Parents of estranged adult children:
Can Thanksgiving be a time of harvest?
by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
This Thanksgiving, many will notice the physically empty chairs around the table. Probably, they’ll be sadly aware of the psychological presence of missing an estranged adult child.
Thanksgiving, for parents of estranged adult children, can bring sadness over the absence of a son or daughter that once fit so uniquely into the holidays (and every day). While frustration, regret, anger, and sadness are typical responses, try contemplating Thanksgiving in another way—a way that helps you take care of yourself and even moves you forward.
Thanksgiving for parents of estranged adult children:
Set yourself on a forward path
Clear, Rest, and Restart: While it’s natural to mourn the loss, try thinking of the holiday in terms of the harvest it is so often intertwined with. This time of year involves clearing away, to make way for the rest and recuperation that leads to an eventual new beginning. If you find that you’re in a rush to fill the void, consider that a farmer clears the fields for a fallow season—which allows the soil to rest and recoup for later new crops. We too can clean the slate for a new start.
Self-Care and Self-Compassion: For some parents of estranged adult children, this could involve a physical clearing away. If you turned to comfort food during the trauma of estrangement, maybe you’ll start a new health routine to lose excess weight. Physical exercise can be a way to energize dormant muscles, and build strength. Healthful foods and plenty of sleep are ways to take care of your physical body, which will also help you emotionally. Take kind care of yourself. Be your own best friend, and step with strength and energy into a brighter future.
Physical Space: Other parents of estranged adult children will clear a physical space like a closet by weeding through things an estranged son or daughter left behind. Is there a box of items you’ve been holding onto, but that makes you sad? Maybe keeping physical items also keeps you emotionally stuck. While it may not be wise to dump everything on a whim, weeding through held items, and perhaps letting go of some things will help. In my case, it was helpful when another person assisted by going through left items, and disposing of actual trash. I could then re-box what might be held for my estranged son, or donated. The box got smaller, and so did my estranged son’s presence in my thoughts. That meant the influence of his estrangement over my emotional well-being—my everyday mood and happiness—grew smaller, too.
Mental Help: For some parents of estranged adult children, the clearing away will be more about losing unhealthy mental habits that dig them into a depressing rut of sadness and pain. Looping thoughts that go over and over the hurt can be traded for new and more positive thinking that spurs you forward to embrace your own happiness. As I say in my book to help parents of estranged adults, moving forward doesn’t necessarily mean giving up. You can hold out hope, even while taking care of yourself. Move into your own happy future—so that if or when your estranged adult child rejoins your life, you’ll be strong and well, ready for the energy and wit that reconciliation may require.
Gratitude: Thanksgiving every day
Any discussion of Thanksgiving, for parents of estranged adults or anyone, would be incomplete without talk of gratitude. As I say in the book, while the practice of gratitude may sound all gooey and wonderful, it does work. Gratitude attunes us to finding the good. A grateful attitude helps no matter how long your adult child has been estranged, whether you’re in the throes of disbelief or years past the separation. Focusing on what’s good can shift your perception to a more abundant outlook, making each day a new adventure.
I chose to post this in early October for Canadians. Thanksgiving for parents of estranged adult children in Canada comes more than a month earlier than for people in the U.S. But the holiday’s ideals are wise for all year long.
To get the benefits, gratitude requires repetition. It’s the practice of gratitude that makes a difference. The Thanksgiving holiday arrives once annually, but a grateful attitude brings a harvest of blessings every day. Benefits like better sleep and health—as is discussed in my book at length, with current research and studies. Gratitude reaps practical benefits. Help yourself to a healthy serving of thanks each and every day.
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