Tag Archives: parents of estranged adults

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

adult children no longer talk to youWhen adult children won’t talk to you: What does it mean to cope?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Often, parents of estranged adults tell me that they’re managing to “cope.”

Some associate the word, with a fight. They say it’s a constant struggle to get through the days, or refer to coping with emotional and social fallout as a daily battle.

Some sound resigned, or even defeated. “I’m enduring,” they might say. Or, “I’m carrying on but just barely.”

Synonyms for cope

After hearing so many variations in how parents of estranged adult children define the word “cope,” I decided to do a little research. In a thesaurus, there are words that represent all of the uses I’ve heard from parents.

In an effort to help you see where your definition falls, I’ve grouped some of the synonyms (words and phrases) for cope into three categories by type. The categories I created are as follows:

Active participation: struggle, battle, tussle, wrestle, tangleadult children won't talk to you

Passive participation: endure, suffer, live with, get by

 Successful participation: confront, handle, dispatch

Which of these categories best fits how you think about yourself and the situation of estrangement? There’s no right or wrong answer—only gained insight into where you stand right now.

In coping with estrangement, if you see yourself in the “active participation” category, then you’re actively engaging with the fact that your adult child won’t talk to you. You’re grappling with the estrangement’s effects in your life, on your relationships, and on your outlook. I see this as a positive.

While I’ve called the second category “passive,” that’s not necessarily a negative. Once parents consider how estrangement affects them and move past the initial shock, they might very well enter a stage of resignation or acceptance.

In my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, one of the tools helps parents reflect in detail upon just how far-reaching the effects of estrangement has been for them. Taking a realistic look at ourselves after an emotional trauma (such as when an adult children won’t talk to us), can allow us to begin to make changes toward recovering our old self—or even a new and better self.

Unfortunately, people sometimes get stuck in that passive phase. I routinely hear from parents who have been estranged for many years, or who have reconciled, only to be estranged again, sometimes repeatedly. And some of these parents seem resigned to stay in that passive phase. They tell themselves they’ll never get past the hurt, that the pain will never go away, and that there are no answers to help them.

Are you a victim? Do you want to stay that way?

While it’s true that many parents of estranged adults have been victimized, that doesn’t mean a parent must remain a victim. This moves us to the third category of coping I’ve created here: Successful participation.

None of these conscious coping strategies is wrong, but consider which one appeals to you. How have you coped in the past? How do you want to cope?

It’s up to each of us to decide whether we will learn to cope in practical ways that help us get past the pain, foster our growth, and advance us forward in our own happy lives.

Do your questions keep you stuck?

parents of estranged adult childrenby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Parents of estranged children often wonder about the future—for themselves and for their estranged children. One question so many ask is a variation on one of these:

  • Will my estranged adult daughter ever see how much she has hurt me?
  • Will my son who doesn’t talk to me anymore ever realize what he has done?
  • Will my angry adult son ever come to his senses?
  • Will my grown daughter who cut me off ever let me back into her life?
  • Will my son ever forgive me for whatever it is he thinks I’ve done?

While those are logical questions, for your own well-being, the next question should be something like this: Are these questions helping me cope?

I understand the thoughts, the ceaseless wondering tempered by hope and sharpened by pain. When my estranged adult son drew up “sides,” and placed me firmly behind a boundary I hadn’t known existed, he left me in shock. Most parents are.

As the estrangement wore on, the question—Will he ever . . . ?—brought more pain. I worried for my son. If he ever did realize, then I imagined his horrible regret—for the time he had lost, the distress he had caused, the horrible knowledge that he had so hurt his family. . . .
I worried for my son.

Can you relate? I hear from so many parents who share similar feelings. First there’s the hurt and shock. The slicing final moments replay in our heads. The awful words come back to us with force, disturb our peace, and intrude on our dreams. Disbelief reigns.

As time goes on, perhaps with unsuccessful efforts to fix whatever went wrong, a drab, uncertain future stretches out. We worry for ourselves, for our estranged adult child, and for the family.

It’s all so very sad.

Parents of estranged adults: Turn the page. Begin a new chapter.

To turn a new page, to move forward in a life that is different—but can still be good!—start by changing your questions. Good questions often become the canvas on which my clients paint new beginnings. So I have to ask: Whether or not your children will ever return, ever realize, ever see and regret what they have done . . . does that change your life today? In the life that’s before you now, what does the answer change?

Take a moment to separate your own well-being. Let loose the idea that you can control your adult child’s decisions. And realize that the possible consequences that come from those decisions, will be your child’s to own.

For your own life, can you let go of wondering? Or perhaps even choose an answer like one of these:

  • My estranged daughter will one day have regrets.
  • My angry adult son will one day realize he has made a mistake.
  • My estranged adult child who won’t talk to me will someday be sorry and return to my life.

Pick one, or craft your own answer. Then ask yourself:

Does the answer change my life now?

You can only control yourself.

Most of the fathers and mothers of estranged adult children who come to this site have begun to see that they can’t change what’s happening. Most of them have tried. Parents who have been emotionally abused by an adult child (abandoned, rejected, cut off), usually want to reconcile. It’s their first goal. But they later come to the realization that they can’t force their grown son or daughter to oblige. They can’t force the person their child has become, to morph back into the wonderful son or daughter they used to know.

What now?

So, what can you do now? To better your day, your outlook, and your future?

Imagine your child will never return. How will you spend your days?

Imagine that in five years, your child will return to you with an apology and full of regret. In what state of being will that child find you?

Just as each of our lives is a canvas with some space still blank, I will leave this article without a conclusion. Write your own. Make it a satisfying one. Paint your own sky, earth, and meandering path. Paint yourself—dancing, smiling, and finding joy.

parents of estranged adult childrenIn my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, the question: why? is covered with a chapter all its own–and helps bewildered parents lay their questioning to rest.

Take care of yourself today. In doing so, no matter whether our estranged adult children will ever realize . . . . You can be you. And be well.

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The Boat

think about yourself instead of grown childrenA Grown Child’s Rejection: The Boat

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Parents of estranged children may suffer insults, be called names, and be told they never did enough. They have fond memories of their sweet children, and recall themselves as always giving. To the best of their ability, these parents were generous, kind, and supportive. But their estranged adult children tell a different story. Maybe they say these moms and dads who did their best should never have had children. They’re told they weren’t rich enough to provide graduate school, didn’t let their sons or daughters do enough when they were kids, didn’t give them music lessons . . . You fill in the blanks.

We can’t control their perception any more than we can control their adult behavior. At some point, adults are responsible for their own lives. They can blame, inflict pain and abandon us. They may leave us struggling in their wake—-but we don’t have to stay there.

We cannot go back and change the past. If we feel we have done something wrong, we can apologize, ask for forgiveness and to try again, but we can’t force our children to participate in our future.

We can make the best possible decisions now though. We can think of ourselves rather than our grown children. We can make choices to benefit ourselves, and act on them. Right or wrong, our estranged adult children have decided what they’ve decided.

Will you remain the wake of your grown child’s rejection?

Imagine your child is on a boat, and that you are in the water below. See your son or daughter dropping all sorts of poison off the back of the boat. Imagine the angry, stinking words they have flung at you. See those poisonous words hitting the water with a splash. Acrid smoke rises from them. It stings your eyes, fills your lungs so you can barely breathe. You feel as if you’ll choke.

You cough and gag. But your child isn’t done yet. A net rises from the murky depths, stretching across the open water. You can’t swim toward the boat without getting caught, tangled in a hurting web you don’t understand. Your child throws out hooks, spills out chum that attracts vicious sharks.

Dazed and confused, you call out. “Wait. Help. Can’t we talk?”  But your child takes the helm. The boat speeds away.

See the wake of the boat, feel the choppy waves, smell the acrid fumes rising from their spiteful words, and see those sharks. . . . Now, what do you do?

Do you stay in that spot, paralyzed, barely able to hold your head above water as the sharks lunge and bite at the net?

Do you wait there, expending precious energy as you tread water, determined you can fix this no matter what? The horrible toxic clouds fill your lungs. . . .

Do you swim toward the net, determined to cut through, and put yourself in shark-infested waters to follow despite your grown child’s rejection of you?

Or … do you turn, and look for a way to save yourself?

You see a shore in the distance. The beach looks lonely, and uncertain. It’s a brand new world there. Not what you expected to be facing at this point in your life. You don’t know what a future there holds.

Swim to shore.

It’s like this when our lives take a sudden unexpected turn. We can view potential shores as scary and uncertain, and decide to stay in the wake of a boat that’s left us. We might even convince ourselves that staying still, waiting for our child to come back, despite the horrible poison and threats to our survival is what a good mother or father would do. Our child will come back . . . won’t she?

The boat gets smaller on the horizon. The sharks are lunging and biting at the net. The angry words are spilling out an ugly, contaminating slick.

Despite what’s happening, we might feel compelled to swim after the boat. Isn’t following our child, despite the horrors, what a truly good parent would do?  After all, isn’t a parents’ love unconditional?

We look back toward the shore, but . . . what will others think if we turn away from our own child, and swim to safety?

Imagine yourself in the water.

Do you see the sharks? Feel the poison burning your lungs? Can you see your estranged adult child, getting smaller and smaller as the boat speeds away—-yet somehow he looms so very large?

Maybe the boat whips around, and roars close. Your child tosses out a life ring. Relieved and grateful, you reach for it—-this nightmare is finally over!

Then your child snatches back the rope.

abandoned parentsMaybe your child doesn’t yell at you from the boat. Maybe she never flung out ugly accusations. Maybe your child only sped away, and left you in open water. You’re still in their wake, growing more weary as the water closes in on you.

What do you do?

I know this is melodramatic, but when we’re faced with the utter shock of a child we have loved and supported turning on us, we can feel just as threatened. The choice we face is similar. The shore where we can get out of the water, escape the sharks and the poison may look lonely and uncertain, but what is the alternative?

Get out of the water.

Turn and swim to the shore. You may find sunny beaches, creative sandcastles, and refreshing waterfalls. Perhaps there will be a storm, cliffs to climb, or you’ll have to bushwhack to find a rewarding path. If you try though, you’re sure to find banana and coconut trees, perhaps even pineapples athink of yourself instead of grown childrennd friends.

Get out of the water. When you do, you’ll find there are people who parents of estranged adult childrencare and are willing to help. You may find yourself walking along a shore of pretty shells. And as was posted on the Help & Healing for Parents of Estranged Adult Children Facebook page recently, a passerby may ask, Shell we have a good day? How will you respond?  Get the book–and get out of the boat for good.

 

Related articles:

Emotional scars after an adult child’s estrangement

Taking Care of Yourself

Reinvent yourself

Copyright Notice: All content of any post or page found on any page at this site is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. To share with others, provide a link to the page where the content is found. Reposting of any content is not permitted without express permission. Please see Copyright Notice/Restrictions in the right-hand sidebar for complete copyright notice

 

Parents of estranged adults: Awareness, a tool to handle emotions

Parents of estranged adults:
Awareness as a tool to handle emotions

parents of estranged adultsThe other day, on a long off-trail hike in the desert, my mind wandered to thoughts of my estranged son. Just as spiky offshoots of cholla, nicknamed “jumping” cactus, can spring out and stick to whatever encounters them, unexpected, unsettling feelings sometimes spring out to slice at me. The feelings can be so strong they appear to block my path.

In my day-to-day life, my mind is busy and preoccupied with the current goings-on. That’s why downtime can be a danger for me when it comes to feeling sad like it did on New Year’s Eve. Even when not thinking of any specific memories, simply experiencing the quiet serenity of an open area clears a space for thoughts and memories that can bring up unexpected emotions. Knowing that, I can be better prepared.

Parents of estranged adults:  Your emotional landscape
(Your Emotions series)

In a recent article, we talked about how and why unexpected emotions can spring up when you’re not prepared.  The emotional landscape for parents of estranged adults can be a tricky one, filled with landmines. Now, we’ll begin examining ways to accept and deal with sadness, anger, guilt, hopelessness, confusion, and other emotions present for parents of estranged adults.

Awareness: A handy tool for parents of estranged adults

How can you prepare ahead, so a wave of sudden emotion about your estranged adult child doesn’t ruin the day? This article will cover the first step: becoming aware of what prompts the emotions.

For parents of estranged adults, the child’s birthday may be the most difficult day of the year. But other special anniversaries, a particular activity, a certain television show . . . all of these can bring on confusion and upset. One mom remembers baking cookies with her estranged daughter, so baking brings up memories and can make her sad. Another shared golf with her estranged adult son, which has placed a shadow on golf outings with her husband.

The potential “trigger” lists for parents of estranged adults will be unique, and may even change over time.Still, actually making a list is a good way to develop awareness so you can plan ahead. If you’re not a physical list-maker, don’t worry — even thinking through the possibilities and devising a mental list of emotional upsets related to your estranged adult children will help.

As you consider the events, anniversaries, and even people that might remind you of your estranged adult children, be kind to yourself. This may be difficult work. Pause and consider any memories that come up. Also, although it sounds too simple to tell somebody to “focus on the positive,” attempting to focus on good memories can help. For some of us, that means digging back through several years’ of upsetting, hurtful behavior. But no matter what has happened more recently, those good times really happened, and can be cherished.

DSCF2512For me, remembering the special moments and pride I felt over my now estranged son’s successes throughout the years, and recalling activities we once enjoyed together, has become (at times) a haven. Other times, I feel as sad and helpless as ever, but overall, those sorrowful moments are becoming fewer and farther between. For most of us, this new role as an involuntary member of the parents of estranged adults group does get easier. As happens with most forms of loss and grief, the more hurtful parts of this experience can begin to disintegrate and fade when we’re not examining the hurts, or being faced with new ones daily.

Just a note about the above statement: All of our situations are unique. We’re in varying stages of hurting and recovery. Some of us do face new hurts each day. We may be suffering because a close family member or spouse, still in contact with our estranged adult child, tolerates or even excuses thparents of estranged adultseir bad behavior toward us. Or we may still have intermittent contact that makes us hopeful, but then get cut off again so the hurt is renewed. I can relate to this latter one in particular.

But in general, with effort, support, and the passage of time, parents of estranged adults can not only better cope, but can enjoy our lives.

Parents of estranged adults, empower yourself

In a future article, we’ll explore concrete strategies to handle emotional triggers and counteract them. For now, take some time to carefully consider what people, events, anniversaries and activities are likely to upset you. Take out the calendar and plan ahead. Looking ahead to possibly upsetting dates and holidays is helpful. Making a list, and even marking your calendar so you’ll know what’s potentially coming on the horizon, can help you feel in control, thus empowered.

What sorts of things are upsetting to you? I would love to hear from you in a reply comment to this post.

Also, take the survey to help other parents of estranged adult children, or comment in the forum, support for parents of estranged adult children.