Thanksgiving for parents of estranged adult children

Parents of estranged adult children:
Can Thanksgiving be a time of harvest?

Thanksgiving for parents of estranged adult childrenby 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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Related articles:

How to heal with an adult child’s rejection

Cut off by adult children: What do you prescribe for yourself?

Holidays for parents rejected by adult children

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15 thoughts on “Thanksgiving for parents of estranged adult children

  1. SunflowersDay

    These are beautiful and heartwarming thoughts. I am grateful for your suggestions and your help.
    I hope that you enjoy a beautiful Thanksgiving. I will be thinking of you.

    Hugs for you

    SunflowersDay 🙂

    1. rparents Post author

      Sunflowers Day,

      Thank you for sharing your kindness. I always hold good thoughts and hope for all of the hurting parents of estranged adults who visit the site. Just your “name” here will warm a heart or two.
      Sheri McGregor

  2. Kmap

    Thank you, this does apply. I am going to put away her graduation gowns, they are in my closet, and I see them everyday.

    1. rparents Post author

      Hello Kmap,
      I think that’s a great idea to move your estranged daughter’s graduation gowns if they make you feel sad. Out of sight, and perhaps out of mind. Painful reminders can be set aside, tucked away, or even discarded (depending on each parents’ individual situation, duration, and feelings). I hope you have found a little more space in your closet. Put something there that makes you feel good. A pretty silk bouquet, a new organizer shelf . . . maybe a new dress for yourself!
      Sheri McGregor

  3. Ann

    I really don’t know if I can make it through the holidays this year. My son went to a family reunion at my ex-husbands. The problem I am having is that I spent my life taking care of my son while he had 4 more children and never paid a penny to raise my son. But their they are like the last 35 years never happened. Not one card,phone call,present in all those years…and I struggled to make it…and I am the bad guy…hated,treated like dirt. He changed his Facebook photo to him and his father and his half brothers and sisters…it’s like he wants to slap me in the face…so I really don’t know what to do. For my heart… And dose anyone know if there is a limitation on court ordered child support. Because my ex owes me 16 years worth?

    1. Janet

      Wow Anne…that is so painful to read. Sending you a hug of comfort & support. I’m sure the feeling of alienation is consuming you. Betrayl and as mothers we find this really hard to understand. Painful!
      Not sure of the time stature on child support but – sure worth looking into.
      All the best as we coast into Christmas. Btw: Facebook might be a torture you don’t need?
      Wishing you peace,

    2. Janet

      I am sorry Ann
      In June my daughter stopped talking to me. Stopped for her own reasons. She is my only child. She has 4 beautiful children, my grandchildren. She has told them untrue words of me and won’t let me communicate with them.
      She blocked me from her and their Facebook page. Wow did it hurt!
      I feel your feelings Ann.
      Please take the advice to live in the moment. Listen to the sounds you never noticed before trying it. Don’t go to past or present and heal.
      Have Thanksgiving and Christmas just as you enjoy it without him and let it go. The only person we hurt are yourself if we hang on.
      I now have YOU in my prayers Ann, that you find peace and enjoy life as it was meant. Hugs

    3. rparents Post author

      Hi Ann,
      Both Janets as well as Debbie K. have some good advice. I like what Debbie K says about the “sound of silence.” There is a sound to it, and it can be lovely. If you can, set your sights on the future. Whether thinking of a day or week from now, plan on doing something good for yourself. What would you like to accomplish? See? Do? So many write here of the pain. Slowly, turn your care to yourself now. Maybe in time things will change, but today, what can you do for you? Have a cup of tea. Chew a piece of spearmint gum! Remember the tune and words to a song you always loved, but haven’t thought of in years (look it up on the web!).

      Hugs to you, Ann. And to all of you!

      Sheri McGregor

  4. Betsy

    I am thankful for this website and the support and feedback of everyone. No doubt about it, this is a hard time for rejected parents. Although I have been rejected by my only beloved child for five years, I am now just recently beginning to take care of myself and moving into a safer and healthier place. Just received Sheri’s book and have devoured it. Quite a lot of amazing information to ponder. The information towards the end that offers the child’s point of view has been most interesting. For so long, I was doing the wrong thing…sending emails and letters, notes, apologizing, anything and everything! It was torture for me. I couldn’t breathe and barely could catch a breath. It felt like my heart was stopping and skipping beats. Sheri addresses all of this in the book. I have since pulled back 100%. Why should I put more effort into this when my son is perfectly content with it being broken? Not any more! I’m done! Never in a million years could I have predicted he and I would be here. We were so close all his life until five years ago. But, this is my reality now. I have accepted it. I don’t like it, but I have accepted it. There was nothing more for me to do. So be it. God bless everyone! Take good care and Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Annie

    So glad you got the book. Hard to put it down I know. I don’t think any of us ever thought we’d be here. I am so glad you have had some revelations.
    And so happy to hear you’re ready to take care of you. Time for all of us to be grateful for who we do have to care for us. I don’t want to look back and see all the energy I wasted on something I had no control over. Life is too short. So Happy Thanksgiving to you and everyone on this site. We are indeed a family

  6. Trish

    My adult son and dil are hosting Thanksgiving (our first since our falling out) and they invited EVERYONE (all my other kids / grandkids / in-laws etc . The ONLY people NOT invited are me and my husband. Our entire family will be sitting around the table celebrating and we will be home alone. Every year for the past 10 years I have hosted holidays (Halloween / Christmas Eve and every summer picnic) and have included everyone including the dil’s family / friends / brothers / sister etc etc. No one was left alone….so HOW can they do this to us. We are angry, upset, disappointed that our son is doing this to us. How do we survive this heartache?

    1. Fern

      I’m very sorry. I know what you are experiencing. If your other children know about the “falling out” perhaps they can explain their thoughts on the situation. They may feel caught in the middle. If they know nothing about it, your son and dil may be doing this to punish you. For now though, pick yourself up and make Thanksgiving plans for you and your husband. Serve at a shelter, join other friends, go to a restaurant, or even a last minute cruise. Make a list of your blessings. The important thing is to do something positive for each other.

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