Adult children won’t talk to you: What does it mean to cope?

adult children no longer talk to youWhen adult children won’t talk to you: What does it mean to cope?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Often, parents of estranged adults tell me that they’re managing to “cope.”

Some associate the word, with a fight. They say it’s a constant struggle to get through the days, or refer to coping with emotional and social fallout as a daily battle.

Some sound resigned, or even defeated. “I’m enduring,” they might say. Or, “I’m carrying on but just barely.”

Synonyms for cope

After hearing so many variations in how parents of estranged adult children define the word “cope,” I decided to do a little research. In a thesaurus, there are words that represent all of the uses I’ve heard from parents.

In an effort to help you see where your definition falls, I’ve grouped some of the synonyms (words and phrases) for cope into three categories by type. The categories I created are as follows:

Active participation: struggle, battle, tussle, wrestle, tangleadult children won't talk to you

Passive participation: endure, suffer, live with, get by

 Successful participation: confront, handle, dispatch

Which of these categories best fits how you think about yourself and the situation of estrangement? There’s no right or wrong answer—only gained insight into where you stand right now.

In coping with estrangement, if you see yourself in the “active participation” category, then you’re actively engaging with the fact that your adult child won’t talk to you. You’re grappling with the estrangement’s effects in your life, on your relationships, and on your outlook. I see this as a positive.

While I’ve called the second category “passive,” that’s not necessarily a negative. Once parents consider how estrangement affects them and move past the initial shock, they might very well enter a stage of resignation or acceptance.

In my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, one of the tools helps parents reflect in detail upon just how far-reaching the effects of estrangement has been for them. Taking a realistic look at ourselves after an emotional trauma (such as when an adult children won’t talk to us), can allow us to begin to make changes toward recovering our old self—or even a new and better self.

Unfortunately, people sometimes get stuck in that passive phase. I routinely hear from parents who have been estranged for many years, or who have reconciled, only to be estranged again, sometimes repeatedly. And some of these parents seem resigned to stay in that passive phase. They tell themselves they’ll never get past the hurt, that the pain will never go away, and that there are no answers to help them.

Are you a victim? Do you want to stay that way?

While it’s true that many parents of estranged adults have been victimized, that doesn’t mean a parent must remain a victim. This moves us to the third category of coping I’ve created here: Successful participation.

None of these conscious coping strategies is wrong, but consider which one appeals to you. How have you coped in the past? How do you want to cope?

It’s up to each of us to decide whether we will learn to cope in practical ways that help us get past the pain, foster our growth, and advance us forward in our own happy lives.

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12 thoughts on “Adult children won’t talk to you: What does it mean to cope?

  1. Marylu

    Thank You Sheri from the bottom of my heart to yours for your recent book ‘Done With The Crying’. Recently, I have read 6 other books on this topic of parental abandonment and estrangement since my husband and I were abruptly abandoned by our two adult children in the last 5 months. In my humble opinion, your book is by far one of the most compassionate and comprehensive books to date on the silent epidemic of mothers and fathers who have faced the shock, shame and pain of suddenly being abandonment or estrangement by their own adult children. You have masterfully included many accounts of mothers who have experienced the trauma of being rejected by their adult children and have shared many helpful coping and healing strategies to lick and heal the wounds in your exquisite book. Your in-depth, extensive research provides valuable information in understanding the many root causes, reasons, and cultural shifts for the parental abandonment or estrangement of adult children. I found myself crying, laughing, and with many times of deep reflection while reading your book as I deeply related to your personal story due to the many parallels and similarities. The only difference with me was this horror was a powerful “double whammy” – two major earthquakes back to back. First, it was my 29 year-old daughter who could not go down the path alone of disowning us as her parents, but she selfishly fueled her personal resentment and hatred further by manipulating and negatively influencing my 26 year-old son – who within days followed her toxic lead. Abandonment by two or more children can be a highly contagious, infectious disease amongst siblings- just as the saying goes “Misery Loves Company”.
    In many ways, we, as mothers, find ourselves critically examining ourselves and our self-worth and identity in the mirror, (not completely perfect – because no one ever is) who really tried their best to provide a normal, loving, caring, nurturing, supportive and generous environment to our children and, in spite of all our best efforts and sacrifices, found ourselves later brutally rejected, verbally or emotionally blackmailed and abused in the cruelest form by our very own off-spring. I so appreciate you for your dedicated website to this topic and for publishing ‘Done With The Crying’ which is profound study on this silent epidemic. Your wealth of insights and study from your personal account as well of those thousands’ of other parents’ personal experiences is immeasurable. Your book has brought me to a much, much better place to finding inner peace and acceptance of this new reality, and a new hope to live, laugh, and love in our short but treasured life. Thank You Sheri – your compassion and extensive research is a breath of fresh air for all those rejected and abandoned mothers and fathers seeking truth, perspective, enlightenment, clarity, and ultimately finds the courage to live on after having inhaled and suffered through the toxic fumes of their own adult children. At last, I feel that I can breathe again in this thing called “Life”. You are the Best Sheri!

    Reply
  2. rparentsrparents Post author

    Wow, MaryLu! Thank you! I think I will keep your comment close, and reread it on the occasional day of exhaustion. It is for people like you that I have worked so hard on this project–and will continue to try and help other parents. I so appreciate you writing, and am grateful to have helped you. I’m amazed daily at the wonderful, kind people who find themselves in this situation. Thank you again…and may you continue to move confidently forward in your TREASURED life (I love that you used that word!).

    Sheri McGregor

    Reply
  3. Maria E.B.

    Hi Sheri,

    I just bought your book today. I’m seeking answers since Jan 7th, 2004. As you know from experience there isn’t an abundance of help for us as far as counseling and reading books to help guide us through a path we did not choose. Thank you in advance.

    Maria

    Reply
    1. rparentsrparents Post author

      Thank You Maria. I hope you will find it helpful and uplifting. Since 2004 is a long time. . . . May you turn a corner on your journey–and forge a beautiful new path.

      Sheri McGregor

  4. Sayed

    Coping means either 1) struggle, 2) endure, 3) handle. I think I am doing all of the above. In a way I am struggling to cope, in another way, I am enduring the pain, suffering in silence, sadness, and depression. In another way, I am letting it go, and trying to forget and forgive. It is like pain management. So, if I have lower back pain, knee pain, ankle pain, or bunions pain, what do you do. I take pain killers. I endure low level pain like 5 out of 10. I take rest, reduce my activity levels or not use the muscle or the joint, I change my exercise regime for some other regime that won’t hurt the joint. I stretch. I help myself by seeing my physician, by trying to address the root cause, or by having an ankle or knee support, etc. Children estrangement is an emotional wound. So, I listen to advise from friends and family that typically never gone through something like this and they keep telling me never lose hope on your children, one day they will need you, one day they will come back, one day one day. They give me well intended advise to keep trying to contact them and to keep trying to be compassionate with them, and keep trying to forgive them. This is much easier said than done. I keep doing this and get rejected and abused again, again, and again. I feel that I am the one bringing all of this to myself. I try to balance my act, my communication style, the timing, the frequency (not bother them everyday and not leave them for years with no contact). I try to get family and friends that can influence them to take some emotional risks by talking to them out of this. I try to get to know what they are doing and their whereabouts through second hand information like Facebook, instogram, and twitters! . Granted, all of this is painful. I cycle between bouts of helplessness and hope that they will return one day. I am trying to acknowledge the pain, the hurt, talk about it and get on. So, to go back to the pain management analogy that I made up front, I think i am reducing activity by trying to undefine myself as being a “father”. I am redefining my role as not a “father” anymore. I am not using my “father” muscles anymore, or put my “father” role into the test anymore. I am also numbing my emotional pain by overeating. I am enduring the low level 5 out of 10 pain without painkillers. I try to forget that I even had children by rarely talking about them with others. I try not to see their pictures. Sometimes, I say no I have to see the pictures recognise the pain and let it be. I am stretching my spiritual self and abilities to unconditionally forgive irrespective of their acts. But, I think I still need to seek psychological help, support groups, and one-on-one in person help from a friend/mentor.

    Reply
    1. ChrisU

      This is how feel. My kids stopped talking to me,
      The last couple of years, I try to reach out, often,
      In the beginning, but the rejection is so painful.
      They ignore me and it isn’t easier as time goes by
      I still cry and think of them daily, and people
      Give me advice, and say one day they will grow
      Out of it…I guess I wait… will they just think I should
      Be happy that they are finally talking to me
      I better be or they will leave me again, but don’t they
      See or care what it has done to me or their little sisters.
      They won’t even talk to my parents. My mom
      Always calls them to see if they would like lunch
      But they ignore her calls too. I want to ask, what happen what did they think I did that was so bad! I question myself all the time. It sucks the life out of me. It is grieving
      Someone that is still alive. I try not to bother them anymore
      I call on their birthdays and holidays sometimes they text thanks but not always. Do I give up? BecaUse hanging
      On is so painful. I just want to say, what is wrong with you
      Two? Why have you given up on your mom, your
      Grandparents, your sisters? Is your life so great that you don’t need your family. That’s what I would want to
      Say but probably won’t. I can’t really talk about this to anyone because I cry. I don’t know what to say to people
      When they ask how are your boys? Sorry I’m ranting and crying. And I have two other children to raise.
      So I have to continue to bury my feelings.

    2. rparentsrparents Post author

      Dear ChrisU,
      Your feelings are valid. Although you (of course) don’t want to burden your two other children, they may be missing the others too. Burying emotional pain can make things fester. I hope you will find a place to talk your feelings out, manage the feelings but be open so your other children can be too.

      Your question you said you’d like to ask, what is wrong with those two who have estranged themselves? Yes…I second it, and I know others here do too. Hug those near ones close, and concentrate on all who remain with you. And do something good for YOU, too.

      Hugs,
      Sheri McGregor

  5. Kerry

    Hi there, I have 5 children all grown and on their own. I’ve been both their mother and father and now I’m alone feeling abandoned. I describe their behaviour as somewhat selfish and inconsiderate of their mothers feelings. The only time they call or come around is when they need something. I’ve grown tired of the Kaoz and the drama of their lives and I need to cut the ties but I’m struggling. I feel I’m becoming a bit selfish and stand offish with my kids. I’m just really worn out…….

    Reply
  6. Chelsea

    I am so thankful to have found this website and your book. Sheri. I don’t think I would have ever looked for a book if I didnt see it on your website. Thank you. You have helped me so much to get on with my life. I love that you are helping people, that you are not one of those mental health “experts” who thinks they know everything and talks condescendingly: “There, there…” Ugh. You have done a good thing with your pain. You also have a kind regard for your estranged son instead of all the anger. It is good to feel free!! I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and am cheering for you. I know you spend a lot of time working on all you do for the website and fielding emails and all the comments and your forum. You’re an angel. To other moms and dads, buy the book!! It’s a miracle.

    Reply
  7. Lucy

    I am in the UK and found your site. My situation is that my son has over the last few years become more and more difficult to communicate with – to the extent I hardly see him or my grandchilren anymore. It’s been so exhausting, trying to make sense of it all that I almost want our relationship to end, which sounds terrible.
    If I call him, he rarely answers the phone. If I leave a message for him to call back, he never does. If I email his partner to enquire about arrangements, she rarely replies. The few times she has responded it’s always been around the kid’s birthdays or her birthday but when it comes to my son’s birthday, she cuts all communication off. He sometimes says he will call back (when I eventually get through to him) but then doesn’t. I know it appears that he doesn’t want me in his life – but he’s never said as much. I am divorced from his father and remarried 16 years ago, to a kind, gentle man who has made me happy but I would still like to build bridges with my adult son. He is nearing 40 and I can’t get him to commit to even one hour of contact with them a few days before his birthday. Do I just give up? How do I handle this? His partner seems very controlling, even though I have gone out of my way to never interfere. What have I done to deserve this anyway? I only see them now 2-3 times a year because they turn-down invites and don’t invite us at all. Any ideas?

    Reply
    1. Meelah

      I am relieved and thankful to have found your site and am looking forward to reading your book! My two daughters and I had such wonderful lives together as they were growing up—despite the mood disorder that occasionally made me a tyrant or an “Eeyore”!—and they were always telling me what a “great mom” I was, or saying “you’re the coolest mom”, “It helps to talk to you, Mom”, etc. And it was so neat that they would just tell me these things out of the blue, not because I had just given them permission, a reward, whatever. I felt so fortunate to be able to stay home with them from late elementary on through, where I was available for impromptu “conferences”. They were especially close to their wonderful dad, who was a skilled medical technologist in patient care. He passed away suddenly and young, at age 53, in November, 2003, just when we had all gotten comfortable hanging out together as adults.

      After his heart attack, I realized what a stabilizer my husband had been to our little family ‘way out in CA (where we’d moved from Memphis) when my older girl was 9 months old. My older daughter had graduated college, settled in the Bay Area where she had friends, and married very soon after her dad passed away. My younger daughter was still best friends with a classmate and her brother from high school, and they frequently hung out at my house with their buddies. This was great. Because if they were going to drink, they felt comfortable spending the night; most importantly, I knew, along with their parents, that I was the responsible adult present, and everyone was safe and not driving around at night, or worse! They were all responsible, respectful, fun kids and this worked. I paid for allied health courses for my daughter and me and made tentative plans for the future. But before I knew it. . .

      . . . it just seemed like one big change, crisis, or challenge happened after another for me, as well as for them (I guess, as I saw less and less of them.) Life happens, and I wound up back where I began, in the hometown of my childhood in the deep south. After 30 years, what a culture shock! (The more things change, the more they stay the same, it has been said.) But I had a younger brother and his family here, I got into doing some writing and drawing again, bought a house, took a couple of classes, adopted another cat, and started to make a new life for myself. Things got interesting, though, when I found a younger husband to “adopt”, as well! He is a finish carpenter, and though he is an intelligent, funny, sensitive man, he definitely prides his blue-collar side. “Ladies Love Country Boys”, I guess. . .or at least that’s how the song goes. And my younger daughter, the comedienne, would say, “Hey, I’m not made of wood!”

      Maybe my daughters feel betrayed by my relatively new marriage of 5 years, or that my “new” husband “will spend all my money”, or is 11 years my junior. (Which, when you stop and think about it, might be a little disturbing for some people; I could have been his babysitter when he was 6!) The ONE time my daughters came to visit and met my second husband, he was between jobs and was hefting those “Red Solo Cups” a tad more. We all visited my brother and sister-in-law, but my nephews uttered a cursory greeting and ignored us completely! My daughters and I were in shock, since they and the boys had spent a couple of summers riding four-wheelers and hanging out, junior-high-country-style, reportedly having a blast! In fact, my youngest was in tears! Everyone had known we were coming over; I was angry, and hurt for them. I realize that when you’re in your teen years, a couple of years and different interests or can result in a little awkwardness, but JEEZ. . . nothing else seemed to warrant such a snub. Even if folks here are busy, they’ll come over, sit down, have a glass of tea and say “Hi” for a few minutes, especially for out-of-town relatives. Hate to put it this way, but . . . WTF??

      Since then, each of my daughters has had two daughters of their own, no one’s had a huge falling-out that I know of, except that they seem to want me to be something that I am not. I told them long ago that, when they were born, I just wasn’t mature enough or ready to have babies, and struggled with some disturbing but not severe postpartum depression, noting that back in the late 1970’s-’80’s few people even knew about it, and saying how hard that was. As of this writing, I haven’t heard from my older daughter in several years. . .as in ZERO texts, calls, cards, photos, is no longer on FB, and I am not even sure if she and her husband are still together. My younger one occasionally will text or IM me, but has not sent me her new address after their move to Portland, OR this summer.

      I am looking forward to the book, and I suspect that I am suffering from preconceived notions of “being the cool grandma” and glorifying my talents by sending everyone handmade gifts (Youch!…it pinched a little to admit THAT one…!)
      Thanks everyone for your patience in reading this far. <3

  8. Sam H.

    Its been a year since my husband and I saw or heard from our daughter. She had changed towards us when her daughter was born. I have hardly seen our granddaughter who is 6 now . I have missed out on so much of her growing up . We have a wonderful bond even though my daughter has limited us seeing her. We saw her twice this year thanks to her dad. It breaks my heart that my daughter won’t speak to me , but to keep my Granddaughter away is so painful….,My two son don’t know any of this nor do our friends or neighbours! Christmas is approaching and our daughter is not coming , but my Granddaughter and my son in law are! I worry what effect this will have on my Granddaughter. I don’t know if she was told . If not she will wonder what’s going on . Will she side with her mother???

    Reply

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