Tag Archives: estrangement

Winter Solstice and the roller coaster of estrangement from adult children

estrangement from adult children

Image by Mario from Pixabay

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

On every roller coaster, there’s a peak moment when you reach the highest point. And for an instant, you linger, waiting for the drop. It’s the point of no return. Or, more cheerfully, the turning point. And that’s how I think of this time of year.

The Longest night

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice falls on December 21 this year (2023). There is slight variation that shifts it a day or so annually, but this date marks the longest night, and represents the shift toward lengthening days. The Southern Hemisphere enjoys the opposite effect.

I won’t get into ancient celebrations or spiritual beliefs about this factual event named to describe the moment when the Earth tilts its farthest from the sun. But ancient peoples did have reasons to celebrate—and with the right mindset, so do we.

Unsteady footing

As I say in Done With The Crying, when our own child rejects us, it’s as if the bottom falls out and our whole world tilts (like the Earth upon the winter solstice).  Just as we don’t always notice the gradual, day-to-day changes in the Earth’s angle toward or away from the sun, we may not have noticed a shift in our kids. Or, if we did, we blamed it on teen angst, individuation, or some other explanation that sounds sensible enough for us to believe the weirdness would end. And, so, we wait, expecting them to shift. Here’s where things get tricky.

Getting back to that roller coaster where this article started, imagine choosing to sit in that ride car at the highest peak. Suspended. At a standstill. Stuck.

While you’re strapped in at the peak, the world moves on. But waiting and hoping? I hope you brought food and water, because as you sit there suspended on hold, life continues without you. Far below, people are having fun, buying popcorn and hot coffee at kiosks, seeing shows, and hopping onto other, more pleasant, rides.

Dark night of the soul

According to about a zillion online sources, the “dark night of the soul” originated from a poem that described joining as one with God. Modern use of the expression refers to a loss of faith, whether religious, in humanity, or in oneself. While all of these apply to at least some parents of estranged adult children, consider whichever one, or a combination or variation, best describes you.

With these thoughts in mind, as the winter solstice brings Northern Hemispherians (Is that even a word?!) the longest “dark night” of the year, consider this a pivotal moment. Instead of remaining paralyzed, strapped in without options and looking down as the tantalizing aroma of fresh popped corn fills the air, and waiting for your unkind adult child to change, lean forward. Shift momentum. Enter the downhill stretch, exit the powerless position of agreeing to remain on someone else’s ride.

As we move beyond the solstice and the days grow longer, use this enlightened time wisely for your own life. Get the support you need to escape the dark night of your soul. Join the happy crowds. Choose your own next ride.

Escape the dangerous waters of estrangement, learn to find peace in the moment, recognize that you’ve changed, or make sensible choices for and even protect yourself if you hear from your adult child. Find something to anticipate (as I wrote about in a winter solstice article in 2022).

Related reading

Abandoned parents: Let your light shine

Holidays, how to manage them

 

Heartbroken parents: Are you to blame?

heartbroken parents

Heartbroken parents: Are you to blame for your adult children’s problems (or estrangement)?

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

To a heartbroken parent driving to a neighboring town in the U.S., the message of this billboard hit like a punch in the gut. The “effective counseling” it advertises comes across as one-sided and pandering. This can’t be healthy (can it?).

Thousands of heartbroken parents tell me their adult children blame them for their every problem. Yet even I was shocked at this billboard. It’s a bald-faced presentation of something I also hear often: That, when it comes to family estrangement (and more specifically, parent-and-adult-child estrangement) our culture, and even some therapists, are part of the problem.

“We live in crazy times,” said the mother who saw this offensive billboard a few weeks ago. She hasn’t spoken to her son in four years, nor seen the sweet grandchild with whom she’d previously bonded. She isn’t the only heartbroken parent to conclude, “Society is supporting these adult children to reject us parents.”

It’s the parents’ fault: A pervasive attitude

When people have issues, they are frequently advised to find the root. Uncovering the beginnings of unhealthy emotional habits, ways of thinking, and managing our lives can be a positive start. However, too often, the root leads rather simplistically to parents. A few examples:

  • Shame-based? Your parents must have used guilt to rule you.
  • Don’t trust your own judgment? As a child, you must have been told your decisions were dumb or your feelings were wrong.
  • Can’t stick up for yourself? You got the message you weren’t important anyway.

There can be truth in these, but when an adult stops there, looks for proving evidence and embellishes, or is advised to cut off relationships rather than try to dig deeper, understand or empathize, they no longer grow. In blaming parents, they can excuse themselves—and they’ll find many to echo the blame. Just as peddlers of hope can keep parents who did their best stuck apologizing and forever trying to reconnect, there are mentors of blame. They preach to a choir of adults who refuse responsibility for their own bad decisions with their resulting consequences and hold their parents accountable instead.

Parent-blaming can be subtle or direct

Often, a grabber headline misleads, like for the article I wrote about here: Are a parent’s mistakes worthy of “hate”? In our text-rich world of social media one-liners that are sometimes the sum of one’s news consumption and then are repeated like gospel, these titles negatively stereotype parents and sway opinion. The negative portrayals of the older generation are prevalent—and hurt (read my article: Negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adult children: It hurts).

Other parent-blaming is more subtle and intellectualized. In some cases, the ideas may even apply. But even the smartest sounding blame can harm loving, heartbroken parents—and their troubled adult children who don’t learn to empathize or take responsibility for their own mistakes.

One New York Times article used a grabber headline to talk about what’s known as “attachment theory.” While attachment theory makes some sense, it is just as its name implies: a theory. Furthermore, it was conceived more than half a century ago. Our world and how we live in it has evolved (or, in some ways, devolved!). Lifestyle norms have changed. Also, the childhood behaviors attributed to caregiver styles in attachment theory may or may not translate to adult relational behavior as the article, “Yes, It’s Your Parent’s Fault,” seems to convey. So, why such a certain title? Negative stereotyping grabs eyeballs. Unfortunately, it also furthers generational division and fosters blame. At the very least, it’s irresponsible. It’s also too easy, same as blaming other people for one’s own mistakes.

The piece mentions interviews/questionnaires aimed at determining one’s dominant attachment style but points out that results may vary from one questionnaire to the next. The mismatch is explained away as resulting from the skill and training of the interviewer or a person’s level of self-awareness (or lack thereof!). My translation? If you want to blame your parents for your adult relationship problems, you can. These questionnaires may help.

Do something

The more light is shed on a problem, the more society becomes aware. That’s why I call attention to the way parents are frequently portrayed as overbearing, needy, nosy, or unbending. This portrayal is an unjust presentation that fosters ageism and promotes division. This disservice to older people can manifest in unhealthy ways when parents seek help after an estrangement occurs. This is discussed at length in my award-winning book, Beyond Done With The Crying: More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children (2021). Beyond Done is a follow-up to my first book (also award winning) for heartbroken parents, Done With The Crying. I hope you’ll read both, and use the examples and exercises to work toward your own well-being.

Sometimes, our past experiences do influence how we interact with other people, including our adult children. As a parent with a long-term estrangement and in communicating with thousands of other moms and dads, my work centers on parents’ personal growth, emotional strength, and enlightenment. My work is specific to estrangement and how you may be affected in the various aspects of your family, work, and general life. Don’t stay stuck.

You spent a lifetime caring for children who are now adults. You can be true to yourself, remain open to the possibility of a healthy relationship if that’s desired, yet disengage from negative interactions or chasing behavior that steals your sense of dignity and makes you feel weak. You can hold out hope yet get on with your own life and enjoy the people who value you.

Society, theorists, and even ill-conceived billboards offering “effective counseling” may blame you, but you know the truth. You were there. Likewise, you’re here now. Take charge and make the most of your precious life. Start this minute.

Develop your natural resilience. Step into a freer, happier future.

Hugs to all the heartbroken parents,

Sheri McGregor

A gift for estranged fathers

estranged fathersA gift for estranged fathers (and estranged mothers, too)

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

As I write this in mid-June, the airwaves are flowing with Father’s Day messaging; ads for “manly” stuff. My guess is that most dads would rather have the gift of time. Well, maybe a few words about how much a child has appreciated all they’ve done. For estranged fathers whose children have cut them off (also for rejected mothers), there is often a pervasive feeling: Time is running out.

Estranged fathers ask: How much time is left?

I hear this question at least once or twice a month, usually from estranged fathers and mothers who recognize the eons of time they say they’ve wasted on hope or strife. They realize they must turn their focus to something they have the power to fix or change: Themselves.

Here, we’ll utilize a few familiar phrases to take charge.

  • Be a leader. If you’re in a relationship, take the lead in making your life great. Sometimes moms tell me their husbands don’t seem to care if their children are estranged. They can shrug it off easier, they say. The dads, however, share that seeing their wives so hurt makes them mad. How could a child who was so well-loved and -cared for be so cold? Estranged fathers, you need to tell your wives how you feel. That you do hurt, that you are sad, but also that you want to be sensible and strong. You still have a life, and you can work to make it great. A little honesty and understanding can go a long way … and help make your time together emotionally close. Then do take the lead in finding things to do and enjoy, despite the estrangement. Whether in a relationship or alone, what would help you to enjoy your life? Beyond Done With The Crying has many examples of ways to move forward both as a couple and alone. Some of what’s included are the prickly situations of one parent remaining touch with an estranged child who rejected the other, divorce situations including parental alienation, protecting your business, and looking out for yourself (and/or your spouse) as you navigate retirement and later life.
  • Know when to quit. In Beyond Done With The Crying, I share the story of a dad who has always been there for his daughter. He paid for her college tuition, even when she asked for “space.” He reached out lovingly on occasion, respected her boundaries, and held out hope that she’d mature, and that they’d be closer again. Eventually, this estranged father came to realize that the only one he could change was himself. He decided to initiate no further contact. He also made some decisions about investing in his own future. He realized that time was fleeting and, regardless of her decisions, he needed to prepare. Whether your situation is similar to this dad’s or completely different, distance, “space,” or full-on estrangement is the common denominator. When is enough enough? Only you know the answer for yourself in your situation–but it may be time to go with the flow.
  • Turn yourself around. If you’ve made the decision to empower yourself and take charge of your life despite an adult child’s estrangement, be patient. Most estranged fathers and mothers find that, at first, one step forward and two steps back isn’t unusual. Setbacks may be caused by emotional triggers like birthdays or holidays, or perhaps adult children reach out and you’re not sure the motives are pure (as described in this article: Adult children who reject parents: Why do they make contact now?). You may need to set some boundaries, and that’s true both when interacting with an estranged adult child and in how you think. You can learn to recognize our own unhealthy thought life and make changes to support your well-being. There’s help to wrestle our thinking into healthier patterns, and techniques to set boundaries in my books. If you do have a setback, the reminder can be painful but also beneficial. While it’s wise to forgive, forgetting may not be. A setback can help you grow stronger for your future.

 Time waits for no one

Many of estranged fathers and mothers have lived by clocks and calendars. Rhythms and cycles are a part of nature, and people naturally embrace them. While it’s true that time waits for no one, making plans provides a sense of mastery. By embracing the cycles of day, night, and the seasons, we can look forward to things we love—and then look back and savor time well spent.

Consider the year ahead (you don’t have to wait until January!). Think of the seasons, special occasions, big holidays, or personal anniversaries or days of remembrance. Reflect upon how you might like to spend those seasons or days. What can you do to commemorate them? Try new ways that honor who you are now and the season of your life you’re in. You can let go of the tried and not always so true, and move into new territory, at any age.

Maybe you want to spend more time with friends, on a fishing boat, or with your feet in the sand. Perhaps you’d like to see a particular site, travel somewhere exotic, lively, or breathtaking. You might visit a relative you’ve missed, witness the autumn brilliance of your hometown once more, or experience snow falling softly on a winter night. Maybe you finally want to get a bird feeder, binoculars, and books to help you identify the feathery variety that comes around. Or, you could join a bird watching group. Is there a particular festival or event you’d like to see? A regional food you’d like to try? This fall, I’d like to visit each of the farms clustered in a nearby area, taste their products (fruit, wine, cider, cheese, beer, baked goods, and more). Can you think of a similar pursuit? Perhaps thinking of the dates ahead brings to mind special people or momentous events in your life. Could you plant a memorial tree in a loved one’s honor, contribute to a place of worship that has special significance for you, or donate or volunteer at a pet rescue where you found a furry friend? What can you plan for?

Without any hesitation or censor, jot down any ideas that come to you. You can dream big, and you don’t have to think realistically—at least to start. Keep a running list over the next several days or weeks, perhaps organized into months or seasons. Later, choose several from your notes, and make plans to accomplish, pay homage to, or simply honor those choices in a personally significant way. For parents who have dedicated so much time and energy to raising children and grandchildren, calendars can suddenly be as empty as arms. Fill those slots with learning, laughter, and meaning.

Looking forward

Looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them.– L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables)

If you’re resistant to this idea, consider whether you’ve become bitter, don’t feel worthy of happiness, or have lost all hope. There’s help in my books to identify your sticking points,  strengthen and flex your emotional muscles, and step forward with a more optimistic outlook. Won’t you join me?

Related reading

Be sure to click the links to highlighted words in the article…many link to related reading.

Understanding estrangement: Countdown takeaways

understanding estrangement
Understanding estrangement and yourself:
Countdown Takeaways

By Sheri McGregor

My intention for the Countdown to the New Year series has been to engage you for your own wellbeing. From all the comments, it seems a success! Thank you for participating. I have loved reading l your insights! Here, on the last day, let’s first do a short review, then move on to my overall takeaway—and yours.

December 24—Recognizing and understanding estrangement’s influence on you and your outlook helps you Turn! Turn! Turn! to this new season of life. You can “accept” estrangement without agreeing with it. In acceptance, you can shift gears, turn a corner, and move forward for your own health and happiness.

December 25—Mastering peace in the chaos of estrangement, is a valuable skill worth pursuing for our own well-being. Peace is achievable.

December 26—Coping mindfully can include pastime activities, allowing the struggling mind to rest. For early momentum, understanding estrangement means finding a “good enough” answer to why estrangement happens. But understanding estrangement is a process. Just as the last puzzle pieces coming together provide a sense of completion, identifying cultural influences or family patterns brings closure. My latest book, BEYOND Done, has sections to help.

December 27—Having something to look forward to fuels purpose and meaning. Even the tiniest things that bring us joy, and engage the mind and heart, improve our lives. You were encouraged to find something to look forward to and share.

December 28—You rose to my challenge by choosing a word or phrase to set a positive tone or theme for the New Year. By focusing on a word or phrase, even out loud, helps you shift away from estrangement pain and toward your future. Make it bright.

December 29Parents are people too, and just as socks pulled from a multi-pack never fit back quite the same, you might not either. Even in reconciling, parents must—for their own well-being—consider their needs too. Walking on eggshells doesn’t work. As one mother said, eventually the shells become like broken bits of glass. Remember the acronym—WOE—a fitting description.

December 30—Knowledge is only power when we utilize what we learn. The year in review exercise tasked you to consider each month or season and derive lessons for your own life and future.

December 31—We’ve arrived, and I’m late. It’s 11 a.m. as I write this post, and some of you have already asked why you can’t access today’s article. I’m sorry! The truth is, I was so engaged in activities yesterday—visiting sites in a nearby historic district in this huge “gold country” part of California where I’ve moved—that I lost all track of time. Arriving home after dark I felt easy and refreshed … but also tired. So, instead of heading to the computer to dream up a new post before midnight, I went off to bed.

Takeaways

I planned to do the Countdown to the New Year series a month ahead. I got started on its purpose  … but didn’t get too hung up on what to write or how to say the message. For each one, I sat down with an open mind and a giving heart—and poured it out, quickly! That explains why one of the articles and two of the newsletters in the last week contained typos (sorry! – and thank you, sincerely, to the readers who pointed them out). I didn’t know what I’d say each day, and probably could have done better, but you know what? I was engaged, present in the moment, and enjoying my job.

As announced at the outset, the Countdown was intended for “fun” and for us to “enjoy” the last, sometimes long and boring, week of the year. I did have fun, and judging from the comments and email feedback, many of you did too. However, a few readers protested the very idea of fun or enjoyment. I feel for them. I remember suffering emotional pain so thick it felt like life would never be fun again. There was a sense that no one understood, and I get that.

The reality is that estrangement is devastating. It’s not easy for a parent who has spent a lifetime devoted to the well-being of children to move forward for themselves. But wasting our lives waiting, pining, and dwelling on the pain helps no one—not ourselves and not our children.

I recognize that there are phases of estrangement. The early daze can be so fogged over with sadness and shock that any path out is obscured. But as time goes on, parents must recognize they have a choice. Get the support and encouragement needed to climb out and move forward, or remain stuck in an ever-deepening rut we only dig deeper with negative thinking and dwelling on distress. That’s what my first book, Done With The Crying, with its gentle, caring tone, is all about helping you to do.

What is your choice? For today, tomorrow, next year?

For now, let’s close out the Countdown series with two things. The first is a video showing pure, unadulterated joy. When is the last time you found something so fun that you were immersed in the moment and so engaged that you didn’t care whether you looked like a fool? I wish for more moments like these for you … and for me.

The second video is pure beauty, fitting for the close of a year.

My takeaway for the Countdown had less to do with the messages than the act of creating them, and it’s a mix of these videos. While engaged and joyful, I know that I probably won’t achieve perfection—and it’s okay. There might be a typo, or my immediate word choice, though never intended to, might even offend someone. The reality is that some people will always see me as a jack*ss. Others will find joy in my enthusiasm, recognize the sum of my work for parents of estranged adult children as smart and even beautiful, and see that my overall message comes from a place of understanding. And that the message is sensible and fits.

For parents of estranged adult children, going forward, I hope you will strive for and find moments of pure joy. Just because someone calls you a jack*ass doesn’t make it true. And even if, for a few moments, in your unadulterated enthusiasm you look like one . . . it’s okay.

Here are the videos:

Happy New Year to everyone!

What’s your takeaway from the Countdown? I’m bucking around, kicking up my hooves in anticipation.

 

Parents in estrangement: Your year in review

in estrangement
In estrangement: Your year in review

by Sheri McGregor

When we’re down about someone or something, our minds will search for and drag out evidence to confirm our feelings. It’s that way in estrangement, and without recognizing what’s happening, we may find ourselves feeding an even deeper funk. On the eve of the New Year, the media often looks back on the year’s bad news and pulls us further under. Let’s turn that around. No. I’m not suggesting you look back at the year to find the good and be grateful (although that’s helpful!). Here, I suggest looking at what you learned. You’ll be aware of your growth, even in estrangement—and better prepared for the New Year.

What did I learn?

Start with this question and apply it to each month or season. Write down what happened, in short form, and tell what you learned. Here’s an example:

Last year, Bobbie’s estranged son began calling her before Christmas, down on his luck. The first time he called, Bobbie told her husband what was going on in their son’s life. “David raised his brows and shrugged,” Bobbie says. “He told me, ‘Well, it is the season giving.’ Then he went out to the garage.”

Bobbie understood her husband’s feelings, but she was also a little miffed that he could shrug it off. Even in estrangement, Bobbie says, “I got caught up in what kind of parent turns her back on her own child. Plus, it was Christmas, and there’s the spirit of forgiveness and hope.” So, when her son texted her a week before Christmas, and then called again, she didn’t tell his father. Instead, she wrote a check and popped it into the mail.

“He called early Christmas Eve all happy and saying he loved us,” says Bobbie. “He said he’d call back in a few days and we’d get together.” Bobbie didn’t have to tell her husband about the money. “He gave me a knowing look when I hung up the phone, and I darted away from him. I also had a sinking feeling in my stomach.”

Their son didn’t call in January. He also stopped answering texts.

Bobbie says she learned:

  • Her son hadn’t changed.
  • She’d knowingly let him isolate her from her husband’s good sense.
  • Keeping a secret wasn’t good for her marriage.

“Maybe our son will change one day,” says Bobbie. “But I can’t force him. I can only change myself.” Bobbie’s Year in Review revealed other learning points and truths, but this one had the most oomph. She realized that, in estrangement, her role as a mom had become twisted and strange. She knew she needed to focus more on herself and prioritize her role as her husband’s partner in life. The insight gave Bobbie at least one focus for the year ahead.  One she could use to set goals for and achieve with solid steps and plans.

What I learned.

My own Year in Review revealed a helpful truth about my calendar—and it’s a repeat. When I’m under stress, I sometimes pile on more responsibilities. There’s a positive side to this in that I get a lot done (which helps me derive self-worth…but that’s for another day!). The downside is the pressure I feel. I’ve learned to schedule in time off and give myself real breaks, but am recognizing that, at least at times, I ask too much of myself. When I really examined this fact, I identified one specific habit that I know helps: keeping my calendar current. I tend to take mental notes and fill in later, but the visual aid of seeing filled-in time slots help me be more realistic—and avoid the sticky situation of wanting to say “no” after having said “yes.” Saying “no” is a skill in and of itself.  Begging off after you’ve already agreed is even more difficult.

You might think this isn’t estrangement-related, but if you’re like me, you’ll fill your calendar when under stress–and estrangement is stressful. You might also have the self-worth component, which means you’ll do extra when you’re self-esteem is low. This past year has held a lot of distress and trauma for me, so it’s natural I’d lean on my go-to and get things done! However, taking note expands my awareness, which helps me put concrete changes into place for my well-being.

What did you learn?

Start by writing down a little about what happened in each month/season of the year. How you acted, what you got right . . . or wrong. Then, don’t get bogged in the mire. Instead, recognize what you learned.

In Beyond Done, I introduced one mother whose husband was gravely ill. She had expected to lean on their son and was shocked by his lack of concern. She says, “I needed him then.” After she and her husband survived that crisis, she reflects, “I can’t think of a time I will ever need him going forward.”

This mom learned that they couldn’t count on their son. This realization spurred action to consider what gaps existed in their plans for retirement and as they aged. They then expanded their plans independent of him. Your realizations can similarly guide you.

Maybe things aren’t as hoped for or expected, but we can adapt. Flexibility is one of five elements of resilience described in Beyond Done. Your Year in Review helps you home in on where bending is beneficial.

Don’t get hung up thinking you had to have learned huge or distressing truths either. Simple learned truths, backed by actions, can make huge differences in our lives. Maybe you learned that you are at your best when you spend more time with friends. Perhaps you’ve identified a particular person who has become a true friend, that you are a lifelong learner and happiest trying new activities, or that you need more time to yourself.

Use the Year in Review exercise to identify strengths, weaknesses, and growth points in general and in estrangement. When we’re cognizant of what we’ve learned, our awareness grows. When we’re aware, we can set goals and prepare to achieve what’s best for us.

I hope you’ll try this exercise. It’s one I have often done with my coaching clients to help them step into the New Year stronger. If you find this helpful, leave a comment as to what you learned and what steps you’ll take to grow.

Related reading

In estrangement, do your questions keep you stuck?

Your focus: Not “estrangement pain”

New Year wordFocus word: Don’t let it be “estrangement”

by Sheri McGregor

Right now, consider how distressed you want to be. Are you on the cusp of another cruddy year spent focusing on estrangement pain? I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. Don’t get stuck thinking you can make someone change. Sure, you can reach out and let someone know you care if you must, you can even apologize if that’s the right thing to do (it sometimes isn’t, in my opinion). But for your own wellness and for the benefit of those who remain close, learn to shift your focus from estrangement pain and bounce back. If you do reconcile, you’ll be stronger for the long haul. There’s no downside.

Setting the tone for the year

In Beyond Done, I included an exercise using language to help you escape reactionary emotional storms and respond to triggers or distress from the executive functioning area of the brain. So you can think more clearly, focus, take charge, and make plans. It’s a way to shift out of estrangement pain and into thinking for your own good. Here, we’ll do something similar.

Deciding upon a word or phrase that you call up and use as to steer, can be your ticket to a calmer, happier year ahead. One year, I decided upon “kindness.” This helped me set an intention and follow through, even the toughest of spots. Thinking “kindness” helped me demonstrate patience or go the extra mile. That meant I spoke a compliment out loud rather than only thinking it, and willfully displayed the word’s meaning as often as I could. The practice might have positively touched a few others but practicing kindness brightened my own days the most, I think. It meant that I felt good about myself and my behavior toward other people.

Words focused on estrangement pain: Lose ’em

With regard to estrangement and how it has affected you, consider what word might represent your behavior and/or emotions over the last 12 months. For me, in the early daze of estrangement, I was “weepy” and “insecure.” Realizing that helped me dry my tears, straighten my shoulders, and walk forward with more strength. I was determined not to remain a weepy, insecure woman, allowing another person’s decisions to ruin my life. As time went on, and I worked at my own wellness, other words fit. Terms like “indignant,” or “at peace,” and “determined.”

Several years ago, an estranged dad called me “brave.” Just when I needed it the most, the word helped me to see myself as he saw me, and I mustered the courage to give a public speech (something I’d quit altogether after the estrangement). Soon, I was thinking of the word whenever I felt scared—and it helped me to press on.

How do you want to see yourself?

Consider what word will help you in the year ahead. A single, calming word such as “peaceful,” that relaxes you if you’re worried or upset might be one to choose as your word of the year. A signal word helps you shift focus for your own well-being. Maybe you use a word like “strong” that helps you develop emotional muscles and flex them (as discussed in Beyond Done).

You could choose a phrase instead. Something to describe or dictate how you will move through life. One mother recently used the term “gliding through.” I think this is genius! Just saying it—gliding through—conjures an image of floating along, effortlessly, feather-light and feet barely touching the ground, even in the tensest situation.

Think and tell

I hope you will ponder this idea, then come up with a word or phrase that might help you in the coming year. No hurry either. You can do it now or do it a month or even six months from now, because your New Year is not bound by the calendar year. We can start fresh anytime.

If it feels helpful, you can also choose a few words or phrases, to fit specific situations. A term like “stinky cheese” might help you stand strong when you feel like you’re all alone (you’ll understand this if you’ve read my latest book!), or words that set an intentional mindset and help you focus, float, dance, or glide through life.

As you consider potential ideas, try them on out loud. How does a particular word or phrase make you feel? Choose something that feels doable but is at least a little of a stretch. Then write the word(s) on notes you tack to your refrigerator door or around the house—but also on your heart and mind so they’re tip of tongue and top of mind when you need them. Oh, and share them here if you’d like. I’d love to know what you come up with—and your words might help another parent. Borrowing allowed!

Related reading

Abusive adult children influence parents’ self-image

Estrangement: Are you an octopus mom (or dad)?

Countdown to the New Year

As the year comes to a close, let’s have fun! The last week of the year can feel so long. Let’s countdown to the New Year. For a bit of inspiration, come back daily between 12/24 and 12/31 as each date “unlocks” to a new blog post. You’ll have to click on the dates BELOW the picture … I hope you’ll enjoy! – HUGS from Sheri McGregor

Sheri McGregor

Countdown to the New Year!

December 24

December 25

December 26

December 27

December 28

December 29

December 30

December 31

When your adult children don’t like you, lean on the bear necessities

When your adult children don't like you

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

I’ve been thinking about bears lately. The massive “Caldor” fire took out much of a nearby town called Grizzly Flats. Acres and acres of forest burned, so the bears (and other wildlife) have been on the move.

Here in the foothills, sightings aren’t typically very common, but more bears are around right now. That means we’re alert when we tread the long path to the mailbox or let the dogs out after dark. We also put our garbage cans out in the morning rather than at night, and we keep pets and their food indoors. People aren’t encouraged to feed wild animals like they were when I was a kid. Back then, we drove through Yellowstone National Park and fed snacks through the car windows to wild bears who stood in the road waiting for treats.

In my neck of the woods these days, we’re striving to dissuade the bears dislocated by the fires, but knowing they’re here is exciting! Neighbors share Ring camera footage where bears step onto porches and amble up streets. They climb tall deer fencing like it’s nothing, and dogs that typically chase wildlife off their property only stare.

The other day while out hiking, I saw a bear in the wild—and it was smiling! You can see from the photo it was really just a tree stump, but I’ve had other sightings. In the shadows of twilight, even a boulder kind of looks like a bear . . .  .

Bears are fascinating and resilient creatures. So, it’s no wonder they symbolize power and courage in Native American spirituality. Ahem . . . bear with me now, as I share more about what these powerful beasts can teach us..

When your adult children don’t like you: Adapt

Bears are good at adapting. They’re omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and meat—and their diet changes based on what food is readily available. Bears don’t get stuck in emotional or behavioral ruts and they will travel long distances to survive.

Bears adapt to “social” change as well. At Grand Teton National Park, researchers have discovered that black bears alter their habits in areas where black bears and grizzly bears both reside. The black bears do more daytime foraging than ones who don’t live in grizzly territory. It’s a tactic to avoid the bigger, more aggressive grizzlies (smart move!).

When your adult children don’t like you, you can learn to think like a bear and adapt too. You can avoid their aggression by not answering the phone. Don’t acknowledge mean texts, have your email program place correspondence in a separate file automatically, or even set up a block. To protect yourself, adapt—physically and emotionally.

When your adult children don’t like you: Listen to your gut

Did you know that bears sometimes wake up to forage during hibernation periods?  I was surprised to learn that they will stir from winter sleep and venture out into the elements to get what they need for more long, cold days ahead. It’s not so different than Winnie the Pooh with his “rumbly” tummy. He never second guesses his needs. Neither does Paddington Bear, who loves his marmalade.

How can you “listen to your gut,” and support your well-being? Maybe a hibernation period helps. Or maybe you’ve been lying in bed, wallowing in sorrow for long enough?

Healing when your adult children don’t like you: A way to fight back

Bears have been known to fight back even when injured. For this reason, some Native American lore paints bears with the ability to heal their own wounds. They’re resilient.

Like the shy bears who try to avoid human-animal confrontations, parents of estranged adult children don’t go looking for a fight. A lot of us won’t fight back, physically or verbally, with adult children who attack us either. Whether or not we should, as well as how to defend ourselves is a topic for another day. Focusing on our own healing is a peaceful and productive way to fight back against the trauma and stress. In healing ourselves, we exhibit the strength and power of the bear.

As we support ourselves, we set a positive example, too. And we’re better equipped to offer an empathetic and helping hand (or paw!). In doing that, we help ourselves even more. By modeling recovery from such a deep wound as our own children’s rejection, we might even help a son or daughter to heal from trauma they might one day face. In that way, even from afar, we can be a momma or poppa bear to a wayward cub.

In what ways have you healed? How and to whom can you be a representation of power and strength? How can/does your own healing help those around you?

When your adult children don’t like you: Appreciate solitude

Bears spend a lot of time alone. Some bear legends depict characters who face trials and challenges underground, and then enjoy a triumphant return to the light of day. These may be representative of bears’ hibernation periods—from which they emerge  curious, hungry, and alive.

When you have alone time, make it productive. Use your cave time to reflect on ways that move you positively forward. Bears need alone time, and so might you. Cuddly and grumpy bears deserve love … and/or respect. Even self-love and self-respect.

How can you take time for yourself? What thoughts come to mind about this subject? What are some activities that nurture you, yet you’ve been putting off?

Bears sometimes break rules

To survive, bears will move into new areas. They’ll even eat out of trash cans or find pet food left outside to devour. They break the “rules” when they must. Maybe there’s a lesson in that.

When your adult children don’t like you, it’s common to start looking for the “right” thing to do. Parents want to fix the relationship and often follow all sorts of advice to try. * Don’t “guilt” your child. * Take the high road. * Don’t give up. It boils down to an endless stream:  Do this. Don’t do that. Advice is endless, and sometimes senseless for our own healing.

Is it time to channel your inner Yogi Bear? I don’t know if he was “smarter than the average bear” as he professed, but he did like to eat, laugh, and enjoy his life. Maybe like Yogi Bear, parents could stop following a bunch of rules, stop chasing adult children, and start pursuing the picnic basket of a full and well-enjoyed life.

When your adult children don’t like you: Shadow work and your inner bear

You’ve been through a trauma. With sporadic, unhealthy conflict that brings continued strife, you may still be in its claws. Do you smile and pretend everything’s okay? When your friends ask how Susie-Q-daughter is, do you grin and bear it, hiding the truth of your pain? Maybe you have always been the benevolent, long-suffering, quiet, and strong one in your family … so letting out a growl doesn’t come naturally or even seem “right.”

In psychology, there’s a practice called “shadow work,” which sometimes means exploring secrets and repressed horrors from the past, or even the darker nature of ourselves. However, shadow work isn’t always scary or traumatic. It can be about rediscovering bits of our nature, or the desires of our heart, which we’ve tamped down to fit social norms, culture, or how we were raised.

For instance, maybe you’ve spent most of your life in service to others. Yet, upon reflection, you realize you’ve always wanted to travel the world, join a theatrical troupe, or spend more time lazing around with a good book. These parts of yourself can be “shadows,” simply because you have denied them or hidden them away in the cave-like recesses of your mind.

You might not have followed these desires because you got the notion, somehow, that honoring your own needs was selfish. Or, you may have been busy raising a family, working, or in other ways serving others. Because of those important pursuits, you didn’t prioritize yourself.

Sometimes, what’s uncovered in shadow work finds beginnings in other people’s approval, which doesn’t necessarily mean assigning blame. Kids sometimes add more importance to something than parents (or teachers or coaches or . . .) intend to convey. So, while you might have been asked to “be still” in church (I was), you might have thought being still everywhere was right, and carried the behavior into other parts of your life. I’m offering these thoughts because shadow work is not about making other people wrong (even though you’ll find the topic presented that way at times). It’s about discovering your inner self.

Foraging ahead

When your adult children don’t like you, it’s beary sad. My books help you to look at the past, see what’s current, and make changes to support yourself and adapt going forward. This journey may have begun because of another person’s behavior, but as I say in Beyond Done, you must make the healing path forward about yourself.

Related Reading

Abandoned parents: Are you “chewing”?

Hurtful relationships with adult children: Have you lost yourself?

Just for fun, for toy bear and holiday lovers:

Estrangement by adult children: Weathering the storm

estrangement by adult children


Estrangement by adult children: Weathering the Storm
By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

“Hollowed out.” That’s how one father of estranged adult children recently described how he feels. “Weak.”

I understand this. It’s how a lot of parents feel when they have given their all for a child, even to their own detriment, yet come up empty.

Estrangement by adult children: The Breaking Point

Here where I live in Northern California, we recently endured an historic storm. What’s called a “bomb cyclone” merged with a level five “atmospheric river” (new-to-me terms). The combination brought strong hot and cold winds, and boatloads of rain, over a very short period of time. We were all stuck inside, hoping for the best.  Satellite TV faded in and out, broadcasting alarming predictions of flash floods full of dangerous debris that could sweep down from nearby burn scars left by recent wildfires.

As the sun set and the steelwool sky grew darker, a loud crack split through the pounding of rain, followed swiftly by a muffled thud. I went to the window and wasn’t surprised to see big branches from one of our heritage oaks lying on the ground. Uprooted trees and fallen limbs had been reported all around the area. I went to bed that evening hoping the stately oak outside my bedroom wouldn’t surprise me with a broken limb crashing through the roof during the night.

The next day, the air was still. Shafts of sunlight strained around cotton clouds, sparking rainbow prisms in droplets clinging to the crimson leaves of the maple tree out front. I put on boots and tromped around the back of the house and down the hill to examine the damage to the oak. An offshoot of the tree’s massive trunk had broken in two and lay on the ground, exposing its empty middle. Hollowed out.

Just last week, we had sought an arborist’s advice. That sunny day, as we walked the property, looking up into the canopy of several ancient oaks, he had confirmed our suspicions. The majestic trees that had so bewitched me upon first seeing this place in the winter of 2020 had been neglected. Heavy deadwood hung precariously in a few of the oaks that stood at the base of the hill. The trees nearer the house had been trimmed more recently, but even those showed signs of neglect. Many, the arborist said, needed airing out for lightening, and some limbs cut back for shape and strength. A couple of the biggest trees appeared to have root damage or were hollowed out.

Estrangement by adult children: The constant drip

estrangement by adult childrenOne reason for root damage and hollow trunks is apparently the result of slow-to-heal wounds that are left open when a tree limb is cut or cracks off on its own. In rainy months, the constant drip-drip-drip, over time, can form a channel inside the trunk. Water trickles down and weakens the tree at its core. I frowned upon hearing this. The hole I had marveled over when fledgling birds peeked out a few months earlier was really a weak spot the arborist said should be covered with plastic during the rainy season.

Too late now, I thought on that morning after the storm. I squatted next to one of the fallen halves with its gaping center. The end of an earthworm peeked from disintegrating wood, like soil, inside. Shelf fungus had also taken up residence inside the tree. Boring insects probably also get in through the holes, and further weaken vulnerable trees.

We’re not so different.

When betrayed by a loved one, even the mightiest of us are not so different than those towering oaks. Rejection by a child who has been so big a part of us and our lives, the cutting off, is like losing a limb. We suffer a wound, and for many of us, the wound gapes, allowing for even more hurt to get inside, to penetrate our very core. The reality is that we don’t want to close ourselves off and grow hardened to our own child. So, many of us will hang open, waiting, hoping they’ll return to their senses and join us again. That is what will heal the wound, we think.

Meanwhile, there’s a constant drip. Shame. Judgment. A steady rain of worries, what-ifs, and whys.

In the fragile shadow of an adult child’s abandonment and/or abuse, our identity gets blurred. Estrangement changes everything. Who are we if we’re no longer a parent? How can this be fixed? What have we been doing all these years? What can we do now?

No wonder that father rejected by an adult child said he felt hollowed out.

Estrangement by adult children: Take care.

Just as an arborist can provide education about a tree’s needs, trim out dead bits, and protect wounds during stormy seasons, rejected parents must learn to care for themselves. We must get support to protect ourselves, clear out faulty thinking that weakens us, hollows out our confidence, and makes us vulnerable.

Whether you have been estranged for many years and know the drip-drip-drip of estrangement pain or are new to the situation, I’m glad you have found your way to this website. A literal forest of parents—thousands each month—come to this site, read the articles, and leave comments to help others. I hope you will join the conversation. Some parents arrive at this site so emotionally gutted that they believe they have nothing to offer. But even expressing their deep and cutting pain can validate another parent’s feelings.

My books are another way to learn about estrangement and ways to heal. Give them a try. I hear from parents every day who tell me Done With The Crying (2016) has changed their lives. My latest book, Beyond Done With The Crying: More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children just hit the shelves a few days ago–and I’m hearing that it “goes deeper” and is “helpful in a whole new way.” Also, I spoke to many more fathers this time, and included them in more examples. Parents appreciate the practical information and help with the complex problems that can plague them due to estrangement by adult children. The research, reflection questions and exercises in both the books prompt new perspectives, promote growth, and enhance well-being.

I hope that my work can be a little like an arborist, helping you to trim away the deadwood of faulty thinking and let in sunlight to illuminate the slow drip that’s part of estrangement by adult children and help you heal.

Estrangement by adult children: New beginnings

As I looked at that broken, hollowed out tree and remembered the words that father of estranged adult children used to describe himself, I hoped he could see that, even in brokenness, all is not lost. Our wounds can make the way for new life, just as those birds found the perfect nesting spot. The lowly earthworm and the shelf fungus found a fertile core for new beginnings. We can too.

Related Reading

Estranged by adult children: Parents, use weepy days for your own good

The shadow of estrangement

New estrangement research beats a dead horse (October 2021)

new estrangement research

DUH.

Do you remember that word from childhood? Maybe you remember it with an eye roll: Duh-Uh.

The word came to mind when I read of a recent survey study on estrangement.

“New” estrangement research

The survey of 1,035 mothers of estranged adult children asked the women about the cause of the estrangement. Many of the moms talked about people who stirred up trouble between them and their adult children. I called these people “influential adversaries” in my book, Done With The Crying. They include the estranged parent’s ex-spouse, a son- or daughter-in-law, or other family members or friends who create division. Nearly two thirds of rejected moms from the new research also talked about an adult child’s mental illness or an addiction as contributing to estrangement.

My own estrangement research consists of more than 50,000 responses to surveys for parents of estranged adult children. I have also personally interviewed hundreds of abandoned moms, dads, and siblings, and I interact with them daily (as well as am a rejected mother myself).

All of this “new” information reads like yesterday’s news. But what is even older is that when the study authors looked at existing research, they found that the adult children cited different reasons for their choice to estrange.

Did you catch that? The adult children who estranged themselves disagreed with their mothers.

Duh-Uh.

Estrangement: Very real issues

I could go on here about the very real problem of parental alienation syndrome, about how those with personality disorders can be neurotically possessive to the point of isolating another person from their own family, and how these persons will generally blame everyone else for their problems … but I won’t.

Many, maybe even most, of you, the loving parents who are rejected by adult children and read this blog, are familiar with one or more of these issues. You have lived through them and suffered the consequences. The supposed revelations of this “new” estrangement research is old news to you, too.

DUH.

Hugs from Sheri McGregor

For some genuinely new and helpful info, my latest book will be out very soon.

Reference:

Schoppe-Sullivan, S. J. et al, Mothers’ attributions for estrangement from their adult children, Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice (2021). doi.org/10.1037/cfp0000198