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How to Divorce Your Adult Children and Restore Your Sanity

By Kim Brassor May 07, 2023 Family

I am known for exposing the “elephant in the living room.” Those things everybody knows but nobody is talking about. Not every mother-daughter relationship reads like a Hallmark card, and our culture makes that a shameful secret to bear.

Dr. Christiane Northrup suggested that the bonding hormones that flood a mother’s blood stream at childbirth stay with women for about 28 years.

It is no accident, then, that the first round of truly adult separation (not teenage rebellion) begins to rear its head somewhere around 30 for women and the menopause years for their mothers. For the first time, the veil begins to lift and we see each other for the women we have become.

When It Comes to Your Adult Children, What is Normal?

Some estimate that 96% of American Families are dysfunctional in some way – making it the norm. But “normal” is not necessarily healthy, and it certainly falls short of the abundant life we’ve been promised.

Women are held responsible for the relational health of the world – at work, at home, family health and wellbeing, the sexuality, the promiscuity, the cause, the cure and the results. When a true perpetrator arises in a family, the mother protects ala Mama Bear. If she doesn’t die trying, she can later become a target.

Mom is apparently the one who knew (or should have known) what was happening at every moment of every day to their children – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. After all, moms have eyes in the backs of their heads and are equipped with the unusual ability to read minds, right?

See also: Letting Go And The Art Of Parenting Adult Children

What Is Healthy When It Comes to Adult Children?

M. Scott Peck wrote, “Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.” The pinch point for grandmothers is that any loss of relationship with our adult children means strained relations – if not severed ties – with the grandchildren who now light up our lives.

I am a mother of three and grandmother to 11. I stayed with their father for more than 20 years believing that somehow I could make him feel loved enough to change.

Over time, each of my children has drawn close to me for healing, and pulled away for the same reason. I am, after all, the one they hold responsible for the shifting emotional sand in their psyche.

Ten years ago, I remarried a man whose children were also grown. We imagined that would alleviate the adjustments of step-families. In some ways, not having children in the home made it easier to forge our identity as a married couple.

Although we shared values, we didn’t share history with each others’ children. We each brought our traditions and expectations to bear. When I recently chose to divorce this man who had played “grandpa” to my children’s children, old wounds surfaced.

Had I known that to leave him meant I would lose my only local family, I probably would have stayed for the sake of the grandchildren. It’s that old programming baby boomer women still struggle with.

If something isn’t working, you try harder. Marital problems? Pray more, love more, give more, be patient, and wait it out. Suck it up, stuff it down, be quiet and don’t make waves.

What Is Real?

I have identified four distinct stages in the journey to wholeness.


Our lives become (or continue to be) a carefully constructed illusion based on how it looks, what people will think, and what we imagine will get us the love and security we so desperately crave.

This is why grandmothers continue to “make peace at all costs” rather than saying what they see, need and want. Some have called it the disease to please.


Pretending that everything is okay when in our hearts we know that is not true can only go so far. We go along to get along. We smile in public and cry in private. We live a lie, and it eats at our souls every day.

Women think if we ignore it, maybe it will go away or time will heal all wounds. The thing is, time doesn’t heal buried pain. It has to be unearthed and acknowledged before it will pass away. Pain that gets buried alive poisons the rest of our lives.


Divorce is a harsh word when applied to our mother-child relationships, isn’t it? But it happens whether we acknowledge it or not. Divorce occurs when all communication has broken down and attempts at reconciliation fail.

It is the most painful dark night of the soul. With divorce comes all the drama of severed relationships, he-said she-said finger pointing, and drama triangles where people talk about each other, but never directly to one another so healing could occur. We might as well lawyer up and some do. It’s called Grandparent Rights.

See also: The Detachment Wall: How To Let Go Of Your Adult Children


Last is the place of acceptance. There is no anger, no angst, no more bargaining. It is where we accept what life is handing out right now and the fighting is done.

You have decided what you do and do not want, what you will and will not stand for, and are making decisions to move forward with or without the resolution you may have hoped for. You are free to stay or go because you have become dedicated to reality at all costs.


What’s Next for You and Your Adult Children?

Do I wish I had capacity back then to do some things differently? Definitely. Do I regret what I allowed my children to endure because of the choices I made? Mm-hmm.

Is there anything I can do now to go back and change it? Not a damn thing. Does it serve anyone for me to live in remorse and regret? Nope. Not now, not ever. Never.

Nobody had a perfect childhood – at least nobody in my generational gene pool. We all did the best we could with what we had to work with at the time. That is as true today as it was generations ago.

The biggest healer for women in daughter divorces is to break the shame by breaking the silence. Let’s talk about what’s real and how to help live dreams without drama in our later years.



This article has generated several important conversations. Many mothers/grandmothers are going through similar realities each with their unique set of situations. Talking and being vulnerable with one another is part of the healing process – as we can tell by reading your chats. Knowing that you are not alone helps in accepting the outcome of your distanced relationship with your adult children. 

Many have mentioned that therapy has helped them through this difficult time in their lives. Online therapy sessions are now readily available and affordable. Websites like Better Help, Talk Space, and Online Therapy have therapists and mental health professionals available to listen and guide you.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Where do you find yourself in the process of letting your adult children go? Where are you on the journey to finding yourself in your sixties? Please share your thoughts below!

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I'm just done

I honestly wish I could just cut ties all together! I have nothing left in me for them at all. They’re adults but refuse to be adults and are constantly trying to make me take care of everything even though they’re both in their late 20’s. I have nothing left to give! I’ve even considered moving to another state and not giving them my new address and changing my phone number. Motherhood shouldn’t be a life sentence!


So good to hear so many stories like mine … and also disturbing. What is happening? I was talking with a group of gay male friends recently to get their stories and I shared mine and one of them said … “I think you may have a very romantic view of how family is supposed to be.” Maybe … I thought. My growing up was filled with abandonment and just a lack of caring in general. I was pretty sure I could do better. So having children was my choice and for some reason, I felt like I could create the family and love I so desperately craved. Come to find out at 58 (now 61 years old) my daughter who has struggled emotionally for many years and been in counseling, let it be known that her brother sexually abused her between the ages of 5-9 or 10. That would of made him like 8 or 9 years old when he first raped her … is that even possible? She believes he groomed her to abuse her. She has had so much pain from this and from his general big brother antics at that young age (which looked like normal sibling behavior to me) and has kicked him out of her life. They were good friends as young adults like nothing was wrong. I have been on the fringe with her with the cold shoulder and her lack of caring since she let this secret out but we have both been trying to keep the relationship alive. She has two beautiful children whom I love immensely and they love me. My son says sexual encounters did happen but was more of experimentation and they both engaged willingly with each other until puberty. He calls me and shows the love and care like you would think things are fine … but he’s the perp according to her. She’s been ill for a long time … and choses to live there now. She blames me for not knowing … I truly didn’t know. It really seemed like the sibling rivalry was normal and too extreme for anything even close to sex experimentation between the two of them. My daughter tattled on him for everything … surely she would have told me if that was going on. She also does not like that I still talk with him as it feels like I still don’t have her back. The chasm between us grows and I feel like I am going to lose both my children and my grandchildren over this … I just feel like crap … I wish I had never had kids. Why in the world would I think I would be a good mom after my neglectful upbringing. I felt I was though.

I also need a break … the pain and guilt and everything just feels too much. I was hoping we could get through it … but I asked her my first question about this since she told me the secret 2 1/2 years ago …”when did it stop?” I asked. It was in response to a timeline remark that didn’t make sense to me … and what a can of snakes I opened! I heard 30+ minutes of yelling about how horrible he was to her and where the hell was I? I was working and going to school to provide for us … yeah but I did not know the secret. But they were not left alone ever. At that point their dad and I were fairly strong together and parenting well I thought. I feel some things may be fabricated from the years of therapy she has gone through. But bottom line is I can’t change what happened real or imagined. I also can’t keep walking on egg shells, wondering if I’m saying the right thing or doing the right thing, am I being supportive enough …have I given enough space… am I respecting her boundaries… have I said I’m sorry enough … to keep the relationship alive. Sometimes maybe the loving thing to do is to let go. This has been so painful for all of us.


I am a mother of three grown children. When they were four and a half six and seven, their father came home and told me he was leaving me next month. He had found the woman of his dreams, he said, and he was leaving me for her. When I called my mother, she and my sister decided I should file for a divorce rather than wait for him to leave. I filed the divorce, and he went off and married the lady. They moved into our marital home, and started to raise a family. Me and my children were forced to move away from everyone and everything we knew. I never had any really good jobs, and I barely made enough for us to live. I did everything for my children. I wasn’t even able to make any real friendships for myself, because I was busy taking care of them. Their father in the meantime picked up and moved to Florida. My children were very upset at the time, though they don’t remember it anymore. Over the years, my children decided that I was the bad guy in this whole thing. They all moved away. My boys moved to Florida right out of high school and college, because that’s where their dad was at. My daughter purposely failed freshman year of high school, so I sent her to live with my parents in Michigan to complete high School, thinking that at least you would not have the same bad influences that she had here in Illinois. She has never forgiven me for sending her there, even though she says she loves it there, and refuses to ever come back. My children are now 35, 34, and 33. They never come and spend the holidays with me. They send their obligatory gifts for my birthday Mother’s Day and Christmas. My daughter has recently told me that she is not going to be doing that anymore. Their father has convinced them that I was the bad guy in all of this. The entire time that I was married to their father, all he did was cheat on me. To be fair, he even did it when we were still dating, but I was young and in love and kept forgiving him. Now he spends his time telling my children that it was me that ran around, and that he had no choice but to leave me because of it. I have no relationship with my children. They don’t even want to call me. I gave up my life for them. I was unable to leave the state according to the divorce decree while they were young, so I couldn’t even move to where I wanted to, or move somewhere where I could at least have some support. I turned 60 this year, and my kids barely even remembered to call me. They had a huge party for my ex-husband for his 60th birthday. I am so depressed all the time. I don’t feel like I’m at her to anyone, and if I just disappeared no one would miss me. I was a very good mother. I taught all my kids to read before they even reach kindergarten. I took very good care of them. I read them stories and said prayers before bed. They had three meals a day everyday. I went without for years, in order to ensure that they always had what they needed. My children were in high school before I bought bras to replace my nursing bras. I wore the same clothes for years. They laughed at my old clothes and made fun of the fact that I always wore them, not even realizing that I had no choice, and that I did that for them. At this point, I have decided to let them go. If anyone had told me that one day, I would go on without them, I would have told them no way! My children were everything to me! They were the reason I never remarried for 20 years after the divorce! I have a husband now, and I care for his 92-year-old mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s. I force myself out of bed every day. Someday, I won’t bother anymore. I feel that they is coming sooner with each passing day.


How do I legally divorce my daughter.. l am being pushed out of my own property by her partner and her and I had a major bushfire in February and haven’t been back, they have and locked the main gate, police take his side and he now is stalking me..police say that he cares about me and its a public road..


I recently reported my adult son to probation because he made verbal threats and was not living up to the rules and expectations of probation. I expected him to want recovery but he was obviously having a hard time adjusting to life out of jail. I think he had fear and anxiety and mental health issues. However he was also making bad choices and fell back in old behaviors. It’s like an addiction when we can’t stop helping adult children. I am trying not to be involved. I don’t know where he is or how he is doing. When he was in jail we talked on the phone almost daily for 15 minutes. I thought he would do better and we would have a healthier relationship. It’s hard to divorce a husband and harder to divorce a son. For now I am trying to stay out of God’s way and pray he gets help. He doesn’t call or ask for money so that’s good. My 4 other adult children don’t bother me or ask for money either. I have pretty good relationships with them thankfully. I help to mind a few grandchildren occasionally. I love and enjoy my grandchildren and I’m not expected to raise them. That’s good too. I cry often because of the divorce and all the years of being in a bad marriage. I don’t feel like I was prepared for feeling sad about how some of my kids lives turned out. They all have their fair share problems. It’s hard letting go and focus on myself but I know it’s important to live my best life now for me.

The Author

Kim Brassor is a human resource professional and executive coach who provides education, inspiration and encouragement to people with life damaging habits, and those who love them. She is 60-something and shining a light for other women to live their dreams without drama.

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