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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41 thoughts on “The Boat

  1. TheblueskyThebluesky

    Wow Sheri, this is one that will have to be read multiple times. I live very near the ocean, just a few blocks, so this analogy can be easily (or maybe not!) imagined. Thank you’ll

    1. rparentsrparents Post author

      Thebluesky, thank you for your positive comment. When I wrote this, I feared some parents might feel it does not sound empathetic to them. It is sometimes difficult to determine what will be helpful. My intentions are never to hurt anyone. I have been in that water, so know how it feels. Thank you again. Here’s to beautiful shores with pretty shells for all the hurting parents. ~ Sheri McGregor

    2. Ann

      This is a great story. Tells it exactly how it is. Time for us to swim to shore make a new happy life and leave the drama behind!

    3. K. Olsen

      I’ve been swimming a very long time – going on almost five years. I’m incredibly tired, very depressed, and have turned my life into an internal hell staying in the water. I’ve made the choice (finally!) to swim towards the shore. I’ve started my search for a good therapist, and I’m going to order Sheri’s book and read it like my life depends on it because it does. When I stop focusing on the disaster that’s in the water and look at the rest of my life, I can see (although not yet feel) blessed. I have an incredibly strong marriage and a great husband. I have a few solid friends. I live in a home I love and do work that I enjoy. And way down deep, I can look at my past and find that although I wasn’t perfect, I was a good mom – someone who wanted her daughters, who loved them, and moved mountains for them. I can find peace in that. It’s time to turn to shore.

    4. BorderCollieMomBorderCollieMom

      I also live a few blocks from the Northern Pacific shore… love this tale of survival. Thank you, Sheri.

    1. S. Marie

      I have been treading that water for almost a year now. Thank you for the different perspective. What can it hurt?

  2. Rainbow

    Sheri, thank you for such a beautiful and profound analogy! I’ve been floating in the water for way too many years. Think I’ll swim to the shore and dry off. Rainbow

  3. Sarah

    Beautiful analogy , how bizarre i recently went to a meditation and this too involved a boat and putting our troubles into the boat , it was inspiring thank you once again .

    1. rparentsrparents Post author

      Hi Sarah,

      It’s encouraging when things come together like that coincidentally (maybe no coincidence at all!). Thank you for sharing the meditation of putting troubles in a boat. . . . Do you then set it out to sea?


  4. TClundy

    Hello Sheri,

    Just love this analogy. Been out of the water for awhile. Slowly but surely stepping foot in the brand new world – don’t want to slip back into the water.

    Thank you,

  5. Samantha

    Thank you so very much for your inspiration in my life. I too am tired of swimming and treading water to see if they will even consider turning the boat around. Thanks to you I am making my footprints in the sand and moving on with my life.

    1. rparentsrparents Post author

      I’m so glad you’re making progress! Thank you for your kindness … But do give YOURSELF the credit! Your footprints are leaving a trail for others!

      Sheri McGregor

  6. Barbara

    I’ve tried a number of times to break the ice but always rejected and i always say or do this the wrong way apparently. I’ve reached the conclusion I need to move on for my own sake. Some days are easier than others…

  7. Tatty

    I sobbed tears of grief as I read this being the mother of an estranged daughter who continually throws the lifeline back to me and pulls it away before I can reach it. This was just what I needed to regain control of my life again and you gave me permission to do that without guilt
    Thank you

  8. Annie

    Great encouragement Sheri. Thank you for being there for all of us. Life does need to go on and your support means so much. Blessings, Annie

  9. ahopefulmom

    Sheri…regarding “the boat ”
    i am new to this site…today is my first reply. I have been basking in this beautiful website, reading many of your posts, the comments and titles of familiar and intriguing subjects, courageously shared by your community and you.
    Like so many of you, I feel as though I may have finally found a safe place for myself to begin a new life on the other side of this insidious situation called “estrangement.”
    I was drawn, like others to your analogy of the boat, as I happen to live on a boat myself. I was curious to have your story unfold until I could see myself smack dab in your story…seeing now, that I had been subjecting myself to my ED’s blame and torment for sadly, nearly 8 long years.
    My story is like many others. no fights, no particular incident…just a little bit at a time and then…boom, life as I knew it was really over! I think I am just now willing to accept things as they are and turn the page.
    My blessings are, that while my daighter and step daughter have been estranged, I have never let go of hope for happiness, health and love. My prayers were focused on all of these gifts. Not just for myself, but for them also. I am grateful that I have a happy forgiving heart (I have had to use it for myself too.)
    It has been because I held that sweetness in the midst of deep deep sorrow and loss, that I am prepared today to begin a new life, with the skills and gifts that I have never let go of. (thankfully)
    I live with my new husband and two loving little dogs, in a sunny place, mIles ftom them. As newlyweds, I refuse to let any further pain into my life…into our life. We simply do not have the space.
    Living on a boat means no extra bagage, no storage of useless items and finally, no room for the dilution of quality life because of my ED’s.
    Thank you for reading. Thank you for caring. Thank all of you for wanting a more beautiful life.

  10. J

    Nothing has made sense to me until reading The Boat. The pain in my heart seems unbearable, guess I m still in the Wake, trying desperately to get to the shore. J

  11. Rosie

    I too lived for a call on Mothers Day. Both other son and daughter acknowledged me as a “good Mum” with flowers, gift and more importantly inclusion. One even joked that he waited to call later in the day so their errant sibling had opportunity to contact but no ! A week later a curt text ” would you be around on Saturday to look after the children(4 of them) as we have a work function ?” How did I respond ? Had I been feeling rejected and wracked with grief I would have cancelled my weekend away and driven 300 kms to meet this expectation. Reply ” heading away Fri. Returning Sun. afternoon. Sorry.” Sounds so fickle I know but only three weeks ago I was informed yet again that I had failed him, would prefer if I didn’t”t call round , his father is a weak man, a mute etc. I am getting slowly stronger. I only spend part of my day fretting for what could have been now. This little boy is a 38 yr old man ! (And I love the little monster) !

  12. deanna

    You offer such beautiful hope and love to us by allowing us to share and release our painful memories. the sorrow is such a deep well that sometimes I feel like I am drowning in my sorrow. I am not sorry for being a good mother, or even that my daughter no longer acknowledges me in any fashion, but I’m sorry that it is such a painful journey to realizing the “forever change” that has occurred and in my case, cannot be changed. It has been 20 years and for the first time I am willing to talk about me and this experience. Thank you for the opportunity. Now I need to find the words. They will come.

    1. rparentsrparents Post author


      I’m very grateful to have been of help to you in opening up after 20 years. I’m sorry the journey has been a painful one. I have this feeling that in all that pain of the deep well you mention, there is a core treasure of beauty and grace that keeps you afloat. May you enjoy arriving on the shore, and feeling the sand between your toes! (Is that taking The Boat article’s metaphor too far!?)
      Sheri McGregor

  13. CiCi

    Thank you! This encourages me beyond words.
    My son. My life. I play the rewind button several times a day, and I get nothing. Yes, life threw curve balls…but at the end of the day no one could have loved him more than me. Yet I am the reason for all his pain. He neglects … Feels little desire to come by at all. Kills me.
    I have dreamt of one way tickets.

  14. Christine

    I can’t remember when I received a Mother’s Day gift from my oldest daughter. We had a complicated up and down relationship from a divorce whereby I tried and tried to win her affection, but have finally failed. I have always been the underdog parent; I gladly accepted the Mother’s Day texts for years along with constant resentment and resistance. On my last visit to her, when I dropped everything in my life to clean her house, be grandma and help her recover from pneumonia, I just had all I can take of her snide comments and put-downs. And when she announced she was spending yet another family Christmas with her Daddy which left me out since my granddaughter was born, I deleted her from FB to protect myself from photos. (HUGE mistake) Never do that. That was the END for me. I wanted to discuss our mutual hurt, but she cut me off with hostile verbal attacks (nothing new) and refused to hear my side of the story. I do feel we have created these callous, heartless children that take and take and cannot empathize or feel outside of themselves. What will happen when their children get older wonder what happened to grandma and grandpa and auntie? How did we get here- I’m wondering.

  15. alyballybee

    Dear Sheri,
    How I needed to read this tonight!! I am still in the whirlpool, it’s early days, yet there are times when I can see me reaching for the shore. In my heart I pray for my ES to reconcile, but in my head I know he has gone, only a few hours ago I learned from my ex DIL, his ex wife, that he won’t reconcile, so now he is trying to come between her and I and the kids with whom I have a good relationship. I cannot believe the lies that are being said about me and the things I have supposed to have said. Why do they do this? I will honestly admit to anything if I am wrong, but I cannot take lies, never had never will. Your narrative covers everything I am feeling and experiencing right now, it is early days, is it too soon to want to let go and swim for that shore, I just don’t know. He is my son and I love him unconditionally, but I neither recognise nor like the man he has become. I truly believe his new wife is fanning the flames, but he is being complicit in going along with it, he should and does know better.
    That shore is looking more and more inviting. Thank you for this wonderful analogy, it truly does put things in perspective.

    1. rparentsrparents Post author

      I’m glad the article resonated with you. Speaking metaphorically, maybe you could swim to shore and take a little rest on the beach. You could look out at the boat and it’s driver if that feels right. Or maybe take a nice nap in the sunshine, lulled by the sound of the surf. Sounds relaxing, doesn’t it? There’s nothing wrong with taking a little break, and we can wake up with clearer thoughts and vision. Hmm. I think I’ll stretch out in the sand, too. It sounds inviting. See you there! ~~ Sheri McGregor

  16. Jolene

    My adult daughter went out for the evening, took her dog and never came back, leaving behind every possession with no explanation except that she needed to be out from underneath the umbrella. You mean the one that protected you for 32 years? Wow! Texting was a maybe until I said “It feels like you don’t care about us anymore.” That’s all it took, we were cut off. We’ve been on a roller coaster of emotions; acceptance is our next stop. Looking forward to your book.

  17. NewBlueWingsNewBlueWings

    I am about to begin a painting, and it just so happens, the subject is a boat. Your essay, Sheri, brings complementary words and imagery to what had already taken root in my mind’s eye. I now know the composition, as it takes form, will bring me both validation and peace, as I paint, remind, and repeat, “I turned toward the beach and welcomed the shore.” I know the completed painting, whispering that mantra, will keep me grounded and thankful. We are a part of all whom we have met. Thank you.

    1. rparentsrparents Post author

      Dear NewBlueWings,

      How exciting! I hope you will share the painting when done. I would so love to see it! Thank YOU!

      Sheri McGregor

  18. Fleeting

    A very powerful article. I am in the early stages and floundering in the sea, uncertain whether to go for the boat and or the shore. The shore seems tempting but fear and guilt bring in murky clouds. It is difficult to see my way. Perhaps I can tread water until the way is clear.

    1. freshstart

      This is an interesting and helpful way to look at all these many years of misery following estrangement. I have felt the intense guilt of not wanting to give up for fear of abandoning the children who have actually abandoned me. I have begged and pleaded, apologized for imagined wrongs, given them unconditional love and given them space, etc. In fact, I’ve tried every method I could to ‘fix’ this. But I find myself in that ocean filled with danger, cruel words swirling around me and no reason to assume it will ever end. The shore you talk about seems the only choice left. Thank you for this vision. It makes it so clear that I will not survive unless I swim for that shore and save myself.

  19. Murdear

    I’m fairly new to this community but I am reading the book and also the various articles. The Boat is hitting every point and I thank you Ms McGregor, you and the community is a blessing.


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