What do you do when your child suddenly disappears from your life? How do you explain it? Who do you blame? For many mothers of adult children who no longer contact them or involve them in their worlds, self-blame, doubt, fear, and uncertainty reign supreme. That’s why Sheri McGregor, a certified life coach, wrote the book Done With the Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, which highlights the emotional, psychological, and even physiological turmoil that results from a broken relationship with one’s adult child.
An adult child walking away from his or her parent(s) is not a topic we hear of everyday. Sadly, it isn’t even a topic that mental health professionals or relationship experts discuss at great length. You can Google the term “estranged adult child” and find just a few articles and blogs on this topic. There are very few contemporary research studies or stories to explain adult child estrangement. As a result, parents and families must find solace through blogs or through support groups.
McGregor begins her book by discussing the topic of estrangement from adult children in a general fashion prior to sharing her own experience as a mother of an estranged adult child. She shares many of her own thoughts, emotions, and struggles as she highlights the experience of other mothers like her. She does a great job highlighting the challenge of moving forward and embracing other family members who may also be feeling captive by guilt, self-blame, shame, anxiety, depression, and uncertainty. She normalizes the experience of these emotions for mothers who may be too hard on themselves or eager to find a reason for the estrangement.
Chapter 2 focuses on the questions disowned parents have about their estranged children. The following chapters focus on obtaining support, adjusting to the change/shock, and moving forward. One thing McGregor makes very clear in her book is the need for a hurt and abandoned parent to move forward in life despite the emotional pain that comes with the realization of loss. She attempts to normalize the occurrence of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts while encouraging the reader to reach out for support. She concludes her book by discussing reconciliation (if that were to occur) and finding the motivation to go on.
As a mental health professional and writer, I had many questions while reading this book, including:
- Did the “estranged adult child(ren)” have mental health, substance abuse, or behavioral problems that contributed to the estrangement?
- Did the “estranged adult child(ren)” have unresolved grief, trauma, or anger/resentment that led to their estrangement from their parents?
- Did the “estranged adult child(ren)” feel misunderstood by their families and saw estrangement as a remedy?
- Did the “estranged adult child(ren)” have a personality disorder that prevents them from being able to empathize or understand the totality of their actions on their families?
These questions, and perhaps many more the reader may have, are unanswered in this book. The reader will need to be willing to accept what the writer has produced. There may also be questions around how the estranged child(ren) views the entirety of the situation. In this book we only have access to the parent’s perspective and not the child(ren). As a result, it is possible that there is more to the story than what we are given access to. Even more, during the introduction McGregor highlights changes she has made to preserve the confidentiality and rights of those spoken about in the book. She writes:
“To protect others’ privacy, I have used a pseudonym for my son, and I have changed or omitted all other identifying details such as appearance, background, profession, and place of residence. I have done the same for the parents and adult children who agreed to share their stories in this book. To further protect identities, many additional details have been changed, the stories have been altered, and some of the people described in this book are composites based on several different families.”
While this is certainly an important step to take to ensure privacy, some readers may question the legitimacy of the book as a whole since events discussed in the book might not have actually happened.
Sadly, chapter 7, which focuses on reconciliation, may also give some parents false hope of reconciliation. As a therapist who has worked with multiple broken and dysfunctional families, a full reconciliation is unlikely to occur. As McGregor expresses after speaking with her son after 1 year of no contact, “…part of me doubted the connection was even real…I was scared to trust him.” Many parents (and even the estranged child) struggle with re-building trust, establishing appropriate boundaries, and getting to know each other again. For some families, the journey to reconcile is so difficult that separation feels more plausible for everyone involved. Essentially, the hope of reconciliation is often destroyed by the reality of an unstable parent-child relationship.
The final chapter, Life Goes On, is helpful for parents and families who are concerned about supportive resources within the community around end-of-life decisions.
McGregor does a nice job in summarizing the emotional and psychological challenges mothers go through when they become a victim of estrangement. For parents suffering at the hands of an adult child who no longer wants to include them in their lives, Done With the Crying may be the only resource they can find that will tell them what to do next.
Done With the Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children
Sowing Creek Press, May 2016
Paperback, 352 pages