never meet,or hug my own 2,and future grandchildren=my Incompleteness is a daily death sentence as I only ‘exist'(?)how much longer and stronger God,only you know Lord‍‍✌
    Full Version of Serenity Prayer I offer to you all….cause it’s all I got.
    Been told I touch lives daily,as God uses my endless pain/incompleteness to just… Be the light for others
    Amen amen amen…..
    oxo oxo oxo oxo oxo oxo oxo just Me

    Reply
  4. Barb

    Thank you Anna for the inspiration, applying it to my life will be a challenge, but one that I feel my husband and I are ready for. We have three adult sons 11 grandchildren with another on the way we were always extremely close to our boys, until our middle son married a narcissist, the stories are unbelievable, of disrespect, the last straw was my sons wife telling me she would punch me in my face, ( only with many profanities) this happened three years ago and since my son has convinced his brother that we were crap parents! This has paralyzed us with depression, we can’t believe one spoiled girl could rip a family apart, my husband seems to handle this better than I do, I’m in shock how quickly kids can be turned against their own family! It’s hard to believe we’re dealing with happy, content people, happy people don’t deliberately hurt others,ESPECIALLY THEIR PARENTS, anyway my husband wants to move,but I’m still waiting for an reconciliation, our kids live close, but we don’t see them, ( only our youngest, thank God) I’m determined to live a happy life with my husband, but holidays and Birthdays are hard!!

    Reply
  5. Cheryl M.

    Thank you for your words. It has been a year now since seeing my son and grandson. The pain has lessened….freedom in a way. I have found ways to remember my son and think about him positively and wish him well. We have stopped all communication per his wishes. There is always hope that someday he will miss us and open up the communication. In the meantime our grandson does not know us. However, Just the other day someone forwarded a picture of our grandson to us. Such a cherished photo. Every once in a while an angel sends us hope. We cherish those times, then move on with our lives as positively as we can.

    Reply
  6. Andrea H.

    I am so thankful for your book, Done with the Crying, and your newsletter and all the courageous, strong rejected moms that share their experiences. Because losing my own mother at 13 years old, I always tried to to be there for all three of my children. However, my youngest daughter, who is 35 decided about 6 years ago that I was a terrible mom and she cut me out of her life completely about one year ago. Its actually somewhat of a relief as she has been very difficult to get along with for many years. The illustration of “The Boat” describes our relationship best. My love for her is frozen in time to when she was a child up to about 25. After that things went bad and nothing I did was making things better. So, I will keep loving my other two adorable children, seven grandchildren and wonderful husband. Sad days are getting fewer and thats a good thing!

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      You’re welcome, Andrea. I’m glad you liked “The Boat.” There’s a bit more coming out on that soon….

      I’m happy to hear that you are gravitating toward those who are adorable and loving and that the happy days are increasing.

      HUGS to you and yours,
      Sheri McGregor

  7. A

    Love that is frozen in time is a good description of what was. I remember my children as wonderful children and growing into teenagers that anyone would be proud of. Healthy, Funny, Happy or so I thought but only to find out in their middle age years that I was a terrible Mom. I dwelt on this for more than five years after their “no more contact” email and now I can say they do not take up every minute of every day anymore. We have a choice to move forward or backwards but we cannot do both at the same time. Forward is my choice because I value my life and the lives of those around me and realize now that I was a pretty good Mom who cared for her children’s welfare. Both at home and at school they were busy with music, dance, gymnastics, karate and board games. We did the picnics, the zoo, music concerts and camping. They were not neglected or abused in any way. And yes I could have listened more and so on but I did the best I could do and stayed home until they left high school. I was there every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Their Dad and I were married forever it seems but after he died and I met someone else my adult children suddenly decided I was not a great Mom. Life goes on but it’s not easy. Everyone has to make a tremendous effort to go forward with a smile 🙂

    Reply
    1. Anna FN

      Dear A: I so relate to your story, it closely resembles my own. I was the “determined” stay at home mom to give my two kids all that they needed emotionally. I was also their Girl Scout leader, room mother, soccer mom…you name it, I was there, including going to all of their games and cheer leading sessions. I did all of this despite having a psychopathic, alcoholic, emotionally abusive husband, who put on deceitful charm to our children, family, & friends. I coped pretty well by going to Alanon for years, and divorced when my two started junior and high school. This is when all hell broke out with my ex, who spent the rest of his life as a poor-me- tyrant, trying to destroy whatever happiness I found in my new life, and determined to destroy my children’s relationship with me, although I had moved to another state. When I finally remarried, two decades later (to a wonderful man), my ex put the final bolt on my coffin with my two adult children by acting like the pitiful reject! My grown adult children then cut me out of their lives & took away my beloved grand kids, because now they had to put up with their terminally harassing father! That was more than a decade ago, and my love for them today is also “frozen”, in a deep freeze, where it must stay unless they reconcile to me. No attempts would thaw them toward me. When I almost died from a surgery gone wrong, they never sent me a card or gave me a call, although they were told from my siblings I was close to death. I can describe my heart as being on ice now, as well. This last experience, where I felt they could care less if I lived or died, was my ticket to life, again. When I recovered, with the generous love and help from my husband, I was somehow healed from all of my deep pain with them. I want to live a full, loving life with my wonderful husband now and will not “allow” myself to grieve as I did in the past. I do believe we mothers can recover from the loss of the deep attachment love we experience with our children. I did, because I chose life and love, again. However, I do not allow myself to look at family albums any longer, and mourn over their faces and loss. I do look forward to seeing my grandchildren in the future, when their parents can no longer prevent me from seeing them, when they turn 18. Hopefully, they will be matured enough to welcome me back; but they could also be recipients of the same type of propaganda their father used to turn my two against me! If so, life will go on, again, for my husband and me. Deep sorrow, loss, and pain must make us stronger, and more resilient in our lives-not less. By surviving the worst loss imaginable-that of losing our beloved children, life has something greater in store for us. It enlarges our ability to cope with whatever comes our way, again. I know I now have the resilience to handle unimaginable loss in my life, and that gives me an inner confidence I never had before. Life’s lessons are tough, but worth the struggle if we accept them. My advice: don’t ever give up on your own inner strength to carry you through. It will.

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