Greetings from estranged adult children

parents of estranged adult childrenby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Roberta’s phone jangled its notification bell. A text on Mother’s Day? In a sudden state of dread, she pulled the annoying smartphone from her purse and saw the name—her estranged adult son. Roberta’s heart leapt, a physical betrayal to the reality she knew. What would he say this time? Empty well wishes on a tiny screen? Or worse, a slicing jab?

A familiar sinking sensation filled Roberta’s gut. For a moment or two, she contemplated squinting as she clicked it open, looking only close enough to call up the little menu and hit “discard.”

She let her wrist go limp, the smartphone feeling heavy in her hand. She’d open it eventually, she knew. But not right now. First she’d have to gather her strength.

Greetings from a stranger: your estranged adult child

Roberta is like many parents of estranged adult children who have shared their stories of leaping hope, mixed with a familiar dread. Her son still contacts her from time to time, but he isn’t the kind little boy she knew. He isn’t the teen she’d been so proud of. And the bits of the man she now sees only in snippets of text . . . well, she doesn’t know him. He has become a stranger.

Among the nearly 10,000 parents of estranged adult children to date who filled in my survey, approximately 46% replied “yes” to a question about whether they had ANY contact with their estranged adult child. Although not everyone used the box to “explain” as the question requests, those who did most commonly spoke of occasional texts or a card, usually associated with a holiday or birthday.

Sometimes, the contact comes on Mother’s Day, with the phrase “I love you,” or hugs in kisses in type: “xxoo.”

Often, parents describe how their hearts leap with hope at these periodic points of contact. They often respond, too—and then endure days of agonizing silence, unanswered.

After a few of these emotional roller coasters, parents may start to use words like “obligatory” and “generic” to describe the greetings from a son or daughter they no longer know.

Sometimes, the texts start out friendly enough, but then resort to backhanded slaps:

  • “Thanks for being a good mom when I was a kid. I don’t know what happened to you.”
  • “Happy Mother’s Day. I still wish you were dead.”
  • “I love you. Maybe one day we’ll reconnect.”

 Poignant poison

Sometimes, the greetings that fill parents with hope, are later understood as veiled attempts to fulfill a need. Parents say that several texts, maybe even a brief call or two get spread out over several days, preceding a request for money or some other assistance.

Some parents oblige. In my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, Vicky recalls with clarity the way her daughter first rejected her. Her daughter had volunteered to bring the cake to Vicky’s 61st birthday party. “There I was waiting in my front room with pink paper streamers strung all around,” says Vicky. “Danielle’s siblings were there, a few neighbors, and even my pastor’s wife. Then I got the text.”

The pain of hope made Vicky vulnerable. But after nine long years, she made a change. At age 70, she tells other mothers not to wait so long to get on with their lives.

What can you do?

Roberta wishes things were different with her estranged son. She’ll read the text, and maybe even reply. But she’ll do it on her own time. After she’s had a good meal and enjoyed the day as she’d planned to—with her daughter who remains close, and a friend who is all alone on Mother’s Day. Maybe she’ll open the message in their presence even, with support from people who know—just as Roberta knows deep in her heart, and is proven by lovely memories of all the good she has done—that she was a good mother.

Or maybe she will delete it. Her daughter would tell her she had the right. Anybody who cared about her would. But Roberta still holds out hope. Even so, she won’t let it hold her hostage. She won’t sit around and cry any longer.

Your estranged adult child’s choices don’t define you

No matter what choices our adult children make, their behavior does not diminish the good we did or continue to do in ours and others’ lives.  Someone’s inability to see our value does not detract from our worth. Value yourself.

If you find yourself sitting around waiting for a text or call on Mother’s Day or some other special day, think of Roberta reading her son’s message on her own terms. Think of Vicky with her advice. You don’t have to give up hope, but you can be in charge of yourself and your life. You count.

Related articles:

Mother’s Day: Triggering Pain

Six Ways to Get Through Mother’s Day

What am I if I’m not a mother?

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10 thoughts on “Greetings from estranged adult children

  1. Joy

    Perfect! Just what I needed! Thanks. It’ll be 4 years since I talked to my daughter. 7 months since I talked to my son. Their loss. Moved on. Appreciating the peace I have in my life now.

    1. Carole

      Wow wish I knew how to think that way. Had an Ed for 3 years along with grandchildren. We are now talking even though it is like walking on broken glass and now have an Es due to marriage to an international student after knowing her for a matter of weeks. Not spoken for almost a year

  2. Marsha

    Wishing you all a Happy Mothers Day. Yes, I and my husband are just like most of you. What makes it even harder, us that Today us my daughters 50th birthday. She was my first born, and delivered on Mothers Day. How her happy life, turned ours into a nightmare of emotional and verbal abuse, is beyond us. However, we have a loving son and his family, and plenty of “daughter” substitutes, that fill our lives with happiness. We also have moved on. This web group and emails, have helped tremendously in regaining our worth as parents. We support, and think of all of you.❤️

  3. Julie M.

    Mother’s Day in England was in March
    I heard from one of my 4 children.
    I bought my estranged daughter a small gift for her young children to give her as she is now going through a divorce and us a single parent ( even though my and her dads divorce was the reason she is estranged from me?)
    She didn’t acknowledge this, and ignited Mother’s Day again.
    But this time I steeled myself. J normally choose to work on significant days, this time I couldn’t as I was off sick however I
    had a nice day with my partner.. and the day soon passed.
    You will all survive this day, I did!
    Sending love to all

    1. Susan P.

      Your not alone at all . My three children don’t speak to me anymore and my youngest whos in college said the most painful awful things to me through a text the last time I tried to reach out to her. You would not believe that a kid would talk to her mom so viciously. She called me every name in the book and told me she had no feeling or love for me at all. Her dad turned her against me after our divorce and she went to live with him when she was 9 after a custody battle. He had a lot of money and I had none so it was a bad deal but I thought that once she was not under his thumb that she would be in my life again but no such luck.

  4. Vicky

    It feels like this is not my life. I lived for my children when they were young and I tried my hardest to be the best mom I could. Wanting them to know how loved they were (and are) and how special they were and how much I adored them… always.
    Then the divorce happened and although it was in fact my choice, the repercussions that occurred thereafter I could have never bet on in a million years! That was nine years ago, and all of my three children are in their early to mid twenties now.
    Worst pain of my life. And although I get angry at how my ex handled our separation and divorce, making things as difficult as he could between me and the kids, I accept that it isn’t his fault entirely. Ofcourse it isn’t. And now, nine years later, My two boys are good overall now but still deal with the fact that their family is broken. And my youngest, my daughter who is now 22, has been my most difficult and painful relationship of all. The worst you could ever imagine she has said to me. And although things are better, I still don’t have a good relationship with her.
    Worst pain of my life for sure… without a doubt. And yes I am learning to live w it. But every holiday brings a little pain back.
    I know I am not alone, but it hurts all the same.

  5. Vilka M.

    It’s ok to make peace with the fact we may not have been perfect parents and understand we raised our kids with love and sometimes that may not be enough for our kids to see through the clouds and understand that we are family and no matter the issue we should be permitted to say sorry make peace with our hearts and make room for each other’s forgiveness. I love my son but I cannot be a prisoner to in forgiveness .I choose to move on with my life and leave the door open so if he chooses he can open . He texted me for Mother’s Day and I replied with thank you and a heart .life is just too short ❤️❤️

  6. No more trying

    Thank you, Sheri. Also thank you to Roberta and Vicki for their insights and example. That article helped a lot, as did the comments from other parents & the chapter on Reconciliation in your book, Sheri. I let the dutiful message nearing the end of Mother’s Day go to voice mail. I am following Vilka’s example by sending a thank you e-card. I want to avoid the pain of those eggshells that I have been treading on in previous phone conversations on ‘significant’ days. Thinking of everyone in this encouraging community and hoping for better days for all.

  7. Lillian

    I have a on and off estranged son..My only child. 2 years of peak-a-boo behavior. I am in therapy for this relationship. I am Registered Nurse, single mom unable to understand why, he does this. Unable to share this with anyone. Wish i was strong as the woman that i read about. He said my mother’s day gift was on its way its 1030pm.on mother’s day. Who is he kidding?


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