The Boat

think about yourself instead of grown childrenA Grown Child’s Rejection: The Boat

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Parents of estranged children may suffer insults, be called names, and be told they never did enough. They have fond memories of their sweet children, and recall themselves as always giving. To the best of their ability, these parents were generous, kind, and supportive. But their estranged adult children tell a different story. Maybe they say these moms and dads who did their best should never have had children. They’re told they weren’t rich enough to provide graduate school, didn’t let their sons or daughters do enough when they were kids, didn’t give them music lessons . . . You fill in the blanks.

We can’t control their perception any more than we can control their adult behavior. At some point, adults are responsible for their own lives. They can blame, inflict pain and abandon us. They may leave us struggling in their wake—-but we don’t have to stay there.

We cannot go back and change the past. If we feel we have done something wrong, we can apologize, ask for forgiveness and to try again, but we can’t force our children to participate in our future.

We can make the best possible decisions now though. We can think of ourselves rather than our grown children. We can make choices to benefit ourselves, and act on them. Right or wrong, our estranged adult children have decided what they’ve decided.

Will you remain the wake of your grown child’s rejection?

Imagine your child is on a boat, and that you are in the water below. See your son or daughter dropping all sorts of poison off the back of the boat. Imagine the angry, stinking words they have flung at you. See those poisonous words hitting the water with a splash. Acrid smoke rises from them. It stings your eyes, fills your lungs so you can barely breathe. You feel as if you’ll choke.

You cough and gag. But your child isn’t done yet. A net rises from the murky depths, stretching across the open water. You can’t swim toward the boat without getting caught, tangled in a hurting web you don’t understand. Your child throws out hooks, spills out chum that attracts vicious sharks.

Dazed and confused, you call out. “Wait. Help. Can’t we talk?”  But your child takes the helm. The boat speeds away.

See the wake of the boat, feel the choppy waves, smell the acrid fumes rising from their spiteful words, and see those sharks. . . . Now, what do you do?

Do you stay in that spot, paralyzed, barely able to hold your head above water as the sharks lunge and bite at the net?

Do you wait there, expending precious energy as you tread water, determined you can fix this no matter what? The horrible toxic clouds fill your lungs. . . .

Do you swim toward the net, determined to cut through, and put yourself in shark-infested waters to follow despite your grown child’s rejection of you?

Or … do you turn, and look for a way to save yourself?

You see a shore in the distance. The beach looks lonely, and uncertain. It’s a brand new world there. Not what you expected to be facing at this point in your life. You don’t know what a future there holds.

Swim to shore.

It’s like this when our lives take a sudden unexpected turn. We can view potential shores as scary and uncertain, and decide to stay in the wake of a boat that’s left us. We might even convince ourselves that staying still, waiting for our child to come back, despite the horrible poison and threats to our survival is what a good mother or father would do. Our child will come back . . . won’t she?

The boat gets smaller on the horizon. The sharks are lunging and biting at the net. The angry words are spilling out an ugly, contaminating slick.

Despite what’s happening, we might feel compelled to swim after the boat. Isn’t following our child, despite the horrors, what a truly good parent would do?  After all, isn’t a parents’ love unconditional?

We look back toward the shore, but . . . what will others think if we turn away from our own child, and swim to safety?

Imagine yourself in the water.

Do you see the sharks? Feel the poison burning your lungs? Can you see your estranged adult child, getting smaller and smaller as the boat speeds away—-yet somehow he looms so very large?

Maybe the boat whips around, and roars close. Your child tosses out a life ring. Relieved and grateful, you reach for it—-this nightmare is finally over!

Then your child snatches back the rope.

abandoned parentsMaybe your child doesn’t yell at you from the boat. Maybe she never flung out ugly accusations. Maybe your child only sped away, and left you in open water. You’re still in their wake, growing more weary as the water closes in on you.

What do you do?

I know this is melodramatic, but when we’re faced with the utter shock of a child we have loved and supported turning on us, we can feel just as threatened. The choice we face is similar. The shore where we can get out of the water, escape the sharks and the poison may look lonely and uncertain, but what is the alternative?

Get out of the water.

Turn and swim to the shore. You may find sunny beaches, creative sandcastles, and refreshing waterfalls. Perhaps there will be a storm, cliffs to climb, or you’ll have to bushwhack to find a rewarding path. If you try though, you’re sure to find banana and coconut trees, perhaps even pineapples athink of yourself instead of grown childrennd friends.

Get out of the water. When you do, you’ll find there are people who parents of estranged adult childrencare and are willing to help. You may find yourself walking along a shore of pretty shells. And as was posted on the Help & Healing for Parents of Estranged Adult Children Facebook page recently, a passerby may ask, Shell we have a good day? How will you respond?  Get the book–and get out of the boat for good.


Related articles:

Emotional scars after an adult child’s estrangement

Taking Care of Yourself

Reinvent yourself

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14 thoughts on “The Boat

  1. Paula

    This is a great analogy, I’ve been here for 6 long months and it is absolutely heart breaking to read that Some parent have Been here for years. I hope to one day be strong like y’all but I’m not there yet. I did find a good therapist and hope it doesn’t take long for me to make some positive changes I am so thankful to find this website I ordered the book but it has not arrived yet

    1. dyinginside

      Hello everyone,
      I enjoyed reading THE BOAT, very interesting and it make Lot sense for what I have been through. I’m not even sure if I have started swimming to shore of still treating ,. After over a year , finally yesterday my daughter messaged me ,. It was a response from my message to her asking for input from her on how to heal from this situation I was grasping T straws whennibsent the message the day before,. And to my surprise she answered me,. So the messaging continued for about three hours, and I really took my time and out alot of thought into every message back to her ,. What I got from this conversation with her vi text was that she isn’t owning up to her shit, I owned up I took what her reasons were and acknowledged them and I sincerely apologized, three times. And not once has she owned up for her actions which affected and hurt me alot. With that being said, we agreed to chat in another day or two,. But if she don’t own her shit,. Take responsibility , for her part,. Then I feel it’s only a matter of time before I get cut off again,. My grandkids were in this province with her for two months I didn’t getto see them, and at Christmas and again didn’t get to see them , her reason was because I hurt her feelings when I told her I felt she was making a mistake residing five provinces away from her kids,. As a mother I feel I have the right to tell them when I feel they may regret their decisions later,. I was not passing judgement at all,. My intentions were to only advise her , based on my wrong decisions I have made in the past .I apologized for this,. And still she won’t take ownership, she is now blaming her dad’s side of the family for bad mouthing me to her. That is how she is acknowledging her very hirtfull decisions. I want to reconcile more then anything with her, but how Soni approach her knowing she is passing the buck?.

  2. Lynne

    I just wanted to share a thought today. I know my 2 estranged children know they are loved. What they want from me is affirmation. They are both living lifestyles that are not moral. The want me to accept this. As time has gone on now for many years I see this so clearly. I went all the directions of saying nothing, even when immorality was thrown right in my face, to gently and at times firmly telling them that they are doing wrong. I know for sure that they know they are not living right. My son once said to me “you taught me well Mom but that does not mean I am going to do it.” I have prayed and asked the Lord to give me wisdom in these situations. I love them too much to give them the affirmation they want. They know they have my love but it is just not enough for them. As the years go by so quickly I know in my heart I have done all I can do. I hope this helps someone today.

  3. RL

    Wow, this is a great description of what it feels like, and great advice for what we can do about it. It does take some work and it is tricky to find the right path to the “brand new world”. Thanks for sharing this with us Sheri!

  4. IL

    “The Boat’ is absolutely wonderful, with the situation so well described that I can really see myself in it. It so accurately depicts my situation, which has been confusing to me. It is both empathetic and inspiring. Best of all, it describes a way out, a ‘new life’ on the shore, a life of ending the suffering and moving on. While I have a busy, happy life overall, the situation with my estranged daughter weighs heavy on me at times, causing suffering and loss of sleep. I will do my best to go to the shore by ordering the book and the workbook. You have given me hope, although it’s hard to believe that I’ll be able to get there. A big ‘thank you’ to you for offering this ever so helpful piece of writing.

  5. IL

    After reading and re-reading ‘The Boat’, whenever my thoughts go to my estranged daughter at night or in the early hours of the morning, I envision letting that noxious boat go on ahead and get far away from me until it is so small that it becomes nearly invisible, and I am at the shoreline walking on the soft, warm sand, relaxing, taking deep breaths, and enjoying the sunshine.


    I have been reading “the boat” hard to believe but a good analogy of our life of EC. I myself presently is experiencing with Estrangement from my first born son, DIL, sister and niece! Feels like they are all on that boat and throwing me to the sharks! I never knew or understood why but they made up horrible fake news and almost caused me to lose my husband (the father of my son) whom I’ve been married to for 30years. My husband who has been a jealous man of my attention with my children and now this…they all bad mouth me to me and behind my back! The only good part of this vicious cycle is that my husband believes in me. At times it is trying but he believes the good in me. It’s hard but we keep swimming. Bless you all


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