Mothers of Estranged Adult Children: Mother’s Day 2018

mothers of estranged adult childrenby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

The generally recognized founder of the U.S. Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, never profited from the holiday. She fought against commercializing it, but Mother’s Day is commercialized. And all those newspaper ads and television commercials can trigger pain and sadness for mothers of estranged adult children.

The White Carnation

Did you know that the carnation does not lose its petals as it dies? Instead, it hugs them to its heart, according to Anna Jarvis. She likened the carnation to mothers whose love never dies and who hold their children close. Jarvis was against commercializing the holiday, but she sure knew how to spin a persuasive line. So do today’s marketers. The holiday is so ingrained in our culture that mothers of estranged adult children begin worrying and talking about it months in advance. What will they do to get through the day? What won’t they do, in order to protect themselves?

Before we get into some solid answers, let’s consider that maybe all the lovely images the media projects about Mother’s Day aren’t as accurate a portrayal as they seem. As I say in my book, the Norman Rockwell image of the family doesn’t truly exist. Even the happiest of families have their troubles.

Sheri McGregorMy article, What don’t you know? , features an honest portrayal of after-holiday conversations among neighbors and friends. Odds are everyone is telling the good stuff while leaving out the conflicts.

Mothers of estranged adult children may also pare their comments down rather than let it all hang out. And who can blame them? Many mothers of estranged adult children relate that they have experienced judgment. It’s common for people to suspect that a parent has done something awful to cause estrangement. But as I discuss at length in my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, it’s sometimes possible to get past the judgment. Parents can sometimes be honest, and then steer the other person’s response. You can do this by acknowledging a negative response as understandable, which lets the other person off the hook. A gentle correction can follow, because estrangement by adult children who come from regular, loving families is actually rather common. By steering people past their initial responses, we can begin to enlighten society to the epidemic of estrangement. But gosh, don’t feel obligated to do so. As mentioned, it’s perfectly acceptable to keep it to yourself. Especially in the beginning.

Early on, it was difficult for me to talk about my son’s estrangement. As time has gone on, it’s grown easier. I also see it as important, so speak out publicly to shed light on the issue of estrangement. In the fall, when my story was told to a Good Housekeeping magazine interviewer, she edited it down, and then they added dramatic headlines that appeared as if they were my quotes. When I agreed to that interview, I had no idea the story would be passed along to media outlets all over the world. As a result, I was bombarded by hateful, judgmental comments. I completely understand why some parents choose not to tell anyone about estrangement.

However,  beyond enlightening society to the problem, my intention remains the same as when I when I wrote the book: To help parents of estranged adult children. If parents can manage to let go of the whys and what-ifs, they can live a fulfilling life. Though the article that went viral generated hate, it also reached the audience it was intended for. I heard from many parents, some of whom had suffered alone for many years. They said they had no idea there were other caring parents whose adult children abandoned them. Just by sharing my story, I had helped!

Sheri McGregorSimilarly, a mother in the support forum shared that she bought herself a beautiful bouquet for Mother’s Day—to honor herself for all she’d done as a mother. The florist asked if she wanted to sign a card, and she ended up revealing the truth. It just so happens that the florist was also a mother of estranged adult children. The two shared a hug. This story is like others I often hear, where one mother lets down her guard, and discovers she has helped another by sharing.

If you’re not ready to open up about your estrangement, don’t feel bad. I completely understand, and have suffered enough suspicious stares to know how you feel. We are each on our own path. Although we share a bond in estrangement, our individual circumstances are unique, and so are we. Depending on the duration of the estrangement and any further contact that places you on an emotional roller coaster or uncertain about hope, you may or may not be willing to open up. And it’s your choice whether to let people in on your plight. Just as a carnation holds its petals close, you may feel the need to protect your heart—and that’s OK.

Mother’s Day: not always happy

Mothers of estranged adult children are not the only ones who dread the day. Last year, a newspaper reporter gave my thoughts a little space among experts and mothers for whom the holiday isn’t all lovely and fun. The article offers helpful tips and insights from mothers in other situations that make the day stressful. It’s unfortunate that my quotes come next to a those of a therapist who suggests we mend the rift. So be aware of that before clicking on the link. Mothers of estranged adult children know mending the rift is not as simple as that (and the therapist speaks of teens rather than adults).

Mother’s Day: Manage, get through or even enjoy it

First, don’t feel bad about your feelings. In acknowledging our emotions, we honor ourselves. And that often frees us up to more fully appreciate and enjoy the day with others who love and want to celebrate with us. For more specific tips and discussion, see Tending Your Heartache.

Second, take care of yourself in the days leading up to Mother’s Day. This involves recognizing the feelings the holiday triggers and making a few decisions for your own happiness. Be mindful, and then act. Even the tiniest of steps help, because positive action for yourself results in momentum. Be good to yourself.

Third, remember that holidays can influence a person’s thinking. If you find yourself contemplating doing something out of the ordinary to try and reconnect, take a little time to reflect and consider your actions more carefully. Like one mother who felt compelled to reconnect with her adult sons, ask yourself a few key questions. You may decide, as she did, not to act. See her story here.

Fourth, realize again that you are not alone in this situation or the feelings that come with it. Recently, I reached out to the women behind a website for women. They contemplated, and then ran a thoughtful review of my book because they realized they both knew people who were estranged. These days, it’s common that someone is estranged within most circles. The support forum for parents of estranged adult children at this site is filled with parents of estranged adult children who offer one another care and kindness. You may find it beneficial too.

Fifth, take care of yourself. If that message hasn’t been set forth clearly so far, let me say it now: Take care of yourself!

More help for Mothers estranged from adult children

Sheri McGregorThroughout this article, I’ve embedded links to others with more specific tips, techniques, and strategies. Below, I’ve listed a few more of the Mother’s Day and holiday related articles to help (and the opportunity to get a free audio book). Why not get out a notepad, and as you read the articles, take a few notes about what might work for you. As always, the comments, too, contain wonderful suggestions from other parents like you.

Can you help other mothers estranged from adult children? If you have a comment about Mother’s Day that can help others, please share. Thousands of people visit this site every month, and in the weeks surrounding Mother’s Day, the traffic spikes with hurting people looking for help. I hope you’ll take a moment to make a comment here.

As a special Mother’s Day gift from me to you, I have two digital copies of the audiobook version of Done with the Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children to share. Here’s how to possibly receive one:

  1. Comment directly to this article with a thought about Mother’s Day to help mothers estranged from adult children. You can do this by using the box below, or by clicking on “Leave a Reply” at the top of this article. In your comment, be sure to talk a little about your estrangement–and don’t worry, although the comment form asks for your email address, that will not be shared or visible on the page when your comment appears. (Your comment will not immediately appear, so don’t worry when you don’t immediately see it. Comments are moderated for approval.)
  2. Do include your real first name.
  3. Comment between now and midnight Sunday, May 13, 2018 (Pacific time).The two winners will be chosen randomly by draw. You will receive a redeemable code to use directly from the audiobook publisher’s website. Until next time, Happy Mother’s Day! And lots of HUGS to the hurting parents.

Sheri McGregor

Related articles

Getting through Mother’s Day when your adult child is estranged: 6 Thoughts to help

‘Twas the night before Mother’s Day

Holidays, how to manage them

Happy Mother’s Day

Greetings from estranged adult children

Mother’s Day for estranged mothers: Tending your heartache

Mother’s Day: Triggering pain for estranged mothers

The mother who isn’t, the grandmother who isn’t allowed


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6 thoughts on “Mothers of Estranged Adult Children: Mother’s Day 2018

  1. Izzy

    The article was very nice. Your book is the most valuable book I own.
    I let go of my ED. I stopped calling and texting. If she texted, I’d respond with something bland. Things seem to be getting better but I’m not all in. Maybe I will never be able to fully trust her. I’m ok with that. I raised my child to be be self sufficient and to be the best she can at whatever her choices were/are.
    I did a good job, the best I could and have no regrets. I won’t see her on Mother’s Day. It will always be my favorite holiday and will treat myself with kindness.
    I still remember the first time I saw and joined this group. I cried like I never had. Seeing so many others suffering the same way I was almost more than I could bare. I cried for too many years. I have no expectations of my ED.
    Thank you for all your support and great articles.
    It’s because of you and the group that I’m ok now.
    Best wishes to all on this Mothers Day!

  2. Nautical

    Spent so much money, time and caring. Very tired of crying for seven straight years now which has affected my health. My daughter married a guy who is Chinese. My daughters children happen to say that I was more fun than other grandparents. The Chinese mother did not like that so I am now trash. I have thought about moving away, starting over as someone who never had a child. My daughter and I were so close until this happened. If she has had no contact with me for seven years no matter how much I tried, then I guess she does not have a mother. Much easier for me to say I don’t have a child than for her to say she didnt have a mother. There should have been enough room for both grandmothers. Brainwashing is a terrible sin. Children who do this violate Gods commandment and he sees everything. I think he brings justice to them in some way while they are still on this earth.

  3. rparentsrparents Post author

    FROM “Dee” who could not login, so this comment is being added manually:

    “Another silent Mother’s Day watching other families surrounding their moms with flowers, love, and hugs. I jokingly tell others I’m expecting to get a cactus plant from my (34 & 36 year old) daughters, but I know even that won’t happen. I went from being “the best mom” just a few short years ago to being “heartless and callused.” Despite the years of their self-inflicted dramas, I was always there for both of them when they needed me. Now, I am the terrible mom who only thinks of herself. How can this be? I am confused.

    “But let’s focus on today. Whoo-Hoo! Happy Mother’s Day! How can we get through this day without the roller coaster of emotions of abandonment, scars, and questions as to why and how this day has come to be another holiday of sadness? Another day of pulling the covers over my head and staying in a depressed bed is not going to change anything. Getting myself physically ill over their petulant behavior is not going to improve the situation. Lamenting over what “could be” today and fantasizing how wonderful it would be to have two daughters who put their arms around me and say they love me is not going to happen. So what will I be doing today? I am putting my attention on all the women who have been in my life who was there for me like a mother. I’ll be thinking of my mom who died 17 years ago and all the things she’s done to make me who I am today—strong and resilient to get through life’s challenges. I’ll be thinking of my aunts and neighbors who treated me like a daughter. They are the ones who are being acknowledged today. I have also visited nursing homes to sit and talk with the “forgotten” mothers who have nobody to visit them. I take the focus off of me by remembering others. Focusing on others is a great way to keep things in perspective. Focus on those who ARE in your lives. Be grateful for those who do love you and include you in their lives. Create your own happiness!”

  4. roamingbutterfly

    This morning I awoke looking forward to spending time with my own mother, grateful I still have her in my life. My grandmother, (mom’s mom) passed away earlier this year. So my focus was on my mom and if this would be a difficult day for her. We planned a simple day, a movie and lunch. She ended up having car trouble so went to my brother’s to have him look at her car. Meanwhile I took a deep breath and faced the social media and text onslaught of Mother’s Day wishes. I surprised myself by not feeling overly emotional as I exchanged comments and texts with friends and family members.

    I thought finally I can deal with this day without the gut wrenching pain that has become “normal” to me over the years since my estrangement from my daughter. I’ve been moving through the spectrum of emotions I’ve felt since this last estrangement and feel like I’ve come to a place of peace. I hesitate to use the word acceptance, because I still hope and pray for a reconciliation.

    But after years of emotional ups and downs, estrangements and reconciliation this past one has seemed more permanent. I haven’t spoke to my daughter (aside from an outburst at a family funeral) since November of 2014. I’ve exhausted myself from examining every choice I made while raising her or apologizing for things real and imagined she’s felt I’ve done that were wrong. I finally stopped sending cards and gifts for her and my grandchildren. She made it abundantly clear she wanted nothing to do with me and so I stopped trying. I figured what do I have to lose? If I give her the thing she says she wants maybe it will give her time to heal and reflect. I realized that doesn’t mean I have to stop loving her or the grandchildren. and I don’t have to stop praying for them or for a restoration. But I do have to stop punishing myself and placing myself in a position to continually get beat down and rejected.

    So I had made that decision to step back and let go. So I sat down to a meal today with my mother I felt fine. Grateful for the relationships I do have and looking forward to sharing a meal and conversation.
    Then it happened; the restaurant manager approached our table and asked if we were mothers. As I went to answer him, I suddenly was overcome with emotion. My eyes filled with tears and I chocked out a very weak ‘yes”. He said that in honor of Mother’s Day our meal would be on the house.

    I was taken quite by surprise that I reacted in such a manner, as I thought I was handling the day quite well. At least up until that point. I realized that while I am finding ways to cope, the pain lies just under the surface ready to sprout up and surprise me at a moment’s notice.

    As I sat there trying to compose myself I looked across the table at my own mother and saw her compassion for what I was going through. I apologized and said I didn’t want to make this day about me, but to spend time with you and enjoying your company. She simply smiled and nodded that understanding look of hers and the proceed change the subject and together we spent time reminiscing about times we shared with my grandmother. I spent the rest of the day focused on my mother and as I did my own pain subsided.

    To other parents who are dealing with estrangement my advice is to not let the estrangement define you. Hold on to what you know is the truth, the undying love you have for your child(ren) and that whatever you did while they were growing up, I believe each of us as parents did the best we could at the time with the knowledge and resources we had at that time. To go back and rethink everything is just wasted energy. What’s done is done. If you did do something wrong or could have done something better or different. Forgive yourself and stop beating yourself up. Being estranged doesn’t mean we have to stop loving our children. We just have to learn to love them differently, from a distance.

  5. ahavahahavah

    Each year, I remember how Mother’s Day was celebrated in my family of origin. My dad made sure that all of us honored mom in any way we could. I put so much effort into making it a super day for my mom, (may she rest in peace) and other mom’s too. Years ago, I put on a brunch for my mother-in law. It was quite spectacular. We arranged for everyone to pretend to forget the day and her son met her at home,politely blindfolded her and said she was being “kidnapped”. She thought her husband was out of town. When she arrived at my house for brunch we seated her next to her husband and removed her blindfold…yep worth every minute of the planning.! So, I continue to make mother’s day happy for those other mothers around me. The other side of the story: I got a text from one son, nothing from another and my daugther stood me up for the mother’s day brunch I planned. ..So I took friends whose kids live across the country, out to dinner. One of my son’s told me years ago, “it’s a fake Hallmark holiday made for marketing” He should read your lovely post! Well I guess that gets kids off the hook for poor behavior, NOT! I see that the neglect of Mother’s Day is everywhere. My behavior hasn’t changed but now people won’t even simply show up for a Mother’s Day brunch which requires no work for them whatsoever, but that won’t stop me from honoring myself or other mothers.


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