My adult kids don’t like me: Now what?

my adult kids don't like meMy adult kids don’t like me: Now what?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Whether consciously thought of or not, most of you had a vision that held you together when you had a family. That vision of home, happiness, and love all around kept you going whenever times got tough. It’s what sustained your continued output of time, energy, and other resources even when your children misbehaved or struggled. You were heading somewhere. So, as if on a road trip to a beautiful destination, you changed your flat tire after hitting a pothole, washed your windshield after a sandstorm, and kept on driving.

If you’re like most parents, you believed in your vision even when your children turned on you. There had to be something you could say or do to bring them to their senses, make them see reality, and steer them back around. Surely your vision for family connection was also theirs.

Well….. The truth is that, for many of us anyway, while we were busy working at our vision, the world was actively tearing it apart.

More parents are writing to me about attitudes they’re noticing toward the decreasing importance put on family these days. I see this as well. Perhaps especially toward parents. Honoring your parents, whether in keeping a godly command or just because they brought you up, isn’t echoed in society the way it once was. Instead, parents are put on trial.

Some online influencers trash whole generations, belief systems, and typical lifestyles some now call “vanilla.”  Not to mention the prioritization of feelings over the facts. I’ve lost track of how many parents I’ve met who entered family therapy expecting a give-and-take and found a one-sided pursuit toward validating an adult child’s emotions, with the practice of “reflective listening” expected only of parents.

I could go on here about how the convenience of texting has replaced face-to-face or even telephonic communication. We could all add our specific examples of how the world has changed. For example, my kids were using instant messenger before I even understood what it was. Technology crept in under the radar and, before we realized it, became a necessity and then the norm. Many believe that an internet “family” of social media friends has replaced the need for a real, flesh and blood family.

In this new parenting era, it is what it is. Estrangement, semi-estrangement, disregard, or downright disdain. The reasons run the gamut. Persistent immaturity, emotional volatility, addiction, or absolute abuse. You fill in the blank—or don’t. Once you realize that, at least for now, your adult children aren’t budging, the task at hand is to learn to live without them.

My adult kids don’t like me: Adjusting to a new vision

I wouldn’t blame you for choosing to hold close a vision so beautiful and worthwhile as a loving family. If you have other family members around, show them how much they’re loved. Appreciate and honor them as you’d like to also be valued. Do the same for good friends who can become like family.

But with regard to the estranged one, face the truth. No matter what you wish will happen, aside from blurry hope still dancing on the horizon, their part in your vision has changed.

Ask yourself:

For me, this meant understanding that my family didn’t look the same anymore, but it was still good. As well as recognizing that, even without a huge rupture, families do change over time. People die, partners join, and children are born. Life in general is apt to change—family included. This meant I had to change, too.

To shift required reevaluating who and what I put first. No more chasing after someone who didn’t want to be caught. No more pretending an ideal that didn’t exist. If people wanted to judge me for something my adult child chose, so be it. At some point, we have to stop lamenting that “our own flesh and blood” children have betrayed us, and remind ourselves that our offspring are their own flesh and blood.

Seeing your way forward

In the years since my own experience with estrangement began, I’ve come up with a few sayings and practices, short-form visions, to keep me on track. Some were day-at-a-time tenets: Get through the next 24 hours. Others were about goals, remembering the good, or staying focused on what would count and arranging my environment to support that focus. And then there are overarching ideas: Be kind. Stay Calm. Remember who you are.

Having in mind an idea about who you are and how you’ll be helps when challenges present. So, whether it’s what to do about a birthday or how to respond (or not respond) to a string of unkind texts, your personal ideal helps guide your response.

Also, a vision you purposefully create provides focus or even a destination. A parent who says to themselves, “My adult kids don’t like me,” feels distressed. If your vision is inner peace and contentment then you’ll be cautious, for example, about how much negativity you consume, how much you fixate on this problem you can’t fix, or how much resistance or inner criticism you engage in.

Since launching this website in 2013 and offering help for parents of estranged adult children, I knew that I wanted to be kind and professional. I keep that thought top of mind as well as this one: Do as much good as you can while also taking care of yourself.

For me, crafting single sentences that embody how I want to be works as a vision statement. I can remember single phrases or sentences and pull them out as needed. They can also serve more than one purpose. “Be kind” might be focused on myself, on other people, or even on both. For example, if I’m exhausted and receive a trying email, to “be kind” might mean not replying. To pause and give myself time to take a breath and reflect is kinder to me (and to the other person).

You may benefit from a more formalized style. Here, we’ll discuss the basic idea. Then you can drive your own vision forward in life.

Crafting your vision

You may be more familiar with what’s called a “mission” statement. These two- to three-sentence statements are used by businesses to describe for what, how, and sometimes why a company does what it does. A vision statement is shorter, one sentence or even a phrase and, for a business, usually focuses on long-term goals—a vision.

Here, I’m using the term a little more casually. A personal vision statement may focus on an ideal or include what you’re already doing and want to do more consistently. Aim for a higher standard or more of what’s good and what you value. It’s also okay if your vision is something you know you need but haven’t yet achieved at all. You decide. Trust yourself.

One thing to keep in mind is that a vision is different from a goal. It involves meaning and maybe even transformation. So, you could start by assessing what you’d like to change.

For parents, that can mean getting to know yourself sans children you’re no longer responsible for. Without their needs coming first, you can focus on your own. That doesn’t mean your vision is all about you. Most of us enjoy connection and find value in serving in some way, in giving back. A vision can link to that.

Say you know your vision for your own happiness will probably include community involvement.  Community involvement could be about keeping your city clean.  Another person might want to focus on helping senior citizens or teaching children as part of their personal vision. Someone else might seek to preserve their area’s history, maintain its small-town atmosphere, or expand its resources.

Considering what’s important to you provides a goal and can even include a secondary vision (such as a clean city). With a goal, you can create steps to see the outcome through. Volunteer at a senior center, in the children’s library, or join your historical society. Meanwhile, you’ll be happily involved in the community, which is the original vision you know will bring human connection, provide meaning, and fill your calendar with activity.

A plus to a personal vision is that simplicity can prevail. If your vision is to be kind, you can infuse this quality in whatever you do. That widens your vision to spreading kindness and modeling it.

My adult kids don’t like me: Esther’s vision

When Esther’s two adult sons developed severe mental illness in their late-twenties, she tried to help. But just when they improved, they’d refuse treatment again, and the cycle of paranoid delusions and odd behavior would take over. Esther loved them but the verbal attacks escalated into scary episodes threatening physical harm. Over time, she changed locks, got a watchdog, and filed restraining orders. Eventually she concluded they were beyond her help and chose to save herself.  At age 67, she moved all by herself to a new area and set out to rebuild her life. Esther determined what she sought in this new life era and defined her vision: Connection, meaning, and fun.

After feeling abandoned by friends and extended family members during the strife, Esther didn’t easily trust people. She knew what she wanted though, and set out toward that future with daily, weekly, and monthly goals. A big calendar helped her list a variety of pursuits almost every day. Even the grocer became a place to try connecting. She worked on her small talk skills and began interacting wherever she could. In the community free newspaper, she found activity listings and she sampled many. “If I tried different avenues to meet people and fit in, I knew I’d reach the mountaintop,” she says.

Esther’s personal vision has kept her going. She weighed every activity and acquaintance against her desired future. “If they came up short, I walked on,” she says. “If things fit, I’d stick at it.” Three years after moving, she’s feeling pretty good about her life. Esther still thinks lovingly of her sons before they changed but views the good and bad times as seasons. Now she’s in a new season she sees as “pretty bright.”

What’s on your horizon?

Coming up with a meaningful vision for this season can serve as a roadmap. With a clear destination in mind, you can steer away from the potholes of a painful past, refuse dead-end thinking, and avoid avenues of despair or regret. Even for those who are new to estrangement and feeling stunned and sad, just considering a vision prompts forward momentum. Whether the estrangement is temporary or grows into a permanent state, it’s wise to look ahead for ourselves instead of eyeing the rear view mirror at what we can’t change.

We’ll talk more about creating a personal vision in a live meeting held in the membership community on May 29. Consider joining the membership to be a part of the event or to watch the replays or participate in this or other topic meetings with other parents of estranged adult children.

Related reading

Dreams: Help in moving forward after estrangement

Amends letter to adult children: Should parents write one?

My parents and I were estranged for years. Here’s what happened when we talked again

Prodigal child

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21 thoughts on “My adult kids don’t like me: Now what?

  1. Oakley

    My younger son and I have been estranged for a full year without any communication. But it’s been longer, closer to over three years since he moved in with his new girlfriend who is the daughter of a preacher. My younger son has always been a kind person despite claiming to be atheist. Now, as I have seen on the internet, he claims to be a “Christian.” This is very confusing to me since my idea of Christianity is forgiveness and kindness, neither of which leads to him contacting me when my birthday or Mother’s Day comes around. I raised him and his brother as a single parent. I have a good relationship with my older son who thinks his brother was “hit in the head” or something. I’ve always raised my sons to make their own choices when it comes to religion. There is so much more to this story but this is how things have regressed over the years.

  2. Karen

    Thank you Sheri for always hitting it home with me. The way you write and relate helps my heart and soul. Grateful to you as I have a verbally abusive adult daughter and a son so far gone with his addiction. I am powerless to help them anymore but I do have the power to help myself move on.

  3. Vicki

    I’m overwhelmed and can’t get over being abandoned by my son. I was a good mom. We were so close. I never would have believed this estrangement would have happened. I feel like I can’t get past the thought that he could care less about me. I had an MRI and it’s possible I may have the start of dementia. Maybe I will forget and the pain will finally go away.

  4. Katherine

    Loved the message in this article! It’s so important to stop chasing a vision that somehow turned into a mirage. The warm and loving relationship I thought I had with my oldest son was mostly in my own mind, not reality at all. The older he got, the colder he got. So I’ve let him go. I have a wonderful relationship with my younger son, and his sweet and kind fiancé. I also have an amazing stepson and stepdaughter and lots of extended family. They’re my focus now!

    1. Alexandra

      I agree. Just returned from my granddaughter’s college graduation. My daughter (her mother) can barely stand to be around me and makes no secret of it. I don’t have to allow myself to be around her and be subjected to such poor behavior. Her loss now.

  5. Cheryl

    While raising my estranged child, we shared many wonderful happy moments and I always thought we would be lovingly close and considerate of each other. When he was 12 he told me “I don’t need to do anything you say, I can go live with my Dad.” Well, I had singlehandedly raised him without his Dad’s support, his family, or mine. I loved him and being alone in the parenting was never a problem in my mind. Within the same week he began calling me a “bitch.” I felt so betrayed and so hindered as a parent that I got a hold of his father and sent him to live with him. All the while he begged for me not to send him. I figured this was a tough love approach. Of course he returned after a year. He said they told him he would have to choose between them or me. His teen years weren’t the easiest. He chose friends that bullied me and broke my rules. Between his friends and his Dad, I don’t believe he heard much good about me. I had to be the parent with rules. I still got to see him fall in love for the first time. He was my heartbeat. He quit school, moved in with friends, then moved back and got his GED. He has always been a good worker and never had trouble finding work. But the friends he chose were all partiers. He introduced me to a few girlfirends, and as they came and went, I asked why and he said, “Mom, they have plans and are real ambitious and I still don’t know what I want to do in life.” He still confided in me. When he was 22 I moved out of state after being laid off to try country life. I asked him many times to move nearby me and paid for a few trips for him to come and visit. He said it wasn’t for him. I met a man and got lost in a relationship. My partner told me I should stop trying to get my son to move here and just let him be. My son met a young lady too. After they were together a year I was verbally tore to shreds by the two of them that I had been a bad mother. I was all of a sudden the outsider, the scapegoat, someone to blame. Two years into that relationship they had a child and I was suddenly and unexpectedly pushed out of their lives. Even though their relationship never became a marriage and he remained a single man, a single dad, they shared their child equally, one week on, one week off. He stopped speaking to me for 4 years, then we reconciled for two years, then he stopped speaking to me again for 4 years, then reconciled for a couple of years. I keep reaching out, praying and hoping. I love when we are speaking. I feel like I am dying when we are estranged. He tells me how much I mean to him and how much he loves me, but he has never brought my granddaughter into my life. Her mother won’t allow it. She has been some of the problem. He doesn’t do anything to show me he loves me, only tells me so. His behavior towards me is summed up as I seen it when he was 12. He is not a loyal child who wants to honor his parent. He seeks approval from others outside of his parent. He would easily trade his mom in for a new one, which means he is very selfish, self-serving, and insensitive. I loved and still love him. I see a realists viewpoint in dealing with this problem.

  6. Barbara

    I am focusing on appreciating and being thankful for the wonderful friends and a son and daughter in law who do love and care about me. I will continue to pray for the estranged son. It is in God s hands

  7. Victoria

    After no communication with my son for over two years, I was so happy to find your healing articles, Sheri! I don’t feel alone anymore, which has done wonders for my peace of mind! Thank you for filling the empty voids that so many of us have! You are truly a gift from above!

  8. Maryann

    Thank you for sharing !!! It’s been 3 years & still difficult to accept but I am trying. God Bless all of us!!!!

  9. Linda B.

    Happy Mother’s Day. Your messages are always right on. Even though with are struggling with different issues, the message is still the same. I have to stop stressing that our son does not care about us. Life is too short, I have one son that loves me and many friends and family that love and care about me. I also have a 16 yo granddaughter (from our other son) that we are estranged from.
    Thank you for your caring and words of encouragement

  10. Susan S.

    What a timely blessing this was! You articulated well the current factors in our culture which I believe contribute greatly to the estrangement epidemic. I spent the winter diligently going through both your books, doing every exercise, and it was time well spent. It was a special winter where self-care was my absolute top priority. As I found myself getting psyched out a bit today about Mother’s Day today, I pulled out page 15 of the workbook and recalled all the good I did as a mother. I’m going to keep that list handy all day tomorrow and remind myself… I really WAS a good mother. As for having a plan tomorrow, my husband and I plan to drive to the county south of us, set up our lawn chairs and enjoy a laid-back sheep dog competition – in a beautiful green setting with snow capped peaks in the background. I’m excited not only for a lovely day tomorrow, but for the future as well. Thanks for all you do to help us mamas, Sheri!

    1. Lucia

      Thank you for sharing. I really like how you took the time to validate your motherhood. Happy Blessed Mother’s Day!

  11. Toni M

    Thank you for this article. Mother’s Day is a little hard for me because both my sons don’t speak to me and I don’t get to see or communicate with my granddaughter. It does bring some comfort.

  12. Kim

    Mine are treating me as if I am on a trial based problem.
    My mother sisters and that who side texts me only when they need to. I absolutely change, went to counseling Eli g for three years to make sure I’d be a good parent . I respectfully think I was 90%, I have people who remember too. So I did raise them differently, more confident, no substance abuse anywhere. My first thought when I awake my last pray at night is for them. Somehow I got put in the middle. Not enough for my mom. Too
    Much for my kids. I’ll figure this out I’ve got me

  13. Yvonne

    This was so timely to read this morning. Yesterday I had a bad day. Mother’s Day messages are everywhere! I love the fact that you write about moving forward, finding our “mission”, creating ways to surround ourselves with loving friends and newness to explore.
    My husband and I are also going through grandchild estrangement. We are devastated, but find that our nephews joyfully share their children with us. Thank you for all the support for us and for others!

  14. Elaine T.

    We have had a bonus this month (May) with allbthis excellant advice and reminders from Sheri. I particularly appreciate the reminder to appreciate those around us, other family members and friends who do love us and want our company instead of spending time and emotional energy on those that dont. Thankyou Sheri

  15. Annemarie

    This was so good to read. Thank you. I’ve recently started thanking God for the many years my son was a loving,kind son who valued his family. He is NOT that guy anymore. But, this gratitude for the gift of good times keeps my heart in a peaceful, kind posture. I’m crafting my mission statement as I write this. I love that idea!And, my estranged sons mother was so generous this mother’s day, what a kind soul she has!

  16. Wendy P.

    After all the years of mental abuse, I finally learnt to let go and not try to reconcile with my son. Only God can change his heart. It’s so sad but I have a loving husband and another son that loves me unconditionally, so I won’t say I’m happy about it, but at least I’m coping better. Happy Mother’s Day.

  17. mary rose

    Thank you for your profound insight into coping with this unique type of loss. I take strength from your insight. Bless you.

    1. Elaine T.

      Your thoughts in the artical nMy adult kids do not like me any more is brilliant Sheri. So true from start to finish. Elaine


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