There are no “right” words when….

Parents of estranged adults may worry about saying or doing just the right thing. We’re told how to respond and what to say ad nauseam. Amends letters, apologies, listening for the grain of truth, remaining calm, responding in curiosity, keeping our feelings out of it …. Yet, so very frequently, parents have had their ears and hearts open all along. They have tried all the words and have remained calm and loving … yet the desired results are not realized. The thing is, communication takes willingness by all involved. It can be a sad day when you realize the other person was not in really in the conversation. Yet, it can also be freeing.

Hugs to all of you from Sheri McGregor

amends letter

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39 thoughts on “There are no “right” words when….

  1. Maryanne

    Thank you all for sharing your stories, unfortunately for all of us they are painful and not what we want for our relationships with our children. It is comforting on some level to know we’re not alone. Today’s quote hit home with me. After years of this abuse, some years worse than others I have finally realized that it is not up to me to fix this breakdown in the relationship. If it were it would have already been done.
    “There are no “right” words when someone is determined to take whatever you say “wrong”.
    Thank you Sheri, for all you do for this community.

  2. N P

    I came here for advice concerning my non relationship with my daughter,46. I’ve not seen her since 2005. She lives across the country from me. My son,maybe six years ago, travelled cross country to see her and she closed her door in his face. For me, up until about 2+ years ago, I used to call her about once a month. Usually talked about her job.I was very proud of her. Well,the last call I made I congratulated her on a promotion. The call seemed routine. That was the last time I talked to her. She has a new job now, which I only found out by googling her. She blocked my number. Basically ghosted me. I don’t know why. I feel such a sense of loss, sometimes it physically hurts. Don’t know why she no longer wishes to communicate with me. There was no argument. Any advice appreciated

  3. Sam

    I have especially seen this in our case. No matter what we do or say or how we react it is wrong. But we are not allowed to hold our ED accountable for her actions and reactions. A double standard that is beyond absurd. It is truly a reflection of the main quote of this article: “There are no right words when someone is determined to take everything you say wrong.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. Definitely something to keep in mind.

  4. Becky

    I am so thankful for this site! I felt so terrible and alone trying to figure out how to talk to me ED. She has cut her entire family out of her life. I miss her terribly and cry a lot! This site is very helpful in teaching me how to cope. Thank you all for your input….it really helps!

  5. Cindy D.


    Unfortunately, these words ring true for many of us. My oldest son has been estranged from me for years. He now has 4 children and 2 of them don’t know me. He and his wife no longer respond to texts or when I send the kid’s birthday and holiday gifts. I do that for the kids but am considering putting a stop to that also since they don’t have any idea where it’s coming from. My son stopped talking to me when his Dad and I got divorced and like many of us, I have apologized numerous times and have even agreed to go to counseling with him, but to no avail. I’ve moved out of state and that has helped me cope. The physical distance between us makes the emotional distance a little easier to reconcile with. I’m blessed to have a relationship with my younger son and his family but still grieve for the relationship that disappeared between my sons as well.
    Keep your encouraging words coming and I keep praying for peace and strength for all of us!
    Happy Thanksgiving !!

  6. Dawn L.

    I have only one child, a son who has been cruel to both his father and myself for the past 3 years. He was never like this before until gf, now the new DIL moved in with him 3 years ago. I don’t know what happened or what I have done. Suddenly, every thing I’ve done has been wrong or suspect. Except giving them lavish presents for their wedding or large amounts of money and other gifts. I did everything to treat my son’s
    gf with care, respect, and welcomed her into the family. It seemed she didn’t and doesn’t like me-now he doesn’t either it seems. We were a close family until she started in on him judging everything-from my cooking and grocery purchases etc. to how I communicated with my son She didn’t like it when I told him I miss him. WTF? I don’t think she liked how close we were and came in like gangbusters. She did things like tell me she wanted me to go with her and her family to pick out her wedding dress then went last year without telling me and texted me photos of the fitting. So many things like that. Plays on her phone and doesn’t talk to me or my husband but esp. me. This has been going on for three years now . The latest was when they got married last month, she didn’t speak to me or my husband at the rehearsal dinner, wedding, or wedding reception. Now they are supposedly spending Thanksgiving working on their new house and not coming over here as the have the last Thanksgivings. But I am pretty sure they will be going to MIL’s My son just didn’t want to tell me that. The only time he can manage to talk to me on the phone is when she is not around. Usually, when he is driving to and from work. Our relationship is fading fast. He doesn’t call his Dad either. We have become persona non grata and treated with haughty, condescending actions by both of them. We bought them a new fridge for a wedding present and I got them a dishes and plate set and several Christmas decorations with her initials and new last name on them for their first Christmas as a married couple. We were going to give them a rather large check at the wedding reception but decided we had done enough and kept our money. I guess that I have to accept the way things are, but sometimes I feel like I’m going mad because none of it makes any sense. It’s a lot of pain every day.

  7. Patricia L.

    You can try every word in the dictionary and if they don’t want to mend your relationship, they won’t. Plus they will blame you for some minor mistake or comment you made. Their mind is made up. I have learned.
    I just lost my husband and four of our 5 children are mourning. The truth is they have not spoken to him in over almost 2 years. I am nauseated looking at the posts of the waves of grief. He did not have a service as his dying words were, “If they couldn’t speak to me when I was alive, they are not going to talk over me when I am dead.” My daughter and I are navigating the loss and trying not to respond to the hypocrites.
    The family who know the truth are staying silent, though they want to shout from the rooftops! You are a phony and if you had cared at all you would have tried harder to mend your relationship. I have moved away from them and now feel better able to cope with the loss of my children. Best of luck to all fighting the good fight, and remember you are worth it. Never doubt that for minute, even if you are still waiting for a miracle.

  8. Jackie

    I finally had to really realize that no matter what I said, tried, I pleaded just didn’t matter. Every time I thought my daughter was coming around and forgiving it didn’t last. After being told that she forgave me but couldn’t forget, I knew nothing I said would matter and she would never understand that I would never or meant to hurt her or anyone. But I have forgiven myself for a choice I made at 17 years of age. I also have forgiven her for all the hurtful words and actions. Thank you God and Sheri .

  9. Boots

    Sheri, I agree with, “There are no right words when someone is determined to take whatever you say as “wrong.”

    If they are out there, I don’t know them and I am even as fault for that, for I was told, “I should know.” Like Lisa R., I too apologized for all I could think of. My question is, why can’t my EDs tell me? I guess because they really don’t want accept anything I have to say. Because if they did, we would be having open communication. Face to face.

    I have relationships in my life that I value so much, that if I think I offended them or I am offended, I go to them, no matter how hard it is and try to work it out. Because if it’s stays in my head or if I start talking to other people about it, it just going to get worse. I value this relationships and can not afford to lost them. However, my EDs I suppose can afford to lose me and their dad. Which is so sad, that they do not place value on us. This is what I am in the process of accepting and learning to more forward and enjoy my life the best I can. To forgive and have a life worth living for myself and my husband.

    Happy Thanksgiving


    1. Linda B

      Thank you for this. We’ve put out apologies all in the languages the kids demanded. I think they really don’t hear or feel it! They seem to just want to dismiss us. I pray daily they have a change of heart. Am leaving it all up the Lord.

    2. Carol U.

      I think you have found the only path that will give you the peace we all deserve. I have come to the conclusion that my son just doesn’t love me and I don’t think he knows why. He was loved and cherished all his life and we tried to meet his every need and most of his desires. He made a lot of choices and decisions that turned out badly and turned to alcohol for solace. His happiness is all I ever wanted but I have too late learned that it was not my job to make him happy. That’s up to him. I will always love him and the door remains open but I am living my life with gratitude and joy. Happy Thanksgiving!

    3. Dawn L.

      Boots-I don’t understand this either. This is the same situation I am facing with my son {29 year old} I have apologized too. My new DIL got mad at me for something between me and my son which doesn’t concern her but apparently everything he says or is said to him in private, concerns her. He tells her. She was going to call up and tell me about myself but my son stopped her. I can say I truly wish he hadn’t stopped her because maybe we could have had a real conversation. If she thinks she is defending him that’s terrific and maybe it would help me see what I said/did wrong. Sadly, I fear that she knew not to call me because the simple truth of the situation would have shown her for the person she is. His new wife, at 14 years old threw a large hardbound Bible at her new infant brother because she was jealous. Thank God she missed him. She often tells my son, she wishes she wouldn’t have missed. Who behaves like that and says stuff like that? To me that tells me a lot about her character and it isn’t good. She also has a past of immediately moving in with any BF to get away from her mom and brother. The last BF kicked her out to go back home with mom and said she and her family are a nightmare to live with and deal with. She moved back home and began immediately to tear all the wallpaper down from her bathroom in order to repaint it, meanwhile her mother had severe covid-19 and had to be rushed to the hospital while my new DIL paid no attention to her mom or getting her to the hospital-she kept tearing down the wallpaper. This is the kind of person I am dealing with. Needless to say , she now has no friends and never gets along with anyone wherever she works as a teacher. Including the students. These
      situations are just awful and seem to be epidemic now days causing hurt and pain to a bunch of well meaning parents who don’t deserve the abuse.

    4. Pats J

      Happy Thanksgiving Boots, I am having Thanksgiving here at my house tomorrow and as usual dreading the day. I have 3 grown children. One is coming with a boyfriend whom she has dated over a year and I met him once at a perchance meeting in a parking lot. My daughter doesn’t want me in her life. There have been periods where she hasn’t talked to me for 8 months, 6 months and this time it has been going on 4 months. I know she is only coming because her brother and sister are coming. I will handle this the best I can. I’ll be cordial and act like everything is ok. She will barely talk to me and be gone as quickly as she can.
      I pine for my daughter but have to tell myself to not think about her and as of lately I feel like I don’t even have a daughter. How sad is that. I do have lots of good friends and I focus on them and keep busy.
      I feel for you also and think you are handling this as well as you can. It does help to know you are not alone.
      Let’s focus on our blessings and know that we did the best we could to bring up our children. We have no control in how they feel about us. I guess that’s their problem!!!
      Try to have. Happy Thanksgiving!

    5. Kameela

      Sheri thank you so much again or your words of encouragement. You have helped me enormously as well as reading everyone else’s stories.
      You’re right that communication takes willingness on both sides. But if you’re not even given the chance to communicate then you realise that the other person does not want to have a conversation and you just cannot do anything about it. So I’ve picked myself up and have had my own conversation about what’s best for me and my husband. Yes you’re right it’s freeing.. It’s the second anniversary of our estrangement with our eldest son and I’ve realised that with your support I’m able to move on. The pain sits there but it’s not eating away as in the beginning.
      Wishing you and everyone in this community a peaceful holiday season. Let’s give ourselves extra love . We deserve it.

      1. rparents Post author

        I like this Kameela, had your own conversatiom about what was right for you and your husband. Yes, talk where it counts.

        Wishing you a good holiday season too.

        Sheri McGregor

    6. Sonya w.

      Looking back, I remember being with my son and feeling his distance emotionally. I chalked it up to his anxiety, and living as a transgender man always on high alert in the city. I now realize the estrangement or pulling away for his autonomy was occurring. Why we couldn’t just talk about boundaries is painful. He has told me how hurtful I have been but never that I was even a decent parent.
      This is the first holiday season without him so the wound is fresh. I miss him. I still love him deeply. We will never have the same relationship again if we ever do see each other again. I will not go through that pain anymore.
      Thank you for being here for me

    7. Patricia O.

      Dear Boots, First what a cute name, i feel the story of why you’re called boots would be a good one.
      I’m just waking and the pain is the first thing I feel. Moving on with this kind of grief is like being struck blind in an instant. How to live now without your eyes. I need lessons, I have not prepared for this.
      Your words are ones I will take and process, the fact that our child can chose to ‘lose” us is heart wrenching.
      The fact that he holds no value for his parents, more pain. Yet I still love him, and I am thrilled that I had him for 39 years. And i had a granddaughter for 5 years What a thrill that was… I cherish all our memories. I suppose I need to be thankful and move on. How… that the question. The tears start to fall, and I cant stop them so i let them fall. Thank you for you words.

  10. Anita S.

    So very true! I stopped walking on eggshells with my kids and allowing them to twist my words, make fake accusations against me and gaslight me at every turn. They call the separation between us “boundary”, but what it truly is is this… the lack of desire to act like adults and work towards a resolution. As my Granny Dottie said to me… it’s an excuse… which is a skin of a reason, stuffed with a lie. I’ve stopped trying to communicate, have moved to another state and am enjoying my life. I pray for my kids every day. At this point that’s all I can do.

  11. Linda

    I have felt like you do many times and occasionally I still do with my ED. What I have come to find out is when she is not happy with herself, those are the times I get the backlash of her negative remarks and judgements. I have learned it has absolutely nothing to do with me but more about what she is going through personally in her life. She is divorced and has 2 children (Ages 10 and 17). She is unhappy about her current situation and the demands that go along with being a parent and working full time along with the bills and housework. I get it; however, I was raised to respect my parents. This generation has been raised with a different set of standards and morals. The best advice I can give you is to realize that it seriously is no reflection of you. You don’t have to sit and listen to the abuse. There have been times that I chose NOT to stay when visiting with her and although it broke my heart (since I wanted to play with my grandchildren) I will not let them see me tolerate verbal negative remarks. I love my daughter with all my heart, and I pray that she finds happiness again because we ALL deserve to be happy. Best wishes.

  12. Betsy W.

    Estrangement from our oldest son of three has been a difficult journey to a conclusion that this is the status he has chosen to subject my husband and me to.. he is my stepson but I raised him after his biological mother gave him up when he was eight. He never forgave her. He asked me to apologize for things I said 20,30, 40 years ago which he took out of context. I did apologize though there was never harmful intent on my part. I did unfriend him on Facebook because anything I reply to him even trying to be kind he twists and throws at me with contempt.

  13. Missy D.

    You have company. I have said
    I feel as though I was handcuffed
    taken to prison, but no one had
    told me the charges!
    All is mentioned is me and my
    husband, have not spoken to
    our daughter or grandsons In
    years! We were very close at
    one time. This has proven to me
    so many things, we still hurt .
    It’s been a struggle, but it’s
    lessen .

  14. S.N.

    “There are no “right” words when someone is determined to take whatever you say
    Thank you, Sheri, for these words! They are healing and they certainly rang true in my experience.
    It’s been 12 years since our beautiful, loving and compassionate adult daughter suddenly became a stranger. She made a shocking announcement about herself and her intended new lifestyle. My husband and I were completely stunned. But we told her that nothing she could say or do would diminish our unconditional love, that we would always want her in our lives, and that, while she had the right to make her own life choices, we could not always affirm them.
    She responded with anger and hostility. She blocked our phone numbers and my FB account. While composing e-mails to her, I would agonize for weeks over just the right wording and tone of each message before prayerfully hitting “SEND.” I thought my words were kind, conciliatory, and gentle; yet I was open and honest about our hurt and confusion regarding her hostility. Her replies would be swift and cruel–twisting my words and making them into something ugly and false. She railed against her Christian upbringing and its gender-binary concepts. She labeled our love “toxic,” and she accused us of lying, gas-lighting, and other forms of mental abuse. None of it was true, yet I apologized incessantly and begged for forgiveness and grace–again and again. She responded by saying she had no grace for me. And then she gave us an impossible ultimatum–which ran completely against our faith and commitment to God. I begged and pleaded. She responded that if we didn’t comply, she had no room in her life for us. It’s been over 10 years without any contact. Then, about two years ago, we saw her at a family funeral. My husband and I approached–to thank her for coming, to say that we loved her, and that we hoped she was well. However, before we could speak–she recoiled from us. She actually pushed her palms out, tossed her head to the side and backed away.
    How many times can an estranged child crush your heart? Why do they choose to portray kind and loving parents as evil monsters? I may never understand what happened or why, but God gives me healing and strength to make it through each day. You’ve been a big part of that healing, too, Sheri. Your words help and heal–more than you know. Thank you!

  15. KDF

    You just have to LET GO. I heard this for over 25 years when my only son and I began the journey of an extremely painful estranged relationship. My friends, my family, and my personal counselor kept repeating…you HAVE to LET IT GO!!! I was crying all the time and yes, my heart was broken. However, once you accept the fact that you have no control over the estranged relationship after sooo many years of trying to reach out, communicate in a positvie way, stay in touch and all is to no avail, you have to let it go. Not letting go will only continute to consume and devastate your life and one day you wake up and the relationship has been the same for 30 years and the light comes on. I do have control, not over others, but of myself and that is when you become accepting of LETTING GO and living YOUR OWN LIFE, because you realize life is short and that you do have worth.

  16. Katherine

    The comment from Lisa R I could have written myself. My ES (influenced by his girlfriend) found fault with everything we did, no matter how minute and insignificant. We could do nothing right! At the same time, he said whatever cruel and hurtful thing came to his mind. It truly felt like I was in h*ll anytime I attempted to reach out to him. I’m blessed to have my whole family in my life, including my amazing younger son, and they validate that I’m a kind loving person. So grateful for them!

  17. Susan P.

    In my relationship with my son and DIL, I pointed out that they were gaslighting me at every turn. So needful of being right and blameless, they told me what I said, what I meant and what my intentions were. This was so crazy making for me, always trying so hard to be understood, and was a pattern from relationships in my childhood and marriages. The last time they did this, I had an epiphany. I saw my part in this dynamic, and how it keeps me stuck. My part, the intense need to be understood and seen for who I am. It wasn’t easy, but surrendering the need for them and anyone to see me, liberated me from the ongoing disappointment and rejection I felt. There is grieving involved in this, and I work to stay grounded in my own truth about myself and my actions in the world.

  18. Susan

    “And yet it can also be freeing”. Yes Sheri, it took quite a while to get there, but yes no more dramas, no more sleepless nights, no more hurt, no more questioning myself, no more walking on eggshells and watching what I say. Agghhhh I finally can be me and more importantly I can breathe

  19. Terri C.

    Thank you so much for this message! I am so tired of reading about “amends” letters and apologizing to our children when we have just been normal parents. The problem is with them: there is something pervading our culture that is telling our children they need not care about us if we are not constantly “sparking their joy.” I finally realized that I am giving my 47-year-old daughter what SHE seems to want, which is me out of her life. We used to be really close and she confided everything in me. I don’t know what happened to make her think I’m now the world’s worst mom, except that she obviously prefers her mother in law to me. She seems happy and prosperous in her life with tons of support around her, so I’m glad for that and just keep praying that someday she will come back. I wish all of us moms could somehow mobilize against this evil that has taken our children from us.

    1. rparents Post author

      Sorry, Terri, that this has happened to you. I know you miss your daughter terribly. My hope for today is that you make a commitment to yourself to have a good life anyway.
      Big hugs to you.
      Sheri McGregor

      1. Patricia O.

        The pain, the tears, I am so tired of it all. I am emotionally and physically exhausted. This helps so much, only another parent going through this would understand.
        “Making a commitment to have a good life anyway “ that is tough but i understand i have to, otherwise Ill be no good to anyone. Thank you

    2. Audrey

      Thank you Terri! I feel exactly as you do. My 30 year old son feels the same way towards me & I have finally decided to let him go because he has made it painfully clear that is what he wants. So I will honor that. When this all started with him I decided to go to counseling because I was having such a hard time trying to understand what I had done in his eyes & my counselor told me she had 3 clients reach out to her that week with similar issues with their adult children. It’s becoming an epidemic & it saddens me but finding this group & people like you Terri that understand means the world to me. Thank you for sharing.


  20. Tina Marie

    Thank you for the affirmation… it is comforting to connect with all of you. No one not going through this can truly understand. They also don’t have the right words to help.

    God bless you all.

  21. JaneJ

    These words are so true. I am at the beginning stage of estrangement and I am both heartbroken and relieved. My ED moved in with us because of the rental and food inflation. She is middle aged. Nothing I or my husband (not her father; her father left long ago and no contact since) said or did was good enough for her.
    Our house wasn’t up to her standards; nor was our food, our housecleaning, our shopping methods. She particularly disliked my dog. She made twice as much as my husband and I each month yet she did not offer to help out financially or even do any cooking or wash dishes. Nothing. She was here for a year.

    I have a close family member who passed away recently. He predicted, before he died, that my D was going to ‘stomp off’ and leave us at some point soon. He passed away on a Thursday; she ‘stomped off’ by Monday. No chance for me to even grieve before she made it all about herself.

    On the other hand, though, I don’t have to watch my words, constantly apologize for my ‘substandard’ cleaning, my ‘annoying’ dog, my husband. This will be rough, I know, but so was the past 25 years of walking on egg shells, constantly shifting rules, financially supporting her through all her spending jags, constant complaints, mood swings and put downs.
    So why do I feel so terrible?

  22. Lisa R.

    Beloved Sheri and All,

    Truer words have never been spoken! I know from my own experience with my ED that no matter what I said or did it was wrong. It seemed as though she was trying to find fault with me at every turn. Nothing was every “right.” When I apologized (countless times, by the way) saying, “I am sorry if anything I did hurt or disappointed you in any way” her response was that I was being selfish and that I am toxic. My husband (not her father but he treated her like gold) and I have often remarked that no matter what I say or do it will be wrong or hurtful to her in some way. I have given up and work hard every day to appreciate the people who do love and value me while also trying to enjoy my life. I admit that it’s an effort but I do work at it every day. And what’s sad for me is that a friend of my has just been rejected by her 23-year-old son because he has gotten heavily into drug abuse and she stepped in and tried to help him help himself. He accused her of meddling so now she is just beginning her walk on this terrible journey.

    I wish you all peace and joy,
    Lisa R.

    1. Erma C

      I could have written Lisa R’s letter. This time of year is particularly difficult as my ED turns 40 in a few days and I’m not sure what to do or say. It’s been 5 years this month. She lives on another continent so any contact has only been by email and she’s made it clear she doesn’t want to hear from me.

      We’ve always sent money for her birthday, her partners birthday and Christmas by e transfer. There is never a thank you. I’m not sure what to do this year as it is a special milestone. If I don’t send anything it will be wrong, if I do send some money it won’t be appreciated.

      We don’t know their address, any phone numbers, or if they got married or not. They’ve been together about 15 years. We did learn that they have a son who is now who is about 3. We haven’t let her know that we are aware of him. It would just make things more complicated somehow. It’s so sad that we’ll probably never meet him and are missing out on the fun years of development. Fortunately we do have 2 other young grandkids that we see regularly.

      So when read this latest support from Sheri I cried. Usually I’m pretty okay but it’s difficult.
      Thanks so much for all you do for what is a growing number of parents who struggle with estrangement. You’ve been a saviour for me.


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