Tag Archives: estranged adult children

Estrangement: When letting go hurts

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Michelle, a mother of three whose two daughters are estranged, said that after four years, everyone else was moving on. “No one wanted to talk about the girls anymore,” she says. “No one seemed to miss them anymore,

Michelle still wanted to hold the good memories and to speak of her daughters as if they would one day return. The people around her had come to an ending point. For her own good, they wanted Michelle to accept the estrangement, too.

“But accepting their estrangement felt like saying good-bye to hope,” says Michelle.

Estrangement: Destinations unknown

estrangement between parents and adult childrenAs a mother who had given her all to her children, Michelle felt that letting go was like abandoning her daughters as well as everything she stood for.

Parents like Michelle may continue to reach out repeatedly despite harsh replies. Or, they cry for days afterward when the only answer is silence. Some may have stopped attempting contact and accept the reality of estrangement “for now.” Yet when faced with the idea that estrangement might be permanent, they fall into depression or describe themselves as “numb.”

“As long as I felt hope, there was a reason to go on,” says Michelle. “Without the belief that the estrangement would one day change, my life seemed to have no destination.”

Before estrangement, there were assumed expectations: marriages, births, and year-to-year traditions that bring families close and connect the generations to the past, the present, and the future. Estrangement disrupts the expected pattern.

estrangement between parents and adult childrenIt’s as if the future is an endless sea, with no shore in sight. Even when other children and family members remain close and loving, estrangement may loom in the present as well as in the past. Or even worse, on the horizon of possibility, placing a pall on relationships with other children.

Estrangement: Does the mourning end?

Maybe it’s you who is done with the sorrow and stress of estrangement, and you want your spouse or other relatives to move on, too. You’re tired of talking about your son or daughter, reliving the pain, the shock, or the disbelief. Or maybe you’re like Michelle, who feels a sort of second abandonment, because no one around her holds out hope.  Perhaps you have come to accept the estrangement but discover a secondary sort of grief in the process.

Wherever you fit, your feelings are not so unusual. It’s okay to feel hurt at the very idea of moving on without your son or daughter or even grandchildren in your life. It’s normal to wish it were different, or to feel a sense of guilt in getting on with your life. It’s not unusual to feel different than your spouse or other relatives do, or to recognize that accepting the reality of estrangement brings its own sorrow.  These types of emotions (and more) are ordinary stops on the estrangement journey.

estrangement between parents and adult childrenIf you’re parked in a place of withdrawal, guilt, shame, anger, sadness or feeling numb, get the support you need. For some, reading and doing the exercises in Done With The Crying has been enough. Others have found that meeting with a therapist provides a safe space to gain perspective. Or they utilize the peer community here, where members understand and empathize.

It’s wise to mourn the loss. It’s fine to mourn the abandonment you may feel when no one around you wants to keep the estrangement alive in the present, too. But you also must recognize that a season of mourning is just that: a season. We are not meant to be forever sad. Even in the uncertainty of estrangement, we have the right to be happy today.

None of this means we must forget our child, the love we once shared, or even give up hope that the love will be restored. But we cannot let estrangement debilitate us.

Tell me something good

In a recent Huffington Post article, I was one of several who spoke positively about talking to yourself. In my book, I tell parents to pay attention to the things they tell themselves. Mindfulness is discussed in the early pages, because being mindful brings awareness of what you think and the words you mutter to yourself and others. When it comes to healing from estrangement, those things matter.

Now more than ever, it’s important to take care of yourself. Falling into a habit of negative thinking and unhelpful self-talk never helps. Neither does catastrophizing or believing that you will “never” get over the pain.

You might as well tell yourself something that helps. Here are a few ideas:

“I was a good parent. One day they will realize that and return to me. So right now, I’m making the most of my life.”

“I can’t watch her right now, but God is.”

“Whether he comes back next week, years from now, or never, if I live well now, I won’t have wasted my life worrying.”

“I wish him well. I wish me well, too.”

“I may not like this, but I can learn to live despite it.”

“When he comes back, he’ll find me happy and strong.”

The truth about reconciling

estrangement between parents and adult childrenWhile we may imagine a happy reunion where everything falls right into place, often there are complications. If you’re in a long-term estrangement, accept the reality, even if it’s with a “for now” mentality. Then concentrate on your health and happiness. In so doing, you will be prepared when (or if) your child wants to reconcile at a future point (if you’re willing).

The truth is, your strength and well-being will be necessary to see any reconciliation through. Strength to help a daughter who desperately wants a relationship but who struggles with an issue you previously knew nothing about. Strength to stand firm and demand equanimity—even when a reconciled relationship feels like it’s going south again. Strength to admit mistakes, yet not forever pay penance or remain in guilt. Strength to forgive. Strength to move away from communication or family patterns that, in the space of estrangement, you may recognize as less than healthy.  Strength to remain true to yourself despite false accusations or baiting. And even the strength to say no, if the reconciliation will not work.

If you have reconciled, will you share your thoughts in my short survey?

Okay with estrangement

As counterintuitive as it may seem, being “okay” with the estrangement can help you prepare for a future reconciliation. You don’t have to give up hope. Just park it on a shelf for the time being. For some, that means keeping a memento in plain sight that allows you to wish your child well despite what’s happened. It could be something like the little wooden bird I wrote about putting out over the holidays. For others, it’s saying “enough” and no longer talking about the estrangement when you drive near a certain area or experience some other emotional trigger (as was written about here). Maybe you need to limit discussing the estrangement to a few minutes a day or relegate it to prayer.

If you’re like Michelle, and want to keep the good memories alive, consider writing them down. Slips of paper with specific memories you can pull from a jar and think about may help you feel connected not only to your memories but to what a good parent you have always been.

Of course, you will need to determine whether you’re at a point where reflecting in this way will be helpful rather than hurtful. For those new to estrangement, recalling happy times may be painful. You may want to consider the articles linked in this one and at the bottom for help that fits where you’re at in the estrangement journey.

estrangement between parents and adult childrenYour turn

What can you tell yourself that’s good? What would you say to Michelle?

Related Reading

Estrangement: What about hope?

Prodigal children: How many adult child return?

Estrangement: Are you an octopus mom?

Freedom

Parents of Estranged Adults:
Are you tyrannized by the painful emotions?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

estranged adultsAnother year has rolled around to Independence Day. America gained its independence 241 years ago. But do you feel free now? Or are you tyrannized by painful emotions caused by an estranged son or daughter?

For some parents of estranged adult children, the shock is so new that disbelief sets in. You can’t imagine the cutting-off could possibly continue. Yet you worry how long it will, and how much time is passing. Emotionally raw, your mind plays and replays vile words or a torturous final scene. Troubling dreams wake you in the night—if you sleep at all.

I know the agony of feeling powerless over a situation. I’ve suffered the tears, anger, and bitterness that result when an adult child walks away.

But I also know those feelings can change. With a conscious decision and proactive steps to support yourself, parents of estranged adults don’t have to remain in pain.

Independence

I can honestly tell you that my heart no longer aches for my estranged adult son. If I sat and dwelled on the experience, then I could conjure up and recall the pain. But doing so would be a choice. Although it feels odd, maybe even harsh to say, the truth is, I don’t think of him all that often anymore. My life has moved forward. I have stepped into new places and situations. There is good in my life—and there are also more pressing hurts.

My estranged son lives his life, and I live mine. On the occasions he comes to mind, I wish him well. There’s no more imagining the what-ifs. No more putting myself through the torture of wondering whether he’ll come back. I don’t contemplate whether he’s okay, if I’ll ever meet his children, see him again, or even hear his voice.

I made a decision not to ask the questions that lead to endless loops:

  • Why did this happen?
  • What happens if he comes back?
  • Where did I go wrong?

Instead of wondering why he made his choices, I think: Why go there?

Even for parents of estranged adults: Peace in the present

It helps to have processed the hurt, examined where the
experience has changed me and my estranged adultother relationships, hopes, and dreams. Taking steps to make changes where they help, and make important decisions for the future can set the mind at ease. In my book, you’ll find ways to explore the future and make those sorts of decisions. How far will you go to reconcile, and what does that word mean? How does your estranged adult child fit into the end of your life—and how will your decision affect the others who are important to you? Realistically contemplating these and other situations, making decisions, and taking practical steps toward them paves the way for peace in the present.

Love

Many parents write to me about unconditional love. The word “unconditional” implies that love is not withdrawn for any reason. Does that mean we’re required to put ourselves in danger to fulfill this sort of love? Does loving another human being, an adult child, mean that we allow them to hurt us forever?

I love my son. But it’s love that’s sort of frozen in time. I remember the cuteness of him, the curves of his young face taken over by angles as he matured, the way his eyes lit, the strength of him not to flinch when his brow was stitched as a young boy. I remember my pride when a teacher complimented him. Or, as he grew into a strong young man, the way he calculated the space between things—demonstrated by a ball tossed to the basket or in eyeballing a length of string that he cut to perfectly fit. I remember the amazing things, and feel glad to have been a part of them.

If I really wanted to, I could think of him now in a similar way. I could imagine him as a husband who loves his wife and as a son-in-law who honors her parents. As a man, he must go about his days being courteous to others he meets along the way. And I can stop there. I don’t have to examine and re-examine the things he doesn’t do. The years we spent together were a season, a time. Now I’m in a new time. To be fair, so is he.

Where are you?

We can get stuck in the disappointment. We can put ourselves back in the hurt. Or we can move on.

Some parents of estranged adult children continue to reach out and try. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you choose to do so, it’s wise to honor yourself in the process. Set some goals that support your well-being. Contemplate practical issues such as how often you’ll reach out, how you’ll handle the possible disappointment of being rejected yet again, and how you feel about the choices you make—there’s help in my book for those things.

Among the thousands of parents in sustained estrangements who have shared their thoughts with me, the ones who have reclaimed happiness also stop putting themselves in the way of continued hurt. It’s a choice we make whether to give an estranged adult child the opportunity to continue to inflict pain. We can let the person know we’re willing, if at some point, they change their mind. We can set boundaries. We can decide what we would need from any future relationship. We can even change our mind at any time. And we can go on with our lives before it’s too late.

Stepping out

We can heal. The research, examples, question sets, and exercises in my book are designed to help you move forward one step at a time.  Parents of estranged adults can support themselves with self-compassion, our own wisdom, and the help of others who have walked a similar path. As thousands of parents will tell you, the path ahead gets brighter.

Related:

Spring cleaning for parents when adult children want no contact

Estranged from adult children: Take care of yourself

Is your adult child estranged? Be careful

Is your adult child estrangedadult child estranged? Be careful.
by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Around the time of my son’s estrangement, I dropped a heavy piece of equipment on my big toe. Many months later when the fracture healed, I fell, and broke that toe again.

Like many other parents of estranged children confide, I seemed accident prone. Some tell of car accidents, or falls, kitchen cuts, and other mishaps. Could an increase in accidents and injuries be related to estrangement?

Adult child estranged? Be forewarned

On a trip to San Francisco’s China Town some years ago, a steep flight of stairs led down to a basement sales floor. As shoppers descended, a soft voice on a recording repeatedly cautioned, “Watch your step. Be careful of stairs. Have a nice day. Watch your step. Be careful of stairs. Have a nice day.”

As you navigate the stress of an adult child’s estrangement, be forewarned: emotional distress can make you accident prone. So keep these cautions in mind: Watch what you’re doing.  Be careful. Keep yourself safe.

The ongoing stress and anxiety that plagues parents of estranged adults can have side effects. Are you losing sleep? Then you won’t be as alert to danger or as quick to react. Are you forever thinking of your estranged adult child? Preoccupation can put you at risk for injury. If you’re like many parents of estranged adults, feeling sad and lonely, and perhaps still in shock, you may also have dropped healthy exercise routines that aid physical coordination and balance. As a result, you may slip, trip, or fall into a series of mishaps that hurt.

In a study of more than 5,000 men reported on in the January, 2014 issue of Age & Ageing, stressful life events correlated significantly with increased falls. And the risk grew with the occurrence of additional stressful life events. In my book to help parents when an adult child is estranged, you can read about Rowena who is hit with a number of taxing life events at once (as are many of you). Using a method I call P-B-&-J, Rowena took control. She made a careful plan that prioritized tasks and got things done. Taking charge provided Rowena a sort of road map to face her challenges, and stay aware of her needs and actions. Whether you have many life stresses or estrangement alone has shaken your world, awareness of potential risk can help to protect you.

Adult child estranged? Then be careful.
Remain focused. Live one moment at a time.

adult child estrangedIn a 2010 workplace study, researchers found that ongoing emotional stress was particularly predictive of injuries.  An adult child’s estrangement, with all its uncertainties and dashed hopes, brings just that type of emotional distress.

Distraction over emotional issues leads to poor safety habits. Our minds may be divided, which means we’re less likely to notice a pool of water on the floor—and slip. As we cut carrots, or reach into the oven to retrieve a hot dish, our thoughts might be elsewhere—leading to cuts and burns. Exhausted emotionally, and perhaps even physically because of fitful sleep with vivid dreams, parents of estranged adult children may trip over a bump in the sidewalk we just don’t notice, or miss seeing the traffic light change to red.

Maybe you’re more forgetful, too, which can complicate matters, make life feel out of control, and increase stress. One mother of an estranged adult son went to the doctor to have her stitches from a careless kitchen accident removed. While there, she lost her car keys in the medical building. Distraught by the sudden mishap, she hurried back toward the doors, tripped over the curb and fell, breaking both wrists.

Mindfulness can help

The first chapter of Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children provides examples of mindfulness to help with negative thinking and move parents into a calmer, more helpful state of mind. The same principle of staying fully present in the moment, rather than letting thoughts drift into painful rumination about the past or uncertain speculation about the future can protect you from accidental injury, and help with forgetfulness too.

If you’re like many parents who confide they’re extra clumsy since the estrangement began, awareness is a good first step to taking better care of yourself. As you go about your day, remind yourself of what you’re doing, where you’re going, and to take extra care—just as that soft voice on the narrow stairway in that China Town shop reminds customers.

Remaining in the moment helps you see potential dangers. Fully absorbed in your current activity, you’re more likely to notice a rock in the hiking path or an upturned rug in the hall. You’ll be better prepared to react as well—to a car that pulls out in front of you, a stray ball that flies at you in the park, or to a kind friend’s story or joke.

Prune out extras

One of the strategies among those sprinkled throughout Done With The Crying, is something past clients have used to calm the chaos in their lives. In times of extra stress, it can help to see your life as a beautiful bouquet. You can’t keep adding flowers to an already full vase. Even the loveliest arrangement requires trimming some stems and removing some flowers as they fade. Take a look at your life bouquet. Where can you trim and simplify? By reducing your commitments, even by a little, you’ll have more time to focus. Hurrying from one commitment to the next and multitasking only make you scattered, and inhibit concentration. Do yourself a favor and prune a few non-necessities from your life. It’s a small step toward thriving in the midst of estrangement stress. You’ll have more time to pause between tasks as well. The time to take a deep breath, give yourself a pep talk, or remind yourself of any good in your life.

Support yourself physically

Earlier, I mentioned exercise for its helpful properties in terms of balance and coordination—two things that can help in preventing accidents. While it’s not wise to jump into a vigorous exercise regime that may only add stress, and increase risk of injury, gentle physical training can help. Like a gradually increasing walking routine. Or perhaps the Qui Gong title I recommend in my book.

Sleep is also important to keep you strong and alert. An upcoming article will include ideas for better rest for parents suffering distress when their adult child is estranged. Meanwhile, utilize the strategies in my book that resonate with you, and make a practice of being mindful in the moment.

In short, watch what you’re doing.  Be careful. Keep yourself safe.

Have you found yourself accident prone since the estrangement? Feel free to leave a comment.

Adult child’s rejection: Emotional and social fallout

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Things aren’t always as they seem. Neither are people. In the throes of disbelief, shocked by an adult child’s rejection, a parent may feel all alone among their peers. How can any mother feel like herself when her whole world seems to have fallen apart? How can a father feel secure when everything he’s ever worked for is trashed?

When we’re emotiadult child's rejectiononally exhausted—and even physically fatigued from the loss of sleep that can go with an adult child’s rejection—we can start to doubt ourselves. And how much more so when the son or daughter we love puts the blame on us, maybe even saying that we’re crazy? Or telling others we are.

Alone among our peers

When we’re feeling so low over something as devastating and embarrassing as an adult child’s rejection, we tend to isolate ourselves. Confused, perhaps even doubting ourselves, we may not have the energy to try and explain what’s going on in our lives. But we also know people might notice that we’re not our usual selves. Afraid of questions, we might start to avoid social situations. We might also fear judgment. How can we share something so awful?

Esther—one of the dozens of mothers whose stories I relate in my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, felt like this:  If I still wondered what I did wrong, how could I expect other people not to wonder?

When we’re feeling uncertain and uneasy, socializing can be difficult (after an adult child’s rejection, that may be putting it mildly).

When your own son or daughter doesn’t believe you’re a good parent, tells you you’re crazy, or accuses you with memories that don’t match your own, even telling friends you trust and feel close to can feel scary.

Isolating the abused is a tactic out of a very old playbook. So is pinning the fault on the victim. That’s what abusers do. They excuse their own behavior by blaming another.

Abuse?

Whether or not you consider your adult child’s rejection a form of abuse, it’s important to recognize that at a time when you’re emotionally wrought, feeling as if your whole world and everything you’ve ever worked for has disintegrated, you’re at risk. Isolation, self-doubt, and self-blame, are common among parents of estranged adult children. But you need to know—you’re not alone.

Talking about your adult child’s estrangement takes a plan.

When we’re feeling out of sorts, in shock, and embarrassed, it’s difficult to believe we’re not the only ones enduring such devastation. But the truth is, we don’t always hear about adult children who come from caring families rejecting them. Just as you may feel like the freak show among your peers, others might also be keeping quiet about their personal pain.

In the book, I share my own story of shedding the shame of my son’s estrangement. In doing so, I regained a sense of freedom, and reclaimed a strong identity. Being open about the situation also paved the way for me to help other parents of estranged of adult children.

If you tell others about your adult child’s rejection, you may very well be judged. Faces tighten. Arms fold. Emotional walls go up. The expected reaction often does happen. But as is explained in Done With The Crying, you can also steer the response, just as you might with some other sort of tragedy you choose to share.

Whether you borrow from other parents’ “ready responses” in the book, or use them as jumping off points for your own, it’s always easier to socialize when you feel prepared.

You might be also be surprised how many people can relate. As one mother discusses, until she opened up, she didn’t know that some parents who were a little standoffish also had estranged children.Turns out, those parents who were hard to get to know were suffering their own private despair—just as she once was. “I ended up helping them get something horrible off their chests,” she says, “which made me feel better too.”

Even though socializing may be difficult, the general advice after trauma is to mix among people, keep commitments, and get on with life. You may very well need to protect yourself, get your bearings, and regain some self-esteem. My experience, and that of other mothers shared in the book, can help you take small steps forward, steer others’ reactions to your own benefit. Remember, there’s no need to make big scary leaps. Even the tiniest of steps help you build confidence, and move you forward—in new directions, or simply back to your old self and life.

Available through popular booksellers. Ask your local bookstore to order this book for help for mothers of estranged adult childrenparents of estranged adult children for you. Or order online. Kindle lovers, your version will be available soon.

Not in the U.S?  — you can still get the book. Ask your local bookstore, or order at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com/uk

 

Happy Mother’s Day

estranged mothers mother's dayTo all the hurting moms of estranged adult children – – celebrate yourselves. Mother’s day is set aside to honor all the amazing women who give and care and laugh and love and bring so much joy.

To so many of you mothers of estranged adults who have written to me about your experiences, commented in the forum, left replies to my posts at the site, or emailed to say thanks for the articles here . . . it’s my turn to thank YOU. For your encouragement, your sharing, and for all the love you give.

To mothers of estranged adults everywhere – –  you are beautiful. You are worthy. You are valuable.

Laugh, love, be with others, or isolate yourself. Do whatever YOU need to do to have a good Mother’s Day. Here are 6 ideas.

And here is a beautiful photo and music montage fitting for mothers of estranged adults on Mother’s Day.

 

And here’s my new book to help:

 

Related articles:

Father’s Day when your adult child is estranged

Unexpected emotions over an estranged adult child

estranged brother, estranged adult sonMemories can spring up, bounce down when you least expect them, and bring on emotions.

The other day, when my family was together, my adult children reminisced about their childhood years here. The fun things they did around our place, the secrets they kept, the forts they built. . . . Specific good memories included their estranged brother, and for a few seconds, silence fell over the room.

Estrangement and confusion

While my family has moved forward, we are all still confused and hurt. To some extent, we may always be. An adult child’s rejection is confusing. We received no hard and fast reason for estrangement – – and from what I hear, lack of clarity is common. But even with clear reasons, memories would likely come up from time-to-time, and bring on emotional pain.

The loss of an estranged adult child  can be similar to grief over loved ones lost in death. Grief is often described as a series of stages. That’s based upon stages described by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, author of the 1969 book, On Death and Dying. In 2012 though, researchers in the journal, Mental Health Practice, describe grieving more like a pinball machine.  Events and anniversaries can trigger emotions related to the loss – – like the way my adult children’s memories bumped into their experiences of childhood spent with their now estranged brother.

Estrangement:  Handling sudden emotions

Because feelings of loss can come up at unexpected moments, thinking ahead to positive responses helps. When my kids talked about memories of their now estranged brother, it made sense to draw attention to our emotions with a simple question: “It’s still confusing why he left, isn’t it?”

As a mom, pausing on the hurt allowed me to hold up a figurative thermometer, take an emotional temperature reading, and see whether anyone needed to address the loss more specifically. I got some nods from everyone, but the conversation swiftly moved on. We were all fine, but acknowledging our feelings in that moment may have made it easier for one of my other children to bring up the subject of her estranged brother a few days later when she felt the need – – and with loss of any kind, the ongoing freedom to express feelings is necessary.

Finding supportive persons with whom you can talk, as well as providing a safe space for others in the family hurt by your adult child’s estrangement are important aspects of healing. How might you handle unexpected emotions as they occur?

Find support in the community forum: Support for parents of estranged adult children.

Related articles:

5 Ways to move on after an adult child’s rejection

Estranged from adult children: Take care of yourself

Emotional Well-Being Series
Estranged from adult children: Taking care of yourself

adult child is estrangedIn a recent post, we explored the question: Why? and how it can be helpful to parents who are estranged from adult children

It’s important to note that in order to deal with the loss, the why questions must be coupled with another set of questions, the crux of which is: How? How will I move forward? How can I keep up my strength? How can I get over this?

Answering all of these how questions involves taking care of yourself. It’s s natural to ask why after any traumatic emotional experience. When you are hurting because you are estranged from adult children, figuring out how you can get through the emotional roller coaster, move forward, and enjoy life is absolutely necessary.

After my adult child’s rejection, eating healthfully, resting, and recreation took a backseat. And sometimes, I comforted myself with unhealthy choices – – which was not helpful. I added extra weight, and exercised less. That meant having to re-start good habits, backtrack and lose the weight, etc. It was like digging deeper, so climbing out was even more difficult.

When estranged from adult children, take control, take care of yourself

When we become estranged from adult children, taking care of ourselves is necessary to deal with the stress, sadness, loss, and eventually heal. Getting into a self-care routine really helped me to feel better overall. I was better able to take control of my attitude, and my feelings about my life.

When we take good care of ourselves, we’re more likely to try new activities. We’re more likely to get up off the couch and get out into fresh air, participate in hobbies that bring us joy, and associate with friends. All of these things help us feel connected, and studies have shown that connections aid health as well as promote longevity and happiness.

Even when we’re estranged from adult children, we need to live our lives. Doing so empowers us — whether that means feeling strong enough to reach out more to an estranged child despite the possibility of disappointment, or fostering an attitude of acceptance for the time being.

Estranged from adult children: Assess your self-care

When short and quick, assessments can be useful tools to determine how well we’re taking care of ourselves. An assessment increases self-awareness and helps identify areas where we can be kinder to ourselves. If you take an assessment today, utilize the results to make changes where you see weaknesses in your self-care. Then take the assessment again. You will have a concrete picture of how you’re progressing.

Sometimes, when traumatic, emotionally unsettling events occur – – becoming estranged from adult children falls into this category! – – we can feel so out of sorts that we don’t know where to begin in caring for ourselves. Simply by its listings, a good assessment tool can help you think of ways to help yourself

Try this tool, originally created for my life coaching clients, to assess how well you’re taking care of yourself: Self Assessment RTF.

Consider also sharing your results, or how you feel about how well (or not) you’ve taken care of yourself once you became estranged from your adult children. You can leave a reply below, or post in the help for parents of estranged adult children forum.

Adult child’s rejection: Asking why?

Help for parents of estranged adult children
An adult child’s rejection: Asking why?

adult child's rejectionAn adult child’s rejection is momentous. So it’s natural to ask: Why? Unfortunately, parents may not have a clear answer. The child may offer nonsensical reasons, or cut parents off in a sudden, bewildering manner.

Speculating on why? has helped me, but can frustrate those around me. Yesterday, an idea struck about how my encouraging my son’s interests might have played into the eventual estrangement.

When I voiced my thoughts, a friend stopped me. “Will you ever stop beating yourself up over this?” she asked.

She meant well, but didn’t understand that I was not beating myself up. She also doesn’t fully understand the depth of hurt and confusion that go with an adult child’s rejection. Snd she wants me to stop – – stop wondering why, stop hurting myself with the questions, and stop talking about it. She hates that I have been hurt.

Beating yourself up after an adult child’s rejection

I no longer talk about my estranged son every day, but now, nearly three years after the break, I still think of him daily–partially because of running this site. I’m no longer beating myself up with blame, but I still don’t understand. I’ve examined my son’s childhood, and have compared how he was raised to how my other four children were treated, which was about the same. So why did he leave? And why does the rest of the family remain so close? For the most part, I’ve made peace with the uncertainty. But from-time-to-time, the questioning returns. Asking is normal.

Some experts believe that asking “why?” is counterproductive to recovery after emotional distress. In my experience, asking leads to partial answers that help me move forward. Even bits of clarity help my mind to rest, if not forever, at least for a little while.

Research reported in the Journal of Social Psychological & Personality Science in 2013, found that clarity about the cause of a traumatic event helped study participants feel more certain. Certainty helps defuse negative emotions. After an adult child’s rejection, examining events and memories that occurred throughout the years may offer a big picture view, as well as provide some distance – – both of which the study found helpful.

Some examples of how answers can help:

Concluding that an adult daughter’s rejection stemmed from drug use helps a mother realize: My daughter’s drug use is out of my control. The realization allows her to begin to release the pain of the gaping wound from her adult child’s rejection. Though still disappointed and hurting, she can rest with that reason, and move on with other relationships and in her life. This wasn’t her fault.

Even parents who conclude their actions contributed to their adult child’s rejection can find a settling point in the answer. Parents may identify how family strife or tragic events hampered communication at a vulnerable time in their child’s development. Okay, so I was preoccupied with this other horrible hurting, and my child felt alone at the time. Empathy gleaned by stepping into the child’s shoes can promote acceptance and peace after an adult child’s rejection. All parents make mistakes. Looking for, and finding potential answers may eventually lead to conversation that opens an adult child’s heart – – if not now, perhaps in the future. For the moment, a parent has at least some answer on which to lean.

A mother who recognizes a starting point that eventually led to her adult child’s rejection has the beginnings of an answer. That girlfriend didn’t want to share my son. Or: That boyfriend’s family swept my daughter off her feet and turned her against me. Other questions may follow, but a small piece to the puzzle can allow a mom to feel settled – – for a day, for a week, for a month….

Perhaps most helpful is accepting that there’s no real answer. This doesn’t make sense becomes a placeholder, a pausing point that provides peace (or can later be returned to and picked up again).

An adult child’s rejection: Why? The universal question

Unique scenarios involving an adult child’s rejection are endless, but parents asking, “Why?” is universal. Why did my child leave? Why did he get involved with drugs? Why was my adult child so vulnerable to that individual’s influence? Why didn’t I see this coming? Why did this happen?

Seeking answers is a natural part of the human experience. For me, trying to stop the questions added a secondary burden to an already traumatic experience. For a time, asking why? was the only question that made sense.

adult child's rejectionOver time, my questioning has led to several conclusions. Some involve my estranged adult child’s personality and decisions. Some involve the influence of other people, and how they may have added to problems. Others take in my own parenting style, and how my actions might have contributed.  Alone, none of these provides the entire answer. But they have been clues at least, small, sunny beaches of understanding where I could rest and collect my strength. Eventually, those partial answers connected with other ideas and began to gather, like fallen leaves caught in a stream, collecting to form a sort of raft. I’m afloat and moving forward.

Dealing with others’ feelings after an adult child’s rejection

I understand why my friend is weary of me talking about my estranged adult son. She doesn’t want to see me hurting. She believes that by reexamining, I’m beating myself up. But seeking and finding answers helps. Just as my outlook changed when I first held my tiny babies, my outlook is affected by this unexpected disappointment and hurt. I’m no longer blaming myself, but may always, at least at times, try to better understand.

For me, discussing the situation with others, studying society and history, as well writing out my thoughts, helped my understanding of the situation grow clearer. But I’ve learned to moderate my words, and to choose carefully with whom I share. A forum has recently been added at this site, for parents to share their thoughts, join discussions, post new topics, and help ourselves and other parents of estranged adult children in the process. The forum discussions will be moderated lightly to avoid any issues of spam, etc. Users must also register, to promote a safe, helpful environment – – although user names will be cloaked, and email addresses will not appear in the discussion forum. You are invited to register for the Help for parents of estranged adult children discussion forum here.

Also consider leaving a comment to this post.

Find additional help with these articles:

Emotional well-being series: Be Kind to yourself

Five ways to move on after an adult child’s rejection

 

Holidays: How to manage them

adult child who is estrangedThe holidays are here, and for parents with an adult child who is estranged, the festivities may trigger some emotional low points. Being aware of this has helped me develop a realistic view of my happiness, and enjoy the celebrations. If you manage expectations, the holidays can be good ones.

Great Expectations, a Realistic View

Over the holidays, we may feel pressured to radiate joy we don’t necessarily feel. If you have ever confided a deep emotional pain and been told to “get over it,” then you know how hurtful the response can be. Just getting over something is easier said than done, particularly for abandoned parents during the holidays when much focus is on traditions and family ties. Make sure you’re not the one issuing brusque dictates, telling yourself you should be over this by now. I know from experience that unrealistic expectations set the stage for feelings of failure. Instead, take an honest view, and be kind to yourself. For me, during the holiday season, when my adult child who is estranged won’t be with the rest of us, that includes simplifying.

Your Feelings

Feeling a sense of loss is natural. Remain thankful for shared good times, cherish those fond memories, but be honest about your feelings now. For the time being, some shared traditions are over. Others may be more subdued. You may feel sorrow, regret, or even anger. Recognize your feelings for what they are: natural responses. Accept them then move forward as best you can.

Even after many years, parents may still miss their adult child who is estranged, and feel sadness during special days.  In writing my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, I heard the stories of more than 9,000 parents. Many of them spoke of feelings coming up from time to time. Events and circumstances can trigger old emotions.  Even when when we’ve worked through pain associated with an adult child who is estranged, the holidays can dredge up old wounds and sadness.

Enjoying the Celebrations

The first holiday season after my adult son’s estrangement, the break was so recent that I didn’t have the emotional energy to clearly think through or devise coping strategies for myself or the rest of the family. We celebrated anyway. We needed to begin building new memories associated with special days, which helped. You may find that beginning a new tradition is helpful.

holidays adult child estrangedThis year, for the first time, my family played horseshoes on Thanksgiving. The idea may sound silly, but participating in new activities can ease letting go of ones enjoyed before a family member became estranged. Inviting new people to holiday celebrations might also help keep parents (and the whole family) focused on the present rather than remembering hurt and loss.

While it’s natural to acknowledge and talk about loss with loved ones who share the experience or care about your feelings, avoid dwelling on the hurt. Honoring this year’s celebrations keeps you mindful of the present experience and helps positively shape future holidays.

Meanwhile, if you feel a need, consider a short ritual that acknowledges your feelings in a positive way. For instance, making a toast to the well-being and happiness of your adult child who is estranged could be meaningful. This could be in private, or with other family members who share your loss. Perhaps saying a heartfelt prayer, or lighting a candle in symbolic honor of your estranged adult son or daughter helps acknowledge the pain without dwelling. Even putting out a well-chosen decorative object can provide a point of reflection or honor, without being obtrusive.  rejected by adult childAn object that reminds me of happy times is often on display at my house: a little wooden bird that was given to me many years ago by my adult child who is estranged.

Permission to Grieve Over an Adult Child who is Estranged

Don’t strive for the unattainable. You’re human, and your feelings are normal. Check in with yourself each day. If you’re particularly sad, then a little extra self-care can help. Pretending you don’t feel bad drains energy. Consider exploring your feelings more fully. Journaling has been well-documented as an emotional aid. Five or ten minutes of writing your thoughts out or speaking into a voice recorder can provide a release, and may give you more specific insight into your feelings. For instance, you may realize what concerns you most about the annual Christmas Eve get-together is the possibility of questions about the estrangement from relatives who don’t know the current situation. Knowing this, you can prepare some ready answers or even an exit plan that takes you out of the conversation.

Shift your perspective from what you can’t control to what you can. Rather than wallow, do one small thing. Even a small accomplishment can help you feel better. Consider making a list of tasks you can turn to for energizing when you’re feeling low. Neglecting normal routines can complicate your life. If the mail piles up, a late charge can be a painful consequence. Tasks that take care of you or your surroundings, such as watering your houseplants, sweeping the porch, or going through the mail are doable in short sessions, and keep your life running smoothly even when you’re hurting.

Small Change, Big Difference

This year, I shortened my usually elaborate Thanksgiving menu then asked for help. As a result, we got to try some new entrees and desserts. Despite missing your adult child who is estranged, accepting the separation for the moment, and taking a proactive approach helps reduce overall stress so you can better enjoy the present season.

Related Postings: Six ways to get through Mother’s Day when your adult child is estranged

‘Twas the Night Before Mother’s Day

Why is this so hard to get past?

adult child's betrayalParents often ask: I’m a strong person, so why am I am having such a difficult time getting past my adult child’s betrayal? How can I move on?

An adult child’s estrangement can happen at any age. There is never any one-size-fits-all answer, but parental reactions are often similar. A sense of betrayal is one of the most profound wounds felt by parents of adult estranged children. How could a child, to whom you have given so much love and energy, turn his back on you? The betrayal rejected parents feel is rooted more deeply than any other estrangement. This person is your child.

When parents start a family, they may have assumptions. They cherish the fleeting baby and toddler stages of intense bonding, guide and enjoy their children through bedtime stories, skinned knees, and homework. Then they shepherd their kids through the growing pains of adolescence. Many parents look forward to seeing their love and guidance pay off as their teens grow into caring adults, responsible citizens who contribute to their world. Parents anticipate remaining close to their adult children, bonded by a shared family history and envisioning a future with grandchildren they can cherish.

Because of these far-reaching expectations, an adult child’s betrayal can be paralyzing. When an adult child deserts a parent, whether fully or through indifference, neglect, or a series of behaviors that elicit disappointment or even involve bullying, the proverbial rug is ripped away. Parents are tripped up, and lose footing. The foundation they thought was solid feels more like quicksand as they begin to question themselves, their relationship with their child, and their parenting. What have their lives been all about? Where do they go from here? What does the future hold for them now?

An adult child’s betrayal takes time to sort out and move past. How do you mend from the deep wound of an adult child’s abandonment, neglect, or even abuse? Find help in the “What Parents Can Do” category, or with this specific article:

Five ways to move forward after an adult child’s rejection