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4 Self-Healing Strategies to Manage Adult Child Estrangement

By Michelle Hill December 03, 2023 Family

The first year it happened, I was devastated.

It was Mother’s Day and both my son and daughter, then in their late 20s, were using drugs and alcohol. I waited and waited for the call. Like all day. Nothing.

I remember standing in the shower that night, my head pressed against the wet tile, sobbing convulsively. It hurt so bad. SO bad. There was a compressed knot in my gut. I felt forsaken. Abandoned.

I questioned… Was I that bad of a mother? Did they really hate me that much? What did I do wrong that they feel it’s okay to do this to me?

Once my reason returned, I knew I had been a conscientious mother; involved and nurturing. Not perfect, mind you, but I was confident in the fact that I gave them my all from my personal toolbox of loving and caring.

The next year it happened again. I didn’t cry as hard, but it still hurt.

I tried to be happy for the mothers around me whose grown children showered them with attention and gifts, but it was a double-edged sword of genuinely wanting to feel glad for them and yet feeling the sorrow and abandonment in my own heart.

Then… it became something that no mother should have to endure; it became normal.

Moving on from There

Eventually, my son shared with me one Easter that at one point he felt like he was having a heart attack from using meth, and he stopped using drugs. He went back to church and turned his life around in a big way. His girlfriend at the time was a 9-year hardcore heroin addict, and she turned her life around as well. They’re now married and have a son. My son is 39 now, and we have a good relationship, calls and all.

My daughter, however, remains estranged. Sometimes she responds to my messages (when I don’t ask too many questions) and seems very reluctant to say “I love you” in response to my telling her often that I love her. That hurts, but I won’t stop saying it.

I endured a toxic relationship with my own mother, and I wanted desperately to flip the script on the pages of history and enjoy a close, fun relationship with my daughter, now 42. But, alas, the story isn’t over, and I still hold out hope that one day it’ll happen.

Over the years, I’ve learned four self-healing ways to manage an adult estranged child.

No Wallowing or Staying Stuck!

Through the decades of estrangement from my daughter, despite my attempts to foster a relationship, I’ve learned that wallowing or staying stuck in grief is pointless and serves no good purpose in my life. Yes, of course, we must fully grieve the story we held in our hearts and heads about what our relationships would look like. But wallowing year after year is not helpful for you, or your adult child. They’re going about their life, and you need to do the same.

Dr. John Delony, Ramsey personality and host of The Dr. John Delony Show, urges call-in listeners to buy a cinderblock at the local hardware store. He says to write the thing you’ve been carrying around for a long time on a piece of paper taped to the cinderblock. Carry that cinderblock around the house for as long as you can hold it, then rip the paper off and lay it down in the farthest back corner of your yard never to pick it up again.

There is value in his advice. We carry our grief until it gets so heavy we can’t manage it. Lay it down!

Create New Goals for Yourself

Instead of uber-focusing on your estranged adult child, create 2-3 new goals that you want to accomplish. This could mean you choose to volunteer a couple of hours per week at your favorite local non-profit. Women who are 60+ have a plethora of gifts and talents acquired and honed through the years.

Do you play the piano? Donate or “sell” your time teaching a youngster to play.

Are you a retired educator? Tutor.

Do you know a thing or two about painting? Take a budding artist under your wing.

Are you a writer? Help someone draft a book.

The point is: go outside yourself and invest in someone else. It really does help fill the gap that estrangement leaves.

Slay the Anger Monster

It’s natural to feel angry as part of the grieving process. Your adult child is still living yet it feels like a death. Friends and family may attempt to be supportive in commiserating with you, but often they feed your feelings of betrayal and abandonment. Instead, take a mental step back and try to understand what led to the estrangement.

Does your family dance the dance of dysfunction in its core structure? Do patterns of toxic communication permeate conversations? Perhaps you view your family as whole and healthy. Looking at your family dynamics from a more objective vantage point may make the estrangement feel less personal.

The reason doesn’t matter as much as you have the willingness to slay the anger monster and adopt an open-door attitude. Note: this doesn’t mean hard conversations and boundaries won’t need addressing.

Walk into Acceptance

It seems so trite to say it is what it is but accepting circumstances as they are is part of your own healing process. Instead of fearing what the future holds with your estranged adult child, take several deep breaths, drop your shoulders, and simply accept that this is your story… for now.

I know a thing or two about those thoughts that race across your brain in frantic circles when you’re trying to go to sleep. Those revved up thoughts torment you while you toss and turn, wondering where your adult child is, what they’re doing, and if they’ll ever realize how much they’ve hurt you.

You dream of the day they race back into your life, throw their arms around you, apologize for their waywardness, and confess their undying love for you. Dreams are good, and continuing to hold out hope for reconciliation is noble, but acceptance for the present is necessary.

I understand the pain of an adult estranged child. I know it creates a gap during every holiday… heck every day, really. However, implementing these four self-healing strategies will help you move on with your own life while continuing to hold on to hope that one day reconciliation will come. And if it doesn’t? You will have continued building a life of meaning and purpose!

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Is adult child estrangement part of your daily life? How do you handle it? Have you found reconciliation or is this still a hope for the future?

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I’m currently facing estrangement from my son(31) and his family (three beautiful grands. I’m not sure why.. he never answers my calls. He’ll occasionally respond to one of my many texts. I miss them. From seeing them weekly, to not having seen them in almost 4 months hurts.

Michelle Hill

I’m so sorry for the estrangement in your life, Kathy! We can drive ourselves crazy trying to figure out why…I’ve done that in the the past…whatever their reasons are, they feel justified in their decision. Yes, we miss them so much! That never goes away. Have you considered writing a letter expressing your love for your son and his family? They may not respond but you’ll know you’ve done everything you can on your side. Also, I would still send birthday and holiday gifts to the grandchildren.


Yes! I’ve done these things. At first the emotional pain seemed unbearable. But I’ve suffered other unimaginable losses in life and come through; for myself, I know I can stay down only so long.

It’s been three years since the breakup with my only child and it feels, at this point, quite similar to recovery from divorce. All the inner questions, tears and days when getting out of bed seemed too difficult… I knew/know to start the journaling, find a therapist to hear my story. I’m only gonna go over it in detail 2 or 3 times, then I’ve got to get my mind and body moving and start making plans for how I want my life to be going forward. The other losses have shown me that I can suffer and regroup and then, one day, realize that I’m living again with a glimmer of joy.

I would never have chosen to be without my son in this season of my life, but I’m not going to let the situation take over and poison the rest of my years. I’m going to do the work to process this loss and I wholeheartedly expect that joy will quietly overtake me once again.

Michelle Hill

Sharie, I’m so sorry that you’ve had to endure the loss of your estranged only child. It sounds like you’ve done an excellent job implementing the self-healing strategies. I love what you said, “…I’m not going to let the situation take over and poison the rest of my years. I’m going to do the work to process this loss and I wholeheartedly expect that joy will quietly overtake me once again.” Well stated…and true.


My second-born son has not spoken with me in nearly three years – and it has been that long since I’ve seen him, his wife, and their son (my grandson, now six years’ old). FTR, I have absolutely no idea why he has broken off all contact with me – I was never given an explanation . . . just a sudden silence that has lasted nearly three years. He speaks with everyone else in the family, including his father (we are divorced) . . .

I have not discussed the estrangement with my other children, only to make one comment to my youngest son (who is very close to the estranged son) that I think my estranged son’s behavior is cruel. I haven’t been a perfect mother – but I have tried to be loving and devoted to my children, especially the estranged son.

My attitude about the estrangement is this: My estranged son will have to figure out his own life . . . and though I’m not saying he hasn’t hurt me, I refuse to give him the emotional power to bring me down. It’s about caring enough about myself, that I won’t even let my own son emotionally blackmail me. I won’t give anyone that power. Again, I’m not saying he hasn’t hurt me – but I refuse to live my life giving in to that type of behavior – and for the most part, I’m okay.

I wish my son (and his family) well . . . but this has taught me a lesson I didn’t expect to learn: I cannot trust the person I loved most with my heart. Even if my son wanted me back in his life, I would never again trust him. What a shame . . . but it is what it is.

Michelle Hill

Amy, you have already learned what most parents of adult estranged children wish they could learn. I loved what you said, “I refuse to give him the emotional power to bring me down…” The hurt in our hearts does indeed affect us, as you said, but cutting off communication without even a discussion is THEIR decision, and whether it’s rational or not, they must live with the consequences of lost time and relationship.


I agree, Michelle . . . they have to live with the consequences of lost time and a relationship with the people who loved them. That’s what I think about my estranged son, too – that he has to live with the lost time (time we could have spent as a family, together) and the lost relationship he once had with me. — So, I ask myself, “Does he have so much love in his life, that he doesn’t need his mother’s love?” It’s a rhetorical question – not needing an answer – but my point is that my son is wasting time and love. — Still, it’s his decision, not mine.

Honestly, if my estranged son were to want to speak with me now, I would agree to hear him out . . . but I don’t know what I would say to him, except to maybe ask about my grandson, because my son is a stranger to me now. I don’t even know the person he is, anymore.

Last year, at my youngest son’s graduation, I ran into my estranged son (who was there at the graduation, too) in the parking lot . . . I waved and smiled at him, and he glanced at me, then kept walking, as if he had never seen me at all. — I can do without that behavior in my life.

Michelle Hill

Amy, you have a balanced attitude about your estrangement and that’s not always an easy thing to do. As mothers, we can “choose” what we allow in our lives and what we don’t.

At my dad’s memorial service in 2012, my estranged daughter who was in recovery at the time was standing next to me, and my cousin came up and said the most beautiful words of affirmation, directed toward my daughter – she said what a wonderful mother I was and that she had patterned many of her parenting habits based on what she saw me do. My daughter rolled her eyes and made a “huh” noise. I can’t describe the immense hurt I felt at that moment.

As Dr. John Delony says, “Behavior is a language,” so as you stated, “I can do without that behavior in my life.” Some people interpret that like we’re giving up on our children, or that we don’t love them, but as you know that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Through the years, I’ve learned that I absolutely MUST detach in love.


Aw, Michelle . . . I’m so sorry you were treated to rudely by your daughter, when at your father’s memorial. I know how much that had to hurt your heart. When my estranged son and his family decided to move out of state (this is after he quit communicating with me), they had a “farewell” party, to which I was not invited. I don’t even know where my estranged son lives now.

When you said that you’ve learned you must detach in love – I agree, completely. I was part of an online group for parents of estranged adult children – and one parent posted a “Cord-cutting Mantra,” which I’ve attached here (at least, I hope I have succeeded in attaching it) . . . I really believe in releasing my estranged son to whatever world or reality in which he wants to live – and I refuse to spend energy on anyone (including him) who doesn’t love me or truly want to be a part of my life.

I loved the little beautiful baby boy I birthed raised. He was born just a day before Christmas Eve – and he was the best Christmas gift I had ever received. I loved the teenager and handsome young man who was so dear to me . . . but after all of that, I don’t know the man who now chooses not to have anything to do with me. My estranged son is a stranger to me now . . . though I wish him and his family well.

By the way, I’m going to look up Dr. John Delony. Thank you for that reference.

Screenshot-2023-12-06-at-7.16.07 PM
Michelle Hill

That is truly the secret, Amy! Detach in love!! I was also part of two Facebook groups for parents of adult estranged children and I tried to be encouraging at first but these women were so overcome by grief, it seemed at times that they wanted to remain stuck in their grief; like it would help somehow. But, alas, it doesn’t. It became too depressing to stay in the groups. We must surround ourselves with positive, supportive, affirming people who are serious about healing and wholeness.

You articulated it beautifully when you described the love and hope you held out for your newborn son and ultimately teenager. When we hold our babies in our arms, we never imagine that things will turn out any way other than a lifetime of caring and loving and nurturing. We don’t ever plan on drug/alcohol abuse or estrangement as part of the deal.

To paraphrase Dr. Delony again, we must let go of the hopes and dreams we once had because that vision is dead. Even if our children come back to us at some point we’ll need to build a new relationship and future and not based on the old one. Makes sense.

Keep steppin’ into YOUR present and future!


I agree, Michelle . . . I had the same experience with the online “estrangement” groups I was in . . . The parents were just so, soooo sad (not that I blame them), but they were so overcome with sadness and grief, that I felt a bit weighed down by staying in the groups. Yes, it was depressing. As you said, we need to surround ourselves with positive, supporting, affirmative people who lift us up in healing.

I did love my son – dearly – and everyone thought he was my favorite. That’s how much I loved him . . . However, I love all of my children and cannot really point out one as a favorite. They are all different – and so, my relationships with them are different. That said, I would have bet my life – MY LIFE! – that my second born would never forsake me . . . and I would have lost that bet, because that’s exactly what he has done. Of all the people on the planet, he is the last person on earth I thought would ever leave my side or not want me in his life.

So, I don’t know him now. I don’t know what is in his head. I have NO idea why he doesn’t want me in his life . . . but it doesn’t matter what the reason might be. — I’ll say this . . . What saves me is that my father was utterly devoted to me – he was loving and caring and kind to me. He was my champion and my biggest advocate. Thank God for that, literally! Thank God I had my father’s unwavering love and support – because long after his death, it has carried me through life’s trials and tribulations, even the estrangement from my son. Because my father loved me, first – and unconditionally – it has given me strength all of my life long . . . BUT, had the situation been reversed – and had my father been awful to me, but my son had loved me, I don’t think all of the love from my son would have helped me get over having a negligent or awful father. Thank God I had my father’s love, first. — Daddy always said to me, “If you have to ask or beg for someone’s love, it is not worth having.” He was right.

So, I go forward in strength – in knowing that I have been loved – and that I did the best I could with my son. Again, I’m not saying he hasn’t hurt me . . . but it is hard for me to continue to be hurt by a stranger – and my son is a stranger to me now. I love the little boy he was . . . but that is “WAS.”

Again, thank you, Michelle, for the Dr. Delony reference. I intend to look him up, asap.

Stephanie Bryant

My daughter 25 is similar but has Bi Polar.
She’s in/out of my life. Most recently she stayed with me until she could find a place to live but when she was gone, I realized she stole medication for me and a wallet that had some credit cards in it. She stole when she was in high school too so I guess I should’ve realized this.
Like you said, you always hope, and her age she’s been doing this for eight years and I am so sad and broken My husband ( we are separated) blew up our family. He has ALS with frontal of dementia, and it was all about him for the past few years very selfish so he tried to get her to help him. But she can’t help herself, let alone him with a physical disability, that probably made it worse for her, they used to be close.Trying hard each day to focus on myself.

Anita Piotrowski

I too have a daughter with bipolar and son with addiction. It truly takes a toll on the family including their other two siblings. I am slowly learning to grieve past desires/expectations/dreams and move on with my own chapter post retirement.

Michelle Hill

Stephanie, I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this with your daughter and estranged husband. Yes, there’s always hope, and in the midst of the turmoil, we must nurture ourselves and that is NOT selfish; it’s the most loving thing we can do for ourselves and those closest to us. Keep moving forward to become the best version of YOU!


Thank you for the article. I found it helpful especially now during the holidays.

Michelle Hill

Thank you so much, Sheila! The holidays can be especially tough. Sometimes it helps to create your own new traditions and try not to isolate. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people!

The Author

Michelle Hill is a Relationship Deception Recovery Mentor specializing in helping women reach healing and wholeness after relationship deception. She is also the author of 5 books, including The Heart Swindler-Reclaim Your Heart and Stop Falling for Liars, Losers, and Lunatics, and two award-winning children’s books.

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