Mother’s Day: triggering pain for mothers of estranged adults

Mother's day estranged adult childrenMother’s Day, and special days: Triggering pain for mothers of estranged adult children

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Here it comes again—Mother’s Day in the United States and in Canada. Mothers of estranged adult children in the U.K. have already seen Mother’s Day come and go. Soon, mothers in Canada and in the States will be on the other side of the holiday too—until next year, when it rolls around all over again.

Hang in there. Mother’s Day won’t stop coming just because we’re estranged. And having spoken with thousands of parents who’ve been cut off by adult children, the reality is that the situation may not be ending for you anytime soon either. That’s why it’s so important for you to adapt.

What can you do?

Since starting this site, I’ve written a few articles about getting through Mother’s Day when adult children are estranged. You’ll find in them practical advice and concrete tips. You’ll also find comments from mothers of estranged adult children who share their experiences, and acknowledge the emotional pain.

In this article, we’ll focus on Mother’s Day from an emotional triggers perspective.

Mother’s Day when adult children are estranged: Avoiding extra hurt

estranged from adult childrenMother’s Day, like any time when we’re particularly reminded of an estranged adult child and the relationship we used to share, can trigger an onslaught of feelings. While it’s helpful to acknowledge the pain, it’s also easy to slip into a looping circle of thoughts that bring us down. Everyone else is having fun, and I’m sitting home alone. What did I do to deserve this? This is so embarrassing. Nobody understands.

Each of us has our own personal version of woeful thoughts. And scrolling through Facebook with its stream of happy family shots might fuel the feelings behind them. Protect yourself if you need to.  Just as social media can push emotional buttons, going to a brunch on Mother’s Day when you’ll be surrounded by families also might not be helpful either. Do you have other adult children or family who want to take you out? Remember, this is your day. You get to choose! Take care of yourself.

Coping Mindfully

What else might make you feel sad or lonely? Make a few notes of what will hurt or help–and then be proactive. Mother’s Day when your adult children are estranged is similar to other times that are particularly hurtful because they remind you of loss, stress, or grief. In my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, in one story, Julia misses her only son. They were very close, and in the early mornings, he used to call her daily to chat. Julia had come to expect those calls. So after the estrangement, she would stare at the silent phone. Time gaped, and she felt horribly alone and sad.

Before her son walked away from the family, Julia’s mornings revolved around those calls. Their chat sessions had become part of her routine. They connected her to her son, and to the life they shared. But post-estrangement, Julia learned to adapt. Using one of the tools in the first chapter of the book, the first step toward her healing was to alter her routine. Looking at her phone each morning, wishing it would ring, only reminded her of what she’d lost.

Emotional hiccups

Just as mornings were particularly difficult for Julia, Mother’s Day can prick up the feelings of loneliness and rejection that are common with estrangement from adult children. For some it’s a particular song. Others might be bothered by a particular sporting event, or other recreation. Even if you don’t realize why, you might find yourself overeating, grousing at the cat, or having troublesome dreams. The feelings or behavior may be related to emotions triggered by a holiday like Mother’s Day, or another personally significant day.

While I’m past the pain of estrangement, certain places and activities do remind me of my estranged adult child. Eating strawberries makes me think of him—he’d choose them over any sugary dessert. And a nearby street never fails to remind me of him. Memories are attached to those things, so it’s natural the mind connects them to someone who was once so much a part of my life.

Does that mean I’m sad? Not anymore. I’ve come to think of those triggered memories as hiccups. Like some of the other mothers whose stories are shared in my book, I’ve worked through the pain, and moved beyond it. Recognizing those triggers, and then taking action to make new routines can help.

Stepping forward: Be good to yourself

There’s no set schedule to moving beyond emotinonal pain. There are only steps, big or little, that move you forward. Whatever you do, don’t get down on yourself. Acknowledge your feelings so you can deal with them. Remember the utter shock you felt when your son or daughter first cut you off? Don’t think of triggered emotions as setbacks. They’re aftershocks—a normal occurrence that relieves pressure. Pat yourself on the back for accepting where you are right now, and for recognizing that in coping mindfully like Julia, you’re healing. Think: Forward. I’m adapting. I’m moving on.

parents of estranged adult childrenTake Action

Like Julia and other mothers whose stories of estrangement from adult children are shared in Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, you too can heal. Mother’s Day doesn’t have to be a bad trigger day. You too can be Done With The Crying.
352 pages, May 2, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-9973522-0-7
Available through popular booksellers–ask your local bookstore to order it for you (but prepare for delays–it’s so new it might not show up in their systems yet). Or order online.



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9 thoughts on “Mother’s Day: triggering pain for mothers of estranged adults

  1. Sherry r.

    I am trying to get through this mother’s day the best way i possibly can. After 13 yrs. It is not easy yet.
    My middle one has started with me also only recently so this is an added layer of hurt.

    My son did sent me roses and has other engagements today. He did call me.

    I was never told what crimes i was guility of.

    It is a broken heart caused by someone whom i never, ever thought could and would ever do this to me. I feel it could have been dealt with in a kindlier and less hurtful manner.

    These so called adult kids hold the reigns and possess all of the power while we have no power and are at their mercies and forgivenesses.

  2. Barbara L.

    I love this book! This is the book that started my healing journey through losing my son and grandchildren. I read it and highlighted it, even writing notes inside in the book, like I was in college again taking a really valuable class! I had purchased her second one, but not gotten far into it yet. I will pick it back up today to remind me where I’m at and how far I’ve come along in all aspects of my life without them all. I know I’m very grateful for the time I had with my son throughout his life. And grateful for the time I had with my oldest granddaughter. The other two little ones I’ve never met, but I feel them in my heart. Love to all and highly recommend these books.

  3. Jaya

    We (finally) gave up too. Our son likes his in-laws a lot more than us. He spends all his spare time with them, especially his MIL who is the undisputed (and very needy, anxiety driven) Queen Bee in her family. MIL is just….always there. Whatever we do it’s never good enough; most was rejected by DIL and son..When our grandchild was born we were “allowed” to hold her for 15 minutes. We quickly took some photos. When the baby was home, we were “allowed” to hold the baby again. Son started to talk rather loudly at us. (an old accusation)He then told us we were no longer allowed to see the baby. That was over 6 months ago. MIL has had hundreds of hours, we haven’t had even 1 hour. We’ve tried to make it right; my heart is breaking every day. He’ll never stand up to MIL. We did have 1 more contact with our son, but there are so many conditions attached to a possible reconciliation we’ve given up on him and his in-laws. And yes, we were good parents. Not on drugs, not alcoholics. We gave him a good home and all the love he wanted. We’ve started telling people we don’t have children. It’s easier that way. We could have helped them in so many ways; free baby sitting, helping when they needed it. But having a relationship with someone means there must be 2 willing parties, not just one. So yes, we’re done and we’ll move on. We’ll find new hobbies, new people who want to be in our lives, new interests. We’ll be okay.

    1. Preeta H.

      So sad.But yes you will be ok.My elder brother was just the same and the rest of the family moved on.Our parents are no more,his in laws too.It is incredible how now he calls on his siblings,including me often,and strangely enough,he is the one evoking memories more than any of us…like a troubled mind! This is what he finally reaped.

  4. christie

    I dont know how to go on without my son being in my life, its obvious he dont want me in his. he will take his baby and wife to my moms to which is only 500 ft from my house, he visits my sister and dad almost andekly but not me and it breaks my heart i dont know how to fix it or how to go on. i want to be a part of my grandbabies life and his but since my divorce from his dad he blames me for everything!!!! He also works with his dad and im pretty sure he and his new wife do all they can to prevent him from a relationship with me. they try this with my daughter too she just dont buy into it. it has taken a huge toll on me and my life. sometimes dying would be better i think than to live knowing my own flesh and blood hates and despises me so bad and wont even tell ,e why!!!!

    1. Jan

      Christie, try and enjoy time with your daughter who DOES want to know you. Honestly there is no point fretting over your son. If you son had a shred of love for you he would not want you to hurt. Enjoy the short time you are on this earth. X

  5. Kelly B.

    Yes, I gave up on chasing my daughter too. For Christmas her husband and her sent cease and desist letters for me to sign to stop emailing, sending gifts, calling or texting. She has blocked me from her life for almost a year now. She committed me to my local mental ward the week we were moving from state to state and I was working full time. I am done. My case is being reviewed by the Joint Commission presently for a HIPAA violation to her. They gave her a diagnoses over the phone that was false.

  6. India H.

    My difficulty is not knowing that my estranged daughter has a plan for her life. During this pandemic, she is in NYC & cannot work. I do not know if she has been offered a plan to go elsewhere and start over. Her father, from whom I have been divorced since her childhood, will not respond to me. She is on good terms with him, I think. Even though my daughter is a grown-up, she needs a plan and a place to go. She will not communicate with me. As a mom, it is so difficult knowing she is not safe. Even before this corona crisis, my
    daughter has needed opportunities that her college degree in the artls is not providing her. The struggling artist lifestyle is not working on many levels. If she would come back to the area where I live, I would help her & there are people here who care. Still…I cannot imagine that she will.
    If only she could find something that would be self supporting & honor her gifts, talents etc.
    or of course, something with stability that would leave time for creativity after hours.
    I miss her & want the best for her.

    1. Vicki

      I gave up chasing my daughter. She wants no contact and won’t answer my calls or text messages. I choose to go on without her in my life. I focus on the people who love me and include me in their lives. Jesus died for us and wants us to enjoy the life we were given. I will admit I still hurt by the lack of relationship with her but I don’t let it crush me anymore. Life is worth living even when our children choose to walk out of our lives. I pray for her daily. That is all I can do.


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