Tag Archives: estranged from adult children

Fear: Common after estrangement from adult children

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

estrangement from adult childrenDuring the first holiday season after my son’s estrangement, my self-worth crumbled. While the Earth outside stilled into winter’s quiet, I rushed about, determined to keep my family’s spirits bright.  I cleaned, cooked, and shopped. I wrapped and prepared. I raced around, creating a Christmas to remember— and perhaps to forget. My heart wasn’t fully in it.

Looking back, I can see there was an anxious pitch to my behavior, as if making everything picture perfect for the holiday would make me picture perfect. And prove to myself and others that I really was a good mom.

In the silence of night after Christmas was done, I wasn’t satisfied or content. Did I do enough? I imagined myself alone and old. Is that how I’ll end up?

My eyes opened to the darkness. No matter how silly and self-indulgent, the thought rang true. I had told myself my holiday frenzy was normal, but fear was at the root. Fear had me working my fingers to the bone to make the best holiday ever, to hang onto my remaining family.

Tears welled, and I felt powerless. My estranged adult son had made choices. No matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t change that. That night in the darkness, I realized that all the presents and favorite foods in the world wouldn’t hold the rest of my family together. If my four remaining adult children chose to leave, this perfect holiday wouldn’t stop them.

After estrestranged from adult childrenangement from adult children: Uncertainty reigns

I know the fear that plagues parents after estrangement from adult children. If something so precious and basic can fall apart, then what is safe? What can you count on? Who can you trust?

The whole world looks different and bleak.

Fear can be paralyzing, so don’t let that feeling become your new normal. Shape your new normal into a good and happy life.

In my book , the word “fear,” or an iteration of it, is mentioned more than 60 times. There are examples and tools to help. That’s because fear is so common to parents of estranged adults.

Estranged from adult children? Get clear on fear

Don’t let fear take over your good judgment. Don’t compound your problems and over-drink, overeat, or indulge some other unhealthy behavior to numb the feeling. Instead, get clear on your fear. Identifying your specific fears can help you get a handle on them.

Do you fear your other children will also leave? Maybe you worry your estranged daughter won’t be safe—and you can’t get in touch to make sure. Do you imagine the future, and worry your estranged son will have regrets? Are you afraid of being judged? Fearful you did do something to cause the break? Afraid you’re losing your mind?

Does the fear that you’ll never see your son or daughter again steal your peace? Or maybe you’re afraid that if your child does return, you’ll never be able to trust. Some fear that their grandchildren they were once so close to will believe vicious lies. Others worry their raw emotions will burden other people they love and drive them away.

Among the thousands of parents who have reached out to me, those are a few of the most common fears expressed.

Fear: Like a riptide

It’s easy to get caught up in our fears. If we don’t identify and confront fears, they can carry us  along and take control without us even realizing. That’s what happened to me during that first frantic holiday season after my estranged son walked away. Like me, you might find yourself catering to others to the point of exhaustion. Or maybe you attempt to protect yourself by isolating, and shutting out the possibility of pain. If you do that, you can end up like Lila, watching the world pass her by, whom I wrote about in Emotional scars after an adult child’s estrangement. Fear is a powerful emotion. If we let it, fear can hinder our recovery from the trauma of an adult child’s rejection, and keep us from moving forward in our lives.

Among the thousands of parents I’ve heard from, many concur that that after estrangement from adult children, it helps to honestly examine fears, and identify they’re effects.

Fear: It’s all in your head

By pinpointing your specific fears, and taking stock of how they affect you, you can then begin to take control. The truth is that fears are all in your head. After estrangement from adult children, many of the fears we worry over can’t be controlled. If you fret for fear your adult child isn’t safe but you have no contact, there’s not much you can do to put your worry to rest. You may worry you’ll never see your child again, but if your adult child won’t connect, it’s beyond your control.

For some, it might help to recognize why you have the fears you do. For instance, if you fear everyone will leave, maybe fear of abandonment derives from the past. Somebody else important left you, or you always feared they would. It’s okay to have the feeling. It might even be normal for you. But it’s not okay to let it rule your life to your own detriment.

If you fear for your child’s safety or health, your fear may come from some concrete reason, such as knowing your son or daughter uses drugs. Your fear may be rational, but your fear can’t control your child’s choices, or the outcome.

Worrying about the possibility your adult child will have regrets might come from your own experience with regrets. Or from natural parental love that wants to protect. But our sons and daughters are adults. Decisions have consequences. We don’t live in bubbles, and neither do they.

After estrangement from adult children, take action where you can

By identifying fears and their effects, you can recognize them when they creep up. No more surprise ambush in the darkness on a holiday night. You can observe fears as they occur, and loosen their control over you.

You can recognize fears for what they are. Don’t cling to imaginings that lead you down paths of despair. Appreciate fears for what they are, appreciate any rational reasoning behind them, and then you can purposely dismiss them.

Try a positive spin about a negative feeling: I don’t like not knowing, but since it’s out of my hands, I can accept it for now. Or: This isn’t ideal, but I’m strong. I can tolerate it.

Don’t let worrisome imaginings carry you helplessly away. Instead, Train your thoughts on what’s constructive and empowers you.

The Landscape of loss is fertile ground for growth

Every one of us has had struggles. We have all had situations and circumstances we’ve had to rise above. For many of us, losing a child by estrangement is our most significant obstacle to date, but recalling how we’ve handled past difficulties can help. By taking stock of fears, and supporting ourselves with understanding and acceptance, we can get through this too. We can let go of outcomes we can’t control, dismiss fears that don’t help us, and take action for our own happy lives.

 

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. And 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

 

Emotional well-being series: Be kind to yourself

self-compassion be kind to yourself emotional well being estranged from adult childrenBe kind to yourself: Self-compassion

Purposely tending to our emotional health can make our lives happier and healthier. Parents who are estranged from adult children can nonetheless bolster their emotional health and increase feelings of well-being, with positive effects.

Looking optimistically forward may be difficult in the face of a situation that remains unpleasant and unchanged. So, parents who are estranged from adult children may hold a less than positive outlook. But even when you can’t change a negative circumstance that is beyond your control, taking charge of your emotional well-being can help. This is one in a series of short articles on ways to bolster emotional health and increase feelings of well-being.

People who suffer rejection in a relationship may replay interactions and try to figure out what they did wrong. Parents whose adult children are estranged often react similarly. We may reflect upon every detail of how we raised our child in an attempt to explain the estrangement. In so doing, we may identify mistakes. Even well-intentioned parents don’t do everything perfect all of the time. In a state of worry, shock, and distress, parents whose adult children are estranged may be too self-critical, which can injure emotional well-being and prolong our sadness. Here’s one way to work at combating an overly critical self-examination, and feel better:

Parents of adult children who are estranged: Practice self-compassion.

In his research, Wake Forest University psychologist Mark Leary found that the ability to treat oneself kindly helps people cope in the face of negative events. Do you forgive your own imperfections and treat yourself well despite failure, defeat or rejection? Or do you berate and belittle yourself? In Leary’s studies, participants with the most forgiving attitudes toward themselves were less bothered when they imagined distressing events.

Most of us find it easy to let another human being off the hook. We might be quick to say something like, “Don’t feel bad. Everybody makes mistakes sometimes. You’re only human.”

If a friend confides a failure, we might offer support by reminding our friend of their success in other areas. Providing ourselves with the same type of supportive self-talk can be healing.

In one of his studies, Leary had participants write themselves a letter, as if they were sending it to a friend. If you have a tendency to blame yourself, you might do well to pen yourself a note of support then read and re-read it whenever needed.

An exercise to practice self-compassion

In my work as a life coach, I have directed clients to ask a trusted friend to sit down and write them an email or note that describes them when they’re at their best. My clients enjoyed receiving the positive depiction, and were often surprised by the depth of a friend’s caring. The note became a tool they could pull out whenever they were feeling low. Trading notes might be even better.

A few years ago, I participated in this exercise myself by trading descriptions with a friend. Her letter describing me at my best was helpful in that it demonstrated she understood some of my most core values. And at a time when my focus was a bit fuzzy, her description reminded me of what is most important to me. Providing a description of my friend at her best was also helpful. It feels good to provide positive support to an individual you care about, and writing the description did just that.

To foster a spirit of self-compassion, consider writing out a description of yourself when you’re at your best. In the wake of an adult child’s rejection, parents whose adult children are estranged can feel powerless. In preparing for the exercise, reflecting on your life, how you’ve successfully dealt with problems in the past, and reliving satisfying moments can perhaps break a habit of self-blame, and trigger better feelings. Describing yourself at your best in writing may help reconnect you with your strengths, accomplishments, and value – – and perhaps spur you back into things you enjoy and do well.

Self-compassion, according to Leary’s studies, might also have another benefit for parents whose adult children are estranged and who look forward to the hope of reconciling. When we are self-compassionate, we are better able to admit our mistakes. Because healing family rifts may require honest, open discussion, a willingness to admit our failings as perceived by our adult children can help foster the necessary atmosphere of humility and understanding.

Even if you don’t follow through and write a letter to yourself, take a few moments to consider yourself with compassion. After all, you are your oldest friend.

Parents whose adult children are estranged: How you will be self-compassionate and treat yourself well?

In what ways will you be more self-compassionate? I’d love to hear how you’re treating yourself well. Shared kindness creates a more compassionate world.

Related articles:

Looking forward

Self-Compassion and Reactions to Self-Relevant Events: The Implications of Treating Oneself Kindly

Psychologist finds self-compassion helps people cope with failure