Parents of estranged adults: Awareness, a tool to handle emotions

Parents of estranged adults:
Awareness as a tool to handle emotions

parents of estranged adultsThe other day, on a long off-trail hike in the desert, my mind wandered to thoughts of my estranged son. Just as spiky offshoots of cholla, nicknamed “jumping” cactus, can spring out and stick to whatever encounters them, unexpected, unsettling feelings sometimes spring out to slice at me. The feelings can be so strong they appear to block my path.

In my day-to-day life, my mind is busy and preoccupied with the current goings-on. That’s why downtime can be a danger for me when it comes to feeling sad like it did on New Year’s Eve. Even when not thinking of any specific memories, simply experiencing the quiet serenity of an open area clears a space for thoughts and memories that can bring up unexpected emotions. Knowing that, I can be better prepared.

Parents of estranged adults:  Your emotional landscape
(Your Emotions series)

In a recent article, we talked about how and why unexpected emotions can spring up when you’re not prepared.  The emotional landscape for parents of estranged adults can be a tricky one, filled with landmines. Now, we’ll begin examining ways to accept and deal with sadness, anger, guilt, hopelessness, confusion, and other emotions present for parents of estranged adults.

Awareness: A handy tool for parents of estranged adults

How can you prepare ahead, so a wave of sudden emotion about your estranged adult child doesn’t ruin the day? This article will cover the first step: becoming aware of what prompts the emotions.

For parents of estranged adults, the child’s birthday may be the most difficult day of the year. But other special anniversaries, a particular activity, a certain television show . . . all of these can bring on confusion and upset. One mom remembers baking cookies with her estranged daughter, so baking brings up memories and can make her sad. Another shared golf with her estranged adult son, which has placed a shadow on golf outings with her husband.

The potential “trigger” lists for parents of estranged adults will be unique, and may even change over time.Still, actually making a list is a good way to develop awareness so you can plan ahead. If you’re not a physical list-maker, don’t worry — even thinking through the possibilities and devising a mental list of emotional upsets related to your estranged adult children will help.

As you consider the events, anniversaries, and even people that might remind you of your estranged adult children, be kind to yourself. This may be difficult work. Pause and consider any memories that come up. Also, although it sounds too simple to tell somebody to “focus on the positive,” attempting to focus on good memories can help. For some of us, that means digging back through several years’ of upsetting, hurtful behavior. But no matter what has happened more recently, those good times really happened, and can be cherished.

DSCF2512For me, remembering the special moments and pride I felt over my now estranged son’s successes throughout the years, and recalling activities we once enjoyed together, has become (at times) a haven. Other times, I feel as sad and helpless as ever, but overall, those sorrowful moments are becoming fewer and farther between. For most of us, this new role as an involuntary member of the parents of estranged adults group does get easier. As happens with most forms of loss and grief, the more hurtful parts of this experience can begin to disintegrate and fade when we’re not examining the hurts, or being faced with new ones daily.

Just a note about the above statement: All of our situations are unique. We’re in varying stages of hurting and recovery. Some of us do face new hurts each day. We may be suffering because a close family member or spouse, still in contact with our estranged adult child, tolerates or even excuses thparents of estranged adultseir bad behavior toward us. Or we may still have intermittent contact that makes us hopeful, but then get cut off again so the hurt is renewed. I can relate to this latter one in particular.

But in general, with effort, support, and the passage of time, parents of estranged adults can not only better cope, but can enjoy our lives.

Parents of estranged adults, empower yourself

In a future article, we’ll explore concrete strategies to handle emotional triggers and counteract them. For now, take some time to carefully consider what people, events, anniversaries and activities are likely to upset you. Take out the calendar and plan ahead. Looking ahead to possibly upsetting dates and holidays is helpful. Making a list, and even marking your calendar so you’ll know what’s potentially coming on the horizon, can help you feel in control, thus empowered.

What sorts of things are upsetting to you? I would love to hear from you in a reply comment to this post.

Also, take the survey to help other parents of estranged adult children, or comment in the forum, support for parents of estranged adult children.


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3 thoughts on “Parents of estranged adults: Awareness, a tool to handle emotions

  1. Castaway

    I have read and re-read both your books which have done so much for me. I’m ever grateful.
    I have been abandoned for 14 months no contact period. My son and daughter in law don’t want me around them or their baby because she claims I am with mental illness (anxiety) and don’t want me to give it to them or baby. I have met all their demands mental wellness course, counseling etc but nothing has changed. Ok… I am dealing with it best I can I am in counseling with a great therapist that has never placed blame on anyone just helps me work on myself which is a great help. I just have a very huge hurdle my husband has not be estranged and has never ever mentioned this to our son. Our son tells my husband (of 53 years) to call him but our son never calls his dad. I find this extremely upsetting I feel abandoned by my husband as well. I have spoken to my husband about how I feel I find I’m beginning to feel some resentment towards my husband because he tells me he hope this will blow over and doesn’t want to lose contact. I understand why he won’t say anything I just feel he could have asked what’s going on with your mom. Son sent a Christmas card with just his dad’s name on the envelope and inside with pictures of grandchild. I have spoken to my counselor about this have had a good conversation. I would like to hear your insight on this.
    Thank you for helping me try to dig myself out of this hell hole.

  2. Maureen B.

    I have always found with grief of any kind, it never really goes away. You just learn to manage it. and when you accept that premise, it also becomes easier. So even reading your articles, which are right on I might add, I find myself crying and it has been years that both my adult daughters, (one influenced the other) have been estranged, no matter what I have said or done. And yes, I have tried doing nothing for years as well. But nothing seems to work. I am now to the point that I send a funny birthday card is all and all it says is Love, Mom.

  3. Fay

    We moved 1000 miles away, hoping that would give our daughter and son-in-law the space they seemed to want from us. They had punished us by not letting us be with their 4 children whom we had a very close, blessed relationship , and after 5 months of this rejection we realized we needed to sell out and move. Everything came together quickly for the sale, the purchase of property in our new location and the living close- 3 generation home- with our son and his family. Ten months ago, our daughter called to chastise us , fabricating a lie that we tried to make her child feel guilty. (We had called to wish her happy birthday and I casually said, “I tried to call a few minutes ago but there was no answer.” ) I said that because there’s nothing safe to talk about with them. We’ve been excluded from their lives for 3 1/2 years and I was just happy to hear her sweet voice. But daughter called back, yelling, scolding…then said, “I just need y’all out of my life. It’s better if y’all don’t call the children anymore it ruins their birthday, wondering when or if you’re going to call. “ Up to that day, we had called on every birthday.
    NOW: my triggers are the 4 birthdays, and the question, should I keep sending cards and checks? I have been, but I put them in an additional envelope addressed to my daughter and she can decide whether she wants the children to receive them . The checks are never cashed since her last demand for us to be out of her life. I don’t know if they ever read that we love them. I trust God, in His mercy and Grace, to take care of all the issues with this situation. But, you want to know my triggers: that’s the one that still digs into my heart: what do our precious four grandchildren think and wonder of it all-
    Thank you for your sharing. I bought your book within a month of our moving and it was a help in navigating this journey. My source of strength is Christ. He , Who took from nothing and created the universe and put us here, knowing that we would insist on our own way instead of obeying Him, made a way for reconciliation with our Heavenly Father . It’s through Jesus Christ. I know that if God would do that, and since He could do that…..then He is surely able to reconcile my family. I may not be on earth when that takes place, but I am resolved to trust the King of Kings and Lord of Lords with it all.
    Richard Wurmbrand spent 14 years in an underground prison for his faith in Jesus Christ. I saw and heard him say on video: “A bird does not sing because of what it gets: it sings because it has a song in its heart.”
    We can heal, grow and move through our pain by letting Christ BE the song in our hearts. Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”


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