Should I attend?

estranged from adult children




Some who visit this website who are not fully estranged from adult children. They may have some contact—enough that they are even invited to a Mother’s Day celebration. I sometimes receive letters about this sort of limited contact, or asking about attending some upcoming event. Perhaps sharing the following reader question will help. ~~ Sheri McGregor


Dear Sheri,

Because of his wife, I barely get to see my son, but this Mother’s Day, I’ll be attending a brunch with them. My husband will be there, too, along with my daughter-in-law’s parents and a few others from her family.

It will be upsetting. My son will sit with her family, and we will be the ones at the end of the table, ignored other than their rude “jokes.” My husband is a public bus driver, and they have made comments about him “sitting on his a** all day.” It was done in “fun,” but then most of their condescension is. We have tried to be friendly and tolerant but are just so tired. They are white collar. We are both in service positions. They think they are better than us.

I’m not looking forward to the brunch. I have this fantasy that I will stand up and throw my napkin down at one of their rude remarks and put whatever member of their “loving” family has been rude on the spot.  I’d like to tell them all off. In my fantasy, I call that person out. Maybe even my daughter-in-law who is usually fakey-fakey whenever we do see her, which is seldom.  But then she goes home and bats her fake eyelashes and cries to my son. She’ll say how hard she tries, and that we ruined the brunch and how we just can’t get along. He will believe her.

In the past, she has made me out to be the wicked witch. She repeats my words even, and probably uses a wicked witch voice! She is putting my son in a horrible situation and separating him from us. It’s like she is killing him, and he doesn’t even know it.

Even if I make careful small talk and am nice to all of them, I know from the past that something I said or did will be seen in some weird way. My son will tell me I upset her (or even her mother or aunt), and he’ll bring up something I said in a way I never meant it. She can find something to take personally in every conversation. That’s why I feel like I’m just done trying.

If we sit there and take their “jokes,” it means that we are fine with it, right? Like we’re going along with the meanness and allowing them to make us out to be fools? I don’t think I can do that anymore, so standing up for ourselves seems the only way. At least we go out standing.

Do you have a better answer?

Thank you for your book and website, by the way. I feel like your book has really helped me get to the point where I’m usually just fine, living my life. if I have to say good-bye to my son right now, then I could still be okay, too.


Donna T.


Dear Donna T.,

Thanks so much for your note. I often hear from parents in situations like yours, and they feel as you do: These are no-win situations. From your note, it’s clear that your daughter-in-law casts you in a negative light and has even twisted your words. You mention her using a “wicked witch” voice. It’s true that almost anything can sound horrible if said in a vicious tone!

I’m so sorry that you and your husband have suffered this family’s condescending jokes, too. They sound very unkind, and I know the remark about your husband must have hurt. It may have been so shocking in the moment that neither of you knew how to respond. From your note, it sounds like this is a pattern as well, rather than an isolated incident.

You asked if there was a better answer. Here are a few thoughts:

First, you mention at the end of the note that you feel as if you could “say goodbye” to your son right now and still be okay. I’m pointing this out because if you do stand up for yourself and your husband at the brunch, and throw your napkin down, this is likely what will happen. You don’t mention how long your son and his wife have been married, but it sounds as if he has agreed with them in the past. He likely will in this instance as well—and it will hurt.

Second, as you already realize, if you go to the brunch and suffer through it, you also set yourself up for hurt. There’s a saying about us teaching others how to treat us.  If we allow repeated meanness (even if veiled as jokes), at least to unkind people, this may come across as an invitation for more.

Third, as you have described them, the people in the other family will likely not be pleased with confrontation. Even a softer approach to letting them know the jokes are not acceptable may trigger additional unkindness. Forgive me if I am reading more into this situation than is there, but I have a feeling these individuals are well-practiced at turning their “jokes” into an innocent act if they are confronted.

parents estranged from adult childrenThe facts and decisions

The one benefit to going on as things are, is the continued contact with your son. You mentioned that you rarely get to see your son, so my guess is that when you were invited to the brunch, you accepted just to see him—even though her family is hurtful to you.

Because the relationship is already not ideal, maybe a texting or phone relationship keeps the thread of connection, without the surrounding circumstances. Maybe an occasional in-person visit without the extended family is an option if your son is willing. In these darned-if-you-do/darned-if-you-don’t situations, parents sometimes weigh their choices from a “least bad” perspective.

Ask yourself: Which set of circumstances, none of which are ideal, can I live with the most?

Some parents choose to let their adult child go. Like you, they are tired of being hurt, the butt of jokes, maligned or marginalized. One father who was into sports said he and his wife were always “benched” while their adult daughter’s in-laws played full on. To these parents, losing all contact is a risk they’re willing to take. And they do risk full-on estrangement but they view the decision to let go as the one that best cares for their mental, emotional and physical health. Others make a different choice that maintains a thread of contact. Sometimes the thread later dissolves.


Putting yourselves in a hurtful situation with abusive people just to get to see your son is one choice.

Saying “no” to the brunch, even making an excuse if you feel that’s easiest for you, is also an option. If maintaining some bit of contact is important, you can attempt to preserve that—but still not go to the brunch.

estranged from adult childrenFantasy, reality, and uncertainty

In your fantasy it may feel good to throw down your napkin and call people out. In real life, you’d be handing them a true story to tell about you. You’ll be the “crazy” one who can’t get along.

Unfortunately, the situations surrounding estrangement can get pretty prickly. And there is little certainty. Families who tolerate bad behavior from an estranged adult or others in order to maintain a thread of contact often do so thinking that things will change. While this may sometimes happen, there is no guarantee. I often hear from parents who walked on those proverbial eggshells for years, and the son or daughter eventually estranged completely anyway.

Only you know how much you can tolerate, when enough is enough, and when it’s time to get out of the boat and swim to shore.


Donna and her husband decided not to go. They chose to be honest with their semi-estranged son about why, and quietly reminded him of the other family’s “jokes.” He said “yeah,” when they told him the jokes were hurtful but he didn’t elaborate. Neither did they. The parents reiterated they would love to see him, and invited him to come by for a meal, or call them anytime. They said his wife was also welcome. Their son was non-committal, said he had to go, and hung up.

Donna doesn’t expect to receive a Mother’s Day card, call or bouquet. “But I am relieved not to have to sit with my daughter-in-law’s mean family,” she says. “And seeing my son laughing and smiling with people that are disrespectful to his mom and dad, to us, is too painful.”

Estranged from adult children: Helping each other

If you’ve been in similar situations, it would help other parents to share your thoughts. You can hit “leave a reply” at the top of the page to do so.

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16 thoughts on “Should I attend?

  1. Yellow Rose

    At some point we have to decide to do what is best for ourselves. Many families, workplaces, groups, have the person everyone puts down. It can be called scapegoating. Its often not nice even when cloaked in jokes. We experience this in our extended families. We have mostly stopped attending family functions because of the not nice treatment of ourselves or others. My ED can be nice acting but they look at myself and my husband as “less than.” These extended family members have encouraged or helped the EC with the estrangement. So its a double whammy. I try to remember the saying “we teach people how to treat us.” Respect starts with respecting myself first. We are soon going to the ES college graduation and we’ve planned our trip in a way that respects ourselves. We know the relatives in that city are encouraging of the ES treating us badly and we know he tells them lies about us. We aren’t planning any events, except to go to the ceremony and we’ll see what happens. I would not go because of how badly ES treats us, but its important to my husband and he made the choice to go “even when” he is treated badly by the ES. So we go with the knowledge that we are going for the husband’s sake, not to try any harder or create loving bonds with the ES.

    1. chocolatelover

      I used to be invited to grandkids’ birthdays..unfortunately, so was grandpa (my ex)..I even after almost 20 years divorced, I STILL don’t want to be in his presence, even around the grandkids. I tried it one time at a grandchild’s 5th birthday picnic in a park. I was an emotional of my twin sons called me ‘a coward’ for staying away from him, not standing up to him. I didn’t go to any more get-togethers, if HE was there, I didn’t and don’t go. its too stressful,. so then (he, they) are ANGRY that I don’t show up. I’m not invited to anything our grown sons do, with their kids. They say “you don’t show up, so why should we invite you?” I’ve tried to tell them, I would show up, if you don’t invite your father. But, its a stalemate. The bottom line is ” no matter what I say or do, its WRONG in their eyes. I may meet the oldest son, here in the small town where I live, for lunch. maybe an hour or so, we visit (he comes out to spend a weekend with his dad on the farm). and then he’s gone. I may or may not see him or his boy for months, no phone calls either. Its usually silence with the younger 2 as well. I do what I am able to do, but NOT with their dad present (I’ve been in 2 son’s weddings, with him, and I was a wreck in both). You do, what you are comfortable doing.

    2. dawn

      wow sounds so familiar except its my older sister who has nothing nice tno say about me and makes nasty jokes about me . my son and his wife laugh and and invite her to every family get togather if i decline and state why he says stop playing the victim

  2. Materi

    Dear Donna,

    I am glad that you and your husband decided not to attend a situation that would have lacerated you, and that you told your ES the reason why. I wish you much strength in following this path of health for you both.

    Sincerely, Materi

  3. Snowlady22

    Dear Donna,
    Your story sounds very similar to ours. When I read your letter about Mother’s Day, I decided to rejoin rejectedparents. I was glad you didn’t attend also. When we explain something unfair or hurtful to our son his response has always been, “I know, Mom, I know.” He is powerless.

    Thank you,

    1. Effie

      any time in the past I have said how I feel…. My son responds ” mom your not a victim” when actually I was from all the verbal abuse and triangulation.. So I stopped 100% reaching out or trying to defend myself.. it is pointless. Give them nothing to say except ” moms mad at me” which was never the truth either.. Cant win..

    2. peachy19

      mothers day really stinks ever since my son got married this is my worst month they leave me out of his birthday to invite my ex i also now im not invit ed to my granddaughters b day i feel bad but now i dont feel alone i am trying to keep myself busy and read these posts just started reading done with the crying is helping me to fill that hole

  4. Betsy

    I need some specific help regarding my ES. Other than a very few brief phone calls, he has not been involved in my life for years now. Now all of a sudden he is showing an interest by telling me what to do! Telling me that I need to see a counselor and get on meds and deal with my depression. It almost felt like he was “parenting ” me and giving me a piece of his mind. He clearly did not approve of my choices. He has jumped to conclusions about things he knows nothing about. I don’t know how to deal with this. He intimidates me and I blank out when were talking because I am terrified he will start yelling at me again. I want to email him a response and tell him his opinion is not welcome. Or I can ignore him and pray it all goes away again. There is so much emotion around this. Emailing him is easier for me because I can organize my thoughts and get them down.
    In the past I have gotten a direct response from Sheri. Is that possible today Sheri? This site is wonderful and I have gotten so much direction from it in the past.
    Thank you again and God bless us all!

    1. Effie

      Betsy…. I have been through that too. I watch YouTube videos on narcissism. My son is classic. My counselor said to limit the calls and when my son starts in being mean I have to say I got to hang up. He never does it in front of others… never says he Is sorry and gets only more mean the longer I try to talk with him about the way he talks to me! I can recommend a YouTube video that is excellent..

      Change my relationship by Darlene Downing.. on narcist. It is really good.

    2. rparents Post author

      Dear Betsy,

      No one has the right to intimidate and yell at you.

      I think it’s ok to tell another adult that.

      It seems odd that he reappeared in your life to tell you what to do. To be honest, as you describe this situation, it makes me a little fearful for you.

      Please take good care of yourself. You deserve to have peaceful relationships built on mutual respect and consideration.

      Hugs to you,
      Sheri McGregor

    3. peachy19

      isnt it funny how our adult children say we are the ones who have the problem, how it is ok to just suddenly ghost the ones who have been there thru thick and thin

  5. forgetmenot1948

    I haven’t written for a while. I actually went on here today to get support and felt great relief in reading
    what Sheri had to say on this topic. My ED and I have had some contact and I think she has tried hard to make up for causing the Estrangement 5 years ago without an apology. I still don’t trust her but I’ve tried to move forward with what she can give me. We had two occasions this past summer we attended, my Grandson’s graduation and party. At both get togethers my SIL did not acknowledge us or speak to us at all. It was very uncomfortable and we decided it was best for my husband and I not to attend anymore get togethers. Well, this weekend some mutual friends are giving them a going away party as they are moving to another state. Although I’d love to support her, we absolutely feel we’ve made the right decision in not attending as the party is for both of them. I would feel like a big hypocrite for going.
    My grandkids are all away at college now. I don’t hear from them much. My grandson who has always been the golden one always responds to my messages. But the two granddaughters won’t respond hardly when I send them anything. I know my SIL has something to do with this and it really hurts us.
    I know I must accept it and the lies and mean, cruel things he’s probably planted in their heads. I want them to know the truth but don’t want to put them in the middle of it. This all complicates my relationship with my ED. I know in my heart, it will never be the same. My SIL is selfish, and wants nothing more than to have his family all to himself. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Bless all of you for having to endure this nightmare.

  6. forgetmenot1948

    It’s me again. I should mention when my ED text me about the party, I text her back and told her we’d love to be there to support her but given they way we were treated by my SIL that we weren’t comfortable in going. That was a week ago and I haven’t heard anything back from her. Guess that answers a lot of questions.

  7. peachy19

    I am finding that there are so many people hurting with disappointment from children and family being left alone or that is their belief , I know that feeling of family getting involved and feeling that it was my place to fix it , fix what being excluded from family functions only being called or texted when something was needed ! Years of abuse feeling like you were not really wanted just being used from the person you loved unconditionally someone you would give my life for. Now i realize who did i think i was you cant have expectations of anything in life especially people, you love your children and pray that they are safe do the best you know how raising them and realize that we have no control of their thoughts

  8. tea-lady

    Until today I thought we were on the way to full estrangement. We were blindsided with a text from Es’s wife asking if we wanted to call in on Christmas Day this year. I don’t know what to think, say or do. I’m in anxiety panic mode.
    We have consistently and respectively tried to be in their life. This was one of her criticisms of us, which doesn’t add up, because its a cover reason for another reason on why she decided to hate on us, previously we were all shiny and new and the relationship was exciting, babies, wedding etc.
    Real life eventually came to the surface as my own adult daughter is on the autism spectrum and her needs increased as funding became available to us and hence my time was not plentiful for childminding schedules as they once were. Daughter in law off loaded in text messages all her criticisms of us, it was book length and the comparisons against the other 2 sets of grandparents was hard to bare. She has no respect for her mother and the way she speaks to her mother is shocking.
    I don’t know how to respond to this mind blowing text. I am very wary of being more hurt than previously, We have started to come up out of the anguish and rejection, and unsure of what seeing them will do . My son and his wife didn’t open their front door to us from 5 months ago. I had made her favourite jelly slice as a starter for a peace offering. We knocked on their door and they didn’t open it.
    My crime is making my autistic daughter a priority over alot of babysitting. I never said I wouldn’t help, only just that it needed careful planning and that I could be of more help spontaneously as it presented, and not a locked in continuous commitment. My anxiety is rising. We’ve been discarded and I can’t help but think we’ll be played again. It was all conditional. My therapist said that daughter in law is the sun, the planets are her family and all spinning nicely around her, me not following suit, got us ejected out of her solar system.

    Seems about right and I feel super wary and afraid and seeing the changes in the grandchildren in regard to our relationship is the most painful to bare. I got really close the 2 older girls, but the 3rd girl I couldn’t bond with as the relationship with daughter in law was very tense.


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