Beyond the shadow of estrangement

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

The Shadow of Estrangement.

When the sun is high in a brilliant blue sky, our shadows are short. As the sun moves, our shadows lengthen, shorten, and change position—sometimes on the right, other times on our left.

But this isn’t a lesson on shadows! It’s just how I choose to view the shadow ofestrangement.

Estrangement’s “day”

The presence of estrangement can change over the course of time. With acceptance comes the admission that you cannot control another adult’s decision. You can move forward, and whether you believe it or not at this moment, you can be happy;  so that you no longer think of your estranged adult children and are no longer plagued by the shadow of estrangement, even for very long periods of time. Still, with the arrival of a life storm or two, a birthday, a holiday or a brush with death, the presence can shift, grow, or reappear.

shadow of estrangementThis is true even for people who’ve reached the high noon of acceptance over what they know they cannot change, who have moved forward in joy and are cherishing what’s good and creating new meaning and purpose in their lives. Even for many years.

People write to me all the time with a situation or date that has caused them grief. Times when the shadow of estrangement looms. Statements like these are common:

  • I’m back to square one.
  • I’ll never get past this loss.
  • What if I haven’t tried enough?

The Shadow of estrangement: Make a choice

But we do have a choice. We can see the setback as oppressive and horrible and something we just can’t shake. Or, we can make the choice to see the shift as temporary. We can tell ourselves it’s a minor setback, that we will feel better, that we are still strong and will move beyond this day. We can envision ourselves leaping forward again to square four or six or ten or one hundred—and then we can do what’s necessary to make that leap.

Estrangement: Is there a gift in the pain?

shadow of estrangementWe can even choose to find the value in revisiting the pain. Maybe it provides an opportunity to remind ourselves we did all we could. Perhaps in re-examining the facts, we re-identify the words and events and decisions that a parent’s forgiving memory has softened. In the shadow of estrangement, we can bolster ourselves with reality and mourn the loss as we might for a loved one who is long deceased, with good memories and a tinge of sadness, longing, or regret.

Or, if we feel the need, we can reach out again (always with an emotional insurance plan).

One woman recently wrote that she had been doing so well, but then her estranged daughter made contact, and it wasn’t for reasons that made any good sense. There is was again: the shadow of estrangement. This estranged mother wrote to me, saying, “I’ve pulled out your book again. It helped me before, and it will help me again.” Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children was her first line of defense.

shadow of estrangementOthers look at a favorite article here at, or do a search for ones that fit  their experience. You can use the collapsible categories to the right to look through all past article titles, and then click through. Or, there’s a search button to the right to help you find specific subjects.

Maybe for you it’s a good friend who will be sad to hear what’s happened, but there to make you laugh. Perhaps it’s getting close to God, to your spouse, to nature, or a loyal pet—and then reconnecting with the activities you enjoy. Maybe it’s a combination of these things.

The sun will set, the stars and moon will shine, and the next day brings a new beginning. We can choose to see the shadow of estrangement as a reminder that we are okay, that we can reclaim our space and happiness despite it.

“The landscape of loss is fertile ground for growth.” Sheri McGregor

In time, we may even find gifts hidden in the shadow of estrangement, as so many parents tell me they have. Gifts of strength and clarity and growth. Gifts in seeing how other puzzles within our lives fit. Or even the gift of peace. Have you found any such gifts? Feel free to comment here on this article so that other parents can benefit from your experience.

Related reading

Estranged Adult Children: Why Do They Make Contact Now?

Estrangement: Dealing With Uncertainty

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16 thoughts on “Beyond the shadow of estrangement

  1. Carol U

    Dear Sharon,
    My heart aches for you and I truly feel your pain. You have been betrayed by all the very people who should have cherished you. I can tell you have everything in you to those people for many, many years. You will be very sad and feel hopeless for awhile. As soon as you feel strong enough, get out and start living for yourself. You have earned it. Your family does not deserve a minute’s more consideration. Take up a hobby, go to church if you are spiritual, learn some new skills, take a college course just for the fun of it and get a pet. Find a new place to live and make some friends. Get outside every day. Go for walks and make friends with your neighbors. Volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen. Find a therapist you like and you will be surprised how much this helps. They will teach you how to divert unproductive and unhealthy thoughts. I promise you the sadness will get better and life will be good again. You will gradually fill the hole left by your self centered, narcissistic family with people who will love and appreciate you for the good and valuable person that you are. You still have a lot to give and a good life to enjoy. This is first day of the rest of your life and I think it will be much better than your life has been so far. Hang in there, dear lady! Better times are coming.

  2. Holly A.

    I appreciate this article. As the “shadows” of estrangement lengthen, I try to regroup and remember how times are always subject to change. One example of this is, as full timer RV folks, my husband and my landscapes are ever changing. Some days the skies are gray and overcast, rainy and windy. These are indicators that perhaps today isn’t the best day to move forward. Maybe we should just play it safe and sit still for the time being. Tomorrow the sun might shine again and we can move forward with our plans. It reminds me of those times when certain dates, events or whatever surface and just like the inclement weather, they render us at a standstill until the feelings subside again and we can move forward.

  3. Sharon

    Well, I’m new to this and very very sad. My husband of 29 years asked for a divorce. He has turned both kids against me with very subtle actions over many years. Neither really speaks to me. One is grown in college. Other still home in HS. They all say the exact same phrases and tell me that I brought all this on myself since they all 3 agree. All I’ve ever done is love these people more than anyone. I worked to support them while husband stays home the last 5 years. It’s my hard work that pays for everything yet they criticize that saying I needed more balance. I’m walking on eggshells all the time. Part of me just wants to give up, get divorced, and if both kids don’t want to see or talk to me so be it. I truly feel like I might go crazy. I’m gaslighted regularly. And I think husband is a narcissist. For now I’m just stuck in this purgatory crying and sad.

    1. Shirley

      I’m so sorry this is happening to you. It’s shocking that the people we love the most can be so cruel! I haven’t seen my only child, a daughter, in 5 years and it’s like she’s stabbed me in my heart. Apparently, I’ve crossed “boundaries” with her, which she has also done to me. I’ve decided to stop trying and get on with my life, but this is the hardest thing to do. I wish you peace. Take care of yourself.

    2. Martha

      Sharon, This is my first time posting also. Your story sounds exactly like mine. I was married to a narcissist for 22 years. He left and six months later we were divorced. My ex did the same thing with my two sons who were 17 and 20 at that time. For awhile neither one would talk to me. I kept reminding them I loved them and was there if they needed me. My older son has come around and has realized what and who his father is. We have a really good relationship now. With my younger son it has been a rough road…haven’t spoken to him in five years and that was after an altercation with him and ended up having to go to the hospital. After that I wrote my son a letter and told him I still loved him and wanted a relationship with him but I wasn’t going to stop my life for him and wouldn’t be contacting him anymore and the ball was in his court. I still have not heard from him. I have moments of sadness but I let myself cry and then move on. I have started living again… have met someone really nice, have two sweet little granddaughters, an awesome job, good friends…the list just goes on. The best thing my ex did was leave me. It was devastating and very hard to begin with but you just take it day by day or sometimes just hour by hour. I say give your husband what he is asking for and put yourself first. You will smile again and the sun will shine.

  4. Beverly

    Hi fellow sufferers, yesterday after almost 1 1/2 years of a grandparent access case for our 4 year grandson, we were denied access as the judge felt after 2 years he did not remember us and since there is unresolved issues with our our son, we would not be in his best interest. Our son, after mental decline over a 2year span, as he moved through job loss, drug and alcohol issues, divorce on onward, led my spouse and I calling in the mental health team, and a forced ssessment which led him to remove our grandson in retaliation. At that time our DIl, was with us in concerns for his mental health, and said he was diagnosed with psychosis. While we suffered many abuses from him, during the 2 year span, so did his ex wife. However after their divorce, they joined forces to do as he had said..never to allow us to see our grandson again. Her life was nightmarish if she went against him. I have kept a detailed log of all correspondences prior to his “perceived enlightenment ” which were some loving emails, cards etc…to becoming a monster and predator. Every text email, some audio and video are stashed away, and i will continue to blog our story for one day when our grandson is old enough and may want to know us. His parents have chosen to remove us, his brothers, cousins etc…
    Surely this must say something..Leave your family, dont try to work things out, don’t go to counselling, just leave your parents if you aren’ happy with them, rather as most often is the case, your own unhappiness in your own life, not created by the parents but your own choices. One of drugs, alcohol, and an inability to realize you are mentallly unwell.

    Sheri I commend you for the work you do, which stems from your own pain. I am sure, like myself, this site has kept many from ongoing mental and physical decline. As one person blogged, i am keeping my lipstick, for the day my grandson finds his way to me, or my son if a ” new enlightenment ” occurs and we can move forward in a healthy way. In the meantime, i am planning financially for my grandsons future, not his father. We have 2 other sons, despite his attempt for them to follow his ” path”
    they remain a part of our lives and hope for the future.

    Be kind to youself everyone, there is no greater pain then a living child that is dead, because they are not recognizable anymore


  5. Kristy R.

    I have cancer, my husband has had two cancers. The mental abuse we were enduring from our daughters were also making us mentally and physically ill. Moving to another state has helped so much, we are living in an area that we love and surrounded by beauty, wildlife and above all peace. Being able to walk and be in sunshine helps. It was an extreme measure and a whole lot of work & stress to sell and buy and move but we feel it was worth it and we did it! Our family are in our thoughts and prayers every day and we so miss our older grandchildren but feeling sad and knocked down is no way to live. What we try to tell ourselves every day is that they are younger and hopefully they will live a long time but we are limited in the years that we have. So enjoy all of life’s small pleasures and the moments that bring you happiness, be in that moment. We share your pain and sorrow but we are given this life for a reason and if we can help others we can help ourselves. Life is too short.

    1. rparents Post author

      Absolutely, Kristy! I’m sorry you and your dear husband have had to endure so much, but gosh, what wonderful attitudes. Enjoy your natural surroundings and beauty. I find this post to be LOVELY and wonderful, a balm to read.
      Thank you.

      Sheri McGregor

    2. Jeff

      Thank you for sharing. My wife is confined to a wheelchair with MS and I am her fulltime caregiver. We’re in our mid 70’s and our only child, a daughter who is 49 became very angry and pushed us away from her and her family 6 months ago so we made the decision to relocate to another state we lived in 20 years ago. We are closing on our new house in two weeks and have been living in a hotel for the past two months. This move is difficult but the day we arrived here we knew it was the best thing for us. As you so well put it, we are limited in the time we have left and our goal is to live it happy. We are very grateful for the wisdom we get here.

  6. Trisha

    Reading about all these different painful stories and I feel so sad for the families suffering. Our now 50 year old, son cut off all contact 22 years ago. It happened slowly, and then when we saw him last, he had relocated, and gave us false details. For nearly 17 years we didn’t know if he was alive or dead. I cried for many years. He was the most wonderful son, and a kind person. Suddenly he was changing, and he who cared for very little personal belongings, became very angry, and we think jealous of his brother. Never did we ever feel we give too much to our younger son, even though his life was troubled as a teenager, and he caused the family much grief. So in a nutshell, that is why our son became bitter and then disappeared.
    Someone on facebook contacted our boy to tell him I had had a stroke. Our phone rang one day, and it was him. He sounded like he did all those years ago. We talked and were so happy. Then again although we had his phone number, and email address, contact was maybe one or two emails per year. We even met him for dinner three times, and the only comment he ever made about our estrangement was that “I don’t blame you for caring for my brother”. So yes, there it was. Out in the open. Again it was said gently, and we replied that we loved him always. Still today here we are . and we have seen and heard from him once this year. How many tears can you shed? How many nights lying awake trying to think of ways to find your missing boy? Well after all these years we have put all that pain in a little box in our heads. We popped on the lid. and when it is opened, all that pain soars back. So we try very hard not to open it. My husband seems to be able to seldom open that box, I’m not quite so lucky. However come Christmas, Mothers Days, etc etc. temptation is there. He missed all his grandparents funerals. No one knew where he was, or even if he was still alive. So you see this is how a family try to cope with a permanent loss. Our boy was wonderful, he had a good child hood. Holidays at the beach on his grandparents farm. So many sporting events, and generally a happy life. Not too much money available, but enough for our little family. I go over our lives trying to work out how I could have been a better Mum. I did my best, and my darling husband was a wonderful Dad. Yet this is the outcome. One of the hardest things is interaction with others who have happy families. I have lied! I exaggerated! Oh the stories I made up. Finally I have admitted to a few close friends the actual truth. It is Christmas on Sunday and he won’t contact us. That is hard to admit. However we know he is happy. He lives a very solitary life with a partner. He is successful in his working life. and happy. The pain of loss never leaves my heart, but life goes on and we do too.

    1. Nada

      Trisha. Your last sentence says it all. I can’t say any more than that. I feel your hurt, pain, love and all else that goes with estrangement because I am there too BUT after 12 years I have come to accept and live
      your last sentence. You have one life – live it as best as you and your husband can – your son certainly seems to have done that with his.

      Every best wish,

  7. Mary

    This was Father’s Day weekend. I thought I would try to be a “caring Mom” to my estranged son – having not seen or talked to him for almost 4+ years. But, after texting him, I found my son has blocked me from texting/phoning. (This is the first year since my Father has died so I am totally alone this year.) Up to this point I was allowed to text my grandsons (14 & 17) but apparently I’m no longer allowed to text or speak to any of them. I think what led to this was a email he and I exchanged – – each and every time we exchanged emails, he tells lies about what I have said or done…….. if I let him get by with it, he stays in touch with me. But 4 years ago, I started calling him on his lies and standing up for myself and WHAM!!! He blew his cool and said I have been crossing his “boundaries” (their favorite word) and I was no longer welcome in their house…….. and it went from there. More lies – I would call him on it, restate the truth and WHAM …….. he would get furious …….. and I would lose more privileges with my grandsons. And so it has gone for 4 years until now for whatever reasons – I have no contact and he has now convinced my daughter to disavow me as well.
    As long as they can abuse me, all is well. But if I stand up for myself – WHAM, BAM, I’M OUT OF THE FAMILY.
    So I moved across the country to get away from them before I committed suicide from them harassing me.
    So Sad – Better alone.

    1. rparents Post author

      Mary, I’m so sorry. Hugs to you, I know that there are many parents who grow weary of being robots set to please mode. It’s tough for that mode to remain safe in any way but especially when the rules change.

      Take kind care of yourself. Ok? Work hard to make a niche for yourself in your new location.

      Hugs again,

      Sheri McGregor

  8. Elizabeth L.

    Well, Sheri, an interesting and telling development. After I sent a birthday card and realised that it, any email or text, or phone call I might make was being screened by her boyfriend, I decided to find someone to check on whether she was in a coercive relationship.

    The Salvation Army can trace people, so I asked them to check if she was safe. The reply they sent me was that she was, but wanted no further contact with me. It was countersigned by her boyfriend.
    I think the fact that he was involved in the reply says everything, but if she’s not interested, then I’m definitely free now. Sadly, she took half my pension money with her, and I remember a friend, some years ago telling me to wait before signing my house into her name jointly with mine because ‘ she might meet a man who’ll persuade her to take it from you’. How right my friend was. She must have seen what I was blind to.

    1. rparents Post author

      Hi Elizabeth,

      May we all have such wise friends, and hopefully, listen. Your tale is a cautionary one and will perhaps benefit others here.

      Meanwhile, give yourself a little time to grieve and treat yourself with kind care as you step, a bit at a time, into that freedom. I hope you will be able to seek out and discover and find where to fit and what to enjoy. (My new book has more people who find new ways to let go and live … Sorry to sound salesy, but I can’t fit a whole book into a comment.) HUGS TO YOU.
      Sheri McGregor


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