each unhappy family is unhappy
in its own way.
At the heart of the more difficult parental negotiations with our grown children--real-world advice, necessary but unpleasant suggestions, harsh critiques--lies a universal anxiety: when push comes to shove, we don't want to push or shove so hard that our children become estranged from us. That is, they will no longer want to talk to us or be an integral part of the family; that they'll cut off all communication--they won't answer our phone calls, tweets or email; they'll unfriend us their Facebook page.
We may go through difficult and challenging times with some or all of our adult children, but most of us find that we--and our kids--cycle through the down times and eventually reach a better place. But not always and that is the subject Sheri McGregor covers in her book, Done with the Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children.
McGregor starts her book by telling us that one of her five children rejected her and when he did, she felt loss, anger, disbelief and embarrassment. "At first, I was shamed into silence," she writes. She went through an initial period where she blamed herself "for the tiniest mistake I'd mined with a fine-tooth comb from memories of my son's childhood. I'd seize on any infraction and blow it out of proportion as I struggled to find some answer to my echoing question: Why?"
When her life with the rest of her family started to suffer from the pressure of her misery, she realized she had to move on when she lit on this fact of life: While the experts "tell us never to give up, or to do whatever it takes to reconcile," the truth is "reuniting isn't within our control....We can make our hopes known, but we can't control what our adult children do."
So this is not a book on how to "fix" the relationship with an estranged child. It is advice, suggestions and even mental exercises to help parents whose children have, in effect, divorced them, move on with their lives and get beyond the devastating loss and pain.
The style is direct and simple. McGregor fills her book with anecdotes and tales from other families suffering through the shock of their child rejecting them. Then she offers exercises to help a parent move forward. The first exercise, for instance, is for the parent to simply observe what times of the day, week or year are more difficult to deal with the loss and then to consider how to use that time differently. By chapter four, the exercise is keyed to having a parent wish their estranged child well, despite his choices or whether or not his path leads back his parents. By doing so, McGregor writes, "you set the stage to let go of worry, anger, pride, or expectation. You set yourself free to embrace the present."
In the final chapters, McGregor deals with long-term issues: from estate planning (making decisions about such questions as, Will you provide for the estranged child's children?) to thinking through whether you want your estranged child notified when your end is near.
This is not a book that holds out the hope or a path to reconciliation. It is about acceptance and acknowledging that all you can control is you. Something that's true for all of us.
(Note: The publisher of this book sent me a review copy.)