We are community supported and may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Learn more

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?

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

95 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Sally Crawford

I don’t agree with the following: Joshua Coleman suggests parents identify what they did, take responsibility, and consider making amends.
My son did not want me to remarry or to sell the house he grew up in. His dad had been dead 2 years when I reconnected with a man I’d grown up with since 1st grade. He was, & is, so angry as I moved away to travel with him in man RV. They refused to meet him, refused to even call him by name. They said I abandoned them. I’m 72 years old & was married to his dad for 50 years. He wouldn’t even meet me halfway to discuss it. So sometimes, the above won’t work

Melodee Currier

My 54 year old son, my only child, hasn’t called me since last Mother’s Day, over 6 months ago. After never doing anything for me or my husband (who has mentored him for 30 years) on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or our birthdays, then calling me at 8pm to say happy mother’s day, I let him know how I felt about that. Haven’t heard from him since.

I raised him as a single mother for most of his life and always put him first. His father disappeared so as not to pay child support. Since living in a nice neighborhood near a good school was the most important thing to me, I couldn’t afford a 2 bedroom, so I rented a 1 bedroom, gave him the bedroom and slept on the sofa. I never resented that.

He has one son, 14, who has Asberger’s. We would like to have a relationship with him, but since my son has ghosted us, that’s not possible. Even before that, my son didn’t encourage getting together. They live 45 minutes away from us.

MARIE L MORIN

Hi Melodee:
I am so sorry this has happened to you. I understand how much it hurts that our kids turn their backs on us. I know from the research that people change in time, and their hearts soften. I hope your son will eventually want to have contact with you, and you can have a relationship with your grandson. Warmly, Marie

Melodee Currier

Marie, thank you so much! Melodee

Penny Nibbelin

Our only daughter moved out of the house supposedly to take a job in Virginia. We found out later the most disgusting person she ever dated followed her. They got married and live in Florida with two children. He is a skin head, cannot keep a job – drinks away his money, is not educated, has horrible manners, now rides a motorcycle and turned his older child into a motorcycle freak. She has the foulest mouth you ever heard from a 13 year old. He is scary to look at, no one likes him, not even his own family. He has mentally abused our daughter for years. Daughter won’t leave because he says he will keep the children. I can’t stand any of them anymore. He has turned them in haters and I will not speak to them anymore. They are not worth the worry – we know when she calls it’s only for money. She is 46 years old and we are done with them.

Joann

I am happy yet sad I received this article through 60 and me. Our daughter ditched us for a boy’s family at 16. He did unspeakable things to her, which we told her would happen. She didn’t want to hear it and we didn’t want the filth in our home. It was and still is a blessing to not have contact. She has since married and having a baby. We wish no ill will and hopefully the child will find us.
I also cut ties with my immediate family. I could not take the lies, drama, backstabbing, manipulating anymore. It took me years to decide but I am happier now without them in my life. It is a very hard process but remember – a higher being is by your side. Blessings

Susan Vogelaar

My son had a child with a woman that he did not have a relationship with. But as grandparents and this being our first we wanted to be in this child’s life. We choose to . However, it seemed to consume more of me than my husband. We took my grandson on trips. I had him 4 days a week while she worked. But when it was time for us to leave he always wanted to come with us. She meet a man they had a child together and we could feel that things were changing. My grandson was getting more and more persistent at 4 years old to be with us. Then when my grandson was around 5 my son married a woman I did not mention that during our years of contening with my grandson, our son was growing distant towards us. When they got married I was seeing my grandson less and he was becoming more involved with my son’s wife’s parents. Then one day we were completely cut out of his life. We were told that we were doing all sorts of things that the three of them did not want. We were even told that we tried to run her mother down. It became very ugly. and being that they lived across the street it was more difficult. I tried to reason with them. Tried to see if we could all go to counseling. No nothing. We were told to try and see if they would be willing to sit down with a court-appointed sociologist but instead, they hired a lawyer. and tried to say that there was something mentally wrong w me. I was told to go to see a Therapist appointed by the judge to see if I was a fit grandparent. I did get the letter and yes all was fine with me. She did however point out that going back to the judge might bring out anger and I might not see him alone and may never see my son again. so I chose to let it be. My son’s wife became pregnant and they had a child another boy. we never met him. And if we were around family and they brought the baby I was not allowed near him. He will be 3 this year and still have not met him. my other grandson was told that we wanted to kidnap him so he ran into the house every time he saw us or one of our vehicles. They have now moved and we do not have any connection. They have blocked us from seeing anything on social media and no pictures of the children at all.

MARIE L MORIN

Dear Susan, I am sorry for what happened to your family. I hope that you are doing your best to move forward. I understand the depth of pain when our children reject us. Staying in close contact with those who love and value you is very important. As much as it hurts, we can choose to keep going and live outside our role as mothers. Thank you for sharing your story. I wish you well, Marie

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.

You Might Also Like