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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15 thoughts on “Greetings from estranged adult children

  1. Jay

    Being rejected as a parent (s) hurts, it hurts a lot. You keep on asking yourself if you were such a bad parent.
    As Mothersday is fast approaching, I bought myself a mug with “Best Mother Ever” printed on the front. It will remind me that it wasn’t us who rejected our son and his family, it was them who rejected us. We were not planning on waiting by the phone for him to call us, so they’re blocked. Email is still open, but who knows, we might block that too. Our life goes on.

  2. Rose W.

    I go out and spend the day doing what I like, then I have stepchildren & another daughter that sends me greetings & such. While I love my ED, I love not having drama..
    God , prayers helped…along with the book ” Done with the crying “. Keep the faith, you are loved!!!

  3. Michelle

    Hi everyone,
    I’m so sorry we are all in this awful situation with our adult children. My husband and I had 4 beautiful sons who we adored and did everything to make happy.
    My estrangement started in 2019 for a year when our 3rd son went no contact, we didn’t know where he was in the world travelling. It happened after he had been living overseas and had several bad relationships the last one having a terrible impact on him. He came home and seemed to take things out on us, he was very disrespectful and made accusations of our parenting 2 things in particular that had affected him. Anyway we reunited a year later but the relationship was strained. Sadly he has estranged again and I fear it is now permanent, even if it isn’t the relationship is difficult and stressful. It affects our whole family.
    My question is has anyone else had to go onto antidepressants, I did the first time and they helped but I am trying not to go on them again this time as I don’t want to rely on them, I’m taking 5HTP which is a natural antidepressant and I’ve been taking care of myself exercising, seeing friends and determined to be happy in my life despite our sons cruel behaviour but I’m struggling now with Mother’s Day coming up, I’m dreading it and feeling very sad. I don’t want my life and health ruined by this situation with our son but I keep slipping into sadness please help

    1. Deborah P.

      Hello, Michelle. I understand your situation, as I have been going through this for 6.5 years. Yes, I took anti-depressants & went through a procedure several times in the office of my psychiatrist. I saw a counselor for 4 years straight. I wrote emails saying I was sorry for any pain I had caused my son & daughter-in-law. Last year, after 5.5 years of not seeing my son and grandchildren, I received a phone call on Mother’s Day from them, wishing me a happy Mother’s Day. Our conversation was pleasant, but superficial. It left me feeling nothing, I guess. This year I don’t expect to even get a phone call for reasons related to Facebook. I decided, that after being “unfriended” 6.5 years ago by my daughter-in-law, and then receiving a “friend request” 5 years later & accepting it, I decided to “unfriend” her. It seemed hypocritical to be Facebook friends with someone who never paid any attention to my posts and I never saw any of hers. She and my son are not my “friends” in life, much less on Facebook! In fact I consider them my enemies, from the way they have tried to alienate my family members from me. These are people who are “toxic” for me. Sure, I want to see my 3 grandchildren, but I believe that should I ask to see them, I will again be “raked over the coals”. I don’t need that and neither do you. At 72 years of age I want peace, joy, adventure, and to be with others who want to be with me. I deserve that and so do you! I am looking forward to this Mother’s Day. That morning I’m packing up my 7 month old puppies in my car and joining some friends, who also have dogs, and sharing food and coffee while we laugh, share stories and view incredible vistas while watching our doggies chase each other around and around in circles. How fun is that? I planned this ahead of time. After that, I will pick up my 51 year old son with special needs and join my 52 year old son, at his home, where we will eat dinner together. I didn’t know that would happen when I coordinated the “doggie play date”. So . . . it doesn’t matter if I do, or I don’t, receive any contact from my youngest son. It is definitely his loss!

      1. Michelle

        Hi Deborah P ,
        I want to thank you so much for your reply to me, it has made me feel so much better, I’m so very sorry for all you’ve experienced over the years and agree with you that we have to decide to put ourselves first and although it feels selfish to do as a mother who has always put others first, I believe we have to do it to protect our health and wellbeing. We should not have to suffer and get ill from these cruel adult children. Enjoy your puppies, your other family members and friends you deserve it, take care Michelle

    2. Cherie

      Hi Michelle: I too am an anti-depressants. This is my second time on them . The first time was for a short time after my husband passed away and the most recent, this past year, after a particularly horrible time with one of my daughters. I must say they have kept me from ruminating, and worse, from suicidal thoughts. I am the mother of 3 daughter, am estranged from one, and partially estranged from the other. Earlier this year, I was hoping to go off them but my doctor advised that I wasn’t ready. She was right. When I think these 2 girls couldn’t do anything worse to me, they do, and thankfully I was able to deal with it. I’m not sure that I would have been as successful if I weren’t on my anti-depressants. Our family dynamics changed both physically & mentally the day my husband died due to an accident. So for me, it’s been 8 miserable years that I have had to get through without the support of my husband. Like so many of you I believed I was a good mother who loved and respected my children. I will forever be in disbelief that this is my situation. Yet, I still manage to be grateful for the one daughter who is very much in my life and my many supportive friends. I should also mention that my 3rd daughter has very little contact with her sisters.
      I also wonder how many families fell apart after the death of a parent. I should add that my daughters are 39, 38 and 33 years old. They are intelligent, and successful women. I can’t figure out how they can be so “evil”.

      1. Michelle

        Hi Cherie,
        Thank you so much for your reply to me. I am so very sorry for your loss of your husband and also the terrible treatment from your daughters. I am determined to pull myself out of the sadness of this situation and have been doing well recently until Mother’s Day loomed, I think we have to accept there will always be hard days. I am feeling a lot better I walk daily with my little dog who is my fur baby and gives me so much love and pleasure. I hope you can also decide to put yourself first and take care of yourself we don’t deserve to be ill and unhappy because of these cruel adult children. I wish you all the best, take care Michelle

    3. Melissa L.

      Hello Michelle, this is my first time posting. I had something typed up and hit post but don’t see it, if this is duplicated, I apologize. I began something for anxiety and depression about 2 months ago. It has helped some with the anxiety but not the depression. This is my 2nd Mother’s Day without my youngest son. To add to the hurt, his birthday is May 26. About the time I get myself back together after Mothers Day, it will be his birthday. We live in a small town so I occasionally run into them. My son and his wife “hide” my 2 granddaughters from us, and refuse to speak. I told him once in Kroger that I loved him and he walked off. My heart breaks, but I’ll go back to the doctor today for a refill on my prescription and pray for healing and reconciliation. My prayers are with all hurting mothers

      1. Michelle

        Hi Melissa,
        Thank you for your reply to me. It was also my first post. I feel so supported by the replies I received, it’s helpful to know others are in the same situation even though I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It’s cruel and heartbreaking. I have decided I am not going to let this situation ruin my life and more importantly my health and have been making an effort to increase my exercise (walking with my little dog) listening to happy music, read happy books. I also pray a lot to which definitely helps. The sadness can be overwhelming at times and I think Mother’s Day looming made me sad. I hope you can find some peace and joy again in your life, and put yourself first for your health and wellbeing. take care Michelle

  4. Marie

    If you don’t want to block your estranged adult child, you can create a silent ringtone and then use that for the contact. I don’t remember how I did it, but you can search online how to do it.

  5. julie L.

    You so want the call…but at the same time you are worried that the emotional punch will put you back to square one . It’s my only Grandaughter s Christing next weekend and my estranged daughter took great delight in telling me everyone is invited but me and her Stepdad . I will still send gifts and cry on the day and will get no response knowing she will be telling everyone I don’t care. Heartbreaking

  6. Phoenix12

    I have found such relief in blocking my ex-children’s phone numbers and indulging myself in the gift of Caller ID to prevent myself from doing this to myself.

    I would not feel comfortable blocking their email addresses as well, but it is not a huge favour to ask a close friend to “screen” them for you: most email programmes have “filters” for spam and office business purposes, where you can automatically have your EC’s nastygrams forwarded to your trusted friend or family member and deleted from your own account.

    Nine times out of ten, there will be no texts that say “I just noticed that it’s Mother’s Day and it’s all your fault that I feel guilty about being such a spoiled little brat so I’m going to make sure you have a horrible day today” at all, so your friend won’t really be inconvenienced very much.

    Giving them what they want is just a way to turn off that part of your brain so you can get on with your life. You’ll be so grateful that you’ll wind up wanting to thank our trusted friend and family member so you get to spend more time with them, too, so it’s a win-win situation, even if it does feel a bit silly.

    1. Kristy R.

      This article was so good and helpful. After moving out of state to pursue a healthier and peaceful life several months later when Thanksgiving rolled around we got an email from our oldest daughter with a cc to our youngest asking how it felt to be all alone on Thanksgiving? I thought about it and responded that I had cooked a turkey, we had socialized and we took a beautiful, warm sunny walk (all true). I continued that it was a beautiful, peaceful day with no drama. I said we wished it was different but it is what it is. We never received a response. Getting away from unhealthy situations that literally make you ill mentally and physically it is hard to imagine how much better you can feel. Not everyone can do that and the hurt is still always there when you have dedicated your life to your children and grandchildren but keeping busy, enjoying nature, appreciating each moment and praying and trusting in God and having good friends and family who know that you are good people helps a lot. Hope everyone can take time for themselves to have some enjoyment and so something nice. Happy Mother’s Day

    2. Jaclyn S.

      Unfortunately, I made the decision to block both of my girls phone numbers Feb 2022 after the last of horrible texts from both of them. I divorced their father in 2008 for domestic violence. My girls were 22 and 19 at the time. It has been a domestic wheel with limited contact. When there was contact, it was disrespectful. I don’t know who they are and why they think their behavior is acceptable. I have 2 grandchildren who don’t know me. They never include me but make sure to include my jealous sister, as if in replacement. Life is short and I can no longer participate in their twisted, disrespectful, unchristian way of life. It hurts horribly and some people just can’t understand. If I was to stand in front of God for judgment today, I know I will be going to heaven. I continue to pray for my girls. I just can’t live a healthy life with their hateful behavior.


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