Five ways to move on after an adult child’s rejection

adult child's rejectionby Sheri McGregor

When an adult child abandons parents, or in some cases the entire family, the what-ifs and how-coulds can limit recovery. What if my child returns to reconcile? How can I move on now yet still hold onto hope?

After an adult child’s rejection, the idea of moving on can feel like giving up, so trying to move forward brings guilt. You might question your character. What kind of a parent just gets on with life as if nothing has happened? Few parents move on with such abandon. Most, on some level, hold out hope for reconciliation. But staring at the silent telephone, desperately waiting for the uncertain return of your adult child can lead to despair. Getting on with life despite what’s happened connects you to other people and activities, helps fill the void of loss, and can help you to heal. In my book, Done With The Crying, tools, the latest research, and insight from more than 9,000 parents of estranged adults can help you move forward and heal.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. When you are betrayed by someone you love, perhaps particularly an estranged adult child who you nurtured and helped to shape, it’s as if the bottom falls out. You may question everything you thought about your child, your relationship, and how your life will continue in relation to your son or daughter, and perhaps in relation to your prior expectations. Getting to a point where you feel you’ve moved on may take time, so be kind to yourself. Expecting that you can go to sleep one night determined to leave the pain of an adult child’s rejection behind, and wake up over it, isn’t realistic. Recovering from deep emotional wounds takes time. I’ve gleaned a few tips from my own experience with my estranged adult child as well as from studies, books, and articles that can help.

An adult child’s rejection hurts.

One: Don’t pretend you’re not hurting.

Fearing judgment, you may be embarrassed to share your painful truth.  And you may be right to hold back with people at work, or certain friends you feel won’t understand or will judge you. It’s helpful to reach out to a trusted, empathetic friend or two, but whether you can or can’t confide in others, don’t deny your feelings exist. Accept your emotions as normal in the situation.

Some common feelings of rejected parents include:

*Guilt: I must not have raised my child right. An adult child’s rejection may cause parents to look back critically at their parenting skills, even magnifying some incidents or interactions during the child’s growing up years as proof they did a poor job.

*Anger: I raised my child better than this. What happened to honoring one’s parents?

*Helplessness: How can he/she refuse to take my call? Parents realize they have no control over their adult child’s actions.

*Fear: What if my other adult children leave me too?

*Denial: This can’t be happening. Surely it won’t last.

*Uncertainty: Am I crazy? Is this all my fault? Am I that insufferable? Will this ever end?

*Failure: I feel powerless. Parents may have a sense of failure at having tried everything, but nothing has worked to restore the relationship.

These are just a few of the feelings you may encounter in response to an adult child’s rejection, betrayal or neglect. Keeping a journal or simply free-writing about your feelings may provide a safe way to offload them. Some find an online group designed as support for parents of estranged adult children useful. We host an online group to help. Acknowledging your feelings, whether in a journal or by sharing with others you trust can be healthy, but not to excess or in a negative way.

Two: Don’t Ruminate

Listen to your thoughts. Do you catch yourself saying aloud or thinking, “I’ll never get over this..” Are you continually asking questions, such as, “Why do these sorts of things always happen to me?” Called “ruminating,” this sort of negative thinking spurs more negative thought, perhaps even calling to mind the other things that “always happen.” Clinical studies have linked ruminating to high blood pressure and to unhealthy behaviors such as binge drinking and overeating, so steer clear.

How do you avoid ruminating? Turn your statements and questions around with positive thoughts. I am moving past this. Good things happen in my life. This suggestion may sound trite, but if negative thoughts can produce more negative thoughts, positive thoughts can be as fruitful.

When you catch yourself thinking negatively about your adult child or the situation, notice your physical body as well. Are you holding your breath? Clenching your jaw? Tightening your fists? You may be experiencing a stress response that isn’t good for you.

As reported in the Harvard Health Newsletter, researchers at Hope College in Michigan found that changing one’s thoughts about a stressful situation, perhaps by considering the parts you handled well or imagining offering forgiveness, changes the body’s responses. In short, the way we think about things can reduce our physical stress response

Take a few deep breaths, loosen up or even get up and move around. Drink a glass of water. Do something to aid your physical body and health as well as positively altering your thoughts.

Three: Focus on the Good

Take time out each day to consider the positive situations and good people in your life. A journal of good thoughts written down at the end of each day is a healthy habit, and a formal record is fun to re-read later. However, a more casual approach can be effective.

Keeping a positive focus after an adult child’s rejection.

Here are a few suggestions:

Instead of joining everyone in the lunch break room each day, take a short stroll outdoors instead, or perhaps before you join the others. The benefits of nature to the psyche are well-documented. Be sure to experience your surroundings to the fullest, by taking notice. The dappled sunlight beneath this tree is pretty. The breeze feels good as it goes through my hair.

If getting outdoors isn’t an option, you can still focus your thoughts in a positive direction. Perhaps recall moments from your morning that went well.  I’m glad I was able to make that telephone connection and cross the task off my list. I arrived at the office earlier than my boss this morning. I’m lucky my co-workers are helpful.

Looking to the future with a positive focus promotes the well-known attitude of gratitude that’s so helpful. My dog will be waiting for me with a wagging tail. I look forward to my favorite television show tonight. I’m so thankful my aging mother is well.

Four: Forgive.

Parents have known and loved their children for so long that forgiveness may be second nature – – or not. Perhaps you blame other people who are involved with your adult children. Or maybe you blame yourself. We all make mistakes, so work to forgive. Because of the personal benefits, forgiveness is a gift you can give yourself. Forgive for the sake of your own happiness.

In a study published by National Institute of Health in 2011, researchers found that older adults (median age 66) who forgive others report higher levels of life satisfaction. Forgiving freely, without requiring an act of contrition, (such as an apology or admission), was particularly beneficial. Holding one’s forgiveness hostage to some act or condition was associated with psychological distress and symptoms of depression.

Five: Accept.

Accepting the reality of an adult child’s abandonment, and your helplessness to change it, may feel like letting go of hope. Reconciliation may eventually take place, but in the present, accepting what’s happened allows you to make the most of your life now.

Most of us have had to accept other disappointing realities during our lives: a loved one’s death, the inability to finish college due to other responsibilities, or an unrealized professional goal. We all have disappointments, but the vast majority of us accept reality and move forward, perhaps in more fulfilling directions. Even after an adult child’s rejection, you have the right to enjoy your life. Dwelling on the past or struggling with pursuits that, at least for the moment, are futile, rob you of precious time.

Acceptance may take determination, but is worth the effort. Acceptance has allowed me the freedom to be who I truly am: A strong woman blessed with many people, including four other adult children, to love and share my life with. By accepting the sad reality of one adult child’s rejection, I can better spend my time and energy on people that want my company, on interests that are meaningful and fulfilling to me, and where I can make a difference.

Recently, a parent told me she had reconciled with an estranged adult child after nearly two decades of estrangement. Her story illustrates the fulfillment of hope. Like she did, you can live your life now—-in a way that’s meaningful, fulfilling, and happy—-and still hold out hope for a future reconciliation.
parents of estranged adult childrenDone With The Crying is available through popular booksellers. Ask your local bookstore to order this book for parents of estranged adult children for you. Or order online. And fathers–this book can help you, too.

Take the confidential, 8-question survey to help parents of estranged adult children.

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Forgiveness by God, Forgiveness of Others, and Psychological Well-Being in Late Life

Five Reasons to Forgive




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12 thoughts on “Five ways to move on after an adult child’s rejection

  1. Wendy

    I have two children a son and a daughter. My son started the blame and shame game not long after he met his girlfriend and she became pregnant. The relationship became much worse when they moved two houses away from her mother. Her mother is a very vindictive and jealous person; especially when it comes to my grandchildren. I feel his wife and mother-in-law have totally brainwashed him against me. So I had to break all contact with him for years. Which broke my heart because my grandson and I had time to form a strong bond and I missed him terribly. My daughter whose personality changed drastically at the age of 13 and she was performing very poorly at school and was not accepted by her peers. She would come home every day in a bad mood and take it out on me. It got to the point where I dreaded even looking in her face. I tried in every way I could to help her improve her grades but nothing helped. She rebelled against me in every way. She is 31 yrs old today and blames me for not graduating and at 16 went to live with her dad and quit school and then went to live with her boyfriend. But she does not blame him. i have always been her punching bag, her scapegoat. She blames me for not being there for her as a teenager as she says I was always at Church. I was involved with the Youth Group but she would have nothing to do with that. I would go to Bible Study and Church on Sunday. I was a single mother and that was something I enjoyed and needed in my life. I once said to her; you should be happy that you don’t have a mother that runs out to bars every night and brings home a different man and drinks and is doing drugs. Her reply was, “I wish you would”. When she said that to me i was totally shocked that those words would come from her mouth. So it should not shock me as to the way she treats me now. There was a time a few yrs back we had stopped all contact. Because I sent her a message setting her straight on many ways she had been abusing me mentally and emotionally all through the yrs. I had it with her. It was about time. The many awful, disgusting things she had said to me over the yrs that I could no longer tolerate. Then in the past two yrs we had reconciled and she seemed to have matured since she had her own little girl who I loved so dearly even though we lived very far apart. But then in Feburary she started again. As of right now there is no communication once again. I miss my sweet granddaughter so very much. She is 3 yrs old. I was offered the money to go and visit with them at Christmas and I could sense that she did not really want me to go. So i asked to go to my granddaughter’s birthday in March and again I was rejected. I really and honestly don’t miss my daughter because of one of the last things she said to me. I am going to tell you what she said and it is not very nice to even repeat. I asked her why she had not phoned me when I had left two messages on her voice mail. She said, “I don’t go around with my cell phone up my arse waiting for it to vibrate”. My God in heaven, I think that is one of the worse things anyone has ever said to me in my life other than what her father has said to me. Right now it feels like I could care less if I ever hear from her again in my life. What she said to me is so perverse. I raised her as a singe mother and did my best by her. Yet, it was never enough in her eyes. But at this point I could care less anymore what she thinks. She has a very sick mind and needs help. I am very sad and missing my granddaughter who I love with all my heart.

    1. lauren

      I feel for Wendy – Not trivializing a single outrageous verbal abuse, financial disaster and physical threat is crucial when the mind wanders back to better times. Not knowing grandchildren taken to adoption is a special evil requiring small faith in people but great trust in God. I compare the impact of family estrangement with the ravages of drug abuse plundering homes and stealing life. The devil has found a substantial outlet with family estrangement, and faith with a 12 step program is the key to survival.

  2. Celeste

    I have two of three children who are so verbally nasty. I can’t say or do anything right. My husband gave them everything not to mention all the love in our hearts. We know we can’t change them but really have a hard time understanding all this hatred. I suffer from severe depression. Can’t talk to them about it. Unfortunately my daughter has my only grandchildren ,1 and 3. We miss them terribly. They live 5 hours away and we have made the trips but they put so many conditions on visits. Can only stay for 2 days, most of the time stay at hotels. We don’t bring the right gifts, but boy when they moved closer they had no one to watch the 2 year old when she had the baby, so we went but could only stay 3 days. We walk on eggshells and I barely talk.,they mostly hate me and my husband doesn’t defend me. He’s afraid of losing the grandchildren.he just sits while they blast me. I spend so much time in therapy because of them and the tears are so many. I never would have talked to my mother like that. Can’t sense of nonsense. Just when I think things are fine, I get blasted.,all I ever wanted was kindness and love. So hurting. And during covd19 stay and home makes it worse. I have asthma so I don’t even go to the store. Makes it worse

  3. Ama J

    I have three children who I raised by myself after divorcing their abusive father when they were babies (32 yr old twins boy and girl and a 30 yr old son) and the youngest one who I was very close with and who the family called my “favourite”, he’s had an on again, off again relationship with me. We reconciled at Christmas 2017 after almost two years of not talking and on Boxing Day 2019, out of the blue and after our relationship seemed to be going just fine for the past two years, he called me out of my name in the worst way possible via text (he never actually calls me names verbally to my face) and had more than a few disrespectful dirty choice words for his older sister, with whom I live. She hasn’t talked to him in years and does not have a relationship with him. I was so shocked by his attack on me that I couldn’t move, think or speak. I wondered if he was mentally ill or had a brain tumour for him to be flip flopping like that. It was devastating and I cried off and on for months until I couldn’t cry anymore. The only family member he’s in touch with is my mother who gives me updates on any conversations she has with him. My father won’t even speak with him anymore. And he doesn’t have any relationship with his aunts or uncle either. His girlfriend doesn’t want to get involved with our relationship woes and recently texted me his number in case I ever want to talk to him (because I had deleted his contact and blocked him from all social media). But I prayed about it tonight and asked for guidance. I took a nap and felt very stressed and filled with fear about calling him. I didn’t think calling him was a good idea so I went online and found tour website and started understanding that there are thousands of parents out there who are facing the same challenges as me. I have a good life outside of his rejection, I have my daughter’s love, as well as good friends who care about me, and I’m trying to look at life positively. I pray for my son all the time and hope that he will get some healing in his life and that he won’t end up with too many regrets and many wasted years of not having me in his life. I am preparing myself for not having him in my life but I will always have hope that he’ll have a change of heart and come back to me with love, kindness and respect. Guess I should also mention I’m also dealing with my twin son who’s on meth and who just got out of jail three months ago, who my daughter and I tried to help but then he ended up in the hospital being observed for a week because of his trippy hallucinations he was exhibiting in my daughter’s home. After that he “disappeared” into the big city and we have lost contact with him. My beautiful, intelligent son who was bullied and assaulted and taken advantage of when he was younger. He was never a fighter and I feel so sorry and sad for him that he’s numbing his pain with drugs. I can only pray for his safety and hope that he too will be healed and escape with his life. This is such a mess.!!


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