Tag Archives: parents of estranged adult children

Estrangement and the holidays: Your perspective can help

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

estrangement and the holidaysWhen it comes to estrangement and the holidays, feeling joyful can be a challenge.

This time of year, parents of estranged adult children can feel very down. They wish things were the way they used to be, they look at all the other happy families, and find themselves alone. In estrangement, for many, the holidays equal pain. This holiday season, won’t you join me in considering how a change in perspective can change our experience?

Estrangement and the holidays:
Change your perspective, change your experience

There’s a funny internet article (or two) about how social media models use perspective to change how they appear. Camera angle and posture work like magic to change the viewer’s perspective, and voila! Abdominal rolls flatten, the booty looks bigger, and the models look slim and fit.

Of course, with estrangement, it’s not as simple as sucking in your estrangement and the holidaysbelly so you look thin or tucking your tongue to the roof of your mouth to lift a double chin. But when it comes to estrangement and the holidays, your perspective really can make a positive difference. This is true in both how people see you, and how you see yourself and experience the holidays.

Below, I’ll share just a few short thoughts on perspective. These are meant as jumping off points for your own unique ideas and specific ways to view the holidays in a positive light.

Estrangement and the holidays: Are you really alone?

In the U.S., many senior citizens are alone for the holidays. Millions of seniors are by themselves over the holidays. You may feel alone, but you’re not.

When you read that, what did you immediately think of? Did you imagine people sitting at home alone, maybe with a sad face? If so, it’s because of our conditioning about the holidays.

estrangement and the holidaysWe’re conditioned to think of families and togetherness as the perfect holidays. And that can set us up to believe that if our holiday isn’t like that, then it’s not a good holiday. Seeing the holidays with a more realistic view puts your situation into perspective.

There are many, many people who choose to spend the holidays alone. They’re tired of the hoopla and commercialism. Or perhaps they choose to focus on what’s at the core of holiday meaning for them and view the time as a period of rest and reflection.

Estrangement and the holidays: When will this end?

There are 365 days in a year, and only a few are holidays. Don’t get caught up in the commercial ploy that tries to make everyone think holidays-holidays-holidays for months on end.

Estranged or not, holidays evolve

For all of us, the holidays have changed over the years. This is trueestrangement and the holidays whether we face estrangement or not. Think back to the different ways the holidays have evolved for you…even from childhood. To have a good perspective about estrangement and the holidays, consider this just another phase.

When your circumstances evolved in the past, how did you change up the holiday activities to fit? Think about it, when your children were young, you did certain things…. Then you moved to more age appropriate activities. Maybe you used to get together with extended family, and then you no longer did. Families get complicated, and activities change. Sure, we didn’t want or expect estrangement, but it’s our reality (at least for right now). We might as well make the best of the holidays despite it.

If it helps, consider clear back to the first holidays you remember. Make a timeline, or even a scrapbook if that appeals. It’s proof that holiday joy changes.

When things change, we must change, too. We have been flexible before, and we can again.

What will you do now to make YOUR holidays bright? Don’t forget to let YOUR light shine.

Estrangement and the holidays: Is this a plus?

You may be so focused on the sadness and loss that you’re blinded to any positive aspects. Answer honestly: What won’t you miss?

estrangement and the holidaysMaybe you won’t have to cook (or cook as much). Maybe you’ll have more money in your budget. Maybe you don’t have to travel. Maybe this way, the holidays won’t interrupt your healthy lifestyle. Maybe, for once, you get to do what you want.

In my book, there’s an exercise to get you thinking about what you don’t miss about your estranged son or daughter. Alter that exercise for the holidays. Doing so can help.

To change your perspective, consider what you will not miss.

Estrangement and the holidays:
Acknowledge your feelings

This is not intended to minimize the sadness parents of estranged adult children can feel. The holidays really can be difficult.

Sadness, longing, anger, envy, bitterness, hatred. . . . All the emotions we don’t like can pile on.

It’s okay to acknowledge those feelings, cry, vent, or reach out for support if you need to. But don’t get stuck there.

If you start to feel down, consider your perspective.

  1. Remind yourself that you’re not alone in being alone.
  2. Remind yourself of the way the holidays have changed throughout your life, and think about how you changed right along with them—you’re more flexible than you think.
  3. Instead of thinking about what you’re losing this holiday season, think about what you’re gaining in the loss. We can all come up with one or two things that are positives.

Be thankful for the good in your life, and take on perspectives that make you feel better.

HUGS to all of you,

Sheri McGregor

P.S. — Read the related posts below for holiday help … and use the search box on the right of the page, using the word “holidays” for even more articles.

P.P.S. — as always, I’d love to hear your perspective on what you can change up to make the holidays good/fun/enjoyable/bright despite estrangement. Leave a reply to this article.

Estrangement and the holidays: Related reading

Abandoned parents, let your light shine

Estranged? Enjoy the holidays anyway

Estrangement and the Holidays: How to manage them

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take care…

adult children who have gone no contactJust a quick post to let all the parents of estranged adults know I’m thinking of them. With the hurricane barreling in and set to hit, I know many of you are worried and upset.

Adult children who have
gone no contact

Every time there is a major event like this about to start, or during the after-effects, parents whose children have gone ‘no contact’ and live in the affected areas suffer stress. They are faced with a dilemma about what to do.

Should they call the adult son who has rejected them?

Should they reach out to their daughter who is ‘no contact’?

If they do text or call, will the estranged adult child reply and put the parents’ mind at ease?

It can be a trying time.

adult children who have gone no contactIn the past article (from August, 2016) titled: When your adult child is estranged: What to do about life events, one presented situation is a hurricane. If you’re facing a dilemma about this storm (or other life event) and could use some clarity, I hope you will click through. Included questions can help you explore your thoughts and feelings, and come to some conclusions about what to do.

Meanwhile, if you’re in the affected areas or have loved ones who are, take good care. You have this community of thousands of hurting parents cheering for you, sending prayers and positive energy.

Hugs to you!

 

Sincerely,
Sheri McGregor

Related reading:

National Hurricane Center for up to date information

Abusive adult children influence parents’ self-image

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

abusiv

 

 

NOTE: I don’t often use the word “abuse” when talking about estrangement. For some, though, the term fits. Estrangement itself, by adult children toward caring parents, can be viewed as a form of abuse. If you’re not comfortable with this terminology, use the search functions to explore other articles with specific topics relevant to parents of estranged adult children. — Sheri

Abusive adult children: a scary reflection

Have you ever looked in one of those magnifying mirrors that highlights every imperfection? Fine facial hair looks forest-thick, and skin pores appear as large as craters. But there’s a value in looking closely—even if, as a friend says, “Those magnifying mirrors are scary.”

Whose Mirror?

The perverse opinions of abusive adult children can make parents see themselves in a warped mirror. One that distorts them so much they no longer recognize themselves. This might have happened over time, or overnight.

abusive adult children“All I could see were my failures,” recalls Barbara. “My own daughter told me I ruined her life, and she had a million detailed memories of how I did everything wrong.”

Imagine waking up one day and seeing a monstrosity reflected. That’s how parents can feel when an adult child’s abuse includes blame, accusations, and twisted memories.

In the beginning, Barbara spoke up. “It was as if my daughter woke up one day and had brand new memories,” Barbara explains. “She recounted her life with a black cloud of doom over her head, and the cloud was me.”

Because the vast majority of parents want their children’s happiness above all else, they reevaluate themselves through the son or daughter’s perspective. They’re willing to look at how their choices may have been seen through their child’s eyes. All parents make mistakes. Also, it’s possible a child didn’t understand a parent’s choices, the motivation driving them, or what might have been happening behind the scenes. Those sorts of things can be discussed and worked out by willing parties.

Unfortunately, of the one hundred or more emails I receive from parents of estranged or abusive adult children each week, many of them have tried—unsuccessfully. Barbara certainly did. Offers for mediation, counseling, or to just sit down and talk, have been met with such things as flat-out refusals, silence, or more abusive rants.

Seeing the real you

Many parents are surprised to find that there are so many like them who have suffered from cruelty, abandonment, put-downs, and endless blame. And because it’s a controversial subject, they’ve been afraid to tell anyone for fear of judgment. Or, as is often the case, they’re keeping quiet to protect their adult child’s reputation.

Barbara knew she had done her best. She’s like other parents whose self-image can get lost to a flawed reflection provided repeatedly by abusive adult children. I routinely hear from parents convinced they’re failures, deserving of the pain or abandonment their sons and daughters inflict. After all, they reason, if they were a good mother or father, their children would love them.

They may try everything to maintain a relationship. Barbara’s daughter threatened to keep her grandchildren away, so she walked on eggshells.  “If I said anything out of line, which could be anything depending on her mood, then the tirade would begin.” Eventually, Barbara’s then 36-year old daughter began posting lies on Facebook about her. At the time, Barbara was recovering from surgery. At her breaking point, she replied, publicly asking her daughter why she’d lied. The postings were deleted, but Barbara’s daughter went no-contact. “It wasn’t the first time,” says Barbara. “But it has been the longest estrangement so far.”

With a health scare that became a turning point, Barbara knew she had to make a change. That’s when she began to look for help. But after years of warped opinions from an abusive adult child, she had little self-confidence.  “If I raised this person who turned out to be so cruel, then how could I be a successful mother?” she asks.  “My daughter had reminded me what a failure I was every chance she got.”

Take a closer look.

abusive adult childrenWhen suffering parents discover my book, they tell me they’re shocked to read so many experiences that mirror their own. And although it’s sad to know there are so many suffering, the knowledge is also heartening. They’re no longer alone. In reading other parents’ accounts, they get a clearer view. They see themselves in others’ stories, and recognize they were also good parents who did their best.

Once parents have a clearer reflection, they can explore positive changes to help themselves move forward in their own lives. One of the first steps is to look more closely at how much an abusive adult child has affected their lives. The inflicted suffering entails more than sadness and grief. Bitterness, lack of confidence, anger, fear, and anxiety have often crept in. In Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, there are many exercises, and one designed specifically to help with this vital step. Holding the magnifier up to examine changes in themselves is one of the first steps to making positive, concrete plans to regain confidence, find meaning, and happiness again.

Take action.

One woman who found this website and my book after 20 years of grief described her life as a “living death.” Now, she’s glad to have found a way out of the rollercoaster of emotions, the shame and sorrow, and to stop crying and to start celebrating life.

abusive adult childrenBarbara says it’s too late to reconcile with her daughter. There has been too much heartbreak, and her daughter has refused any sort of counseling or mediation. “I miss my grandchildren,” she says, “but I’m hoping to one day see them again.”

Barbara’s expresses the sentiment of many grandparents who, due to estrangement, have lost touch with precious ones. But I sometimes hear from grandparents who have received their wish. There’s a knock at the door one day, and it’s a grownup grandchild with that same sweet smile, wanting to reconnect. When that happens, you’ll want to be ready, so take care of yourself. As one grandmother recently advised, “Get dressed and put on lipstick every day.”

Don’t wait and hope, mired by inaction that only adds to your grief. You can clean the mirrors of guilt and shame and see yourself for the loving parent you have always been. Like thousands of parents who are learning to accept what they cannot change, and see their goodness again, you can be done with the crying. Take action for yourself and your happiness by reading more of the articles at this site, getting Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children and committing to the included exercises. Subscribe to my email newsletter (below) and take the survey using the link on the right. By taking action, you can be like so many parents who have recovered from the sadness and pain caused by abusive adult children, on-and-off or full-on estrangements. Treasure your life. You can find happiness and meaning again.

Related reading:

Rejected parents: Should you tell people?

Parents: Have you had enough?

Elder Abuse Statistics

In Estrangement: Intervene for yourself

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Have you seen the television show called Intervention? The few times I’ve watched, the stories are heartbreaking, and the interventions have limited success. But something in the show the other night stuck with me.

estrangementIntervention: Who gets help?

If you’ve have ever watched the show, you know that the addict’s family members have suffered. Sometimes a grandparent cares for the addict’s child. Family members have tried to talk sense into the individual, and have offered all sorts of help. They may have felt as if they had no choice but to enable the adult child with money so he or she doesn’t end up on the street. But nothing has worked. They’ve watched their loved one’s life unravel—and often, parts of their own lives have unraveled too.

The family’s decision to do an “intervention” represents more than helping the addict. The family members are helping themselves. They all agree that enough is enough. Something must change. They can no longer enable and allow the addict to interfere with their own happiness. By setting up boundaries to support themselves, which includes things like disengaging from the relationship, no longer giving money, and letting the addict suffer the consequences of their behavior, they hope the addict will agree to get immediate help.

How’s this apply to estranged parents?

In the episode I’m referring to, the family waited for the addict to arrive at the pre-intervention meeting as always. The counselor brought up some important points that apply to estrangement from adult children.

First, the counselor said: Whenever you think or talk about the addict, it’s a mood-altering experience.

estrangementThe family agreed. No doubt, parents experiencing estrangement from adult children can relate. Thinking about an estranged adult child brings them down. It’s a mood-altering experiencing. And it’s no wonder. For most parents, it’s difficult to even believe the estrangement has occurred, let alone try to accept it. The emotional trauma of estrangement is tough to contend with and bleeds into other areas of parents’ lives. It can be so draining. That’s why I wrote my book to help parents of estranged adult children cope, founded RejectedParents.Net, and am sharing with you in this article now.

Next, the counselor told the family: The thing is, the addict may never change.

It’s the same with estrangement. Many parents hope for their estranged adult child’s change of heart, and for a reconciliation like the prodigal child. But it’s important to realize that this may never happen.

Finally, the intervention counselor told the family: You cannot be casualties of the addict’s behavior.

Parents estranged from adult children need to think the same way.  Your estranged adult child may never change. Don’t be a casualty.

No intervention for your estranged adult children

For absolute clarity, let me say outright that I am in no way suggesting you do an intervention with your estranged adult child. Many families have tried this, and of the stories I’ve heard, the results were not good. I’ll share a few of those experiences in a future article, because I hear from parents all the time who are wondering about the tactic.

Estrangement: Focus on you

In Done With The Crying, there are examples of how repeatedly reaching out can become hurtful to parents of estranged adult children. Suffering rejection over and over again can further dismantle self-esteem, and puts parents at the feet of a child to whom they’ve handed all the power. Reconciling may not even be wise if the relationship will be hurtful. Coming to terms with estrangement involves examining the situation with clear eyes rather than through rose colored glasses.

As the New Year is set to start (or any time!), draw the curtain on the dark thoughts such as where you must have gone wrong. If you’re like most parents, in estrangement from your adult children, you’ve beat yourself up for every possible mistake.

Starting this new calendar year, let go of the worries and what-ifs about your estranged adult child’s possible future regrets. Instead, focus on the good you did, the times you tried, andestrangement the effort you made to be the best parent you knew how.

Don’t be a casualty. Do a personal intervention on yourself. Join thousands of parents who, despite estrangement, have embraced their lives and moved happily into the future.

Happy New Year!

Related reading

Estrangement from adult children: Five ways to move forward

New Year NOW

What don’t you know?

 

Estrangement: What about hope?

estrangementby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

In the face of estrangement from adult children, the concept of hope frequently comes up. Some parents take comfort in the idea their estranged adult children might one day reconnect. Others waffle, wondering if hope is futile. Some parents let go of hope entirely, and believe it’s a positive step toward their emotional well-being. Others are troubled by the admission and worry that giving up hope isn’t normal.

Let’s take a closer look at the concept of hope as it relates to recovering from the pain of estrangement.

Estrangement: Is it wise to hope?

Parents suffering the throes of estrangement usually hang onto hope. Sometimes though, they wonder if hope is even realistic. They ask if it’s is healthy for them, or maybe holds them in a sort of limbo state.

“I would get caught up in magical thinking,” said one mother whose estrangement continues after six years. “At least I’ve come to see it like that.” This mother of two daughters whose oldest is estranged explains that in the beginning, she would often send texts, emails, and even phone messages (her daughter never answered), thinking if she just said the right thing, her daughter would return to her. “Now, I don’t believe anything I could do or say would make a difference,” she says. “But I still have hope.”

Hope is different than expectation.

This mom doesn’t equate her hope with expectation. People routinely hang onto hope when outcomes are beyond their control. Hope rises with the element of possibility more than probability. 1

Seeing hope for what it is allows you to get on with your own life.

In estrangement, can hope help?estrangement

For parents suffering the distress of estrangement from adult children, the hope of getting through the emotional trauma and having a happy life despite it can most certainly help.

Studies about hope often center on persons who are physically ill. Even so, we can learn from people whose precarious circumstances serve to highlight what’s most important in life. For these persons, hope can provide insight into their lives as a whole, and help them see how their past can intersect with their future.2

Similarly, parents devastated by an estrangement over which they have no real control can find a way to view and conceptualize hope as part of an overall narrative of their life and focus. For instance, seeing the part they played in their son or daughter’s upbringing—financially, emotionally, or otherwise—and understanding how that past role contributed to the adult child’s life and future as well.

Did you provide a stable environment? Allow your child to explore a variety of interests? Contribute financially to their physical wellness and/or education? Perhaps you were adventurous, and introduced your child to physical pursuits that widened their experiences and built their strength. How could things like these fit into your child’s adult life?

Ideas around hope can be unique, fitting into an individual parent’s personal life narrative. We always hoped for the best for their children. Continuing to hold out this hope for them, even in estrangement, can bolster our self-esteem and confidence. We are still good parents—despite our children’s choices.

estrangementHope for reconciliation:
Is it normal to give it up?

Among the many thousands of parents who have shared their estrangements with me, many say they have lost all hope of ever reconnecting in any significant way. Some go so far as to say they hope their child never tries. Or have even been contacted but turned their son or daughter away. Often, these parents are troubled by their feelings.

One parent whose son initiated estrangement admitted she hopes he’ll never try to return. Over several years of torment, her son duped her out of large sums of money that derailed her retirement. He even threatened to murder her. His estrangement came as a relief. After several months, she still suffers ill effects to her health, has trouble sleeping, and is sometimes plagued by the feeling that she must be to blame. Although she is relieved over his estrangement and honest that she’s given up the hope of ever having a relationship with him, those feelings trouble her. In her medical profession, hope is encouraged, so to personally experience a loss of hope cuts deep, slashing at her ideals.

This mother didn’t choose the estrangement, but because her son did, she’s since experienced a level of peace in her everyday life that wasn’t possible when her son remained in contact. She’s no longer awakened by hostile rantings and threats, and is no longer manipulated into financially rescuing her son.

It’s not difficult to understand why her son’s estrangement is liberating. This mother is similar to a couple in their seventies who, after years of verbal abuse and episodic estrangements initiated by their son and his wife, have decided that they will no longer allow him back into their lives. The pain of losing their grandchildren yet again, and of suffering their son’s vicious verbal tirades has taken its toll. Exhausted, these parents have chosen to savor their older years together, thankful for some peace. They’re no longer always on edge, in a perpetual state of fear. Their hope now rests with the grandchildren, whom they’re optimistic will one day contact them and pick up the loving relationship they cultivated during the “on” years of their on-and-off relationship controlled by their estranged son.

These parents cut off the prospect of further distress. Their reasoning aligns with the thoughts of philosopher Friedrich Nietzche, who calls hope “the most evil of evils, because it prolongs man’s torment.”3

No hope when nothing has changed

One father recently sent me an email, telling about his experience during six years of estrangement from his son. This loving father who had tried to have a good relationship with his son had been holding out hope. He fully expected that if his son did ever return to him, life lessons would have helped him mature—similar to the prodigal son who returned with a changed heart. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. This father welcomed his estranged son into his home, but within a few minutes, the son proceeded to list what he saw as his father’s faults. He blamed his father for all of the problems in his life, and also the estrangement.

Reminded of the old turmoil—as compared with the relative peace during the six-year estrangement—this father told his son to leave and never come back. And then he sent me an email, wondering if it is common for parents to put an end to a relationship with an abusive son.

The answer is yes.

I hear from parents at all stages of estrangement: a week of no contact, one year, five years, or even decades. While it’s true that the majority say they wish they could have a good relationship, many admit to having lost all hope. Some for reasons like the parents above. Others because a son or daughter is now a stranger. Many explain why they know that a normal relationship isn’t possible, and they no longer want to try—yet are still plagued by sadness and worry their loss of hope represents some personal shortcoming.

Hope: Against the odds?

In the first example, the mother spoke of hope as integral in her work. Hope helps people who are suffering, often in situations that are largely out of their control. That’s how the idea of maintaining hope differs from optimism about more self-determined outcomes. We “hope” that there will be no traffic. We “hope” our surgery will go well. We “hope” that a friend with cancer survives. Other than the obvious things we might do to help these situations along, such as leave at low-traffic times or choose a reputable doctor, the outcomes are mostly beyond our control.

Hoping an estrangement will end is normal, but it’s also wise to accept that the outcome is beyond our control. Some parents can see that in their situation, it also isn’t likely. For them, leaving hope behind makes sense in order to stop the torment of continued hurt.

The couple in their seventies who are optimistic their grandchildren will one day reconnect make a distinction between hope and optimism. The oldest was 14 when the last estrangement began. They still send cards to her and her younger siblings, although they can’t be sure they’re receiving them. They reason that their granddaughter was old enough to see that her father’s bad behavior wasn’t their fault.

Limits are unique

We each decide our own limits as to how much trouble, abuse, or neglect we will accept in estrangement and still hope for reconciliation. In my book, there is a series of questions that help individuals conclude for themselves where they fall in the spectrum. Sometimes, taking a hard look at the realities of the relationship dynamics helps parents come to terms with what is, and move forward in their own lives—whether holding out hope or not.

If you’re troubled by your lack of hope or your decision to close the door to reconciliation, you’re not alone. As parents, we’re accustomed to caring for our children. For parents, sometimes the lines between childhood and adulthood can blur. An adult who has caused us repeated troubles may trigger the love we felt for a child who made a mistake. But that’s not the same as an adult son or daughter whose mistakes aren’t innocent or childlike.

Eventually, to protect their physical strength, their sanity, and their future, many parents draw the line—which is a healthy self-preservation response. Many of these parents say they wish they’d have done so sooner.

estrangementHope for ourselves

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” ~ Desmond Tutu

As I say in my book, the landscape of loss is fertile ground for growth. When it comes to a happy future, we have more than hope. We can be optimistic and cultivate the fruits of our positive expectations with action. We can control our thoughts, our behavior, and for the most part, our lives. We can be happy, despite loss.

My hope is that all the caring parents who have been mistreated and estranged will make the most of their treasured lives.

References:

  1. Bury, S.M., Wenzel, M., Woddyatt, L. (2016). Giving hope a sporting chance: Hope as distinct from optimism when events are possible but not probable. Motivation & Emotion. 40:588-601
  2. Dal Sook, K., Hesook, S.K., Thorne, S. (2017). An Intervention model to help clients to seek their own hope experiences: The Narrative communication model of hope seeking intervention. Korean Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care. 20(1):1-7.
  3. Nietszche, F. (1994). Human, all too human. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Related articles:

Adult children won’t talk to you: What does it mean to cope?

Parents abandoned by adult children: Shape your new normal

 

Spring cleaning for parents when adult children want no contact

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

After a long “winter” of disappointment, parents of estranged adults can start to feel closed off and cluttered. Just as you might with a house that needs a good spring cleaning, take action for yourself. Organize a more personal spring cleaning for emotions, well-being, and health. Clear the path for your forward momentum.

Energy dump

adult children want no contact

Pulling weeds in the pre-spring sunshine here in California the other day, I noticed the silvery crowns of several small dusty miller plants I had put in last fall. They peeked out above the thicket of grassy weeds.

adult children want no contactWhen I cleared the weeds away, the leafy clusters looked a little silly atop the spindly stems—but I marveled at their innate ability to thrive. They didn’t waste energy trying to grow leaves down among the thick weeds where no sunlight could reach.

Seeing those plants made me consider where I might be wasting energy. Why expend energy where it can bear no fruit?

As part of an emotional spring clearing, you might ask yourself:

  • What habits no longer serve me?
  • Where and how can I better manage my time?
  • Am I getting a good return on my investment of energy?

Digging in the dark

As an example, let’s consider reaching out when adult children want no contact. Parents often continue to reach out to their estranged adult children from time to time. They intend to convey a message of love, and that they’re still interested in reconnecting—even though the adult children want no contact now.

But when nothing comes of parents’ messages or gifts other than soaring hopes that are dashed by silence, or worse, verbal abuse, it’s time to make a change.

Cultivate self-care

Emotional spring cleaning intends to support your own well-being. Examine whether it’s wise to save your energy, cut back on times you reach out, or to stop entirely. Done With The Crying helps you set limits, yet still achieve the intended goal.

You might also be expending precious energy in other ways that don’t serve you. Make a list. Here are a couple of examples that are common in times of stress:

  • Emotional eating/drinking
  • Other unhealthy habits, such as smoking
  • Staying up into the wee hours
  • Excessive shopping (shopping for your estranged daughter or son)

Pause to make an honest assessment of what you spend time on, and examine whether it’s helping you. Spring is the perfect time. Take your list and make plans to change. For instance, to support yourself, you could stock up on healthy food choices, make a plan for better sleep habits, and throw out the catalogues.

Does your thinking zap energy?

An overstuffed closet could use a good spring cleaning. Your thinking might need a little organization too.

Take a look at when the sad thoughts creep in. If your mind wanders back to dark places on holidays or special occasions, plan ahead to combat the thinking. Decide this year will be different. Make plans to busy yourself or try something new. Making new memories surrounding holidays or special events gives them new life.

As a closet can benefit from shelves or hooks, the times you know you’ll feel down could also use some structure. Make plans for activities, hobbies, travel, or friends. Even small changes can provide structure for positive change. Try a new food every weekend. Eat a new vegetable each week, or cook one a new way. Make pizza with cauliflower crust, or tacos with lettuce wraps instead of tortillas. Or grow a vegetable, even in a pot. Radishes will grow in a shallow container on the windowsill. Listen to music that lifts your spirits, or go for a walk.

What new support structures can you add to your life? One retired grandmother whose estranged children don’t want contact recently told me she’s making a habit of getting up, showered, and dressed by 8 a.m. She says she feels better if she’s up and ready, and often follows through on activities, commitments, and connections. “It sure beats lazing around in my pajamas full of self-pity,” she said.

A father shared that he checks his calendar each evening, and makes plans. Things like call a friend, go to the gym, or research senior sports leagues in his town. As a result, he’s added structure that helps him look forward to the next day. He wakes up feeling more purposeful.

Sweeping out feelings

Use the momentum of spring with its energy of renewal to sweep out and examine feelings that don’t serve you. For your own good, can you let emotions such as guilt, anger, and shame go? Let’s look at a couple of examples of how feelings can clutter up our lives.

Are you worried and fearful of what people (or your estranged adult child) will think? Some parents confide that they continue to send birthday or holiday gifts to adult children who want no contact out of fear. They’re concerned others will negatively judge them. Even after many years, some worry that if they don’t continue to recognize an estranged adult child’s birthday, the son or daughter will accuse them of not caring. If you can relate, are these sorts of worries serving you well?  Will there ever come a time when enough is enough? Halting (or reducing) obligatory contact with adult children with whom you have no real relationship can be freeing. “I spent six years trying,” says one mother. “I refuse to live the rest of my life enslaved.”

Do feelings of shame, or the possibility of being put on the spot keep you from social situations? In Done With The Crying there are examples to help you handle questions and steer others’ responses to your situation. Some of us are more social than others, but remaining isolated is not healthy for anyone. Step forward. Sprout a new attitude, and shed the shame as part of a spring clear out.

Reassess and make adjustments. Tug out and cast aside mental and emotional blocks. Reclaim the confident pre-estrangement you. Better yet, embrace a new, more self-compassionate you.

Pulling out the physical weeds

Don’t forget the physical side of spring cleaning. Are you holding onto actual things left behind by adult children who want no contact? Now might be a good time to free up extra space. Storing, donating, or disposing of unused items can be mentally and emotionally liberating. Try taking down a photograph that reminds you of pain, and see how you feel.  There really is something to the old saying: out of sight, out of mind.

You might also make a physical change for this new season of your life. I recently cut my hair, and imagined shedding negativity along with those overgrown locks. The easy style is representative of a fuss-free life—and goes along with my newly adopted motto, Lighten Up. I like that my motto can apply in several ways: weight, clutter, and mood. Will you join me?

Adapt

adult children want no contactWhile we might feel a little spindly and awkward as we turn ourselves to a new light and grow, we can take a lesson from my dusty miller plants. Once the weeds were cleared away, those bare-stemmed plants began to immediately adapt, filling in with foliage to soak in the sunlight.

It’s spring. Spread your own foliage. Stretch toward the sunlight of people, things, and activities that make you happy. Expend your energy in ways that help you progress toward meaning and joy.

Keep watch, too, for old habits to creep in (like those snails in the picture!). Pluck them out before they can do damage.

Spring forward

adult children want no contactFor inspiring stories of other parents who’ve moved beyond the emotional wreckage of estrangement, as well as more in-depth information about releasing negative feelings, thoughts, and behavior that are holding you back, get my book. Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children was recently named a finalist in the Indie Book of the Year Awards—which I hope will raise awareness about the growing problem of estranged adult children from loving families. You can help by clicking on the Facebook “like” and Google + buttons below.

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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

Fear: Common after estrangement from adult children

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

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

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

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

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

After estrestranged from adult childrenangement from adult children: Uncertainty reigns

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

The whole world looks different and bleak.

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

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

Estranged from adult children? Get clear on fear

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

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

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

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

Fear: Like a riptide

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

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

Fear: It’s all in your head

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

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

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

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

After estrangement from adult children, take action where you can

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

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

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

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

The Landscape of loss is fertile ground for growth

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

 

Rat-ical Change

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

holidays estranged from adult childrenChange is good when old and lovely traditions make empty chairs conspicuous (as they often are during holidays estranged from adult children). We’ve created new adventure to nearly every holiday the last few years, and it’s been great fun to try new things.

This year, for the first Thanksgiving ever, I decided to leave the cooking to a restaurant. Everyone agreed, and I made reservations for a buffet serving seafood and breakfast as well as traditional holiday fare. We were excited. That is until I shared my plans with a relative two days before Thanksgiving.

“No, you don’t want to go there,” he said. “They’ve had complaints about food poisoning. My buddy works at that place, and he says he would never eat there.” He went on to relate his friend’s descriptions of the kitchen that left me anything but eager to eat there.

I cancelled our reservation and began the arduous task of finding another restaurant on such short notice. Very few places had any seats left, and when they did, it was for the late evening, which wouldn’t work for us. Finally, I found a buffet that sounded promising practically in my own backyard. Why hadn’t I thought of them before?

We all arrived at the restaurant and filled our plates and bellies with delicious foods. We were sleepily contemplating dessert when some movement caught our eyes. A rat! It scurried from the kitchen to the booths across from our table, followed by a chef and his staff who all swiped at it with brooms. Eventually, the rat darted beneath the skirt of the buffet table where they cornered it.

Our party of six didn’t get dessert. Instead, we decided loudly not to rat out the restaurant to the authorities. Then we ordered marga-rat-as and sat making jokes while we drank. Why let a rodent rat-tle us?

Thanksgiving has passed, but we’re already making changes to our Christmas and New Year’s plans. It’s fun to try new things, and experience new adventures.

Holidays estranged from adult children: ideas to help

In the support forum and in website comments, people have been talking about some of their plans—not just for the holidays, but in the days leading up to them as well. Here are a few ideas:

  • Visit inpatients at a local hospital who can’t go home for holidays.
  • Listen/watch online church broadcasts.
  • Sew curtains, a tablecloth, or do some other project that keeps you busy now—and rewards you all year.
  • Go to the movies (there are new ones out this time of year).
  • Honor a loved one who has passed away by making their special dish or dessert. Or set up a memorial with candles—consider adding a candle for your estranged adult child if that feels right.
  • Play board games and invite a friend you know is alone to play.
  • Serve yourself champagne, and consider all you’re thankful for.
  • Focus on the spiritual meaning of the holidays.

Or try on a new, lighthearted perspective? Like: Imagine you’re from another planet and arrive during the holidays. What’s funny that you see?

What’s new that you might do to change up the holidays and make them fun? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments to this post. I bet you have some rat-ical ideas.

The void: Feel it or fill it?

moving on after an adult child's estrangementBy Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Often, parents who are moving on after an adult child’s estrangement tell me that once over the crushing hurt, they keep busy, and get along. But they also confide that sometimes they feel an uncomfortable void, and they wonder how to fill it.

Estrangement thrusts change upon us. The feeling these parents describe is similar to the feelings that are common in difficult times of transition and change: discomfort, restlessness, uncertainty.

I know that feeling. It’s as if your arms are left hanging open for an unreceived hug. What used to be the gentle lapping of water on the shores of a family with its natural ebb and flow is suddenly the wave that goes out and never returns. The son or daughter you love is suddenly a stranger, and your whole life—past, present, and future—has changed. It’s a landscape you don’t recognize. You can’t seem to get your footing or find your way.

Wanting to fill the void is normal. However, it may be wise to experience a void rather than rushing to fill it. Perhaps feeling the strange emptiness can even be beneficial. It’s helpful to reflect upon the many facets of the loss, and examine how you might handle the practical roles and situations your estranged child once fulfilled. In Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, I’ve provided a tool to help with this—as well as recognize what you’ve already accomplished. But when it comes to filling the emptiness with something else, not just anything old thing will do. Pause, reflect on your thoughts and feelings, and then act purposefully.

Why is the void so uncomfortable?

The obvious answer is feelings of anguish over the loss itself—of a dear son, or a daughter who lit up your life. But there could be underlying fears and anxiety, too. Is it the loss of an identity (as a mother, a father, a stepparent) that makes this extra frightening? We talked about that idea in: Who am I if I’m not a mother?

We love our grandchildren, and of course want to spend time with them. But in light of estrangement from adult children, it may help to look at the loss in another way. Maybe being so busy with grandchildren allowed you to ignore an old dream that you’ve always wanted to pursue, but are also a bit fearful of trying.

Or maybe the picture of retirement from a long career you valued, at least in part, for the security it provided your family, has suddenly changed. The time you imagined you’d spend teaching your grandchildren to hunt, to golf, or to take traveling has evaporated. What will you do with your hard-earned time off now?

Maybe without your son or daughter, you feel as if your life has been chopped off at the roots. Floating along feels like drifting toward uncertainty. Who knows what the future holds?

There’s no need to get stuck on this, or spend ages trying to figure out why experiencing this sense of a void is so difficult. But write out the thoughts that come to mind. If something resonates, explore it further—if you feel the need to. And then move on.

Moving on after an adult child’s estrangement:
New ways to think of empty space and time

Asking “why” you feel a certain way can help, but better questions stem from your intuition, build on the framework of your past, and make sense from your core self. Thinking of the quiet times, when the scary open sea of uncertainty, and the sprawling space and time make you feel sad, lost, and/or all alone, consider the reflection questions below. Feel free to alter them for your own benefit.

  • How can you think of the void you feel in the quiet moments in a more helpful way? If the extra time had appeared for any reason other than your adult child’s estrangement, how would you view it?
  • What could this feeling and situation be compared to? Can you describe this in terms of nature? In nature, forest fires that burn down trees let in sunlight. Dense dark woods can become meadows, filled with wildflowers. What can you gain from thinking of the void you feel in a similar way?
  • What do you envision filling in this void in your life? What would feel right to you (that you have control over)?
  • Is there a parallel in your past experiences that you could compare this to? What is there to learn that you can bring to this? For example, if you previously turned to comfort food and gained unhealthy weight, you know this could again be a danger for you. Steer clear.

Positive imagery: Steering you to something good

Giving a twist to what we view as feeling out of sorts or lost can make all the difference. A shift in perspective can shift everything.

Rather than not knowing where to turn, what to do, or how to fill the lonely gaping space, try a new thought. In moving on after an adult child’s estrangement, be open to possibilities and ripe for opportunities.

One woman recently sent me a message saying that she dearly missed her grandchildren. Since her adult child’s estrangement, she had earned an advanced degree and was now teaching at a college. Full of pride and enthusiasm, she acknowledged that she never had time to pursue those personal achievements when she was babysitting grandchildren. Her energy had been spent providing support for her adult child to build his career. Her support let him pursue his dreams—but left her with little time to follow her own. She now felt fulfilled, yet she still missed her grandchildren.

As this woman’s thoughts demonstrate, filling the void doesn’t necessarily mean you stop feeling the void. Just as other heartbreaks remain sad but don’t forever debilitate us, so it goes with a son or daughter’s estrangement (and the loss of relationships with grandchildren). Maybe we don’t fully “get over it,” but we get on with our lives. And our lives can be happy. I’m a testament to that fact, and so are many other parents who are moving on after an adult child’s estrangement.

Open to possibilities, and ripe for opportunities

Are you feeling lost and alone, with time suddenly gaping? Can you accept those feelings, explore them, and then think of them in a helpful way? Can you be open to a bright future that may be different than expected, but can still be good?