Tag Archives: parents of estranged adult children

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?

Peace: Achievable in the chaos of estrangement?

chaos of estrangement

December 2021 sunset in Northern California

Peace: It’s achievable

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Peace on Earth . This time of year, it’s written on greeting cards and painted on shop windows. Elvis even croons it over the airwaves. The goal is beautiful, and for many, holds a deep spiritual message. While global peace may seem elusive–as it does in the chaos of estrangement–we can achieve peaceful moments, a peaceful attitude, and even inner peace.

Achieving peace in the chaos of estrangement

Peace within ourselves is a good goal, and one that first requires awareness. In Done With The Crying, I point to being aware of your thinking in order to recognize how often your thoughts tread into mucky waters, and then to shift to a better thought. It’s a form of mindfulness and gets at a way to detach. In the chaos of estrangement and its effects, some people even use the word “detach” as a dictate to remind themselves to let go. The idea of detaching, which is based on the Buddhist beliefs about a person’s relationship with their thoughts and emotions, makes much sense. Still, for me, the word has taken some warming up to. To “detach” brought up imagery that didn’t feel good. Let me explain. . . .

Likely influenced by society’s enthusiasm around the space program, which was so prominent a focus in my early childhood, I imagined “detaching” like a cast-off spaceship part that was left to aimlessly float. However, my research reveals that the part that detaches is the main capsule, which holds the astronauts. After separating, the capsule then moves swiftly toward completing its mission. No wonder so many people use the word and find it helpful. That’s a much better image!

Even so, my mind wanders to the part that’s discarded. Therefore, I prefer different reminder words such as “stop,” “let it go,” or “let it be.” Or, I might think something like, “not mine to decide” or even “stay in your own lane.” The point is less about the words than it is about an effective message. So, choose whatever works for you, and then use the word or phrase to move yourself toward more peaceful thoughts.

Calming moments

The effects of stress can pile on and be cumulative. That’s why it’s important to build resilience with peace and joy. Every day, even within a full schedule that includes some chaos of estrangement and its resulting emotional distress, we can build in moments of peace. Some of us are naturally better at this than others, but we can all learn the beneficial practice of becoming aware of our circumstances and our response to them. Then we can  consciously shift to better responses, for our own benefit.

Life offers each of us numerous “barbells” to lift. These can strengthen and empower us but we still need peace. So, it’s a good thing we all have the ability to pause and reflect, notice and appreciate, detach and focus. I suggest strengthening this self-care muscle.

A few ideas:

  • Notice birds fluttering in a pool of water and ponder the simple elegance of their lives—or just enjoy them.
  • Really look at the people you encounter (cashier, postal worker, fellow person in line) and sincerely connect in some way.
  • Take a real break where you put down the phone or worries and use the time to relax and be present in the moment.
  • Look at the sky, let your eyes outline the clouds, notice subtle differences in coloration, or see sunlight peeking through.
  • Listen to the variety of sounds around you. Then settle on one that brings you peace (a neighbor playing music, the breeze rustling through tree leaves, a child’s laughter. . . .)
  • Whisper or think of a saying that helps, such as “This too shall pass.” Take a few counted breaths and be thankful for any blessing.

A more global peace

When you’re ready, my latest book, BEYOND Done With The Crying, takes the concept of awareness to another level. The ensuing chaos of continued estrangement requires looking at “big picture” concepts, estrangement’s possible causes and its more global effects in your outlook, in your family, and your overall life. And then your awareness of how you reflect upon and deal with those going forward.

Peace: Right here, right now

Despite all that’s happened or is still happening, how do you find peace in the moment? Leave a comment so you can help those who may be struggling.

Related reading

Does healing from estrangement mean you’re cold-hearted

 

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

Estrangement in the New Year: The Blanket of snow

by Sheri McGregor

estrangement

Photo source: Pikwizard

Don’t let the pain of estrangement ruin your New Year.

On this beautiful morning, no matter where you live or what the weather is like, imagine the world before you as if a soft blanket of snow has gently fallen in the night.

Gone are the muddy footprints and trails to nowhere. Erased are the well-worn ruts to unhelpful thinking, worries, whys? and what ifs?

On this blank slate of the New Year, take a little time to imagine the trails forward you will make. While it’s true that any of us can start fresh anytime, today it’s official.

Are you excited? I am.

Even in estrangement, make this a terrific year.

It’s time to start.

Think of the changes you will make. Maybe it’s to alter how often you reach out, or to let go of expectation or a desired outcome. Perhaps it’s to leave the strife behind entirely, and embrace your own happiness—and if so, what does that mean? Your goals are your own. Make them now and begin to work toward them. Yes, work may be involved. But it doesn’t have to be grueling. Even tiny steps inch you forward.

Take a few minutes to really consider what you’d like to leave behind. Get a pen and paper and jot down your thoughts.

Estrangement: Time and energy wasted

For many parents of estranged adult children, so much time and energy has been consumed by the emotional pain that they’ve missed the good that’s beside or in front of them. Others have striven for a goal that is beyond their control. Don’t let next year dawn with regret. Consider how 2019 will be different.

Turn back to the goals section in Done With The Crying, and consider what improvements you can make. One mother wrote to say that she had read the book but would start the exercises today. Her responses will be her own unique road map to make 2019 about moving forward with purpose.

Just want peace and happiness?

Some who have suffered the raw emotions and hurt of estrangement say all they want is peace and happiness in the coming year. Even this takes a plan. Without preparation, the same old issues, hurtful thinking, and habits will return. Consider:

  • What will you do when your mind wanders to the same old pointless questions?
  • How will you handle an uninformed question?

Consider whatever it is that robs you of peace and happiness. And then you can make a plan. Without forethought, even the most useful resolutions can go awry. In Done With The Crying, there is an exercise to get you thinking about each area of your life and how you can make it better. Try it. Work on just a few areas at a time. Make a plan to move forward, and also how not to slide back.

I would love to hear about your plans for the New Year, and what you share by leaving a comment will help other parents, too. You’ll also find a few links below, to articles here at the site that can be of use as you move forward.

estrangement New YearEven if estrangement has muddied things up for you this past year, imagine that beautiful blanket of snow for the New Year. What helpful trails will you make in it? Where will your tracks lead?

HUGS to all. ~~ Sheri McGregor

 

Related Reading:

Estrangement: Shape your new normal

Give yourself a break

How to cope when your adult child cuts you out of their life

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 roller-coaster 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. 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:

The Turning Point

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. In my latest book, Beyond Done, there are even more examples of how this hurts and how to heal.

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. The second book goes even deeper for parents’ healing–because it’s about the parent making the most of their own life rather than making their life all about the estrangement.

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 a Living Now Book Awards Winner (books that change lives!) and 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” button below. Done With The Crying is available worldwide. Check with your local bookseller, who can order it. Or, go to Amazon or another online seller.

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