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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11 thoughts on “The Boat

  1. AvatarMirna

    Wow I’m just in tears reading everyone’s nightmares from they’re estranged adult children and it’s so true it’s not just the parents suffering it’s the siblings too. My 14 year old daughter had a very difficult time because she just couldn’t understand why and she also blamed herself, since there was a couple of times that she had to tell on my son because she would catch him stealing from us. So when he turned 18 he left home by that time my husband and I were having problems with my oldest daughter, not talking to us and not letting us see our grandkids. Found out later that she had a lot to do with the way my son was treating us. It’s been over two years since they both stopped talking to us and not just that, but the lying of how bad my husband and I were. My heart is broken and I can’t understand why. It’s time to move on I want to live again and not feel guilty about it.

  2. AvatarDeLynn S.

    My boat experience was being flipped off the side into the murky water, while my daughter’s husband threw dangerous weapons, and hurled unspeakable abuse. She never turned back.

  3. Avatargjc

    This analogy really captured my attention. My son has increasingly distanced himself over 15-20 years to the point of zero contact. But along the way I have been blamed for his drug abuse, his father’s dementia, his falling out with his friends etc etc. While I know his accusations are not based in reality I keep feeling challenged by others as to why I have no contact with him now. The boat has sped off!

  4. FioFio

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article and intend to get the book………just discovered this site and this is something that i really need. It’s been 2 years since my daughter has stopped wanting anything to do with me and I am now starting to walk to the shore, away from all the trauma and chaos and awful words sent my way. It’s hard because she has chosen to put all the blame on me and not her father who she reaches out to and who really does not understand my position. Now, I just avoid any conversation to do with her.
    I know her mental health issues have alot to do with her behaviour, but discipline has to also play a role.
    Her disability whether it’s borderline personality disorder or whatever it is should not allow her to treat me as she has. The shore will be a better place………thank you for this site, wish I had found it long ago!!!!

  5. AvatarAndrea

    I have been swimming toward the boat for the past several years. I get close and even grasp at the life preserver she tosses my way, but to no avail. I feel now that I am drowning and must do something to save myself. My experience is a little more confusing for me because for years my husband has not experienced her rage and lies. She does not treat him with the contempt that she has for me. In his mind, until just recently, he had thought we were merely having disagreements and that maybe I am inflicting insults at her. He finally came to my defense and she tossed him over the side of the boat! Now there are two of us in the polluted sea. Unfortunately, he still wants to keep swimming toward the boat, I have had enough. There are three absolutely adorable grandkids involved and we are very bonded. I just pray that they won’t be emotionally scarred by all of this! We live a half a block away from them and the kids have spent an immeasurable amount of good times with us! The heartwarming time with the kids have counter balanced the pain she gives me, but I fear she is forbidding the kids contact with me now. I just bought Sheri’s book last night, so hopefully in time my broken heart will mend.

  6. AvatarAlison B.

    This analogy has really hit home with me today. It is EXACTLY how I have felt. I am currently reading Sheris book. I’m only on Chapter 3 and am well on my way to swimming to that shore. I am a Mum of 2 daughters. My youngest has not been in touch for 3 years and up until last month I was floating in that water. Waiting and waiting for my baby to rescue me. Not any more. I have my eldest daughter who is a god send to me. She too has suffered so much missing her sister. She even sent a video of her unborn baby who is due next week to her and yet nothing.
    With the help of your stories and the book. I really am at that point now where swimming to the shore is exciting. I mean that in the sense of exciting that I can feel happiness again and I am lookong forward to finding those cocunut trees, beautiful sands and new beginnings. I will always have that hope that maybe one day I will see her again. But for now I’m determined to live my life, explore my new island and accept she is an adult who makes her own decisions. xx

  7. Avatari will always love them

    i am s till suffering shock of what she has done. she took away my grandkids, and forced her husband to do the same to me. he actually likes me. but she made him choose. she did it because she was a victim of manipulation from her father (my ex) who had a 2 year affair on me behind my back. it is a complicated web……even if she was manipulated she is an adult and can think like one and choose to focus on all the love i gave her, rather than support the lie that her narcissistic “rabbi” father is a righteous person and i am the one to blame…..but she has chosen to uphold the lies and turn away from me. i will be swimming to shore shortly. i still have decided to have a relationship with my grandkids in thought, and spirit. i pray for them, think of them, and hope for them. and that still keeps me connected. my child? she is far away on a lost island right now.

  8. AvatarDonna C.

    Oh wow … this analogy so aptly describes my experience. Very few angry words directed at me – to my face. Complete lockout of the lives of ED & ES. It wasn’t just me left gasping in the wake of their boat it was also their 4 younger siblings.. completely guttered and bewildered we have each had to make the painful decision to swim assure. In my case I have swam ashore and then swam back out into the chaos many times. And my poor hurt and broken children (younger 4) have had to go through this too. Its not just Mum or Dad… it effects everyone who loves any of us.
    7 years into total block out…. several years of coming and going before that and now I am done!! its been harrowing but as I climb onto my shore for the last time and stand up and get on with building my ‘new’ normal life… my four younger ones are able to do the same. Thank you for this article and I to would love to see the artists impression…

  9. AvatarCarolyn7915

    It has been 4 years since my only child “terminated” our relationship. When I find myself thinking about her in a longing way I remind myself that she most likely isnt thinking about me in that way. Helps get me back in my own life/lane.
    I also find myself thinking about her less and less.


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