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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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When a spouse demands that your son completely cuts contact with all his family and spend his time and money on her kids/grandkids, how does a mom handle that…


I have a 36-year-old son who is bipolar, has anger issues and a multitude of other emotional problems.He lives in his car which he is destroyed for the past 3 or 4 years. He is verbally abusive not only to me but to the mother of his two little boys. He is physically abusive to her as well.
I feel like I want him out of my life. He only comes around or calls when he wants money to buy pot or get gas or food. He is not worked but 3 weeks since July 1, and the mother of his two boys has supported him all this time. I have sent him money as well and filled up his gas tank.
I am afraid of him and at 67 with two fairly serious health issues cannot afford to support him. He is healthy and attractive and able to go to work, but he thinks all will be taken care of in the future. He consistently asked me to kill myself, and in his rages says that he wants to kill me as well.
My biggest problem is I feel guilty about him living like a vagabond and worry about him. I’ve got to stop doing that and let him go I know but it’s hard.


I am currently semi-esttranged from my adult son due to his addiction. For years, I did everything I possibly could to help him along in life; unfortunately I realized I was not helping, but enabling. I realized for my sanity and health, I needed to limit the amount of communication we have. Due to his addiction, I have also lost access to my two grandsons. I hope and pray everyday that when they get older, we will reconnect.

Sally Crawford

My youngest son was an addict for 24 years, until it took him Christmas Eve at the age of 43. As mothers we try to help and it is usually enabling. You want them around when they are clean But you can’t be around them when the are on something as their entire personality changes. It affects the entire family.


I have a very abusive mother who alienated me from my father, physically and mentally abused me all my life, used me for financial gain though she had lots of money and was fine taking from me while I did without food, shelter, medical and dental care to give her money. She also favored her golden children (the two oldest) over me and taught them to abuse me as well. My mother destroyed any relationship I had so that I am alone now. All of this continues to this day and I’m in my sixties. I only learned that not putting up with all this was an option in the last year. It’s too late for me to salvage any life – and she still doesn’t care about anyone but herself and her darlings. As the article says: there is no societal or other comfort for those of us estranged from family. But there is often a very valid reason the child was left with no other option. If I had a choice, of course I’d pick a loving mother (I could sure use one) over estrangement. But that is just a dream that can never be.
(Of course my mother would deny doing anything to me, but I had a lifetime of shrinks, acquaintances, strangers, doctors, partners point out the abuse. There’s always a valid reason when someone makes this horrible choice.)

Last edited 1 year ago by J P

Hi JP: Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry you went through this. I agree; people estrange for a reason when there’s abuse; cutting off is a way to self-preserve. I hope you have relationships with people who love and value you. Warmly, Marie


I am divorced from my daughter’s father more than 10 years ago. Her father and I had a conversation where we both apologized for our mistakes. Seemed like it was a good thing, but now I believe my husband has revealed things about me to her and she texted me saying she could no longer deal with me (we live in different states) and we could speak on holidays. This has not happened; no texts, no phone calls. I sent her a letter apologizing for my mistakes and letting her know I would respect her decision and that I love and miss her very much. It is so difficult. I am not in the same state so I cannot see her or change this. I believe my ex told her (28 years old) that I had cheated and this made the estrangement happen. Prior to this we were doing fine speaking on the phone etc. My heart is broken.

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 and contact her at

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