Estrangement from adult children: Have you had enough?

estrangementby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

For parents of estranged adults who are sad, walking on eggshells to maintain even the most abusive or one-sided contact, or pining away for the son or daughter who lays blame for everything that has ever gone wrong in their life, there comes a time when enough is enough. Have you reached that point? The day when you’re ready to move on and seek out peace and happiness no matter what the “child” does?

Here are a few questions to help.

How long must you suffer?

Routinely, I hear from mothers and fathers who for ten or twenty years have been neglected, blamed, ridiculed, ignored, or contacted only when the son or daughter needs money. Their self-esteem has taken a huge hit because of the estrangement from adult children. Some are stuck in a sort of guilt mode that they don’t understand, even though they know they’ve been caring parents. Twice in recent months, life coaching clients have seen how their upbringing affected their boundaries and created undue guilt. Other parents wish there had been some closure, so they could lay it to rest. But although closure is bandied about in our society like a peaceful oasis, as I discuss in my book, Done With The Crying, closure is a myth.

Many of the parents in these long-term estrangements cope well most of the time, but their emotions are triggered when a death or other life event causes contact and/or renews their pain. When that happens, they can go on for weeks feeling blue, reliving the early shock and bewilderment of estrangement, and even asking “Why?” all over again.

Do you want to continue suffering? Sounds like a stupid question. Nobody wants to suffer, right? If you agree, then make a decision to change. Acknowledge all the hurt your son or daughter has caused, and decide not to allow it to shackle you anymore. If you find yourself resisting this idea, that it’s even possible, then it’s time to consider why.

estrangement from adult childrenSuffering: Has it become a habit?

For some, the idea of any relationship, even one that causes pain, is better than none—which keeps them stuck. If you feel this way, you may be caught in what’s become a habit or taken on a sort of victim mentality. But the truth is, you don’t have to. As I say in my book, only two letters separate the word victim from victor. Choosing to be a victor requires a choice, as the letters “OR” imply. It’s never too late to claim your right to be happy despite another adult’s decisions.

Does an idealistic belief hold you back?

You might be stuck because of the idea that a parent’s love should be unconditional. While no caring parent gives up instantly, after suffering with no change in sight, it’s okay to give yourself permission to take care of yourself. It may come down to thinking of releasing the need for a relationship that’s unhealthy, or even giving in rather than giving up.

Even if you’re a caring parent who did your best, it’s possible that a belief that it must be your fault is keeping you from moving forward. One mother shared that she grew up in a church with strict ideas about a mother’s role. Although she knew she had done her best, she also worried maybe the estrangement was a reflection of her working outside the home. It helped to see that stay-at-home mothers also have estranged children. Estrangement from adult children isn’t limited to a certain set of circumstances.

What beliefs might you have that affect your ability to move forward despite the estrangement? Pondering the question may be of use.

estrangementAre you reliving the past?

Some parents keep the pain alive by going over it again and again. One mother who has been estranged from her 52-year-old son for nearly thirty years routinely recounts her estrangement story in detail. She regularly relives the pain of the child she raised turning against her, slowly at first, and then with a full force that included insults and public humiliation. This intelligent woman runs a small business, has a devoted husband, and has raised two other successful and loving children whom the estranged son also left behind. She goes about her life with confidence, yet spends much of her quiet time ruminating over the son she lost, questioning how he could do such a thing to his family, and feeling sad.

This mother and a great many others regularly look for their adult children on social media, or even save old, unkind correspondence—and re-read it. Will it take a computer crash to free you from email from an angry estranged adult child that’s holding you back?

Right now, take a few moments to consider whether you are reliving the past and how doing so may hurt your progress.

Are you keeping company that keeps you stuck?

Some parents maintain relationships with people who remind them of their sorrow and keep them in limbo—unable to fix the problem yet unable to get on with their lives. That might be a relative or friend who says it’s the parent’s duty to keep trying no matter what—even when you’ve tried and been repeatedly beaten back by a son or daughter that wants no contact. daughter says no contactOften, these people with their platitudes don’t have a clue what estrangement is really all about. They think it’s a tiff that can blow over, or chalk it up to immaturity. Maybe those things are true in some instances, but after hearing from nearly 20,000 parents who’ve taken my survey, I know that isn’t true in most cases. Don’t let these people hold you back from a fulfilling life.

At times, even the guise of support can keep parents stuck. Here at the site, there’s a forum which, for the most part, is a helpful venue. Some parents who have moved beyond the pain stay active in the community to provide a caring word to newer members in the throes of early estrangement. While this is positive, there’s also a danger. It’s possible to get caught in an endless loop of recharged pain, anger, grief, and indignation as newcomers post about their circumstances and potentially trigger oldcomers’ pain. It’s also true that a support group can become a crutch, the go-to place to vent feelings or ask questions. At some point, it’s wise to step back and use your own good sense. Doing so can build your confidence.

When is enough enough?

One woman who joined the Facebook page some time ago left a wise comment. When out with her husband one day, they’d driven through the town in which her estranged adult child lives. In the past, she would say something to her husband, and the two would talk about the pain. But on that day, she purposely kept quiet. Her husband was surprised but glad. On Facebook, the woman said she’d come to the conclusion that enough was enough.

I can relate to this mother’s thoughts. Many have read my story, along with those of so many other parents in my book. They know that I used the book’s exercises and research to reclaim my self-esteem and confidence, and to move on in my life after estrangement. But my story didn’t stop with the last page of the book. I continue to move forward in a life with trials and distress (as well as happy times), and even the occasional conflict of some sort of contact from the estranged. I know as well as any parent that estrangement can press in like prying tentacles where and when we least expect it to. But I also know that it’s up to me how much that estrangedinfluence takes control. While it’s wise to face the reality and deal with residual effects, it’s not healthy to bemoan the loss and all its affects. Like that woman in the car who made a decision to drive on by, knowing her estranged adult child resided in the city yet choosing to let the pain alone, we can understand when enough is enough.

While attempting to reconcile with an estranged adult child is normal, don’t hinge your happiness on it. Going over what happened and why is natural, but there comes a time when you know you have done all that you can. For some, that includes an apology, or a note saying your door is open when or if they want to try. For others, based on their own situation, it means literally moving away.

Estrangement from adult children: Step forward

You can examine your relationship with a clear head, see how your beliefs might be limiting you, and understand how suffering can become a habit that keeps you stuck. With help and support, you can step forward in a way that strengthens and prepares you for a new way of life. Even while holding out hope, you can give yourself permission to let go, accept that change is inevitable, and embrace it for your own good. You can be done with the crying. Don’t waste another minute of your precious life.

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23 thoughts on “Estrangement from adult children: Have you had enough?

  1. Karen K.

    Thank you!! Enough does become enough ! I thought if I would keep contacting my daughter and keep reassuring how much I love her …miss her….Jesus ( family of faith) loves her…she would see. But the response from her never came. She even used my own Mother’s funeral to say horrible things about me . Even though my Mom and I had a loving relationship. I don’t want to rehearse the pain…It is self abuse on top of the trauma of the Estrangement. I though a good Momma would never give up !!! But we must realize we are dealing with adults not the precious babies we held in our arms and kissed goodnight, did their hair for prom……… My hope will never die but I must move forward. It is not normal but it is my Life and I deserve to live !! I pray for all the parents and children my heart tender towards all. But we must go on. God created us as individuals not just someone’s Mom, Dad, wife, husband. We matter!!!! People can be very judge mental especially other family members whose lives seem to be perfect..pictures on Facebook, Mother’s Day tributes….. Forward my friend!!! Hugs!!!!

    Reply
    1. Catherine

      I know your pain Karen. I am a psych nurse. I honestly with all my heart believe this epidemic of rejection, disrespect, and a lack of love comes from satan. The devil comes to steal, kill and destroy the Bible warns us. (John 10:10) But Jesus will never let us down and gives us strength to endure. Jesus says in that same scripture (John 10:10) “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” The devil is real and will do anything he can to destroy us. The one thing that will effect us from all of this is keeping it a secret. I have just recently started telling people and it helps. I have to keep talking about it, praying about it, and supporting others. Our children know it hurts, but they do not care. We are dealing with hearts that are very calloused, ungrateful, very evil and we must call it what it is. We are fighting a spiritual war. The devil will try to take us out even by using our own children. Our children have become our enemies and Jesus warned us of this. Jesus said He did not come to bring peace but division. (Luke12:51) Jesus went on to say it, “From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter and mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:52, 53)
      To have one child hate you for loving Jesus is tough, but to have 4 children hate you is unbearable. I have 4 boys who despise me. Two of my children are atheist, one is a party man (in and out of rehab), and the other drinks like a fish. I have a grandson that I have never met. But Jesus loves me and stays with me. He never left me and never will. We can not make our children love God. It is a choice. When they choice to be an enemy of God they shun what God loves. Our ungrateful children become our enemy and it is a fight for our salvation. It is hurtful and is it cruel. But we must overcome. Jesus told us if we want to be His disciples we must put everything else 2nd and He meant it. Our children have demons inside of them. It isn’t our fault that they chose the world and satan. We must treat them as enemies and be honest with the world. Be honest with our spiritual family. We need support, because fighting this battle is pure he’ll sometimes. I wish all of you the best. Catherine

  2. Erna R.

    After 25 years of getting the cold shoulder from my daughter with whom I had a loving and close relationship until she married an insecure and troubled man I have decided if I mean this little to her then she does not deserve to be in my life as I deserve better treatment.

    Reply
  3. Patty K

    This is excellent advice. After 22 years of abuse and nastiness from my sons, I have emotionally let go. I will still send birthday greetings and a present. But, emotionally, I am free to enjoy my loving husband (not their father), my daughter, career, and life. Allowing them to hurt me and disrespect me time after time let them off the hook to own their issues and grow up. Like McGregor wrote, “it is up to me how much that influence takes control.” What is, is.

    Reply
    1. Diana

      Thanks for agreeing with me. I have known for awhile that that is what I need to do…I honestly try but then I become hopeful and get hurt and the pain starts all over again. This website is helping me to just move on and enjoy my life and be happy that I have raised children so independent that I am not needed anymore.

  4. Cathy D.

    After 8 years of verbal abuse and wild accusations from one of my daughters, 3 years of silence, and terrible depression waiting for us to reconcile, I finally decided to take action. I read this book and finally had closure and have moved on with my life. I have released her to live her life and moved on to live my life without her in it. I am doing so much better than I ever thought I would.

    Reply
    1. Amanda

      That’s a typical man reaction, my husband is processing it all by fantasizing about beating the crap out of her and her clueless blindly supportive husband, who has the maturity level of a teenager and is no better than her with his abusive behavior

  5. bernadette r.

    The Bible tells us that ‘all things work together for good for those who love the Lord’ That is one verse that has really kept me going. My daughter has deserted me and sadly she is only 10 minutes drive from me and has my only grandchildren here. I had to travel to San Francisco this year to meet my only grandchild whom I am allowed to visit. What concerns me the most is the thought of what she has told my grandies. They used to love me – I know that for a fact. I go to CAtholic Mass just along the road of where I live and my grandies attend the Catholic school right next door to the church. I quite often see them there.. I am not allowed to speak with them or have any contact at all. They hang their heads when they see me. What she may not realise is that she is giving them a very bad example of how to treat your mother and the Bible tells us we ‘reap what we sow.’ I am trying to forgive all of them, especially her husband who is doing nothing to help me. I can only pray for my daughter’s soul and trust her to God. In the meantime I cannot bear for my friends to show me photos of their grandchildren and I wish with all my heart they would be sensitive in this respect. In the meantime I can only thank Jesus for allowing me to share in His Cross. Keep the faith.

    Reply
  6. Heart Broken Mom

    I have decided to move on. My hubs still has trouble. Our daughter has decided to move on as well. I always thought of myself and our family as strong in our faith. Our ES even contemplated being a priest when he was 20/21 yo. Fast forward to now. He is 23 yo, married to a girl for 1-month now that has ripped our family apart within 2 years. Through this estrangement journey I have grown even closer to God. Once I came to terms with it, learned that it was called “estrangement”, and that estrangement is a thing…. we could talk about it. As we shared our story, God placed so many people in our path suffering the same thing. People we knew but had no idea. Then God placed the thought of a support group on my heart. I tossed this around and prayed about it a lot. A week before our sons wedding (in which they went out of their way to belittle us during it) I prayed for a sign. A load of bricks dumped in my lap sign, that I was ready to move forward with the support group ministry. I received my sign by God putting me in contact with 2 other people. The conversations and statements made by them in our talks was God telling me “You Are Ready”. So the Tuesday after the wedding I posted to FB about starting the support group ministry locally. In 24 hours I had people sharing, commenting, and 18 local mommas privately messaged me that they were interested. On the negative side, in 3 days time I was unfriended, blocked, and removed as family relationships from our ES, his wife, and her mom. Negative comments were left on my post by ES & his wife, and my mom. I LET THEM GO. Next week I will be starting this ministry journey and having our first meeting. God is healing me by helping others. I’ve been strong in my faith on this journey, and I’ve learned others are not. God has giving me a rocky journey I never expected, but I will serve Him out of it.

    Reply
  7. Toni

    I am new to this, and very raw and hurt. My 31 year old son inexplicably tore into me, accused me of some pretty horrible behaviors (which didn’t occur) and told me that I am so toxic that he needs to cut all connection to me as quickly as possible. I am not sure if his new girlfriend, who I thought I had a great relationship with and have welcomed into my home endlessly, has filled his head or if this is all him. Either way, we were always so close and loving so this is like a massive bandaid that i didn’t know i had on being ripped off. I just don’t get it. I am a single parent, he is my only child. My whole life centered on him. I am struggling but I know I need to let this unfold as it will.

    Reply
    1. penelope

      I too an relatively new to this. My son is in his early 30’s. It’s been a little over a year and behaviors have escalated in that time. My adult son has “memories” of things that never happened. Abuse at my hands, including a near death experiences where he was rushed to the hospital. NEVER HAPPENED! People believe him and I am judged. He has a diagnosed mental illness and paranoia is part of his set of symptoms. He says he’s afraid of me and what I’m going to do to him and that I have “laid hands on him” in the past. I have never touched him. He, on the other hand, has hit me, slammed me into a wall, and tried to break my arm. I have broken furniture, broken doors, and other property damage. But in his eyes, it’s all my fault. I worry I will never see him again, then I worry that I will see him again and will endure more abuse. UGH! No one ever said parenting was easy, but it’s hard to watch while other people’s children are….well….normal.

    2. Aline

      I am too a single mom. When he met he girlfriend and now married her, his whole attitude changed towards me. She insist we were unhealthy and broke him of talking to me and treated me like a monster at their elaborate wedding. Now my x-husband and his fourth wife are significant in their life, only because of money. Now my son and the wife are expecting a little girl and it had been well stated that I will not be involved and only her parents and my x husband and the rich 4 th wife. I have sought counseling and even had him go, only to be told I was mentally unhealthy and spoiled him. I saw this counselor for over two years only to be told I need psychic meds to try to hope for some reconciliation. I leave her office in tears and guilt and want to abuse my own self for being a single divorced mother. Now understand he is a succesful baseball athlete and only then did his dad come into the picture to enjoy the fame. I am feeling hopeless, depressed, revengeful, and know my sons wife is a control freak with severe ADDHD. I hide from people with families, husbands, and hate pictures of grand babies. I am catholic and provided well for my son with catholic school and even put myself through registered nursing school. He turned out to a pro baseball player with lots of my money spent on games, pitching tutoring and college degree. Now dad is the main focus along with her parents. Feeling very estranged and told now I need to find me a mate to lessen his involvement with him. I am 63 yrs old and he is 38 yrs. The day he introduced me to her I could see her claws showing. I want to leave them alone but the isolation kills me. They have told me they have strict and tight boundaries to avoid me. We live 15 minutes away and he will not call and she had convinced him that I am a drama queen and too needy. I have never called or even ashen him to be with me when I had a major surgery. I used a friend and can to take me home and stayed alone to heal. Sick of her controlling, cute, and pretty fake ideals. She even calls my x husband 4th wife her second Mom. The guilt is overwhelmingly controlling my life. Thanks.
      I

  8. pixiehair1967

    I think the hardest thing for me, including facing the fact that my ES has not been the kindest to his father and I over the years, has been bringing this to closure. Like above, if it is a death, then you grieve and face the reality of that and it moves you along. But I don’t quit things. But yes, I have had enough. It takes time and it never goes away and yes, you still hope. But in my case, what am I hoping for if he makes contact? For more verbal insults and criticisms if I take the bait again? It takes a lot of self examination to see things for what they are and accept that the little precious baby grew into an adult, make their own decisions perhaps based on the influence of others? I will not allow this anymore and I will not badmouth my ES to people for doing this. Why lower yourself Take the high road.But coming to this does not happen overnight.
    These columns and the book are just wonderful and helps us to be gentle and tactful about all of this stuff.

    Reply
  9. JJ

    I am new to this and it has truly been the hardest thing my husband of 38 years and I have ever gone through. Ten months ago my daughter hugged us and walked out of our home and completely has cut off contact with us. We have gotten some very ugly emails telling us everything we did/do wrong. This not only shocked us, we were devastated. It was as if someone invaded our beautiful, loving, caring and kind daughter and she is now gone forever. She has been shacked up with the same guy for over 13 years. He has been in our company only a few times and each time we had interaction with him he always said we were this or that. We have never been in their home even though it is only 25 minutes from ours. Needless to say it would be so easy to blame him and my husband does 100%. I however know she is a well educated college graduate that works in a professional position where she deals 100% effectively with other people whom she supervises. We know that we certainly were not perfect parents. However we were great parents that always put our children first and always had a great and loving relationship with them. This hurts so deeply. We have buried a child and this is worse because it is a clueless, helpless feeling that is a complete nightmare. This has affected our health, our peace and joy and our relationships with others due to the total shame and embarrassment which we have no explanation for. The fleeting thought even crossed my mind that I would be better off dead. My faith got me past that dark moment. I never knew such a thing as estrangement existed but somehow knowing this has brought me a bit of clarity. Now if only I could learn to stop blaming myself. OYVEY!!!

    Reply
  10. pixiehair1967

    When I was first confronted with the reality of my ES cutting off communication with us, I was bewildered, sad, angry, outbursts of tears and frustration. He and I were close, talked about everything. This went on off and on for weeks. I sent cards, gifts, phone messages, emails, ecards – all that. No response. Then came the nasty email from ES criticizing us, . One more time I reached out after he put bait out in the email that he was waiting to hear from us. How cruel. I reached out and said when can we talk because he said he was busy but no response back. Did I not use the right words in my reaching out? So we decided enough. Maybe it was never good enough for him? Maybe ES’s wife had influence ( pretty sure).
    My point is, I learned that it is not worth it to ruin your health and the rest of your relationships to try and fix this thing. I tried not to blame myself tho I spent a lot of time soul searching, like was there something somewhere that I missed. But I was there as a parent. I often look at others’ relationships with their children and what they were like parenting and ( I know, don’t compare ) how their families did not go through this up to this point. What has gotten me through this – prayer, a lot of that- and exercise, trying to eat well, staying in touch with others, reading, writing.
    If I could give others advice, despite my love for my ES which will always be there, don’t ruin your life struggling with this, move on tho he/she is always in your thoughts. Accept that the thoughts are there and pray for the good in them to overcome the bad. We parents have to accept this thing, for out health and well being.

    Reply
  11. Faith

    This has been the most theraputic group I could have have the fortune of finding! I have (2) adult children who, no matter how hard I try to communicate with, refuse. I have apologized for things I have not done, emailed and texted my love to them, only to get very mean responses and have been taken away from my granddaughter with no justificaiton (I took her home from the hospital when noone wanted her and raised her for a year) ….and this just scratches the surface. I cry and am in pain every day……I also have a 16 year old son who is an angel and deserves to have me at full capacity……which starts TODAY. It is OK to let go, it is not a failure, it is a new chapter! I will love them forever but cannot continue to be ridiculed when I try to be a part of their lives……….today is the first day of the rest of my life along with my precious 16 year old!

    Reply
  12. Lee S.

    I have dealt with the constant threats and shutting out for so many years it becomes expected. I walk on eggshells if I do get the chance to even receive a text from my daughter. It is comforting to know I am not alone. I am dealing with the grief from losing my husband and expected my daughter to understand that I am going through something so very difficult. I was wrong, she didn’t understand even though she said she understood. This on top of losing him is so painful. I don’t know where to start.

    Reply
    1. rparentsrparents Post author

      Dear Lee,
      My condolences on the loss of your husband. I’m sorry those who might be the most loving and helpful are not. Please take care of yourself. I’m glad you found the site. I founded it so people would not be so alone. There are others with experiences similar to yours. Thank you for posting here.

      Sincerely,
      Sheri McGregor

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