Winter Solstice and the roller coaster of estrangement from adult children

estrangement from adult children

Image by Mario from Pixabay

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

On every roller coaster, there’s a peak moment when you reach the highest point. And for an instant, you linger, waiting for the drop. It’s the point of no return. Or, more cheerfully, the turning point. And that’s how I think of this time of year.

The Longest night

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice falls on December 21 this year (2023). There is slight variation that shifts it a day or so annually, but this date marks the longest night, and represents the shift toward lengthening days. The Southern Hemisphere enjoys the opposite effect.

I won’t get into ancient celebrations or spiritual beliefs about this factual event named to describe the moment when the Earth tilts its farthest from the sun. But ancient peoples did have reasons to celebrate—and with the right mindset, so do we.

Unsteady footing

As I say in Done With The Crying, when our own child rejects us, it’s as if the bottom falls out and our whole world tilts (like the Earth upon the winter solstice).  Just as we don’t always notice the gradual, day-to-day changes in the Earth’s angle toward or away from the sun, we may not have noticed a shift in our kids. Or, if we did, we blamed it on teen angst, individuation, or some other explanation that sounds sensible enough for us to believe the weirdness would end. And, so, we wait, expecting them to shift. Here’s where things get tricky.

Getting back to that roller coaster where this article started, imagine choosing to sit in that ride car at the highest peak. Suspended. At a standstill. Stuck.

While you’re strapped in at the peak, the world moves on. But waiting and hoping? I hope you brought food and water, because as you sit there suspended on hold, life continues without you. Far below, people are having fun, buying popcorn and hot coffee at kiosks, seeing shows, and hopping onto other, more pleasant, rides.

Dark night of the soul

According to about a zillion online sources, the “dark night of the soul” originated from a poem that described joining as one with God. Modern use of the expression refers to a loss of faith, whether religious, in humanity, or in oneself. While all of these apply to at least some parents of estranged adult children, consider whichever one, or a combination or variation, best describes you.

With these thoughts in mind, as the winter solstice brings Northern Hemispherians (Is that even a word?!) the longest “dark night” of the year, consider this a pivotal moment. Instead of remaining paralyzed, strapped in without options and looking down as the tantalizing aroma of fresh popped corn fills the air, and waiting for your unkind adult child to change, lean forward. Shift momentum. Enter the downhill stretch, exit the powerless position of agreeing to remain on someone else’s ride.

As we move beyond the solstice and the days grow longer, use this enlightened time wisely for your own life. Get the support you need to escape the dark night of your soul. Join the happy crowds. Choose your own next ride.

Escape the dangerous waters of estrangement, learn to find peace in the moment, recognize that you’ve changed, or make sensible choices for and even protect yourself if you hear from your adult child. Find something to anticipate (as I wrote about in a winter solstice article in 2022).

Related reading

Abandoned parents: Let your light shine

Holidays, how to manage them

 

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18 thoughts on “Winter Solstice and the roller coaster of estrangement from adult children

  1. Janet J.

    I’m sorry that there are so many of us. But in a strange way, comforting to know that it isn’t just me. 2016 was the last time I saw my daughter and granddaughter and son in law. He threw us out of their house. My daughter said nothing. 2017 my husband died. I talked a few times to my daughter. No one came to see me. Then the no contact began. My granddaughter had just turned 9. She is now 15, started high school. I sent cards, gifts, texts and emails. Phone number can’t be used. I don’t even get a thank you. No pictures and not a word. I’m pulling myself out of a dark depression finally. I’m trying to go on with my lonely life. So sad. Strangers have not hurt me as deeply as this. Heart broken

    Reply
  2. Katherine

    My son has been estranged for 18 months and we recently thought reconciliation was possible, but the very act of that was nothing short of a roller coaster. Up and down, playing with our emotions, feeling manipulated into a one sided relationship that was convenient for him and his girlfriend. It never felt sincere or genuine, and it always felt anxiety inducing and heart sinking. Thought we’d see him for Christmas but he chose not to come. I’m worn down and weary of communicating with him, no contact is actually abundantly more peaceful.

    Reply
  3. DeeDee

    My son has been estranged from us for 15 years. I only hear from him when he needs something from me. I have not been allowed to see my granddaughter since she was 3 years old. She is now 15. My son called on Christmas Eve. I did not answer my phone because I did not recognize the number. After doing a reverse lookup of the telephone number, I knew it was him. I chose not to return the call. I felt guilty at first, but now feel relieved of not speaking to him.

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      DeeDee,
      This is a turning point for you. Any parent reading this is saying you have nothing to feel guilty about. When someone denies your right to enjoy a grandchild and only contacts you to take from you (and so on), you are taking care of yourself to not pick up.

      You are getting off the powerless ride and can choose your own next one, steering. Thank you for sharing.

      Hugs,
      Sheri McGregor

      Reply
  4. Cheryl

    Once again, your newsletter article and comments from other parents of estranged adult children has helped me tremendously to ease the pain surrounding rejection by my 40 year old daughter and 3 young grandchildren, nearly 2 years ago. Life itself is like a roller coaster with its ups and downs, and I’ve always managed to see myself through the pain and grief caused by incidents that were out of my control. Estrangement from my daughter and her family, however, has kept me stuck at the top of that roller coaster for a long time until recently. I’m just now finally able to accept that I cannot change her decision to abandon me and my husband, my other daughter, her niece, nephew, brother-in-law, and my entire extended family. I may never understand how one can break ties with an entire family.
    But yes, I do believe I’ll survive this nightmare and continue to slowly ride down the roll coaster to a happier place, accepting the things I cannot change, and changing the things I can.
    Sending hugs to Sheri, and to those who’ve shared their thoughts and comments.
    May you all find peace and comfort during the holidays.
    Cheryl

    Reply
  5. Golden Years

    “Exit the powerless position of agreeing to remain on someone else’s ride.”
    I love this. This really helps the rollercoaster metaphor and brings it home.
    It’s been 2-1/2 years of estrangement from my daughter. I know it’s permanent
    because she dug her heels in so far, she doesn’t know how to get out of it even
    if she wanted to my husband said that). But losing her gave me my son back, for
    which I’m truly grateful. He’s grown up and is really trying to be a better son.
    I miss who my daughter was, not who she is now. I don’t even like who she is
    now, so I would have a hard time relating to her now. This sounds like rationalizing,
    and of course it is to some extent, but I truly don’t like her. I’m better off without
    her in my life at this moment. I have a problem with the permanency of it, but for
    now, it’s for the best.
    I’m trying to move past it, keeping busy, loving my husband and my dogs,
    and I agree — she can stay on her own ride by herself with her boyfriend
    and his family. One day she’ll wake up and realize that they’re not the
    answer to her problems (they’re awful people). Yes, she’s got a bunch of
    MH problems, but that is her problem and not mine. I’ve done my job. It’s
    up to her to take care of her MH issues now. Thanks for the words of encouragement.
    I will take the rollercoaster image and exiting her ride to heart.

    Reply
  6. Diane M.

    I always think, that when I see images of people stuck on a roller coaster, that that must be the most awful experience ever! But, I guess I had those same exact feelings when I finally excepted that I am estranged from my daughter, son-in-law and my three grown grandkids. I felt stuck in grief. But ever so slowly, I rebuilt a life for myself. Holidays are still hard, but I see many in my senior apt. bldg. here that have no kids and still enjoy the holiday. We recently suffered a loss here at my bldg. One of the women, who was also my friend, died suddenly, in her unit. Oh, that grief hit again so hard. I haven’t felt it this bad since I finally realized my kids were truly estranged from me. I guess when grief hits us, in so many ways, we just have to be patient and go thru it. Or it will pop it’s ugly head again until we do.
    In spite of this being a hard time for all of you, I hope you can find things that make you happy and just do them. I’m going to drive around and look at all the decorated homes this evening and see if they put out their luminaria. I’ll make myself a delicious meal and set a pretty holiday table. Please, find something special to do just for YOU. Have very happy Holiday however you celebrate it. Let’s get off the top of the stuck roller coaster!

    Reply
  7. Sonja

    Grief shows up at odd times. It was last weekend for me and now I’m doing better. It’s been 5 years since my son’s partner poisoned him against me. She has mental health issues and has poisoned him against both my daughter and myself. I’m assuming that she doesn’t want to deal with the women in his family. Her goal was to take him for herself and he’s cooperated. He’s turning 30 next year so he’s an adult and can make his own decisions but it makes me sad. It didn’t have to be this way. I don’t understand why they can’t just be civil for a couple of family celebrations per year. All the best to everyone out there. You’re not alone.

    Reply
  8. RosePetals

    “I hope you brought food and water, because as you sit there suspended on hold, life continues without you. Far below, people are having fun, buying popcorn and hot coffee at kiosks, seeing shows, and hopping onto other, more pleasant, rides.”

    Life is so short. I look back to all the time wasted, suspended on hold. Waiting and hoping I could fix it, that things would change. I didn’t want to waste any more time. I let her go physically and in my heart. I have no regrets. We are now in our 10th year of estrangement. It is true – the pain dissipates, acceptance kicks in and we move on in life. And yes, we can once again feel happiness and joy.

    Lots of Love, Rose Petals

    Reply
  9. Mamajama58

    This year marks our 7th year of rejection by our daughter. After the 2nd year I realized the hurt was diminishing, but I was thankful for no more chaotic-what will she do to ruin things for everyone-family gatherings. We have moved on literally and are enjoying our 2 other children and their families. There is, however, one thing I will never move past; our 20 yr old grandson who she had in high school, and who I raised until he was 6 full time, and until he was 14 part time is gone with her. When she decided to cut ties (because we paid for her to go to college for a degree instead of cosmetology school-these are her words-which she could have done herself) she took him and turned him against us. I grieve him almost daily.

    Reply
  10. Grace

    My daughter became estranged from me five years ago. Looking back, I realized that she had been pulling away from me ever since her father remarried. Two years later, my son also became estranged from me in defense of his sister, who he had always been very protective of. My heart is broken, mostly since I’ve started to believe this estrangement is permanent and that I’ll never see them or even speak to them again. I’ve written many letters, texted them, even sent them articles from professionals who specialize in the area of estrangement with adult children, but to no avail. I don’t know what else to do. The pain of losing them gets worse every day. I never imagined my life would turn out like it has.

    Reply
    1. Dorrie

      You become bitter by focusing on how mean, unfair, and stupid this whole estrangement thing truly is. You cannot fix someone else’s problem even if that person is your adult child. Key word: adult.
      They need to learn something that you can no longer teach them. Pray for that healing with no expectations. Step back and let life work it out with them. Meanwhile change your focus from only being their “mom”, to being YOU!

      Reply
  11. Bodhi

    Just as the winter solstice will shift us into a season with gradual increase of light, I am also creating a new life for myself, without my estranged daughter. It is the second year of estrangement, the second Xmas. I’m moving on, we took an amazing trip to Italy. Yes, that was healing. I’m keeping firm boundaries, I have no desire to see her, or communicate with her. My husband occasionally texts her, as he is still attached. But she has no empathy, no remorse for her actions, and takes no responsibility. She lives with a toxic boyfriend, and both cannot be trusted. I have forgiven her, but I’ll never forget, and I changed my will. Could anything change? That’s doubtful. I was a very loving parent, but it seems, she could not accept the love. So it’s time to accept, and move on.

    Reply
  12. badhatharry

    My daughter has recently revealed exactly what she thinks of me. I am mentally unstable, crazy and incapable of “reading the room”. While these revelations were very painful, I was finally able to understand years of inexplicable reactions she had to me…ever since she finished college.
    I didn’t understand and would defend myself and simply go on. My husband and I went to tremendous lengths to support her every endeavor.
    But some things happened recently that compelled her to finally disclose her true opinion of me.

    And…I won’t put up with it. I wouldn’t be friends with a person who thinks this way about me and I won’t be close to a daughter who thinks this way about me. I have let her know that from now on our relationship will be “diminished”.

    She may change and find her way back. And I know I can live with whatever she decides to do.

    Merry Christmas!

    Reply
    1. Jane

      For a number of years, I have read all these posts quietly and have never commented. But your post and Bohdi’s have struck me as the ones we really do need to hear. Kudos to both of you for moving on, recognizing your value and living your best life! You both are great examples for all of us who have struggled to get to a better mindset and for those who are on their way there.
      Merry Christmas!

      Reply
    2. Renee

      Good for you! I was the “best mother that ever lived,” until I too suddenly and unexpectedly became a “mental case” when my children reached middle age!

      Reply
    3. Anita

      We all feel your pain. My daughter changed gradually during and after college until one day she turned on me with a vengeance and talked my son, her brother, into attacking me, too. It’s taken almost 5 years for me to forgive them both and move on. The pain, especially at Christmas, is still there, but I no longer allow it to ruin my holiday or any other days of my life. God bless you and your family!

      Reply

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