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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16 thoughts on “Greetings from estranged adult children

  1. Godly mom

    Hi Sheri, (cant remember my username name)..but I saw this post about Roberta & couldn’t resist to respond.. I can relate TOTALLY to Roberta…the only difference is this is my ONLY child & only son & this is mothers day.
    Thank you for this post…it really helped!! 🙂

    1. rparents Post author

      Godly mom, I’m so glad the post was helpful to you! — Please do something really nice for yourself today (and every day!). ~ Sheri

    2. chocolatelover

      mine ARE strangers to me; I’m estranged from all 3 grown sons; almost 20 years of being divorced from their farmer father. I don’t know them anymore, except by the photos/videos on their Facebook pages, and rare lunch dates with the oldest son. The oldest is 39, and the younger 2 are 35. They pretty much divorced me, when I got a divorce from their father. When I’ve tried to share memories of farm life, their childhood, they choose NOT to remember, their stories of farm life (and dad) are far different from mine. It would have been better, if I had not had children at all. it would feel, to me, much less painful to NOT have kids, than have them and have them cut you off.

  2. SoundofMusicMom

    For some reason I hesitate to share what felt like a good conversation I had with my ES on Mother’s Day. I know how painful it is (from other years) not to receive a call or text and it doesn’t always feel very good to hear about other’s good fortune.

    I don’t know if we’re “good” or not. When he called we talked for over an hour. It wasn’t forced or uncomfortable but definitely “surfacy”. We’d talked one other time since Christmas, maybe on my birthday. Again, it was nice but felt a bit obligatory. Maybe that’s ok. At least he made the effort.

    What I have done, though, is move on from the hurt from the series of letters he sent in 2015 voicing all his resentments about his childhood and early adulthood (at the prompting of his psychiatrist). I don’t allow myself to think about his words anymore.

    Since I have always sensed there was resentment there (even since high school) at least now I know why and can stop the natural reactions I used to have with him. If I’d known these things sooner, I could have changed my behavior sooner. His responses never made sense until now.

    I don’t know what the future holds. I’m beginning to believe that there are child-parent match-ups that just don’t work well. We all know people we just don’t like, for whatever reason, and they are well-liked by most everyone else. Who knows why some personalities just don’t mesh. I can wish it was different with my son, but it changes nothing.

    Roots and wings… I gave him both. But it doesn’t guarantee a future relationship with my child. If I did all I could to raise him into a good person, then a close relationship is icing, but not the cake. I can only wish for him happiness, whether that includes me or not.

    1. rparents Post author


      Your perspective is appreciated, and may be helpful to another parent–so thank you for sharing.

      What you say about wishes is very true, and your final statement about wishing your child happiness is something I also feel.


    2. Nowhat

      Yes I feel as you do. I try to keep to that belief but at times I sink. My son has been making obligatory visits for the past 9 years. It was only when I confronted him with my suspicions about our surfacey relationship did he confirm my fears. I apologized, heard him out, and I showed him how much I wanted things to be different between us, but he gave me no hope. I haven’t seen him since. I guess I released him from his moral obligation. At least I know he is happy and is with a good woman. My not reaching out is my gift to him. I hope he doesn’t interpret it as not caring.

  3. Justtosad

    I couldn’t finish reading after the first few paragraphs. I have never known others who hurt like Myself. I have no words now. I hope I can find this spot again.
    I can’t write now

  4. Justsosad

    I was lucky to find my last post. I’d like to say I finally feel validated as I’m not alone. However, still heartbroken. Crazy, almost 12 years later, yes it changes in some ways but still painful. I am happy to have found Sheri’s site and look forward to reading her book. I am amazed that so many people have the same issues! It is a secret that shouldn’t be. My ex husband took my daughter on vacation to see a few members on his side of the family. She came home like another kid. Mean and nasty. I told him not to take her again till she was of age but he did it the next summer. When she came home she said she was moving in with her dad. That’s when the end began.

    1. Tanya W.

      I completely understand this. I am glad to not be alone in this. My daughter’s been living with her father a year with no contact with me. I’m heartbroken.

  5. sadandaccepting

    Re: SoundofMusicMom
    I don’t know what the future holds. I’m beginning to believe that there are child-parent match-ups that just don’t work well. We all know people we just don’t like, for whatever reason, and they are well-liked by most everyone else. Who knows why some personalities just don’t mesh. I can wish it was different with my son, (my daughter) but it changes nothing.
    Thank You for this……have always known it but now seeing it in black and white somehow it makes more sense.

  6. Lessonslearned

    Thank you SoundOfMusicMom
    Now I have my answer. My ED and I just don’t match up. ED is too much
    like my Husbands family. They never liked me from day one. They let me
    know it every chance they got. I tried, but I never won them over. They
    were just angry people. My husband could never speak up for me as they
    had such control over him he feared they would disown him. The one time
    he was brave enough to talk back to them they did just that. My ED saw this
    and followed in my IN-LAWS footsteps when her Father died. She disowned
    me. I can now make sense of the Estrangement We just don’t Match Up.
    Thanks for posting such a common sense Comment.

  7. Eva

    Feeling the new sting adjusting to the old scar. My son and I have been estranged for most of his adult life ( going on 20 years) and now my daughter has followed his path.
    I have like most raked my self over the hot coals trying to understand what makes me so awful. Things always went along so smoothly as long as I agreed to go with their thoughts ideas and life choices as long as I was quiet.
    I am struggling with deep depression though my head gets what’s going on and my feelings are raging. I cope with crying, sleeplessness and lack of proper self care. Fortunately I do have a great husband who loves me and has his arms open for me ,not their father. I see how I have been co dependent for most of my adult life and how I have allowed my kids to set the gage on our relationship due to guilt of my many short comings. Or at least self preserved short comings.
    I have given much of my life in taking care of others in attempts to show I do have value and worth.
    Now I am doing less of that and taking baby steps at self care.
    Even if it’s only a note saying I have worth with or without my kids realizing that as a teen (when I had my kids) I felt they gave me my value. That as the youngest of a large family I took upon myself to take care of my mother so she won’t have so much to do and I didn’t want to be a burden.
    Then I had babies and thought how prefect life was my body made something so beautiful.
    Now it’s time to celebrate me and what I have been able to a accomplish .This I understand in my head and am so wanting to embrace it with my whole baby step at a time.

  8. Cherry

    This is my first month of estrangement. I have eleven children which I homeschooled. Nine have now turned against me. I am in complete shock. The youngest 6 I raised alone after their father left for his newest affair partner. I cannot even understand their complaints and accusations. I worked too much, I didn’t work enough, I was not involved, I was too involved, I held them back from college, I pushed them into college, I wanted them to succeed, I never encouraged them, etc. This was my first Mother’s Day without contact from the majority of my kids….they have always made a big deal about it and the younger kids would even send me Father’s Day thanks. I went from being “the best mom ever” to unworthy of any respect or love. I feel like the last 2 holding out for a relationship with me are being pressured by the others to also turn against me. I admitted to them all that I didn’t consider myself a perfect parent and had many shortcomings. The response was that if I wasn’t specific, then I wasn’t sincere. When I was specific in my shortcomings, they immediately reacted with “unsafe, unsafe” because to be specific, I had to bring up actual interactions with my kids. Yes, I should also be specifically unspecific!! How do they justify what they are doing to me when they all have nice careers, nice marriages, nice families of their own and even are homeschooling their own kids? I have lost 24 of my 25 grandchildren, including all 15 of the ones I moved to live in the same town with. Sadness does not even begin to describe how I feel.

  9. Annie

    So sorry for your pain. We all know it so well. Wow, eleven children. How did you ever do that? This abandonment is not about you but I’m sure strongly affects you. It’s all too common as we have learned and very senseless. Take good care of you and know we are all here for you. Hugs and prayers, Annie

  10. Animaluver

    I am going to say something I can only say here where it’s safe. That is, if I see either one of my EDs in a store I have to admit I will quickly turn and go the other way hoping I wasn’t seen, basically hiding. If I was seen, I doubt if they would speak to or approach me but I don’t want to find out. This most likely sounds cold to anyone not in here. These things seem to happen when you are doing well and there’s no need to pick that scab off and go backward. . Or maybe seeing one of their friends or someone you haven’t seen in a while asks you how your daughters are.
    Thank you for understanding.

  11. Springgal58

    Thank you to all the moms who have posted in this thread. I can relate to each of you (well, not having 11 children..(smile), but Cherry I felt your pain for having nine of them turn away, gosh that is hard. That is a lot of hours of childcare you have given. I liked that you wrote out the push-pull of their accusations. It sure applies to some of the struggle I have been through when nothing I do is right, no matter.

    I have some quotes from Sheri’s book posted at my desk and they remind me each day that I am worthy of respect. It’s amazing that when I took my power back and set some boundaries, that things are smoother for me. I also lowered my expectations about calling, visits, etc. But I raised my expectations for being treated with respect. And the crazy-maker in my head has left for greener pastures, at least for the past couple of months. And I did hear from both AC yesterday. Even though my son didn’t say any “I Love You’s” he texted flowers and hearts, so I call that good. Progress after 8 months of silence on his part. I’m happy to leave it at that.

    Hats off to all of you for speaking out here, it’s appreciated. Springgal


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