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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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My daughter hasn’t spoken to me in 4 months. She blew up to me when I last saw her after she misunderstood something I did and added her laundry list of everything she thinks I’m doing wrong. I’ve told her I’m sorry several times and mailed a letter to her this week saying it again. It seems two part, unforgiveness on her part and her disappointment toward me for everything I’m not doing well. Her dad died 18 years ago and she says it feels like she has lost both parents because I’m not the person I once was. I wish she could just love me for who I am. I’m seeing a counselor but can’t imagine life being really good again until I have her back in my life. My husband (her step dad) has Parkinsons but is doing pretty well so far but she seems to have no patience for any attention I need to give to him that, she feels, distracts from playing with the grandchildren. She says she has no “band width” for me. She is a strong woman who has much on her plate but she does it all with excellence, she loves hear life being busy. This all seems cruel. I wish she would seek counseling to deal with whatever she is going through but I know she won’t and I’ll not ask. i’m trying to give her space. It is difficult.

Michelle Hill

Barb, I’m so sorry that you’re experiencing this situation with your daughter! I truly hope that four months doesn’t turn into years. I know it hurts like heck. It sounds like you’ve done everything you can to heal the relationship from your side of the street. What we can’t control is their reaction or actions and that’s the exact place we need to let go and detach in love.

Have you sought out a counselor for yourself? Talking to a professional might help you deal with the grief associated with this kind of loss of your daughter being alive yet acting as if she’s dead to you. There’s an online therapy platform called Better Help that may be helpful.

You’re so right – you can’t request or force her to go to counseling but you can gain some clarity and peace yourself by talking to someone. A therapist can even give you tools for coping with this estrangement.

Hang in there and create a life that YOU want to live, no matter who’s in your life or who’s out of your life.


Yes, i’ve been meeting with a counselor since this happened. As you said, we are working on coping tools for me while in this season. It is frightening to see people mentioning online that their relationship turmoil has lasted years. Hopefully mine will not. Life is too short…no one should have to deal with these things. I’ll check out the Better Help you mentioned. Thanks for your response!


Thank you for this article and all the comments. I was amazed to only recently learn that adult child estrangement is not rare. It made me feel less alone. It’s now been 2 years and only after a year did I realise that I was actually grieving. Because to me grieving was only about losing someone to death and the finality of death (not while they were still living). Losing someone still alive was heartbreak but not grieving. But when I realised that what I was going though was grief it made it easier to feel the raw emotions of grief and to allow myself to let the emotions rise and ebb. I think it’s easier when a loved one dies because there can be closure. How can I grieve someone who is still living? I’m learning to and it is getting easier. I guess closure for me will be when I take my last breath and in the meantime I need to live my life. I need to be happy and satisfied with the love I receive from those who love me and want to be with me and to live a life well-lived for the time I have left (hopefully many, many more years).
Thank you the mantra posted – I am going to use this.
The sad thing is that I’m not sure I want him back in my life as a close family member. He hurt me so very badly, he broke my heart and my health has suffered. If he should return, I doubt I will ever be able to fully let him back in again because my heart has been too hurt. But, that’s a future scanerio. For now, he is not in our lives and I’m learning to deal with it and to wish him well and leave him with love.


“Loving from a distance” is what I call my relationship with my daughter right now. Sometimes that is the best solution in a toxic relationship. I continue to pray for restoration and healing between us as I remain patient (which is LOVE waiting and enduring). I know I was not a perfect mom because there is no such thing, but I also know I did my absolute best so I have no regrets. That brings me internal peace and for that, I am grateful and blessed.


I am entering my 9th year of estrangement from my two eldest children. I found myself in every word you wrote. I have 6 children and the younger 4 have stayed in touch, infact they go above and beyond. Trying to fill the gap, not only in my life but their own. The choice of the estranged siblings has cut them deeply too. I am now at the stage of letting them be. I wish with all my heart that they would reach out, reconnect with us, and see that with healing we can all be good for each other and ourselves. But they didn’t stay for the healing years and that leaves me deeply sad. I have been through all the stages of grief and have now come to be in a good place for the first time in 2 decades. I have watched my younger children struggle with such pain and anguish that they had no control over and did nothing to deserve. I know that my older children are also in deep, deep pain and I hope that they are finding the peace that they need. There is a period of time that I came to think of as the heart ache season… from the start of November through to end of February every year are lots of birthdays, Christmas, New Year and of course the anniversary of the break up of my family… I am not totally sure, but I think this year I am going to be okay through it all. Already some of those precious days have been and I have held it together better than before.
When dealing with my grief I made a promise to me … and to all of my children … that I would heal without bitterness. Because, you see, I do still really hope and pray they will be back in touch with me…with us. So now I live a really good life, with lots of good things going on. I am about to embark one of my 2 life long dreams – turning my home and gardens into a self sufficient life. I have good relationships with my four younger kids and 2 beautiful grandchildren I am graced with being in touch with. (I really miss the grand children I haven’t seen or met but again I hope one day that will change)
The 4 things your wrote about are spot on. To all the parents who are struggling with this please, please be kind to yourself. The best peace of advice ever given to me (when I was bashing myself pretty hard) was “treat yourself as kindly as you would treat your best friend”… So now I do.
I do still have my down days and I give myself permission and space to acknowledge those feelings but then I get up, dust myself off and focus on who wants to be here with me and how very blessed I am.

Michelle Hill

Oh Donna, I feel for your nine years of estrangement! Thank you so much for sharing your journey of healing. It’s not an easy road but your determination to heal without bitterness is indeed the only way to heal. It’s been said that bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. That’s doesn’t work and I applaud you for being vulnerable in sharing your ups and downs as it truly is just that no matter how long we’ve been estranged from our adult children and not seeing the associated grandchildren.

We give ourselves permission to grieve for a few moments and acknowledge the feelings are real, yet we choose to take the next step and go on with our lives. Kudos to you for embarking on your two lifelong dreams! I feel like at 67 that life is just beginning in many ways.

I hope and pray that my daughter will want to have a relationship with me at some point, but like you, my life will go on with or without her.

I urge those parents who feel like they can’t get out of bed or are self-medicating because they’re so overcome with grief and loss with the estrangement to make a new plan going forward. We’re all aging and there’s absolutely no time to waste!


i’ve valued freedom so much myself, i honestly don’t plan to have them hit the mark for holidays or anything. i’ve always had jobs that were ’round the clock, so we made merry when we could and glad to at that.

i know many of my friends don’t take a shine to my style, but i think kids – maybe esp adult kids – need room to build their own arenas outside the house. there needs to be times of contemplation sometimes to build a solid structure for one’s life. i don’t know how they could do that and feel ok with it if i needed them to check in like a whole ‘nother job obligation. i had an obligatory family. it always felt forced. if they remember me at all, i know it’s genuine.

but that’s me. that’s us.

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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