Spring cleaning for parents when adult children want no contact

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

After a long “winter” of disappointment, parents of estranged adults can start to feel closed off and cluttered. Just as you might with a house that needs a good spring cleaning, take action for yourself. Organize a more personal spring cleaning for emotions, well-being, and health. Clear the path for your forward momentum.

Energy dump

adult children want no contact

Pulling weeds in the pre-spring sunshine here in California the other day, I noticed the silvery crowns of several small dusty miller plants I had put in last fall. They peeked out above the thicket of grassy weeds.

adult children want no contactWhen I cleared the weeds away, the leafy clusters looked a little silly atop the spindly stems—but I marveled at their innate ability to thrive. They didn’t waste energy trying to grow leaves down among the thick weeds where no sunlight could reach.

Seeing those plants made me consider where I might be wasting energy. Why expend energy where it can bear no fruit?

As part of an emotional spring clearing, you might ask yourself:

  • What habits no longer serve me?
  • Where and how can I better manage my time?
  • Am I getting a good return on my investment of energy?

Digging in the dark

As an example, let’s consider reaching out when adult children want no contact. Parents often continue to reach out to their estranged adult children from time to time. They intend to convey a message of love, and that they’re still interested in reconnecting—even though the adult children want no contact now.

But when nothing comes of parents’ messages or gifts other than soaring hopes that are dashed by silence, or worse, verbal abuse, it’s time to make a change.

Cultivate self-care

Emotional spring cleaning intends to support your own well-being. Examine whether it’s wise to save your energy, cut back on times you reach out, or to stop entirely. Done With The Crying helps you set limits, yet still achieve the intended goal.

You might also be expending precious energy in other ways that don’t serve you. Make a list. Here are a couple of examples that are common in times of stress:

  • Emotional eating/drinking
  • Other unhealthy habits, such as smoking
  • Staying up into the wee hours
  • Excessive shopping (shopping for your estranged daughter or son)

Pause to make an honest assessment of what you spend time on, and examine whether it’s helping you. Spring is the perfect time. Take your list and make plans to change. For instance, to support yourself, you could stock up on healthy food choices, make a plan for better sleep habits, and throw out the catalogues.

Does your thinking zap energy?

An overstuffed closet could use a good spring cleaning. Your thinking might need a little organization too.

Take a look at when the sad thoughts creep in. If your mind wanders back to dark places on holidays or special occasions, plan ahead to combat the thinking. Decide this year will be different. Make plans to busy yourself or try something new. Making new memories surrounding holidays or special events gives them new life.

As a closet can benefit from shelves or hooks, the times you know you’ll feel down could also use some structure. Make plans for activities, hobbies, travel, or friends. Even small changes can provide structure for positive change. Try a new food every weekend. Eat a new vegetable each week, or cook one a new way. Make pizza with cauliflower crust, or tacos with lettuce wraps instead of tortillas. Or grow a vegetable, even in a pot. Radishes will grow in a shallow container on the windowsill. Listen to music that lifts your spirits, or go for a walk.

What new support structures can you add to your life? One retired grandmother whose estranged children don’t want contact recently told me she’s making a habit of getting up, showered, and dressed by 8 a.m. She says she feels better if she’s up and ready, and often follows through on activities, commitments, and connections. “It sure beats lazing around in my pajamas full of self-pity,” she said.

A father shared that he checks his calendar each evening, and makes plans. Things like call a friend, go to the gym, or research senior sports leagues in his town. As a result, he’s added structure that helps him look forward to the next day. He wakes up feeling more purposeful.

Sweeping out feelings

Use the momentum of spring with its energy of renewal to sweep out and examine feelings that don’t serve you. For your own good, can you let emotions such as guilt, anger, and shame go? Let’s look at a couple of examples of how feelings can clutter up our lives.

Are you worried and fearful of what people (or your estranged adult child) will think? Some parents confide that they continue to send birthday or holiday gifts to adult children who want no contact out of fear. They’re concerned others will negatively judge them. Even after many years, some worry that if they don’t continue to recognize an estranged adult child’s birthday, the son or daughter will accuse them of not caring. If you can relate, are these sorts of worries serving you well?  Will there ever come a time when enough is enough? Halting (or reducing) obligatory contact with adult children with whom you have no real relationship can be freeing. “I spent six years trying,” says one mother. “I refuse to live the rest of my life enslaved.”

Do feelings of shame, or the possibility of being put on the spot keep you from social situations? In Done With The Crying there are examples to help you handle questions and steer others’ responses to your situation. Some of us are more social than others, but remaining isolated is not healthy for anyone. Step forward. Sprout a new attitude, and shed the shame as part of a spring clear out.

Reassess and make adjustments. Tug out and cast aside mental and emotional blocks. Reclaim the confident pre-estrangement you. Better yet, embrace a new, more self-compassionate you.

Pulling out the physical weeds

Don’t forget the physical side of spring cleaning. Are you holding onto actual things left behind by adult children who want no contact? Now might be a good time to free up extra space. Storing, donating, or disposing of unused items can be mentally and emotionally liberating. Try taking down a photograph that reminds you of pain, and see how you feel.  There really is something to the old saying: out of sight, out of mind.

You might also make a physical change for this new season of your life. I recently cut my hair, and imagined shedding negativity along with those overgrown locks. The easy style is representative of a fuss-free life—and goes along with my newly adopted motto, Lighten Up. I like that my motto can apply in several ways: weight, clutter, and mood. Will you join me?

Adapt

adult children want no contactWhile we might feel a little spindly and awkward as we turn ourselves to a new light and grow, we can take a lesson from my dusty miller plants. Once the weeds were cleared away, those bare-stemmed plants began to immediately adapt, filling in with foliage to soak in the sunlight.

It’s spring. Spread your own foliage. Stretch toward the sunlight of people, things, and activities that make you happy. Expend your energy in ways that help you progress toward meaning and joy.

Keep watch, too, for old habits to creep in (like those snails in the picture!). Pluck them out before they can do damage.

Spring forward

adult children want no contactFor inspiring stories of other parents who’ve moved beyond the emotional wreckage of estrangement, as well as more in-depth information about releasing negative feelings, thoughts, and behavior that are holding you back, get my book. Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children was a Living Now Book Awards Winner (books that change lives!) and a finalist in the Indie Book of the Year Awards—which I hope will raise awareness about the growing problem of estranged adult children from loving families. You can help by clicking on the Facebook “like” button below. Done With The Crying is available worldwide. Check with your local bookseller, who can order it. Or, go to Amazon or another online seller.

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29 thoughts on “Spring cleaning for parents when adult children want no contact

  1. Joan P.

    Yes Sheri I loved your writing about spring cleaning. I just read your article today. I haven’t heard from my daughter for 5 years now. She leaves pictures of her knew life online. She is divorced, remarried and had a child. Happy for her and her new life. I have days where I feel sad because we no longer have a relationship, but I have come to realize more often that I crossed the bridge, so to say, and am doing just fine in life. I raised her always saying to her “I always wanted to make sure she was going to be okay if I passed away.” Well I did just that. I raised her, provided for her, was her life coach, gave her so much love, listen to her when she was feeling down, ensured she got an education to stand on her own to feet, and the list goes on Sheri. Then the day came that she harmed me physically and then became controlling and destroyed are relationship. My conclusion for my spring cleaning is “I died in my daughter eye’s.” I prepared her for when I wouldn’t be around anymore. The amazing thing though is I am alive and moving forward in life! Life is full of hurdles. The adventure is finding the way back to happier days for ones self.

    Reply
  2. Pam M.

    I’m 21 years into estrangement from my ED. The first 10 years was so hard. But I finally came to a place of letting go & letting God deal with her. I have 2 grandsons whom I’ve never met.Some days I still struggle, recently retired… but I refuse to let it take control of me. My “mantra” when I do struggle is… I forgive You for not being the way I want you to be, and I set You free. Prayers for all of you going thru the loss of love & contact from our ED’s & ES’s❤️

    Reply
    1. Karen

      I too am estranged from two daughters. I don’t think a mother could ever really “get over it” but a mother could be easy on oneself and truly know it’s not our fault. The culture has a lot to do with estrangement. In my case their father died when they were in their late teens. They have been estranged from me for about 10 years. They are now 54 and 52 years of age. Whatever is going on with them has nothing to do with me. I try very hard not to allow my mind to go there and have sad thoughts. Instead of dwelling in it I get busy and thank God for the time I had with them. Nothing is guaranteed in life except for a Magtag Washing Machine. Take good care and think good thoughts.

  3. Bob F.

    Hi Sheri,
    This was a good article, packed with analogies and metaphors! Well done! Thank you for taking the time to put it together! It summarizes about where I am now, but I got there via a different path. I just stopped and thought about my son’s estrangement, and came to the epiphany that continually reaching was not showing him respect for his decision. He made it clear what he wanted. If I was to continue reaching out, that would be akin to saying “I know that you have made it clear, but I know better. You are going to want a relationship with me” Seems kinda stackery… If I love him, I would let him go and respect his decision. After all its his life and he gets to decide!

    Reply
    1. Michelle

      Wow! that epiphany really did resonate with me. I agree we sometimes have to let them go even when it is not the desired outcome. It is their decision, their life. Thank you!

    2. Karen

      This is so true! I too have been guilty of sending gifts, which I don’t even get a thank you. So, after reading Your article I am stopping. I will give to charities instead. Than you for your keen perspective. I love your articles. It makes me feel better that I am not alone.

  4. JESSICA C.

    My 41-year daughter has not spoken to me in more than 5 years. I had not seen her for 2 years, until last night. We were both at a family birthday party. She walked into the room and did not acknowledge me. She then sat with other friends at a table next to me and she made sure her back and her chair were turned away from me. After 10 minutes, I decided to extend a courtesy and asked how she was, how her job was. She gave concise and snippy answers and then made a point to turn her back again. She left the party about 5 minutes after that. After all this time, I am considering redoing my will and taking her out of it. I am conflicted.

    Reply
    1. Bob F.

      Hi Jessica,

      You need to ask yourself what is love? What are the conditions for love to flourish? Love develops when there is consideration, respect, reciprocity, etc… But all these things are formed based upon good communication. Without good communication, there will be nothing. I can’t and don’t want to tell you what you should do, but maybe you should let your intuition be your guide!

      All the best,
      Bob

  5. Gigi

    I am so sorry Clare, I am going through the same with my son 28 this year. After a disagreement about his girlfriend being so rude to me. He said I would never hear from him again.••••••••he blocked social media, my phone and o have not seen him for 2 years. He wishes me happy birthday through my daughter.

    I was in the store the other day, he walked in I was in shock, I said hello he said hey looked shocked to see me,,,,,I did not know what to do, say hi, he hesitated but hugged me, I ran out did not say bye or I love you…did not know what to say because he did not seem to miss me

    It is killing me we used to be very tight

    Reply
    1. Cheryl

      I just ran into my ED and her husband AND my grandson, who doesn’t know I exist, in walmart the other day. (I haven’t seen or heard from them for 2 1/2 years) I too stopped in my tracks as husband looked at me. I decided to say hi. My ED and him looked at me as if I was a total stranger, turned away, and kept on walking. Unfortunately my grandson was facing the othe way so I wasn’t able to get a glimpse of him. I moved on and continued to shop. When I got in my car, I said a prayer for them. Today is her birthday and it’s the first one that I’m not upset about. God has different plans and He put them in my face just before her birthday for a reason! God’s got this!

  6. Diane M.

    One thing I am doing in my mental spring cleaning is to stop looking up my daughter and the grandkids on their online sites. That’s how I found out my granddaughter got engaged. That hurt me so much. For now, I began wondering if I’ll even be invited to her wedding? I doubt it. My estrangement from my ED and her family was so sudden and has been ongoing for 5 years now. I have no idea why.

    I sent my oldest grandson a birthday card (no gift). Now, I feel like I have to send them to my my other two grandkids too when it’s their birthdays. I only did this because my daughter sends me a Christmas and birthday card each year, with a gift card, but signs all their names. My two grandsons are 25 and 17 y/o and my granddaughter is 24. They are old enough to send me cards on their own, but choose not to. Do you think I could just not send the other two cards now? I don’t even know their addresses. I have to send them to my daughter’s address. Even my dear son-in-law abruptly stopped emailing me too.

    Also, I have a 50 y/o son who has a disability (mental health issues). He cannot work, drive and lives in a rooming house. I do all the calling and emailing. He will answer my calls and talk to me but never initiates a call or writes me an email. I try to send him a Visa gift card each month. He sends me a short email with just, “thanks, I got your card.” I’m thinking of stopping being the only one trying in this relationship.

    Any feedback on my above issues would be so appreciated. I so appreciate this website, all that Sheri writes, and all your thoughts about where you are at. We’ll get thru all this together.

    Reply
    1. Su L.

      My reaction to your dilemma is to do what feels right to you.

      If sending cards makes you feel better about yourself, do it!

      I send cards when they are talking to me or not talking to me.

  7. Joan B.

    Its been 3 years since my 25yo son moved out w/ anger. My daughter moved out 10yrs ago. She is 22 & no contact w/me & her brother. One month after my son moved out, I had a brknHeart attack. I’ve been house bound since.It has been a learning journey for me.
    I need to order your book.♡

    Reply
  8. Joan B.

    Its been 3 years since my 25yo son moved out w/ anger. My daughter moved out 10yrs ago. She is 22 & no contact w/me & her brother. One month after my son moved out, I had a brknHeart attack. I’ve been house bound since.It has been a learning journey for me.
    I need to order your book.♡

    Reply
  9. Wanda R.

    It has been about a year to lose 2 out of 3 children. I did not know this group existed and I am thrilled to feel I am not alone. You feel like you are the only one. Still trying to wrap my head over the fact that this is forever. I need someone to fill up space. Thinking of getting a dog. I need some unconditional love.
    Any thoughts?

    Reply
  10. Jackie S

    What a coincidence that your newsletter arrived today. I have been happily enjoying an 8 week vacation on an island. I have 3 grown daughters with the middle one estranged. She is mentally exhausting her other two sisters to side with her against me. I have taken the stance to let her go but she can’t keep it between her and me. She won’t stop until she explodes the entire family.

    I continue to read your book and newsletters. I mostly want peace for me, my other girls and grandchildren…she apparently does not.
    Thank you for what you do!

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      Jackie,
      I am so sorry you are goinh through this. More and more, I hear of these people who just want to destroy. It’s so sad (and even sick).

      Hugs, and I got such a lovely imagined picture of your vacation spot. Thank you for that.
      🙂
      Sheri McGregor

  11. Sophia

    I recently performed a wellness check on my ED. No one has seen her. She has a job now where she doesn’t come into the office. I knocked at her apartment door. She opened it. Said “No” and closed the door on me. At least I know she’s alive.

    I know now that she’s going through mental illness. That’s not helpful because I’m powerless to help her.

    I hope she seeks professional help.

    Like many here the cutoff was out of nowhere. I still have no clue what set it off except she married a very controlling man whose family routinely cut each other off.

    It’s quite sad because these estranged adult children are cutting off their families with no thought of the future.

    My next move is to keep moving on with my own life. I can’t wait for her any more.

    I’ll always love her. I just don’t understand her.

    My time is now.

    Reply
  12. Linda

    Your book has helped me enormously. My daughter has deleted me from her life. My husband died 2 years ago and I have son with severe disabilities. She has rejected him too. I still feel shock and disbelief that she could be so cold. When I read the book, it’s as tho you are speaking directly to me. Very comforting and encouraging. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      Linda, I am so grateful that it has been helpful to you. I’m so sorry about your daughter. I bet your son was devastated also. Hugs for you and him,

      Sheri McGregor

  13. Jane W.

    Oh Sheri you are my saviour, there’s so many things you have covered with that I feel so supported I will continue to work my way through abit at a time I will not curl up and die or be erased from this earth. Thank you with all my heart I’m trying to move forward now xxx

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      No, No, Jane. You are you’re own saviour. I was just lucky enough to bang a few words together that remind you of who you are: a winner, a strong woman, a good person, and with lots of energy and forward momentum for things that make sense and bring you joy, purpose, radiant health, and lots of fun.

      HUGS to you,
      Sheri McGregor

    2. Victoria

      You are very strong! I wanted to die after my daughter cut me off and still don’t know how to face the day… But it’s only a week as she told me to go and live my life and forget about her. The longest week in my life… My only child, my “best friend”… And she just walked out knowing about my illness, loneliness, poorly paid job… I’m not saying I was expecting from her anything, but knowing that I gave an adult daughter, who needed my support 24/7 before this week helped me to keep going. And then she just walked out.. And became furious when I tried to reach out.. “Go and live you life and leave me alone”

    1. rparents Post author

      Hi Rose,

      I’m glad to be of help. Keep taking positive steps forward. Even the tiniest ones count! Thank you for writing.

      HUGS,
      Sheri McGregor

  14. Sheila J.

    So grateful for this book and all of the suggestions for shedding the negative emotions associated with my daughter’s rejection. It is a difficult journey as she is my only child, but Your book and emails have helped so much.

    Reply
    1. Clare M

      Oh Sheila I feel your pain. Our only child, a boy, has rejected us as his fiancée does not like us. It is especially hard at the moment as they are having a baby. He has comprehension issues and she is exploiting that. I have finished clearing out all of his baby things that we held on to and left them at their house. We are heartbroken . What a roller coaster we are all on

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