Tag Archives: estrangement and holidays

Does healing from estrangement mean you’re “cold-hearted”?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

parents healing from estrangementJaylene, a widow whose only daughter is estranged, said she recently looked in the mirror and—in her words—saw a cold-hearted mother staring back.  “I decided not to give my estranged daughter holiday gifts this year,” she said. “I’ve become indifferent. I guess I’ve healed so well that I no longer care.”

But she did care. She cared so much about being a good parent and a forgiving person that she harshly judged herself for the various actions she’d taken over the last ten months to save herself. Suddenly, she was in turmoil.

 Healing from estrangement: Your feelings

Over the years, I’ve heard similar accounts from other parents as they work at healing from estrangement. Kind, loving mothers and fathers who had come to realize that letting go was the only sensible choice. Leaving their happiness in their adult child’s hands wasn’t an option. They’d been down that sad road of wishing, hoping, trying, and being rebuffed. No matter how apologetic or accommodating they were, their adult children spewed hate, assigned blame, made fun of them, or refused to talk at all.

In our discussion, Jaylene said she and her daughter used to have fun together. Then, when her daughter reached her late 20s, she changed. Suddenly Jaylene was the enemy. In shock and worried, Jaylene had eggshell walked for years. Things would go smoothly for a little while, but Jaylene was always on edge. She was careful to keep her opinions to herself around her daughter, whose eyes might suddenly narrow as she centered on a misplaced word or unintended slight.  Jaylene was forgiving, helpful, and accommodated her daughter’s lifestyle, schedule, and opinions without complaint. In short, she loved her daughter, and hoped that one day, she might be kind and caring again.

Each time her daughter cut her off, Jaylene was the one to smooth things over. When her daughter finally reconnected (after weeks or months), Jaylene tried to keep the peace. She prayed for patience, ignored her daughter’s snipes, and even made excuses for her behavior. She remained devoted and friendly. Yet, without fail, her daughter eventually hooked some imagined offense to her revised version of their history and left her mother in a lurch again.

 A turning point

Ten months ago, as the New Year approached, Jaylene stared down her upcoming 60th birthday and decided she’d had enough. Her daughter was 33. Much too old to act like a petulant child. Jaylene saw a new decade ahead and began to wonder how many years she had left. Did she want to spend the rest of her life drowning in her daughter’s disrespect? No.

When Jaylene first contacted me, the stress of an angry daughter she was forever trying to please was harming her health. Jaylene was exhausted, frustrated, and hurt. When she looked at her life going forward, she knew things had to change. Rather than continuing to placate a daughter who clearly did not like her, it was time to go with the flow instead of fighting the inevitable.

Healing from estrangement: What’s in your control?

Take a hard look at what you can and can’t do. Evaluate the dynamics of the relationship. What were your own responses, reactions, and coping tactics? Were they effective? Were they hurtful? Did you maintain your own integrity? Did you lose yourself?

Deciding to change

To move in a new direction, Jaylene first had to let go of the idea that she could make her daughter happy, and then shift gears to please herself. As is true for many parents, this required dropping the lens of negativity about herself that she’d accepted from her daughter, looking back at their time together with clear eyes instead, and seeing all the good she’d done as a mother. She also had to drop the rose-colored glasses of hopeful wishes and see the current situation as it was.

Jaylene used the exercises in Done With The Crying to reclaim her identify as the loving, supportive mother she’d always been. Then, she could affirm her decision to free herself of meanness and disrespect she didn’t deserve, and work at moving forward for herself and her own happiness.

At first, letting go was difficult. The chasm between them grew. Jaylene saw more clearly that, for several years, their “relationship” had been one-sided.

Jaylene set her sights on a new way of life. She focused on whatever brought her happiness and was consciously grateful for any good in her life. She took up new hobbies, made more friends, and after nine years of widowhood, considered what it might be like to find a romantic companion. Most of the time, Jaylene was happy. She didn’t know how many years she had left, but she did know she’d make the most of them.

In the last 10 months, Jaylene had progressed considerably. She no longer felt the need to try and make her daughter love her. And she’d accepted that whatever it was that had caused her daughter’s change, whether that was mental illness, substance abuse, societal influences, or something else. She couldn’t fix those. Jaylene had taken charge of what she could—in her own life—and she was happy.

Then, as the trees began to turn color, the pumpkins and costumes appeared in the stores, and the holidays loomed, her outlook dimmed. That’s when she looked in the mirror and had a tough time seeing herself as anything but a terrible mom. Instead of focusing on her own life, she took on the familiar “mother guilt” that had once made her responsible for her daughter’s happiness. Jaylene wrung her hands, fought indigestion and overeating, and repeatedly asked:

  • What will my daughter do for the holidays if I don’t invite her?
  • Will she be all alone?
  • How will my daughter feel if her own mother doesn’t send a card or gift?

Monster in the mirror? Santa Claus? Or just a tired parent?

The more Jaylene focused on her daughter’s possible pain—and took responsibility for it—the more she harshly judged herself. In talking it through, Jaylene began to realize that the holidays with their family focus had triggered her thoughts and feelings. Yet, she also realized she had come too far to let the joy-joy, family-family atmosphere derail her progress.

I hear the same reactions from parents when a birthday or some other special day rolls around. Your trigger might be a certain time of year or hearing about how close and loving a friend’s adult children are. Even a well-meaning individual who loves you but who doesn’t understand might say something intended as helpful that pushes you back.

The truth is a lot of people don’t have a clue about the complexities that sometimes accompany estrangement. Idealistic notions about parenthood and unconditional love may be beautiful, but they become unrealistic and hurtful given the circumstances. The verbal abuse and mind games that may have gone on for years can become a shadow that can entangle parents into thinking badly of themselves or believing that it’s too late to change.

Don’t let your thoughts enslave you

“I don’t like him anymore,” one mother said of her abusive grown son. “But that’s not how a mother should feel.”

“He’s mentally ill,” one father said of the manipulative adult son who had talked him out of money once again. “But if someone’s father won’t stay loyal, who will?”

Like Jaylene, these parents were caught by a wave of emotion stirred up by the holidays, triggered by a special day, or fueled by the latest chaos. Instead of looking outward to the adult children who treat them badly and seeing their own desire to retreat as normal and even healthy, they see a monster in the mirror.

Believing that the children we have loved so much might love us back when they become adults is natural and normal. When they don’t, and we grow weary of trying to maintain or nurture a relationship to no avail, we can still face the mirror. We don’t have to reconcile their uncaring, unkind, or dismissive behavior with our own growth and self-discovery, and judge ourselves harshly for working to heal.

Don’t berate yourself. When adult children so hurt you and desecrate the relationship, your feelings of strong dislike or indifference are normal. You might even wish you’d never had children, but your entire history as a parent or as a human being must not be defined by the thought. These feelings are usually fleeting, the result of frustration, anger, or desperation. You can acknowledge your losses, accept your feelings for what they are, and adjust your outlook. By recognizing and accepting your feelings, you validate yourself and your experiences. It’s okay to make your healing from estrangement about you and your growth.

 Healing from estrangement: An honest look

After reading an advance copy of my latest book, Beyond Done With The Crying: More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children, Mara Briere of Grow a Strong Family sent me an email in which she called the book, “REAL. Honest. Helpful.” She added, “It is an important, must-read for anyone impacted by estrangement, and especially the well-meaning and misguided professionals who think they can help families traumatized by this phenomenon.”

This new book provides a raw look at parent-and-adult-child estrangement. It’s a follow-up to my first book for parents of estranged adult children, Done With The Crying, and I encourage you to read that one and work through its exercises first. Done With The Crying shares my story and takes a gentler approach in helping parents face reality and venture forward for their own well-being.

In Beyond Done, the gritty experience of estrangement with its frequent chaos and complexities is cracked open and laid bare. Mental health issues are included. Even parents who have made mistakes they consider huge, and not the typical ones that all parents may inadvertently make, will find themselves represented—and more importantly—supported in moving beyond their guilt and pain.

With new information and innovative exercises that build resilience and growth, parents can face themselves square in the mirror no matter their thoughts, acknowledge their responses as normal given the circumstances, forgive themselves as needed, and move toward a happier, freer future.

 Ongoing healing from estrangement

With support, Jaylene made decisions about the holidays that sustained her self-growth and forward focus. She would send an e-card because it didn’t feel “right” not to acknowledge the holidays—and admitting her hope was honest. She would not send a gift or otherwise reach out though because that would feel like stepping backward into pleasing-her-daughter mode. She could live with this decision. It didn’t mean she was a bad person, cold-hearted, or even indifferent.

No matter what you’ve decided for yourself or your relationship with your estranged adult child(ren), get ready for the holiday season early so you’ll be prepared. Would a charity appreciate your help (whether monetary or hands-on)? Can you do something different this year and make a new tradition?

I know how resourceful those who read this blog are! I hope you will leave comments to this article here, where you can learn from and help other parents who are healing from estrangement. What do you think: Does your healing make you cold-hearted? Is it okay to be indifferent to someone who doesn’t treat you well? What will you do to make the holiday season bright?

Write your thoughts in a comment so we can learn from each other.

Abandoned parents: Let your light shine

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

abandoned parents

Photo credit: Craig Burrows Photography

I recently came across photographs of something most of us never see–natural flowers that light up!

The truth is almost any organic matter glows in response to UV light by what’s called “fluorescence.” As flowers are hit with sunlight, they emit a glow in return.

I shared a video of some glowing flower photos at the RP facebook page. It’s not one that I created. Even if you’re not on FB, you can see some of the photos via links and a video below. Photographer Craig Burrows took the beautiful Angel’s Trumpet flower here, and has more examples at his website. I’ve included a list of links at the end of this article, and there’s also a YouTube video that features this photography linked below.

Right now, I’d like to talk about how each one of us has a special light of our own, just like the unique ways the different flowers glow.

Abandoned parents: Let your light shine

Every day (and even more during the holidays), I hear from hurting, abandoned parents whose adult children have rejected or abused them. Many feel a sense of shame about what’s happened, even though they’ve wracked their brains to figure out how the son or daughter they loved and supported for decades could be so unkind. I’ve written about why undue guilt can plague parents in my book, Done With The Crying, and in an article about what’s called “innocent guilt.”

Unfortunately, parents who did their best can get stuck in what one mother whose been estranged for more than two decades calls “the pit of despair.” But life really is too short to let another adult’s lousy choice define you and keep you stuck. This mother, who spent years walking on eggshells and crying, has come to the realization that enough is enough. (See the article: Parents of estranged adult children: Have you had enough?) This mom is  quick to tell others, “Get out there and enjoy life.” And she’s taking her own advice. She’s letting her light shine.

Abandoned parents: Will your glow show?


In the flower photos, we can see their glow because of a special sort of photography called ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence photography, or UVIVF. This photography gives us eyes to see. But if the flowers weren’t out in the sunlight, they wouldn’t glow.

It’s similar to what happens when we step out, smile, and interact. Some people will like us, and some won’t—but that doesn’t mean we don’t glow, just like the flowers.

Abandoned parents: Step into the light

By stepping out into the “sunlight,” even abandoned parents who have spent years in the painful shadow of estrangement can begin to shine. All the crying you might do, all the searching for an answer that finally makes sense won’t change what has happened. You didn’t fail because of your adult child’s choices. Don’t remain a hostage to his/her decisions.

What is one good thing you can do for yourself? Right now, identify at least a single thing you can do to reclaim your glow? Think back to who you were before trauma. Deep down, you’re still in there. Step into the light—and shine!

Maybe this means that you literally step out into the sunlight. Despite all we’ve heard about sunlight causing skin cancer, that link isn’t as direct as you might think. And there are benefits to sunlight. In addition to increased Vitamin D with its stronger bones benefit, moderate exposure to sunlight can improve mood and promote deeper sleep—and sleep is something abandoned parents need. (Abandoned parents, here’s help with sleep.) help with. At the bottom, I’ve linked to a couple of articles on sunlight that may help.

It’s not only the sunlight that helps, though. More doctors are prescribing walks in nature to help with anxiety, depression, and stress. Some of you may know that I have written several popular hiking guides for my area. At some of the most stress- and worry-filled times in my life, getting out in nature has soothed my soul. People report that physical pain improves as well.

Abandoned parents: Re-ignite your light

You might start to let your light shine by purposefully altering a thought habit that puts you in a bad mood. In this way, you re-ignite your light from the inside.

Abandoned parents often tell me they awaken early, plagued by sad thoughts. My question: Why lie there and suffer? You’re not sleeping anyway, so use the time wisely. Even in the wee hours, you can do a quiet project (and sometimes, busying the mind will relax and tire you, so that you can get back to sleep). Here are a few ideas:

  • Get a craft kit for those sleepless times.
  • Turn to some fun reading (women might enjoy the Hot flash club series).
  • Meditate on calming words or scriptures.
  • Marvel at the moon, the stars, and how vast the universe is.

Abandoned parents: Shine up your surroundings

When we’re feeling overwhelmed emotionally, our surroundings can start to reflect that feeling back at us. Maybe our sadness shows up in yesterday’s clothing slopped over a chair, or the stress we feel shows up in a mail pile of mail we don’t look at—and that keeps getting bigger. Losing a little physical clutter has a way of clearing the mind, too. Start clearing in some small areas with big impact—like decluttering a drawer or cleaning out the refrigerator. Consider some emotional decluttering too (here’s how). There’s no need to wait until spring.

Small positive changes can make you feel better about yourself, which can start to re-ignite your inner glow. For more strategies to help yourself, get my book, Done With The Crying—or read it again.

Add spark other people can see

Have you gotten into a rut with how you dress? Maybe you’ve spent years wearing business black. Is it time for a change? Perhaps all the stress has caused you to take less interest in your appearance. Maybe you even want to hide. Well, how about dressing to help you feel better? I’m an advocate for coming up with an outfit that helps. What’s your costume? You can read about mine here.

Try adding a colorful scarf, or change up your hairstyle (or color!). Today, when a lot of young people are coloring their hair gray as a desired style, mature women are choosing to accessorize with a splash of neon pink or blue. Look it up online. You might be inspired.

Shine your light to help other abandoned parents

You can shine your light by leaving your ideas about how to shine in a comment here in response to this article. Won’t you light the way for yourself and other hurting parents of estranged adult children?

Related reading:

More spectacular UVIVF photography

Benefits of Moderate Sun Exposure

Six Reasons Why You Need More Sun

Estranged? Enjoy the holidays anyway

estrangement holidaysBy Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Estrangement from adult children has a way of dulling parents’ anticipation of holidays. I’ve already started receiving emails filled with dread. Some parents wonder what they’ll say to family members who ask about their estranged adult child. Many worry how they’ll stay cheerful amidst the family-centric hoopla that reminds them of their loss. Some simply miss their son or daughter and the fun holidays they used to share.

Rather than sit back in dread, be proactive. Here are some ideas to take charge of your thinking and take action for your own well-being.

Control your diet: I’m not talking about food

I’m referring to the steady stream of media that puts holidays front and center as early as pre-estrangement holidaysHalloween. The shopping channels are already airing holiday items. Catalogs are beginning to clog the mail. Food magazines are starting to feature favorites. Reminders are everywhere, but you can choose what you watch, listen to, or read.

Maybe it’s time to donate those brand new issues of food magazines you subscribe to. Rather than open the issues filled with holiday fare, give them away unopened. A young mother with a family on a tight budget might be thrilled to receive those magazines. You’d be doing her and yourself a favor. Don’t know someone in particular? Leave them at a library, offer them to a friend or ask if they know someone who could use them. Drop new magazines at a thrift store, add the issues to one of those mini neighborhood book borrowing stations or into the recycle bin.

Holiday catalogs can trigger all sorts of emotions for estranged grandparents. Why torture yourself by paging through the bright pictures, wondering if the grandchild you no longer get to see still has a mind for science, does gymnastics, or likes to read? Recycle or give them away. If it makes you feel better, leaf through and buy a toy or two for donation purposes. Toy drives abound, and there are needy parents and children who would be grateful for a benefactor.

TV can be an annoying reminder of all we’re not enjoying. Turn it off or turn the channel. As the holiday season accelerates, topic programming and commercials can inundate. Maybe it’s time for a TV diet. People who swear off TV for a set time period report positive effects. More sleep, more time to pursue meaningful activities and relationships, and less mindless eating. Turning off the television could lengthen your life, too. A recent study found that every hour of TV watched reduced lifespan by 22 minutes!

Estrangement? Plan ahead for good holidays

estrangement holidaysHoliday foods, gift items, and décor arrive on store shelves early. For hurting parents whose adult children are estranged, the displays can make a simple trip to the grocer an emotional minefield. While going into hermit mode might not be wise, it’s possible to plan ahead for quicker trips and minimal exposure. Stock up on items you need regularly. When the holidays hit full swing, you’ll be prepared to avoid the shops.

Plan your activities too. Without a plan, the holidays become something to endure for parents who are feeling sensitive because an adult child is estranged. Most of us know that Aunt Betty will invite us as usual or that everyone expects to come to our house for the holiday. Consider now how you feel about these expectations. And know this: it’s okay to make a change. Sit down and make some plans now for what you really want to do this year. Maybe you do smaller dinners with individual family members, or maybe you go camping and avoid the holidays entirely. By planning ahead, you can be kind and let other people know that this year will be different. Change can be good!

Plan what you’ll say, too. When someone chirps, “Only one hundred days till Christmas,” counter with your own quip: “Only 101 till it’s over!” If you’re worried about Aunt Sally or Cousin Sue asking about your estranged adult child, plan your response ahead. (For help, see Chapter Four in Done With The Crying.)

Estrangement? Feed yourself

While controlling what comes in and triggers bad feelings is wise, it’s also important to feed your spirit. This may mean concentrating on the spiritual side of the holidays. Maybe you’ll watch the 2013 The Bible miniseries on Netflix over several evenings (no commercials!), enjoy holiday performances in your community (or find them on YouTube), or attend a choir performance. Some people travel to natural spaces for the holidays, finding the less busy winter months perfect for solitude and peace of mind. To feed your spirit, think of anything that makes you feel good. Is it gardening? Then find a way to do that over the holidays. Is iestrangement holidayst sewing? Make new curtains or homemade gifts. Is there a hobby or vocation you once enjoyed but haven’t participated in for years? The holiday season can be a slow time for independent instructors who might appreciate a new student. Return to something you’ve missed or learn something you’ve never attempted. Take horseback riding or tennis lessons, brush up on guitar, have a go at ice skating, or enjoy Tai Chi or Qui Gong.

Try something different this year—I dare you!