Sending a card

sending cards estranged adult child

In parent and adult child estrangement situations, we deliberate over sending cards. Moms and dads stand in the card aisle reading verse after verse, wondering how it will be received. Will my estranged adult child read an unintended message between the lines?

Parents click through electronic greetings for just the right words, images, and animation. Is it too jolly, too mushy, or does it overstate the current relationship?

Even when parents find what they consider an appropriate card, they wonder if the effort might be rewarded or only bring them more grief.

  • Will she misinterpret the message?
  • Do I dare hope for a rekindled relationship?
  • He might be mad that I didn’t enclose a gift card or cash.

It’s so sad that, in parent and adult child estrangement situations, contemplating something as simple and lovely as sending a greeting card can trigger such grief.

Consider reaching out a gift

Argentinian poet Antonio Porchia had it right:

“I know what I have given you, I do not know what you have received.”

In the end, the card’s design, colors, pictures, or message, no matter how carefully selected, will be interpreted by the receiver in a way that they choose.

The answer? Give freely.

My intention here is not to tell those parents in estrangement situations that they should or should not send a card. Each situation is unique. Those sorts of decisions are not mine to make or judge you for. But at this time of year in particular, I hear from a lot of parents who are deliberating.

My suggestion: If you do decide to send a card, do so freely—as you have so many kindnesses toward your child from as long ago as forever. And then let the outcome go.

Always remember:

parent and adult child estrangement situationsHugs from,
Sheri McGregor

Related reading

Parent and adult child estrangement situations: What about hope?

Thanksgiving for estrangement situations.

Thanksgiving for hurting parents of estranged adult children

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62 thoughts on “Sending a card

  1. Tammy

    You will never know how your words have given me encouragement and help me bear the pain of estrangement from my oldest son. Truly you have been a blessing to me.

    Reply
  2. Joy H.

    My ED’s are 39 and 41and I’ve been in a state of trauma for 2 years. I’m in UK and so grateful to read your book Sheri and all the comments here. The accusations against me and their stepdad are vile. Recently I’ve taken stock and decided that all they think is their problem not mine. I know we raised them with Love, opportunities to grow and develop to their best. They are both very clever, good careers etc. They’ve also had issues with my son and his family who lives on the other side of the world. He’s given up with them.
    We all spend too much emotional energy chastising ourselves. We should get on with our own lives. It’s very hard indeed. I’ve found 3 good friends to share with and as a Christian I know God will energise and save me.
    Life is never easy eh. Praying for all of you. Xxx

    Reply
  3. Debra R.

    I made a huge mistake in 1979. My husband, with whom I had a small son, left me for someone else, I met someone and became pregnant. My ex in laws, for some reason unknown, believed this baby was their son’s. My grandfather advised me to just let it be that way. No one ever provided support for my children. I raised them myself. The ex in laws only saw the kids a couple times…they lived out of state. So my daughter never knew about her birth father. He lived here and ignored everything. For reasons I wont go into. My daughter experienced trauma, and it never seemed the right time to tell her different….her mental health was in a bad state and has been for a long, long time. So she never knew until she got DNA tests for Christmas. Then she found out. She had already estranged herself once, and I called one day a week before the holiday and we got back together, with a few bumps along. Now this, it seems, is forever. I have been contemplating not sending a card for my grandson; the last check for his birthday went uncashed. I know I made a mistake and should have just told her. I sent a letter apologizing which went unanswered. It seems nothing I ever did was enough. I miss them. I thought she was my best friend, and wish I could get past the guilt and pain, the shame. I read everyone’s notes here and it makes me so sad. I never thought this would happen.

    Reply
  4. Michelle M

    After my mom’s death, I found the cards of thank you’s from my ED. I sent gifts for years and never received a thank you. I decided it was deliberate. I have a dresser with the gifts that I have purchased and not sent. It is a reminder that I too have a choice. I have noticed the increase of articles related to estrangement in families. How mother’s more than father’s are the parent of estrangement and or alienation esp. in cases of divorce. We live in a cancel culture these days. My daughter was married this summer and her new stepmother and her family have replaced me as family. Her dad also got married and she and her sister stood up for him. Now my second daughter has become estranged. It happened after a demand for money to pay for her taxes on her inheritance from my parents. Demands for money, lies, and disturbing behaviors seem to also be a common thread where parent’s stop to be present for their kids or in my case a spouse too. I used to be such a people pleaser and would be the glue in what ever way pleased my family. It was never reciprocal. I am usually the first to apologize for my mistakes and I know I made a lot of mistakes during my divorce after a major betrayal and apologized and took responsibility. Therapy helped immensely. I have tried to be sympathetic to feelings, knowing they do not care about mine. It still is not enough and so for now I have done trying, I am living for myself. My wish for all is to find happiness and peace in your lives.

    Reply
    1. Effie

      We all have such common stories… Prayers for you on this Thanksgiving day…. One more Holiday and are hearts settle for a bit of rest from one mother to another I feel your pain.. years that we will never gain back it is sad indeed…

  5. Deidre D.

    Hello,
    My children are 48, 50 and 52. They got together 4 years ago and decided to eliminate me from their lives. I have had very little contact with them since then and they have said or texted very cruel things to me that I would have never expected them to say or think. They won’t tell me why this has happened. I made efforts the first 3 years to reach out, sent birthday cards and gifts to grandchildren, etc. The last year I made no contacts and neither did they. I have reached a state of acceptance that there will likely be no fixing this. I love them as always, but I can’t fix something when I don’t even know what’s wrong. I also can’t continue to live in despair so this last year I’ve worked on being happy anyway. It’s time I do that for myself. For the first time in 4 years I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas with my brother. We share an apartment and I am so thankful for him. God fills all the spaces emptied by those who feel they don’t need me. I am also grateful for Him.

    Reply
    1. Elizabeth

      Diedre, Wishing you a peaceful lovely Thanksgiving with your brother!! We will have a quiet one here and I am grateful in part because I can no longer put out a huge spread as I used to do…sometimes we have to hunt hard to find ways to be grateful but indeed there is hope!! So many of us are living lives we never asked for nor wanted…imperfect creatures we ALL are…but we are only given a few days in this life so seems prudent to find the best ways to be happy, in spite of other people…even ones we gave our blood, sweat and tears to bring into the world. (WE in our generation had the CHOICE whether to give birth or not…seems some of these ungrateful kids might think on that one…)

  6. Barbara G.

    This is the first year I am contemplating of not sending mail for the holidays ; been doing it for years and no thank or reply ; I wouldn’t accept such disrespectful behavior from any other person ; why should it be different with my ES….
    To me it borders on enabling such behavior!
    But again it is different for every person and situation; no size fits all approach ; ya the holidays are difficult for sure ; but I learned to accept the situation as is ……
    Accepting a situation completely doesn’t mean the same a liking it ; true acceptance to me means I have stopped trying to control a situation that is NOT under my control !!
    We can love the person ( ES) but very dislike the often unkind behavior; time does make it easier !
    I do write snail mail to people that like it; which at this point excludes my ES!
    Wishing all of you a very joy filled Thanksgiving !!
    Thank you Sheri for all you do !!!
    Blümchen

    Reply
  7. Heather W.

    Dear Sheri,
    I am currently working through your “Done with Crying” book and workbook. These books have been a blessing for me as I try to understand the agony of estrangement. I’ve been working through your books for months. I revisit chapters and reassess myself and what I need to work on when I’m stuck. I’m excited to see that you’ve published a new book! This allows us to continue this important inner work.
    Thank you for saving me hundreds of dollars in therapy, giving me a rock to crawl up on and the tools to reclaim my happiness. Thank you for pouring your heart and soul into what is so needed….I believe in HOPE .. The wisdom of Sir Edmund Hillary.. “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves”

    Reply
  8. Kim B.

    Thanks for the advice about sending cards at Thanksgiving. It is hard to find that just right card. I am going to leave a text possibly. I also feeling thankful for circumstances beyond our control is hard to do. But it’s the best way for me to heal. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Reply
  9. Nancie A.

    My son and I have been estranged for 6 years. He contacts me when he needs money. I fall for it every time. I keep hoping we will get back to where we used to be. The only thing I can come up with, about the estrangement, is that 6 years ago he was in an auto collision and had head injuries. Since then he has been a different person-one that I don’t recognize. He started doing steroids, after the accident and exhibits severe anger issues. He has been through 2 divorces. He was in jail and I bailed him out and payed for his defense lawyers. I also paid for his divorce to his second wife. I have 2 beautiful grandchildren I do not see. I am grieving because my son is my only family and as I am aging I could really use his live and support. Finally, after reading Done with the crying, I have come to the realization that the little boy I love and cherished is no longer there. I realize that if you keep putting money into a vending machine and never get the snacks eventually you have to come to the place that you quit putting money into the machine. It’s s hard pill to swallow. I think there are many people that have narcissistic traits in the world. Narcissists only care about their needs. My son is a true narcissist.

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Nancie,

      I LOVE your vending machine analogy!

      You may be onto something with the head injury. A TBI can most definitely alter behavior. There are some studies, I think.

      HUGS to you,
      Sheri McGregor

  10. Lisa H.

    I am contemplating sending a card for my grandson’s first birthday, which is in December. I will not send any gift as the last time I spoke to my son he told me he and his wife would throw away any gifts I send. Thank you whoever made the comment, “God is close to the brokenhearted”. That helps me.

    Reply
  11. Lynn

    I am not sending cards, gifts or anything else to my daughter. It’s been over a year since she spoke to me. Last year I went to her house with Christmas gifts and although I could see her though the front window and she has a camera she refused to answer the door. I left the gifts, received a text thanking me for the gifts and that is all. My mom passed away in May and I sent her a text and she didn’t even respond. I have no idea what she told my grandson, but I received a text from him a week after my mom passed telling me he never wanted to see me again after what I did to her. This all involves the fact that we both worked for the same company and she quit and she blames me for not “supporting her”. Considering I am the Manager, and she knew what my role was, I have no idea what I was “supposed” to do considering the position she put me in. What hurts me most is that I “legally adopted” her 4 years ago and now I’m wondering why I put myself through so much pain. When my mother-in-law passed away 2 months later, I didn’t even bother to contact her.

    Reply
  12. Marlet C.

    I have two estranged daughters. My heart
    hurts everyday. There are days I go over every situation every conversation wondering if I had done this instead of that or said this instead of that. Right now I can’t get past the guilt and hurt of the estrangement. I am struggling.

    Reply
    1. Angela

      I have done the same and have no answers. If you are like myself , you are certain that you were the best mother you could have been under whatever circumstances you were presented with. If they received love, protection and their basic needs were met , then stop beating yourself up. We as moms experience guilt for things that are outside our control. God bless you and Happy Thanksgiving.

  13. Deb L

    After 10 plus years of complete estrangement with no contact my son, my only child, contacted me about six months ago saying “I am tired of hiding from you. I love you.”. Those words were enough to wash away the last words over ten years ago: “You are not my Mother, just the woman who adopted me.” He lives 8 hours away, is married, and he calls me every week. I have yet to see him and meet his wife, but I am grateful every day to have him say those words, “I love you” every time we end our conversations. It was just like when he was young and we said it together every day.
    Btw we don’t discuss the past. No recriminations, no questions. We talk about present and future stuff. Please don’t give up hope people……

    Reply
    1. Ruth

      So pleased to read that things have turned around for you somewhat and you’re looking in the right direction! It gives us all hope that we may get there one day too.
      Was just wondering if your son ever mentioned any reason for his change of heart? We’re just looking for clues that we could try use ourselves…
      All the best!
      Ruth

    2. Karen

      This so warms my ♥️ I will keep praying my son will find healing in his heart and mind from whatever demons he fights that keep him away from me. I won’t ever stop praying. You provided the ray of sunshine that good things may come in their own time.
      Happy Thanksgiving and thank you,
      KVB

  14. Mary

    The holidays always mean an opportunity for my older sons to reach out and set me up for attack. Every word I say or text is analyzed, turned around and used as a weapon. I finally declined attending an invitation to the annual roasting of mom, wishing them a wonderful time and thanking for the invitation. That caused more anger. The hurting has stopped and I’m learning to care for me now. 50 times bitten, I’m a slow learner.

    Reply
  15. Sandy

    We live in N.C. & last year I gave a signed Thanksgiving card to a friend going to CA to mail from there in her handwriting with her daughter’s return address to our estranged son in VA. That was the last card I sent & don’t plan to send any more. It’s been 15 months since any contact, so it is time to let go for us. We will never quit praying for him nor give up hope, but we are “done with the crying” & trying.

    Reply
    1. Barbara G.

      Ahhhh I like that
      Done with the crying and trying
      Just being reconciled in my own heart is enough ; everything else is totally out of my control !!
      I let my ES reach out if he chooses if not that is ok too !!
      Peace and happy thanksgiving

  16. emily38

    At Thanksgiving, Sheri, here’s a virtual card sent to you! I am grateful for everything you’ve done,and continue to do, for this community. Thank you!

    Real-world cards are another matter. Motivation and expectations around sending them seem most important in my experience. Each of us needs to be clear in our depths about our reasons for sending any kind of communication to estranged ‘kids.’ Some reasons can be healthy ones, others not so much.
    Yes, we’re all different with circumstances particular to every estrangement. Regardless, I believe wellness and our own mental health are universal goals.

    Again, my thanks,
    Emily38

    Reply
  17. MemaRay

    I am fairly, newly, rejected by my daughter, although I should have seen it coming from the day she began to talk. She just turned 35. She gave birth to my granddaughter 2 years ago and my husband and I had to rescue her and the baby from the father. They lived with us for 3 months before she left to live with the fathers’ parents. My granddaughter turned 2 at the end of October and I decided to send a card, one that I lovingly chose for the thoughts it captured. I enclosed a gift card since I had no idea what the baby needed and I knew a check would never be cashed. The next week, I was once again devastated that my daughter had returned both the card and the gift. She wouldn’t even put my name on the envelope, only my address. When will I learn? The pain is constant and real. I’ve read your book and it helped me tremendously. Just when I think I’m okay, I get that not-so-subtle reminder that I still am not.

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      MemaRay,

      You dared to hope, acted on the feeling, and she kicked you to the proverbial curb. Now, get up, recognize you did a nice thing with pure intentions regardless of her. Don’t beat yourself up for her issues. Mourn a bit and then go forward again. Where can you put your beautiful energy? There’s a niche for your kindness and caring … One where your caring will be reciprocated. Start with yourself again and take the best care of yourself possible.

      HUGS to you. The beauty of your intentions and kindness are not married by another person’s dismissal.

      Also, by sharing here, your words are helping others. Thank you. ❤️

      Sheri McGregor

    2. Linda Z.

      Hi,
      I really think our children have no idea that we have feelings too.
      I am sorry for how you feel, as I know I will be going through those same emotions in the years to come..
      Linda

    3. Angela W.

      The hardest part of the cruelty is understanding you are not defined by their opinion of you. You sound loving and thoughtful therefore I lean towards you being loving and thoughtful and your daughter being entitled and cruel. Can’t change her. There are many activities you can involve yourself in that you will be rewarded for your love and thoughtfulness. If you miss children have it involve children. If you miss mid age, have it involve mid age, if you miss your age companionship and sharing, have it involve that. Your daughter does not define you. You define you. Hang in there, life will improve

    4. MemaRay

      You are all such an incredible group of humans. I can’t tell you what it meant to me just to read a comment on my post. It’s as if we’re all in a room together, minus the hugs we all so deserve.

  18. Kathleen

    Many comments are about our children. My thoughts also are with a grandchild I can’t see as well. My funds are limited and I have been told my ES and the child’s mother, they don’t want me around the child. Not because I have been a bad Grandmother but because I don’t obey their ridiculous expectations with the child’s mother. If I can’t be with the child, I’m not sending a gift that I don’t know if it would be given to my grandchild. Hard to believe this is coming from a son I raised as a single parent and gave my all to do it right. Heartache is the result. But I am determined to enjoy the holidays nonetheless. In spite of all, It is a wonderful life and no one can take that from us.

    Reply
  19. Richard H.

    Thanks to everyone for their considered comments. After four years of gifts, letters and texts without acknowledgement I’ve decided this is the first Christmas that I send nothing. I just feel ridiculous chasing shadows. My daughter got married this year and made it absolutely clear that she wanted nothing to do with me. Strangely it feels like a massive deal to stop sending anything – I guess it’s accepting that I’ve given up. Terribly sad really.

    Reply
  20. Caroline D.

    Yes I think that estrangement is a very personal thing, and every one of us deals with it in our own way. My daughter turned 43 two days ago and I have no address to send a card or letter to ….I just can’t afford to lose any more sleep, and I am done with the crying. She is my only child and now her in laws are her new parents. I choose to set her free as it’s her choice, and somehow that has lightened my heart and soul. God is always close to the brokenhearted. God bless you all who are going through estrangement. Love’n’hugs.

    Reply
    1. Maureen

      Ah, Caroline…. I can relate. My estranged daughter lives 5 hours away with her long term boyfriend, will be graduating from college this May. She has let my 85 yo mother know they will then move away “somewhere”. She too has made her soon to be in-laws her “new” parents. They all get together for all special events and holidays. I raised her being a single mom, now recently got re-married. My ED had gotten into a nasty fight with him and then… that was that. This February will be 3 years of silence. To top it off, I see the “new mother” sometimes at work meetings. She never will discuss my daughter, barely acknowledging me now if at all. I know once my ED graduates I won’t have an address either. I am going to send a card this holiday season…. as soon I will not know where to send one to. Also my eldest son recently estranged this year for unknown reasons to me has moved and instructed his father and my mother to not give me his new address. I am horrified and mystified. They offered to tell me anyway as they feel bad for me as his mom. I didn’t accept their offer for right now. Something inside of me beyond the aching pain is trying to hold on to some shred of self respect. It will be a quiet Thanksgiving this year with just my mom (who is on chemo), together. My loving husband stayed home with our pets so I could travel across the country to see her. I can not fathom, being a child and not longing to see my loving mothers sweet face whenever I could… especially during the holidays and give back to her in some small ways what she has given to me selflessly her whole life. God bless all of you parents this Thanksgiving.

    2. Andrea K.

      Thank you for your comment. I too have an only child, a daughter who is 36 and has been estranged for 9 years. I also have no place to send a card, even though I know where she lives but she has no idea I know. I have chosen to write her letters and put them in a box for her. I also have a grandson from her who is 8 that I never see and 8 am writing a journal for him. I have chosen to fully let go and let God. I miss her terribly but by doing this it has freed me up and she is no longer controlling me and stealing my joy. Praying for you and your daughter.

    3. DogMom

      Same here, we lost our son to his in-laws. We never could have imagined it would happen to us, not in our wildest dreams. We no longer reach out but are continually working on letting go, learning to enjoy special moments. Practicing being grateful for all we do have in our life including our loyal, loving dog.

  21. Gwen

    I decided to stop sending cards a couple of years ago, and have since ceased sending text messages for my son’s birthday last year. There had been no acknowledgement for at least ten years. He turned 37 this year. I have not seen him for several years and the last phone conversation we had was a few months before his father died last last year. I was not advised of his death until after the funeral (we were divorced but on relatively good terms). I was the executor of his father’s will which I relinquished. I have not had any expectations in the past 20 years that writing letters, sending cards and so forth would elicit a response but perhaps there was an ember of hope. I kept doing this to pass on the message that for me the door was open and the choice was his.
    I came to the view that for my own mental health I need to more clearly accept in my own mind that there will be no coming back from this estrangement and I need to act in ways consistent with this.
    I appreciate that we all need to arrive at our own destinations and we also have to take responsibility for the routes we choose.

    Reply
    1. Linda Z.

      Hi Gwen,
      I am in the beginnings of the estrangement, and I can not imagine the pain of 20 years.
      Linda

  22. Sharon

    I recently discussed sending gifts and cards with my therapist. She asked “How does this make YOU feel?” So, in other words, if it makes YOU feel better to send cards and gifts, then send them, as long as you do not expect anything in return. Happy Thanksgiving all.

    Reply
    1. Patricia D.

      I agree,
      That having zero expectations , giving freely is key. As long as it is from the heart , genuine, & makes you feel better too.
      Happy Thanksgiving.

    2. stoneangel3

      Exactly right, Sharon! I’m learning to accept a situation similar to what we’ve all reported. Sheri is so wise- thank you for the article on “sending a card.” I have to mail everything I want my family to receive, sometimes it feels like there’s a fine line between what is acceptable and what is not. I also stand in front of the card rack, weighing my options. And sometimes I don’t even hear if my adult children or their children receive my card gifts.
      I love the quote about “GIVING FREELY” and that’s what I aim to do.
      Hugs to everyone as we move into the season of celebrations. I hope we can all find something hopeful in this season.

    3. MemaRay

      Absolutely agree! My husband taught me so many years ago that you must give freely, without expectations, or give nothing at all. Ironically, we did that with my ED but it was never enough. Now we are the ones made to suffer.

  23. Gracie2021

    Sheri, your quotation is supreme. Thank you so very much ! You are so right, what the DIL says about us does not change who we really are. Thank you again for this affirmation.

    Reply
  24. Elizabeth

    Due to a lot of factors this year, most of all the lack of time or energy to do cards right now…usually most of our married life I have sent them about Thanksgiving time…but I think this year I will at least wait until January…or whenever…or not. Most who truly care about us keep up with us via one form of communication or another. Thanks again Shari for your ideas and encouragement!!

    Reply
  25. sweetpea64

    Sheri, thank you most of all for providing insight for us to consider in each of our individual paths.

    And thank you for being honest because sometimes we need the truth to slap us out of whatever this is that many of us are living. We seem to be in a trance, held captive by unloving, uncaring children. Facing the truth is always better than living a lie.

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      You’re welcome Sweetpea,

      We are all so different and have a variety of situations. There just isn’t a one-size fits!

      Hugs to you,
      Sheri McGregor

  26. Jan P.

    I so agree. My ED’s birthday is coming up soon. I have chosen to send a card. She is still my daughter, and the day of her birth 48 years ago was a very important, happy and special day in my life (she was my first born). I cannot with a clear conscience let it go unrecognized. However, I have no expectations that there will be a response. I do believe it is the right thing to do, and knowing that is enough for me for now.

    Reply
    1. CazaT

      I sent my estranged son a card for his 40th birthday this year. He hasn’t had anything to do with me for a few years. He texted me and thanked me and I thought maybe we can get back to how we used to be. A week or so later he texted and told me not to send him pathetic cards and told me once again how bad a mother I was. Sent me straight back to a spiral of despair. I hope your card is better received Jan. X

    2. Melinda

      Dear Jan,

      Your letter mirrors my situation and reaction to my own daughter’s upcoming 43rd birthday, as well as the holidays. You validate my belief to always do what you feel is the right thing for you to do. I will never have to look in the mirror and feel guilty for ignoring what I believe was the right thing to do.

  27. Lynne

    Thank you for this latest article. It had so very many thoughts that rang true with me. With the Christmas season approaching the thought of sending yet another card has me thinking about this subject. I have sent many cards for birthdays and at Christmas. Never any reply. I think I will not send any more cards. It is one more situation in estrangement that to me is that there is no right or wrong. Each parent needs to decide what is best for them. I think often about doing and taking best care of me. Thank you Sheri for always sending this message. It did take many years to reach this place. Hugs and many thanks to you.

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      You’re welcome, Lynne. We all really do “arrive” at decisions at different times, unique to our personalities, history, etc. Maybe this year is another turning point for you (there are many in enduring estrangements).

      Hugs to you,
      Sheri McGregor

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