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60 and Estranged from an Adult Child? How Not to Deal with It

By Marie Morin November 14, 2022 Family

Estrangement is a widespread and stigmatized condition when an individual cuts ties with one or more family members. Over one-quarter of the population deals with either an adult child or another family member’s decision to disconnect. Cut-off family members and parents experience grief marking the loss of the relationship status.

Sadly, anxiety concerning whether an adult child will resume communication can linger. Through uncertainty and discomfort parents search for how to cope with the onslaught of thoughts and the loss of their adult child. Estranged parents feel bewildered and wonder what to do.

Estranged Parents

Recently, awareness has increased with stories of celebrity estrangements. People are more familiar with adult children cutting ties with their parents. But with all the uncertainty surrounding the condition, what should parents do?

Each story is unique, but parents typically respond with many uncomfortable emotions. Losing the relationship status with an adult child can illicit anger, guilt, denial, bargaining, and shock.

Estrangement’s complex shape differs from the loss caused by death. There are no ceremonies with supportive family and friends. The shame often binds parents to secrecy. Well-meaning friends usually don’t know what to say, or they suggest unhelpful advice. The sad fact that an adult child has decided to intentionally separate is heartbreaking.

No parent is prepared for their kid to walk away from them. Usually, the unwanted break-off leaves parents in a heap of reactions that potentially harm their prospects of resolving the problem. Other family members take sides, and the estrangement with your adult child can evolve into a crisis of epic proportions. In addition, parents can be angry and react harshly by expunging their children in retaliation.

Parental Expectations Vs. Adult Kids Expectations

The more I speak with parents in my practice, the wider the divide appears. As we age, we recognize the temporary nature of our lives. Our time resources are diminishing. We are keenly aware of our priorities. If we have families, we likely want to strengthen our relationships.

We want to spend holidays and perhaps vacations together. We like being included in family functions. Exceptions to desiring more time were when the family was entrenched in dysfunction, toxicity, or abuse.

Generally, parents want closer ties than their kids. In their developmental life stage, adult children consider their careers, friendships, interests, and family units. They are less likely to prioritize communication with their parents since their priorities are elsewhere. Indeed, there are exceptions. However, studies of individuals over their lifespan defer to perceptions supporting polarized priorities.

Contributors to Cut-Offs

Parental expectations of wanting closer family ties and the gap with what adult children desire is just one facet of estrangement. Studies implicate personality, environment, parental attachment, intergenerational stressors, divorce, parental alienation, poverty, mental illness, and addictions in the likelihood of family estrangement.

Adult children can couple with a toxic partner or are unhinged over inheritance matters. Families can be brutal when there are different lifestyles and values. Parent-child relationships that are overly close-enmeshed and over-dependent can backfire into a cut-off. When it strikes, all parties are impacted.

Studies indicate that adult children experience grief but claim they do it to save themselves. Something went on that was too much for them to bear, so they needed space. Parents are shocked, angry, guilty, ashamed, bewildered, anxious, and afraid. The anxiety over resolving and understanding what on earth happened can be devastating.

Moving Towards a Newfound Acceptance

Parents grieve and process to find their way through. The stories they tell are filled with confusion and sometimes regret. What happened? Where did I go wrong? What is wrong with me? What happened to my child?

Parents process their feelings by moving towards them courageously. They talk to a safe person, resume activities they enjoy, and spend time with those that love and value them. They focus on caring for themselves and learning communication skills.

Coleman’s Five Mistakes

Joshua Coleman, psychologist and author of Rules of Estrangement, shares the estrangement with his daughter and clinical expertise. His experience working with parents of estranged adult children and research includes the “five mistakes” parents make.

Interestingly, the five mistakes are also common among non-estranged parents. Brave parents admit they are angry, upset, and hurt about the unfairness of the estrangement condition. Anxiety over resolving the cut-off can lead to thinking reconciliation will happen quickly.

This false expectation can lead to frustration and disappointment. I hear from parents overwhelmed by guilt and regret that they resorted to exploding on their adult child. Many also assume that their kid’s cut-off is all about them.

Joshua Colemans Five Mistakes Parents Make

  1. Motivate by Guilt
  2. Return Fire with Fire
  3. Believe the Relationship is Based on Fairness
  4. Thinking Reconciliation Will Happen Quickly
  5. Assuming That Your Kids Distant Behavior is All About You

What to Do When You Feel Guilty

Guilt is a self-accusation over something you feel you did wrong. If you are hypercritical and ruminating on your mistakes, ask yourself if beating yourself up has worked for you.

All parents make mistakes; we posture our amended thinking by reminding ourselves we did the best we could at the time. Most parents have regrets, but we can’t allow them to control us. If we find ourselves stuck in guilt and regret, we should get support to work it through. In essence, we need to forgive ourselves for being imperfect and move forward.

The positive side of recognizing our mistakes is committing to future improvements. Regarding our adult kids, there are wiser ways to deal with them than we are inclined to, especially when we are grieving. Joshua Coleman suggests parents identify what they did, take responsibility, and consider making amends.

Estrangement is extraordinarily stressful and heartbreaking. The cut-off harms all parties, but parents find themselves ill-prepared and grasping for solutions and answers. When we are estranged, being informed, engaging in self-care, and understanding adult children and the contributors to the cut-off prepare us for the possible length of our estrangement.

Being self-compassionate and processing your grief over the loss of the relationship status will strengthen you and help you to move forward. Your life will be different; however, you can find joy again if you choose.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Are you committed to a self-care routine that manages stress and its effects on your body and psychological state? What books have been most helpful to you?

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Marie

I could not embrace my adult child’s new lifestyle, so I am cut off from my grandchildren as well. I hope that in the future the grandchildren will seek a relationship with me. But if they don’t I will go on. I have to be thankful for what I have, and not dwell on what I have lost.

Anne

I wish I had your strength Marie. I hope it resolves itself . Hope springs eternal. Bless your heart.

Marie LoPresti Morin

Hi Marie:

Thank you for sharing. I am grateful you have decided you will go on no matter what has happened with your adult child. It truly is the way to move forward.
Warmly, Marie

Catherine Vance

I like that you put the responsibility for the estrangement on yourself, when many others will not do that. You write that you “could not” (chose not?) to embrace the new lifestyle. I don’t know what that means, but you are owning that you made the choice to reject (which is the harsh word for “could not embrace”). Gay? Drug-addled? Religious differences? Not for me to judge–it’s your loss, right? Did you cut off you grandchildren or did your child cut you off from them as well? Of course, it is hard to tell a grandchild, “I accept you, but I “cannot embrace” your father/mother.” Just ruminating here.

Missy

Catherine, you seem harsh and judgmental. Why did you even respond since you really said nothing but nasty?

teresa

I agree – she makes matters worse! I grew up in the 50’s and we moved bc of different people moving in – so when my daughter chose to live her life differently than my family, we didn’t speak for 5 years, i reached out to her and i made it better for years, welll after years of pretending i was happy and doing for all of them i’m called a certain name! after i managed to put my feelings aside and reach out to her friends and family i’m still the bad one! i feel no more – this all makes me sad but now i have to put myself first for a change

Patty

I commend you! You are a very strong individual! Wish I was.

I was cut off for 5 years and was not involved in my granddaughters’ lives. Then out of the blue, my son invited me to CO for a visit, while his wife was away, who I feel is behind my banishment! Granddaughters, when they met me, were seemingly terrified of me and wanted nothing to do with me! But by end of visit it did go better. So disheartening! I continue to give them gifts on b-days and holidays and hope for more visits!

teresa

sometimes don’t you feel you don’t have that normal family life when other family members are sharing vacations, holidays, etc.

Dianne

Going through this right now and for the first time in my life I am experiencing high functioning depression. My daughter was my best friend and we loved spending time with our two granddaughters. Trying to navigate a broken heart. Trying to understand why and what happened and will I ever have a relationship with them again. I know that journaling helps with healing and I am on it.

Anne

Hi Diane. This subject has had a massive impact on me and I do not have the answer. Even though it didn’t work for me I found some solace in sending a card or two with kind thoughts in. Try not to expect too much or your heart will break. I am so so sorry for what you are going through. I sincerely hope your love for your daughter shines through.. I send you hugs. And hope for some Peace.

Farrrel

I am so so sorry you are going through this, I experienced estrangement from my oldest son that went on for years, so I feel your pain. My younger son thought he was being totally unfair and with his help we were able to reconnect. Joshua Coleman’s book, “When Parents Hurt” was a huge help to me as well as spending time with a psychologist. Don’t give up even if it feels hopeless at times.

Marie LoPresti Morin

Hi Dianna: Thank you for sharing. I am so sorry you are going through this. I am grateful you are journaling, it Weill help you process your feelings. When you do journal, be sure to let yourself ventilate. Then, find something to do that takes your mind off of your discomfort. Be sure to be around those who love and value you. We truly do not know how long and what will happen with adult children. We do know that moving forward takes time to let ourselves process grief. Please take care of yourself. Warmly, Marie

joAnne

Dianne,
I wept when I read this. My youngest and I have always been so close. She recently married a european man and they were living with me in the states,I was thrilled to have them here. But,after eight months of listening to his harshness with my daughter,seeing his narcissism in full bloom,and seeing him make no attempts to find a job or do a thing around the house it was time for him to go. Attempts at speaking with him resulted in his full blown rage. They have been gone for four months and i have no idea where they are. I expected her to be with and support her husband but it’s as if she died. My heart is completely broken. I worry I will die before i see her again. Thank God I have a fabulous therapist.

Teri Dorr

I am so sorry. I know what this feels like. In time, you work thru the broken heart. But there is always a hole left. I have no idea where my youngest daughter is as well.

Catherine Vance

Oh, Dianne! This sounds so sad and yet I feel it could be fixable! Strong love and like
(friendship). Sorry, but why journal when you can be writing your heart out to her with gushy cards and letters! Let her hear your anguish and plead with her, “What can we do to mend this? I love you so much and I miss you so deeply!” There’s a Hallmark Card for everything! My son and I didn’t speak for about 8 months and I was never more distraught. Finally, we squared off with each other with yelling and crying and fixed it all because you must not disengage. Show up at her door with flowers! Sit on her doorstep and cry!
Make a Lifetime Movie fool out of yourself, but do not turn inward, reach outward.

teresa

i hear you and i feel your pain. i have been pretending for the better part of 39 years just to have a somewhat normal family – you know grand mother, daughter, grand kids. my life has been anything but….

Linda

I don’t know what I did for this to happen to me. Just chugging along.

Anne

It is the hardest thing to go through. Rejection is cruel and mostly not appropriate. Just try and breathe in and out. Peace and light Linda. I wish I could fix it for you.

Marie LoPresti Morin

Hi Linda: Thank you for sharing here. I’m glad you continue to move forward. Sometimes we don’t exactly know unless they have told us or tell us in the future. What has helped many is to intentionally care for themselves as they would for a dear friend. Be sure to be around those who love and value you. I wish you well. Warmly, Marie

Beth

Hi, I am so glad I came across this article. My youngest sister has decided she wants nothing to do with my Mom after a huge blowup earlier this year. Granted it was brewing for a while. My sister has let the rest of us know where she stands with Mom. My mother is a very difficult person to deal with and tends to manipulate and is controlling. She has called the rest of us to get information from us and has asked for our help to try and convince my sister to contact her. “Joshua Coleman suggests parents identify what they did, take responsibility, and consider making amends.” The article has given me better insight to an estranged situation and knowing what to say to Mom when she brings the subject up. We all live in different states which can make phone conversations challenging. I feel bad for both my sister and mother that it has come to this but do realize I cannot get in the middle. It is between them. My mom as to come to an acceptance of this reality with my sister and move on. Again, I want to thank you for this article and help with what to say to my Mom next time she brings it up.

J P

As horrible as my mother has been to me, if she only took responsibility for her actions or would acknowledge how I could be hurt, I probably want her back in my life. Unfortunately when I told her this (several times over the years) she blamed me for everything and denied ever doing anything to me…..

Catherine Vance

You don’t have to do this, but I wonder if you could just forgive unconditionally.
The older I get (68) the less I need my Mom (90) to apologize for all the crap. I
just see an old lady who didn’t know how to parent any better than she did, hurt
me a few times, but now BECAUSE I AM HAPPY, the unmet needs of my past have faded away.

MARIE L MORIN

Hi Beth: Thank you for sharing. I am so glad you found the article helpful. I commend you for not getting in the middle. This takes a lot of inner strength. I wish you well. Warmly, Marie

Kari Jaquith

For me it was the opposite, I broke off relations with both my adult children, which sadly included an infant grandchild, both of my adult children like to think I was/am responsible for their happiness, they were verbally and mentally abusive to me for years. I finally had had enough last winter, for one and the second child earlier this summer. I could no longer take it. I stopped speaking with my son last Christmas/Boxing day, and my daughter this past early summer. It’s is what it is, I need to focus on me and my emotional health.

Last edited 14 days ago by Kari Jaquith
Anne

I am estranged from my 3 siblings. It was not my choice. I have tried to make amends but have been rejected. The anguish is so painful. I have accepted the situation and over 20 years and generally have moved on. Do not think I did something terrible. I was the oldest and bailed them out from crime , broken relationships and alcoholism.. They could no longer tolerate my frustration with them.Think more than twice before rejecting someone in your family. It is a terrible thing.

Anna St Charles

I have a very similar situation as Kari. My adult son blames me for everything wrong in his life and gets very abusive when I tell him he must solve his own problems. This is something I did for him too much after divorcing his father 15 years ago. I’ve finally cut off communications because of how hurtful he has been to me. It’s very difficult to do and I am grieving even though I know I’m doing what’s best for both of us. Wishing everyone well who is experiencing something similar.

Marie LoPresti Morin

Hi Kari:

Thank you for sharing. I am sorry tp hear that your children were verbally and mentally abusive. I am glad that you will be focusing on your emotional well being. Doing self-care, being social, and allowing the processing of your feelings is essential to moving forward.
I wish you well. Warmly, Marie

Connie

I too had to end relationship with both adult children. I must say it wasn’t hard as one daughter constantly verbally abused me and the other didn’t care. I made mistakes and they would not let it go. 40 years later I’m done. I too needed to focus on my life and both emotionally and physical health. Truthfully it’s not bad. So I understand you and hope you are doing well.

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The Author

Marie Morin is a therapist and wellness coach at Morin Holistic Therapy. She helps women develop a daily self-care routine, so they overcome perfectionism and limiting beliefs and be their most confident selves. Marie is a grateful blogger and YouTuber. Find out more at morinholistictherapy.com and contact her at morinholistictherapy@gmail.com.

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