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Cut off by adult children and lonely

cut off by adult childrenCut off by adult children? You may feel lonely, but you’re not alone

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Many parents cut off by adult children feel all alone. The reasons for estrangement are often uncertain, and are varied. Divorce, parental alienation syndrome, drugs, an influential love interest…. Situations can be complex, and circumstances are unique. Regardless, parents cut off by adult children can feel isolated.

If you’re all alone or lonely this Valentine’s Day—or any day—take heart. Not only are you one of many in similar straits, but it’s even possible to see your alone time in a whole new light.

Valentine’s Day—and any day

Parents cut off by adult children may be emotionally exhausted and feel as if life is passing them by. They’re exhausted by their lack of power to fix the relationship. Estranged adult children ignore efforts to reconcile, or respond with icy words or actions that make it clear: they’re not interested in a healthy relationship.

cut off by adult childrenWhat’s worse, parents cut off by adult children can start to feel as if they don’t fit in anywhere anymore.  While friends share tales of sweet grandchildren presenting valentines with too much pasty glue, rejected parents ache for that connection, and worry they’re being maligned to grandchildren they deeply miss. Yet sharing their circumstances may be met with blank stares or judgmental comments. Arms fold. People look away and sit back in their chairs. Nobody seems to understand. “It’s enough to make you feel like a leper,” one mother explained. “That’s why I avoid people now.”

In reaching out for support and sharing your circumstances, you may have been met with blank stares or hurtful questions (What did you do to cause that?). Arms fold. People look away. Nobody seems to understand. You may feel as if you just don’t fit in anymore.

“It’s enough to make you feel like a leper,” one mother explained. “I avoid people now.”

cut off by adult childrenThese sad, isolating feelings can start to be the “new normal.” Be careful of letting estrangement get the better of you. As described in my recent article, you can positively shape your new normal to move forward in your life. How you look at loneliness can help.

Cause and effect

If you’re hungry, getting something to eat is the natural response. Thirsty? Get a drink. Why then, when you’re lonely, is enjoying the people’s company more complicated?

After my estranged son cut off the family, social situations became more difficult. All around me was the tinkling of glasses, the bubbling of conversations, the rise and fall of laughter…. I felt like an outsider. Similar to Lila, talked about in a previous article, I was disillusioned. It was difficult to trust.

My feelings mirrored those of this mother, quoted here from the pages of Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children:

“Sometimes, I even wonder if my own friends doubt me, like they’re measuring everything I say or do against the estrangement, and wondering if it was really my fault.”

Other parents cut off by adult children spoke of putting up emotional walls and shutting people out. Thousands shared what boils down to a pervasive fear of emotionally investing. They worry they will be hurt again. This sort of self-preservation is natural for hurting parents cut off by adult children. But it can also be unhealthy.  And the truth is, if you’ve been cut off by adult children, you are not alone.

cut off by adult childrenParents cut off by adult children: Join the club

Kind parents who did their best—yet were cut off by adult children—are everywhere. They work at your doctor’s office and sit in the pews of your church. They are your neighbors and are maybe even your friends. But they may not have told you. They’re suffering in silence, feeling all alone, and afraid to share. They may even look at you and think that you couldn’t possibly understand.

There’s a section in the book about sharing, and then steering other people’s responses. Talking about estrangement will help make known the reality of just how many decent, loving parents are cut off by adult children. You may be at a point when you’re more than willing to share, as I often do. Maybe you’ll even work toward informing society as has been done with this quilt by an estranged mother. Educating the public about this social issue that affects so many is a topic for another day. For now, let’s get back to the individual experience of feeling lonely, on Valentine’s Day, or on any day.

Solitude: Put being alone in a new light

Recently, a young father in his early thirties told me he missed having time alone. His children played nearby, their “watch me, Daddy” and “look what I can do” call-outs making us smile. This father said he realizes that one day they won’t be calling him to watch. He wasn’t contemplating estrangement, of course. Unless they’ve been touched by estrangement, parents of tiny tots rarely do. But he knows they’ll be busy in their own lives someday. And he’s planning ahead for that time.

“I know a lot of older people who waste their solitude feeling sad,” he said. “They’re free, they’re healthy, and they have a lot to offer. But some sit and wait for their family to come around.” He grinned. “And then I know others who learn to play guitar, continue to work, make things, or walk miles and pick up street trash to clean up the neighborhood. They’re happy and talk to people all along the way.” His eyes twinkling, he pointed to his heart as he spoke. “I like being around those people. They have so much knowledge and experience to share.”

I couldn’t help smiling at this young man’s passionate words. He must do a lot of deep thinking while his youngsters play on the monkey bars and swings. He’s enjoying his time with them now, but he’s already valuing the solitude that’s yet to come.

I thought about what he said. Part of me believes he can’t understand these older people’s plight. Still, he makes a good point. If you’re alone, do you value your solitude? Do you use time, and your freedom, wisely?

Parents cut off by adult children: The challenge

I know it’s difficult. It takes effort to reclaim confidence and adjust to a new future. But it is possible, even alone, to change, to grow, and to embrace a new way of life that’s healthy and good.

My book includes tools to help parents cut off by adult children see their feelings and in a new light. You can build on confidence from previous hardships you’ve overcome. You can recognize and give yourself credit for any ways you’ve grown since the estrangement began. It’s okay to admit any positives. There’s no need for guilt.

All alone? Not really.

Feeling lonely may be more miserable in a society that’s so connected. But when it comes to estrangement, you’re really not alone at all. If you’re looking for support and camaraderie from people who understand, “like” my facebook page for estranged parents, or join the conversation in “comments” that follow nearly every post here.  And sign up for my newsletter (the sign up form is on the right, near the top of the page.

You’re not alone among the thousands of other parents cut off by adult children. Mothers and fathers who have been estranged for years share their experiences to help others heal. In the safe company of others who understand, parents of estranged adult children may begin to feel more confident again. And in time, feel more social, and willing to risk getting out among friends and making new ones.

Be your own Valentine?cut off by adult children

Love comes in many forms. Let’s broaden Valentine’s Day to include love of neighbor and kindness to self. Take a moment to smile. You might make someone else’s day. And if you do that for another, you’ll be doing it for yourself.

Related articles:

Reinvent Yourself

Spreading Happiness

Dreams: help in moving forward after an adult child’s estrangement?

moving forward after an adult child's rejectionYour vivid dreams: Can they be helpful in moving forward after an adult child’s estrangement?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Parents of estranged adult children often speak of dreams that disturb their sleep and haunt their waking hours. I can relate. Especially in the early months, intense, vivid dreams filled my nights. Even in slumber, my mind couldn’t rest.

Forceful dreams, and even nightmares, are common after emotional trauma. The subconscious wrestles with the pain, and puzzles over the dilemma. What comes next? How can I make sense of this? Is there a solution? And even, do I move on?

After your adult child’s rejection, if your dream life is suddenly rich and/or troubling, it may be helpful to take note of the scenes, the images, and your feelings—and make meaning of them. Doing so may even be helpful in moving forward after an adult child’s rejection.

Do dreams hold meaning?

Carl Jung, one of history’s most famous figures in the field of psychology, believed dreams allowed the mind to reflect on and work out issues from waking life. Because of my experiences with dreams, I tend to agree. For example, when my children were young, if I had to travel away from them, my dreams reflected my worries. I would see my children near the side of a busy road, about to cross—and I couldn’t get to them. Often, my husband also appeared in those dreams, leading them away from danger.

I hated those dreams, but took some comfort in realizing they were my mind’s way of wrestling with my motherly fears, and even solving a problem from my waking life (as Jung believed). While I was away, my children would be with their father, and he would protect them.

Fast forward many years. After my son’s estrangement, I recognized my vivid dreams might help me deal with the stark reality. Perhaps they were my mind’s way of working on the issue. With that attitude, my dreams began to bring me peace. Perhaps yours can too.

Not all dreams are as straightforward as mine were when my children were young. Below, I’ve shared a dream that helped me claim my own strength. Maybe my reflections on the imagery will help you decipher clues from your own dreams that will help you in moving forward after an adult child’s estrangement.

A vivid dream: What could it mean?

I sat as passenger in a freight truck driven by my estranged son. He guided the big semi into a check station off the highway, and we both got out. We went inside a small, wood-paneled office with a desk in the corner. Men in khaki uniforms with badges whisked my son into an adjacent room, and then returned to ask if I had been involved.

Confused, I replied simply, “No.”

One officer held a clipboard with a slip of yellow paper attached. “Look at these code words,” he said, proffering the sheet. “Don’t you think he would have told you about these if he was telling you the truth? So that you could call and be safe if something happened?”

moving forward after an adult child's rejectionBaffled, I shook my head. Scribbles crossed the yellow paper, yet I somehow recognized the pencil scratches as the words my son had used over the CB radio while driving the semi.

Suddenly, a nun stepped forward. “Rest.” She gestured toward a row of plastic chairs along the wall.

I sat down in one of the hard chairs. A few moments later, another uniformed man came in carrying a large, clear trash bag full of deflated white balloons. He nodded to me, and approached the officer at the desk. “More of the same,” he said. The desk officer nodded, and made a note. From their exchange, I understood the balloons were a sort of contraband, a common cargo that gets truckers stopped at the weigh station.

Through a screened portion of the side room door, I could see my son sat sitting there with a smug expression on his face. I leaned forward in my chair, trying to get his attention through the mesh. He knew I was there, but he wouldn’t acknowledge me.

Moments later, the side door opened, and in walked Lorne Greene, the sensible father from the old Bonanza television show. “Hello there, Sheri,” he said with a friendly tip of his cowboy hat.

Relieved to see him, I rose and shook his hand.

“Well,” Lorne Greene said, “let’s get you something to drive.”

I happily followed him outside to a huge car lot. I was dressed in a khaki-colored split skirt that dropped to just above my knees. My comfortable work shoes were sensible lace-ups. And on my head was a nun’s habit—only khaki, like the rest of what I understood in the dream was a uniform.

Lorne Greene, in his Ponderosa vest, handed me a set of keys. He smiled, his strong face calming me. Yet, as I opened the driver’s side door, explosive diarrhea ran down my leg, and puddled on the ground. It was then that I woke up, the vivid images still clear.

Insights from dreams after an adult child’s estrangement

What did it all mean? First, let’s start with the obvious.

My son was driving. No surprise there. His actions, the situation of estrangement, had been “driving” my life. I’d been consumed by the pain, and hurting. I’d been a passenger on a trip I hadn’t expected and didn’t want.

Stopping at the check station also held an easy message. It was time to pause and take stock of what had happened and how it affected me before moving on.

The deflated balloons seemed to indicate my emotions. Those withered balloons represented my disappointment and loss. I was deflated, yet my estranged son looked smug. He had been driving those emotions—-and I’d let him take charge of how I felt.

Now let’s look at the less obvious.

The officer had shown me a bunch of scribbles, and although they weren’t really words, I had recognized them as the “code words” my son had spoken on the CB Radio. The fact that I didn’t know what they meant seemed to go along with my son being detained in the adjacent room—while I was let go and to a car of my own to drive. In the dream, I was let off the hook for his words and actions. In my waking life, I could see that I needed to assign him responsibility, and let myself off the hook.

I laughed at the presence of Lorne Greene in my dream, but he’d handed me the keys.  He must be significant. As a child, my entire family watched Bonanza. Seeing the sensible father from the show seemed to represent a father figure in my dream. I felt cared for and loved. He was trustworthy, and had a solution. He handed me the keys to get into the driver’s seat of my own life.

What about the split skirt, the work shoes, and the fact that I wore a nun’s habit? After deliberation, I decided the split skirt must symbolize my feelings of being torn. One leg stepped forward, while the other was rooted in the past, clinging to a memory of the dependable, even-keeled son I knew and loved. Yet my son had been detained. His smug expression from the dream made it clear: I needed to let go, and move on.

The clothing I saw as a uniform indicated work. Getting on the road to recovering my life and my sense of self would require effort. Yet my dream reassured me. I had the tools: the uniform, the keys, the car, even Lorne Greene’s blessing.

What about the nun’s habit? Dream analysis experts say the subconscious uses rich symbolism for meaningful ideas, and sometimes a play on words. The nun telling me to rest, as well as me wearing the habit, might have something to do with holding my son accountable for his decisions, of letting myself off the hook, and forgiving. Or perhaps it was a play on the word’s sound. None rather than nun—meaning I am nothing any longer in my son’s life. Regardless, these interpretations were helpful to me.

Finally, the explosive diarrhea, which is not something I often discuss in polite conversation. Keeping in mind the idea of symbolism, perhaps this represented release, the letting go of painful emotions. The embarrassment of soiling oneself in public is also worth mentioning. Admitting an adult child’s estrangement can be humiliating. For me, facing that feeling was crucial to coping. It allowed me to openly share, and allow others into my experience.

Obviously, in my dream there’d be some cleanup required before I could hop behind the wheel, and drive off into the sunset of my own life, free. Likely, I’d have to change out the split skirt (and the feeling of being torn) too. These feelings reflect real life.

Your dreams and their interpretation are personal

It’s important to note that dreams are personal. While some symbolism may be universal, they also derive from your own experiences and beliefs. One person’s interpretation may not make sense for another. However, discussing dreams can sometimes be helpful.

I recently shared this dream and my thoughts about it over lunch with friends. In connection with the nun references, one of my friends brought up guilt. She believed the nun and the nun’s habit could be representative of me feeling guilt over driving off and leaving my son behind.

“What’s the first thing you think of when you think of a nun?” she asked. And then she answered, “Guilt.”

But for me, nuns don’t symbolize guilt. However, her thoughts as she explained them from her own sensibilities and experiences made sense. And it’s certainly true that parents might very well feel some guilt at getting on with their own lives and moving forward after an adult child’s rejection—and your dream might hold an image to symbolize the feeling.

My friend also felt that the powerful image of a semi-truck was important. My son could drive this big machine, but I could not. And the “code words,” she said, represented my son’s secret life, a part of him I didn’t understand and couldn’t be a part of.

These last thoughts feel right on the mark to me, even though I didn’t think of them years ago when I woke up from the dream and analyzed it.

The essential truth

While some of my friend’s thoughts ring true in retrospect, at the time of my dream, I pulled from it what I needed. For me, that dream clarified what I already knew. Like so many of you, I had come to realize that moving on was essential to my own happiness. Yet letting go would require me to admit my feelings of wanting to hang onto the past, as well as the work needed to accept my new reality.

Whether children are estranged or remain emotionally close, there comes a time when parents are no longer in charge. Our children become adults. They make their own decisions and drive their own lives. As parents rejected by an estranged adult child, we have the choice whether or not to remain a passenger on a painful journey. We hold the keys to our own road ahead. Let’s make it a happy journey.

Can you help?
Have you had insightful dreams? Have your dreams helped you in moving forward after an adult child’s rejection? If you’d like share, and possibly help other parents, consider sending your thoughts to me in an email for use in future writings to help parents of estranged adults. Use the contact form, and please put DREAMS in the subject line. .

Help in moving forward after an adult child’s rejection: More articles by Sheri McGregor:

The Boat

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