Tag Archives: coping with an adult child’s estrangement

Making friends after estrangement

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

estrangementDuring January and February here in inland Southern California, morning frost can be a mainstay. That doesn’t stop an array of hardy perennials from carpeting the ground like the sprouts that cover a Chia Pet’s back. Some are soft, like a feathery carpet to the feet. Others, like the single-stalked stinging nettle with its serrated leaves, have a bite.

When the deep green, mint-like stinging nettle plants first emerge, they’re difficult to discern among the plant variety that grows here. But walk barefoot and you’ll know it’s present. That’s what happened to my puppy, Gingersnap, whose little feet got stung by the nettle. The next day she was wary—and who could blame her?

Gingersnap had to learn that some plants sting. Others don’t.

estrangement

Beyond the sting

For parents of estranged adults, making friends can feel as scary. I know the feeling of talking about the estrangement and being met with judgment. Once or twice is all it takes to make us wary of telling more. Just as Gingersnap hesitated before stepping into any new growth, we might be fearful of stepping into new friendships.

If you’re like so many parents of estranged adult children who are lonely but fearful when it comes to making friends, read on for a few tips. Not all people bite, and a tiny foray into small talk can not only get you started but have big benefits for you and your life.

Making friends after estrangement: Start small

The benefits of casual interaction are bigger than you think. Chat with the supermarket clerk, share a thought with the postal carrier, or make small talk with someone pumping gas alongside you. Those who enjoy many social interactions, even with weak social ties, are happier and have an increased sense of belonging than those who don’t.

That’s good news for people who may be feeling extra cautious or whose self-confidence has taken a hit. Making small talk is an art in and of itself, and one that can be learned. Not all small talk leads to deeper friendships, and that’s not the point, but it’s good practice and can raise confidence.

Define what friendship means to you

If you’re seeking friendships, first define what you really want. Your lifestyle, schedule, and social style will dictate the best types of friendships for you, as well as help you find them. Ask yourself:

  • How much time do I have to devote to friends? Some hope for constant companions. Other people are happier with more time alone and prefer seeing friends at planned intervals.
  • What are my boundaries? Do you want friends who feel free to call on you at all hours or stop in for unexpected visits?
  • What does friendship mean to me? A writer friend once told me she has her tennis friends, her art friends, her book club friends. . . . While she may occasionally see friends outside their respective groups, her friendships are largely based on mutual interests. Her description contrasts with another friend who considers these group-related friends “associates.”

 Consider what you want in a friend as well as what sort of friend you will be. Maybe you’re like my writer friend whose schedule is always full. Or perhaps you would enjoy fewer groups and a close friend or two who will respect your boundaries and need for solitude.

Friendship facts

Friends are good for us. Those with strong social relationships are more satisfied and live longer. Cultivating a few close ties is worth the effort, so even if you’ve been hurt in the past, it’s wise to try.

Making good friends takes time. A recent study found that it takes around 50 hours for someone to go from an acquaintance to a casual friend and another 90 or more to grow even closer.

Friendship takes interest. Despite the discovery about how many hours forming good relationships can take, more than time is required to create friendships. To grow close, you need to show an interest in the other person and feel the same interest coming your way.

Making friends after estrangement: Know yourself

Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Some people are energized by a crowd and love interacting all day every day. Others feel drained by even moderate amounts of group time. Some feel enlivened in the short run but can later start to feel weary. When looking for ways to make friends, choose situations that are a fit for you.

Finding groups of like interest can foster friendships. Already having something in common with a stranger is like getting a head start. Join a meetup.com group or volunteer for a cause you believe in. If you feel good in a crowd, consider situations where you will be at your best. Maybe you volunteer somewhere with lots of social interaction and people to talk with. More of an introvert? Consider quieter situations such as working one-on-one with people who need help learning to read. Or walk pets at your local animal shelter. Then engage in small talk with other volunteers. Brief, positive interactions can set the groundwork for deeper connections.

Are you the type who will feel more at ease if you have a bit more control of your social situation? Consider starting a group yourself. Meetup.com offers both public and private settings, so you can be extra cautious about who can see your profile online. If you’re the one heading up a group, you also get to choose the purpose as well as how often and where (a public place) the group will meet.

Where I live, there’s an online community group (Nextdoor) that helps neighbors connect. I’ve seen people start hiking and book clubs, a sewing group, and even a morning dog walk. Imagine how you might fit. Maybe the security of your four-legged pal in tow is right for you, or you have a closet full of sewing supplies you could share with new friends.

Be a friend

The best way to make a friend is to be one. The old saw is as relevant today as ever. Bring treats or something from your garden to share with the team down at work. Offer to help when a moment presents itself. Just holding a door, offering to refill a coffee cup, or asking if anyone needs something from the corner store since you’re going anyway, reveal that you are kind, friendly, and interested in other people’s feelings. Maybe you’re not a witty conversationalist or need time to feel your way toward trust. Your good will, demonstrated through acts of kindness, sends a positive message and makes you a friend.

To deepen friendships, you’ll eventually need to talk about yourself. As you become more comfortable, sharing bits about your life makes others feel at ease sharing bits about their own. Disclosing information about ourselves, as it turns out, makes us more likeable. We also feel closer to those with whom we share  Of course, there are limits to sharing. A friend isn’t a place to dump all our emotional trash.

Social anxiety after estrangement

Emerging from the shadow of an abusive relationship, which is true of some parents of estranged adult children, can cause social anxiety. Some parents are out of touch with their own value. They wonder where they fit and whether anyone would like them. After years of eggshell walking, careful not to state an opinion that will start a tirade, it can be difficult to converse at all. In our increasingly “social” world, it can feel as if everyone else is outgoing and has a million friends. A quieter person might wonder if they seem strange, but there must be a reason we have two ears and one mouth. A friend with a quiet nature can be a welcome change in a noisy, look-at-me world.

Worth the work

Try not to get discouraged. Just as Gingersnap had to learn which plants would sting, and which were fun to get closer to, finding companions with whom we can truly connect and trust takes time and patience. This may be especially true after complex issues such as estrangement muck up our lives and self-confidence.

estrangementRemember, friends come in all shapes and sizes. Finding good ones is worth the work.  Friends can help build our confidence and lend a caring ear (or shoulder!) that can buffer stress and even boost our immunity and overall health.

References:
Sandstrom and Dunn (July, 2014). Social Interactions and Well-Being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Holt-Lunstad et al. (2010). Social Relationships and Mortality Risk. PLoS Medicine.

Hall, Jeffrey A (2018). How many hours does it take to make a friend? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Hall, Jeffrey A., and Daniel Cochece Davis (2017). Proposing the communicate bond belong theory: Evolutionary intersections with episodic interpersonal communication. Communication Theory, 27.1: 21-47.

Collins and Miller (1994). Self-Disclosure and Liking. Psychological Bulletin.

Uchino, B.N. (2006). Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 29: 377. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-006-9056-5

Related reading:

Beyond the Shadow of Estrangement

 

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 rejectedparents.net, 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

The Boat

think about yourself instead of grown childrenA Grown Child’s Rejection: The Boat

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Parents of estranged children may suffer insults, be called names, and be told they never did enough. They have fond memories of their sweet children, and recall themselves as always giving. To the best of their ability, these parents were generous, kind, and supportive. But their estranged adult children tell a different story. Maybe they say these moms and dads who did their best should never have had children. They’re told they weren’t rich enough to provide graduate school, didn’t let their sons or daughters do enough when they were kids, didn’t give them music lessons . . . You fill in the blanks.

We can’t control their perception any more than we can control their adult behavior. At some point, adults are responsible for their own lives. They can blame, inflict pain and abandon us. They may leave us struggling in their wake—-but we don’t have to stay there.

We cannot go back and change the past. If we feel we have done something wrong, we can apologize, ask for forgiveness and to try again, but we can’t force our children to participate in our future.

We can make the best possible decisions now though. We can think of ourselves rather than our grown children. We can make choices to benefit ourselves, and act on them. Right or wrong, our estranged adult children have decided what they’ve decided.

Will you remain the wake of your grown child’s rejection?

Imagine your child is on a boat, and that you are in the water below. See your son or daughter dropping all sorts of poison off the back of the boat. Imagine the angry, stinking words they have flung at you. See those poisonous words hitting the water with a splash. Acrid smoke rises from them. It stings your eyes, fills your lungs so you can barely breathe. You feel as if you’ll choke.

You cough and gag. But your child isn’t done yet. A net rises from the murky depths, stretching across the open water. You can’t swim toward the boat without getting caught, tangled in a hurting web you don’t understand. Your child throws out hooks, spills out chum that attracts vicious sharks.

Dazed and confused, you call out. “Wait. Help. Can’t we talk?”  But your child takes the helm. The boat speeds away.

See the wake of the boat, feel the choppy waves, smell the acrid fumes rising from their spiteful words, and see those sharks. . . . Now, what do you do?

Do you stay in that spot, paralyzed, barely able to hold your head above water as the sharks lunge and bite at the net?

Do you wait there, expending precious energy as you tread water, determined you can fix this no matter what? The horrible toxic clouds fill your lungs. . . .

Do you swim toward the net, determined to cut through, and put yourself in shark-infested waters to follow despite your grown child’s rejection of you?

Or … do you turn, and look for a way to save yourself?

You see a shore in the distance. The beach looks lonely, and uncertain. It’s a brand new world there. Not what you expected to be facing at this point in your life. You don’t know what a future there holds.

Swim to shore.

It’s like this when our lives take a sudden unexpected turn. We can view potential shores as scary and uncertain, and decide to stay in the wake of a boat that’s left us. We might even convince ourselves that staying still, waiting for our child to come back, despite the horrible poison and threats to our survival is what a good mother or father would do. Our child will come back . . . won’t she?

The boat gets smaller on the horizon. The sharks are lunging and biting at the net. The angry words are spilling out an ugly, contaminating slick.

Despite what’s happening, we might feel compelled to swim after the boat. Isn’t following our child, despite the horrors, what a truly good parent would do?  After all, isn’t a parents’ love unconditional?

We look back toward the shore, but . . . what will others think if we turn away from our own child, and swim to safety?

Imagine yourself in the water.

Do you see the sharks? Feel the poison burning your lungs? Can you see your estranged adult child, getting smaller and smaller as the boat speeds away—-yet somehow he looms so very large?

Maybe the boat whips around, and roars close. Your child tosses out a life ring. Relieved and grateful, you reach for it—-this nightmare is finally over!

Then your child snatches back the rope.

abandoned parentsMaybe your child doesn’t yell at you from the boat. Maybe she never flung out ugly accusations. Maybe your child only sped away, and left you in open water. You’re still in their wake, growing more weary as the water closes in on you.

What do you do?

I know this is melodramatic, but when we’re faced with the utter shock of a child we have loved and supported turning on us, we can feel just as threatened. The choice we face is similar. The shore where we can get out of the water, escape the sharks and the poison may look lonely and uncertain, but what is the alternative?

Get out of the water.

Turn and swim to the shore. You may find sunny beaches, creative sandcastles, and refreshing waterfalls. Perhaps there will be a storm, cliffs to climb, or you’ll have to bushwhack to find a rewarding path. If you try though, you’re sure to find banana and coconut trees, perhaps even pineapples athink of yourself instead of grown childrennd friends.

Get out of the water. When you do, you’ll find there are people who parents of estranged adult childrencare and are willing to help. You may find yourself walking along a shore of pretty shells. And as was posted on the Help & Healing for Parents of Estranged Adult Children Facebook page recently, a passerby may ask, Shell we have a good day? How will you respond?  Get the book–and get out of the boat for good.

 

Related articles:

Emotional scars after an adult child’s estrangement

Taking Care of Yourself

Reinvent yourself

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How to cope when your adult child cuts you out of their life

coping when adult child is estrangedHow to cope when your adult child cuts you out of their life

by Sheri McGregor

Parents of estranged adult children often email me asking, “How can I cope?” When your adult child cuts you out of his life, the pain can feel unbearable. I know from my own experience, and from the 2000 parents of estranged adults who have contacted me in the last ten months, that it’s normal to feel anger, guilt, sadness, shame, and a host of other emotions we’re not familiar with and don’t know how to handle.

While each situation is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all cure, parents of estranged adult children can get through this, find acceptance, and even peace. As a mom who has been through this, I’ll offer some thoughts from my own experience, and from what other parents of estranged adults who have gotten past this and moved on to enjoy their lives have shared. I hope you find something here helpful.

Most fathers and mothers of estranged adults try try to repair things. They reach out by writing letters to estranged adult children. They also call, email and send texts in an attempt to find out what’s wrong and try to make things right. But what do you do beyond that, when no satisfactory reconcilation occurs? That’s the focus here. I’ve outlined some brief points for coping with an adult child’s estrangement, getting on with your life, and finding a way to live happily and successfully.

First, as is true in other areas of life, you cannot control another adults’ behavior. You can, though, make sound decisions about your own. Accept and commit to that, in order to get past the pain.

Then, take a look at these ideas, and adopt what you can. You may find that some are easier than others, or that some don’t fit at all. Or, you may come back to these later and have a new perspective. Do what you can. Discard what doesn’t feel right. Take control. You can get through this.

Ideas for coping when your adult child cuts you out of their life.

  • Allow yourself to grieve – – this is a shocking loss.
  • Don’t try to pretend all is well, but along with (or after) crying, being angry, etc., begin to take action toward making yourself (your feelings) and your life (how you spend your time) better.
  • Think of other hard things you’ve gotten through, and tell yourself you CAN and WILL get through this too.coping when an adult child is estranged
  • Accept that your future is different than you expected … and accept the uncertainty that goes with an adult child’s estrangement. Then allow yourself to believe you can have a good future, even though your path has taken a twist.
  • Get involved in new things, old things that make you happy … activities you can enjoy. See Lila’s story.
  • Catch yourself in the act of feeling bad about what you can’t change, and stop the negative thoughts. Shift your perspective.
  • If you can’t figure out what happened, make a decision to give up asking why. Or settle on an answer for the moment (i.e., he’s following his wife to save his marriage, there’s some other problem you don’t know about, there’s mental illness of some sort, an addiction, etc and so on … whatever fits). Let it go. Some things just can’t be understood.
  • Focus on the good relationships, and the good parts of your life — and multiply them.
  • Don’t worry about the judgment of other people, and forgive them for it. But also protect yourself from people who are hurtful to you.
  • Find activities that fulfill your need to give and receive (love, help, generosity, kindness, etc).

Life can be difficult when expectations are shattered, and people we love and have devoted ourselves to so deeply hurt us. It’s also difficult to move on after a devastating loss, but it is possible to reclaim happiness. Reach out and you will find support among other parents of estranged adult children.

Below, I’ve listed some related articles that parents seeking ways to cope after an adult child’s estrangement have said were helpful. You can also navigate to all of my posts by opening the menus in the site’s righthand sidebar marked “Answers to Common Questions,” and “What Parents Can Do.”

Copyright Notice: All content of any post or page found on any page at this site is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. To share with others, provide a link to the page where the content is found. Reposting of any content is not permitted without express permission. Please see Copyright Notice/Restrictions in the right-hand sidebar for complete copyright notice

Five Ways to Move On After an Adult Child’s Rejection

Dealing with Undertainty

Why do I feel guilt?

Why forgive?

New Year’s Resolution: Shake it free