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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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your son

Hi estranged parents,
estranged child here. I’d like to speak for your kids who refuse to talk to you. We left for a reason, good riddance and I hope you think everyday how we are moving on and growing and having our own family without your toxic traits and past. Have fun and don’t reach out

Petunia Smart

What a cruel thing to say. Heartbreaking. My mother is a very toxic person, and I am estranged from her, but it grieves me. I just want her to change. How can you be so cruel. She is better off without you. Maybe find Jesus. This life is very short and where will you go when you die?

Sharolyn

Thank you for reaching out, and to ask the children like you….. No worries we don’t need YOU and you yet disrespect, one day you’ll stand alone and will have to answer to a higher power…. Good riddance, don’t come calling when you need money out food, we won’t be there….

Estranged Father of 2 Adult Chidren

Since becoming estranged several years ago, I have developed a deep interest in the subject, far beyond my personal story of being an estranged father. I was initially interested in hearing from other parents, and was amazed at the vast network of parents that were grieving.  I read their stories with great interest and learned considerable amounts about the subject. I gradually shifted towards searching for adult estranged children that have chosen to go “no contact” with their parents, and that have taken the time to share their perspectives publicly in social media platforms. I find it especially interesting to read the comments from young adults that have chosen to go “no contact” with a parent or parents.


 

    At this time I would like to share some general observations I have formulated over time about the entire subject of parent-adult child estrangement.

 

1. I whole heartedly agree with any adult child that has made the decision to cease contact with a parent that has been either physically abusive or sexually abusive. In addition, I equally support an adult child’s choice to go no contact with a parents that suffers from a severe personality disorder, and based upon such disorder, engages in various forms of substance abuse and/or emotional abuse on their children, grandchildren, and/or adult children. I get it. I applaud those choices that have been made by those adult children. I agree as a parent myself, and as an adult who enjoys free choice to disengage from abusive dysfunctional relationships. We should all enjoy the right, regardless from whom it is that we are seeking to disengage (i.e. parents included). We should all aspire to healthy relationships with others, and part and parcel of such aspirations is to distance oneself from those that we perceive as bringing dysfunction and hostility to our lives (friends, family, business associates, etc.).


 

2. I do not think the subject of estrangement is a “one size fits all” matter. There are some adult children that have made improper choices in choosing to estrange, just as there are adult children that have made an appropriate choice to go no contact. Likewise, there are parents out there that are victims of unjustified estrangement, just as there are parents that have been cut-off from their adult children for truly justifiable, objectively based grounds.


 

3. Each of us has our own narrative of our own individual situation. Some of us have shared our narratives. None of us can know the other side of the narrative, and it is possible that were we to learn and understand both sides of a given estrangement situation, we might find that our opinion about a person’s situation is different from the narrative initially presented to us. As such, I think it is prudent for all of us to keep an open mind about each person’s individual situation and to respect each person’s personal narrative. The bottom line is we just do not know the whole story, nor can we.

 

4. As a parent, I want my adult children to not just survive, but to thrive! To be happy. To be enjoying their lives. To find love. Inner peace. Emotional fulfillment. Harmony with nature, people, and the inner self. To enjoy the pleasures a life affords. Etc. Given these wishes, if my adult child feels, in his or her judgment or opinion, that his or her life would be better served without me in it, then, as painful as it is to accept, in the bigger picture of my own life and my own wishes for my children’ happiness and success, this is something I must accept. As for the pain I experience in this “rejection”, that is my personal issue, and it is for me to deal with.


 

5. I note that many parents feel they did not do anything to deserve being estranged. I happen to be one of those parents. I further note that many adult children do not agree when an estranged parent expresses this opinion. In my view, even if a parent feels he or she did not do anything sufficiently wrong to deserve estrangement, the fact is, the adult child has made this decision, right or wrong, and it is the adult child’s life that must be lived, and it is definitely not the parent’s life to control. Thus, for all of us, not every decision we make is correct, and none of us know whether our choices are going to be correct until they play out over time. It may be that over time, the adult child that has chosen to go no contact with his/her parents regrets the choice–or not. Either way, it is the adult child’s exclusive choice, and we all have to live with our choices, good and bad. Yes, it is sad, but a full and complete life comes with its share of sadness, and that is just part of the ebb and flow of living a real life. All of us—parents and our adult children– will, over the course of our lives, make choices we regret. Things happen in our lives, and we will look back and say: “if I had to do it over again, I’d make a different choice.” Our estranged adult children may now, or at some point in the future of their lives, engage in that look back. Or not. They may look back with great pride at the choices they have made. Only time will tell. There is nothing to be done in the interim by the estranged parents. We cannot force our adult children to make a different choice no matter how wrong we think their choices may be, or how strongly we feel about their choices.

 

6. We all look at life through our own filtered lenses. Each person’s reality is just that. For some, it is a highly religious reality. For others, religion has nothing to do with it. For some there is a perception that a parent has a right to have “say” about an adult child’s adult choices including sexual orientation, marriage partners, academic and professional choices, and much else. For others, myself included, these are all subjects that a parent needs to lay off of and allow an adult child to find for himself or herself, even if that means falling down.


 

7. We all fall down. It is the getting back up that is the testament of our lives. We must rise, dust ourselves off, and continue on in our journey. None of us should allow estrangement to define us. If estrangement has touched your life, no matter which side, may it simply be one aspect of the total you.

 


8. To all adult children that have chosen to go no contact with your parent or parents, it is my personal hope that all  will, one day, make the choice to reach out to that parent or parents from whom that adult child chose to cease contact, and in a healthy, respectful way, express some positive wish or communication to bring peace to the family, both to the adult child, and to the estranged parent(s). This is not to suggest that the adult child should re-establish a relationship, or anything of the sort. There is no timetable. It is only a wish that at some point in time, when the adult child feels ready, and it is my hope that each adult child that has chosen to go no contact will  reach a point in life when he or she feels ready and sees the value of reaching out. And if it should happen that an adult child make such a choice, is my hope that it brings some inner peace to all concerned.


 

9. Sometimes a thimble full of love is all our loved ones have room for from us. We may wish to heap bounties of our love on others, but we must give love with respect for our loved ones–and isn’t that the most loving thing that we can do? Is that not love to love with consideration for the needs of our loved ones? Thus, if our loved ones do not want anything to do with us, or want little to do with us, the most loving thing we can do is to respect that wish, and even as it may feel painful, it is an act of giving love to step back and give that loved one space–and that is a thimble full of our love for that person that we are giving of ourselves.

 


Thank you for reading if you made it this far.

 

Lyn

Should we message our estranged child and tell them enough is enough and say that the relationship is over and that divorcing them is the only option for stability in my life?

Sally Crawford

I’d like to hear some of the responses on this? I’m having the same issues and was told not to send any of them, even the grandkids (ages 14 and 20) because the only way to fix things was if I came home and things went back like they were. (I remarried & we sold my house and are RVing full time. )

Estranged Father of 2 Adult Chidren

I would say no. #1, I believe in “never say never’. We should all keep our options open. We cannot possibly know what the future holds. Years from now, you may regret stating such an extreme thought. And really, there is no need. If you think it is over, there is no need or benefit to share that detail with the estranged child. If it is truly over, the estranged child will eventually figure it out. #2 the expression of this kind of thought is usually for the benefit of the parent stating it, even as the estranged child is supposed to hear it and, in theory, choose to modify his or her behavior in response. That almost never happens. A statement like “it’s over” might make the parent feel better, but it will very likely not be effective to change the situation with the estranged child. Usually, the estranged child has already made the choice to ghost the parent(s) and has moved on. #3 Ultimatums are rarely effective in human conflict.

marlene

That was great advice. Thank You

Cindy

I had a dysfunctional family life for years. My ex husband tried to kill me and killed himself. I thought it would end the dysfunction, but it didn’t. I have a new love interest, but he is not accepted by my children. I’ve tried to reach out many,any times with absolutely nothing in return. I need to cut them loose so I can have a nontoxic life.

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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