Disappointing relationships with adult children:
Help for the roller coaster ride this autumn
by Sheri McGregor
In my area, the leaves are just starting to flutter softly from the trees. Oak acorns and the tiny feet of red fox squirrels pitter-patter on the roof. It’s autumn, a time of letting go and preparing for what’s ahead. These activities are a perfect fit for parents anguished by disappointing relationships with adult children.
Autumn always reminds me of family outings and trips when my children were growing up. After the busy summer, when everyone’s traveling, we went to theme parks in the off-season of fall.
I’m not big on thrill rides. I was often the one waiting in line with my loved ones, not wanting to drag down their fun, yet sometimes exiting through the last possible turnstile out. Over the years, I’ve measured fun versus fright and climbed aboard a few. As I strapped in, my neck muscles cramped and my heartbeat pounded in my ears. The ride jolted forward, and I wondered how the people around me could laugh with expectant delight all the way up the clackety tracks to the peak. Meanwhile, my whole body was tensing with fear.
The last thing I’d see before squeezing my eyes shut were excited riders raising their hands high with glee. Then whoosh! Down we’d go, me gripping the bar so tightly my hands would hurt. Finally, with the final splash and the sound of jaunty music ushering the log or car to a sudden stop, I’d open my eyes and smile—glad to get off but often faced with another decision—my companions wanted to go again.
Life can be similar when it comes to disappointing relationships with adult children. We tire of the ups and downs but feel compelled to try again, to get back on the emotional ride.
How will you wait?
Every roller coaster includes a line and a final chance to change your mind. Knowing there was a possible out ahead, I learned to enjoy the wait. I used the time to joke around with my companions, relish the excitement of kids eager to get on board the ride ahead, and witness the joy of families when they disembarked and ran to find their picture at the photo booth. Or, just savor a much-needed caffeinated drink. The wait is the same when it comes to disappointing relationships with adult children. We can choose to spend our time torn and distressed, or we can seek out people and activities to savor, finding the good in our lives and experiences.
Disappointing relationships with adult children: You can choose
At the crest of every coaster, there’s a moment of no return. Over the years, I’ve learned that lifting my arms high helps me fare better or even enjoy the descent. Rather than holding on so tightly that my knuckles bruise and my muscles ache for days, I can bounce along in my seat, even keeping my eyes open to see the end getting closer.
All riders have experienced the instant of descent when our gut hesitates. We don’t have a choice about that, but we can borrow from the experience and learn. We can grip so tightly we hurt ourselves, or we can lift our arms in surrender. We can let go.
When it comes to our sons and daughters, even when we know it’s time to disembark the relationship roller coaster, we may feel compelled to stay on the ride. We may cling to disappointing relationships. Adult children are our flesh and blood. Aren’t we supposed to remain connected?
That’s what we learned and believed. However, even as parents, you have the right to choose. You get to decide when you’ve had enough—and you know what? It’s okay to protect yourself, to move forward, to treasure your life. Give yourself permission to get off the ride and gravitate to the sights and sounds of autumn such as the colorful fallen leaves, pumpkin spice lattes, and steaming apple cider.
A time of transition
As the leaves fall and nature grows still, there is work taking place beneath the surface. There is preparation for the new growth and enlightenment of the coming spring. Won’t you join in with the natural thrust of the autumn season? Subscribe to my newsletter so you’ll receive notice of updates here at the site. You can leave comments and interact with other parents who’ve also experienced abuse, rejection, and otherwise disappointing relationships with adult children. You’ll also want to read my books, engage with the exercises, and join thousands of others who are approaching the point of being “done” with the crying and adopting new avenues of fulfillment and joy. Use these resources to help you do the work necessary to enjoy your life while you wait or get off the coaster ride entirely. Prepare for your coming spring.