When your adult child rejects you: First steps to getting past anger

First Steps to Getting Past Anger
When Your Adult Child Rejects You

by Sheri McGregor

when your adult child rejects youDevastated parents who have been estranged by adult children experience a multitude of emotions. Particularly for moms, anger is one of the most difficult feelings to understand, accept, and move beyond.

As occurs in many of the situations parents have related to me, one mother, Doreen*, recently told me that her estranged adult son refuses to explain why he has rejected her. He won’t work toward reconciliation either. Doreen is normally a calm, pragmatic individual. She says other people often turn to her for advice. Suddenly, she feels powerless.

“I can accept that I’m sad,” Doreen said. “When your adult child rejects you, sadness is normal. But I’m angry, too. And that feeling took me by surprise.” She expressed what she called “rage,” toward her adult son who has treated her with indifference for several years. Over the last six months, he completely estranged himself. Doreen is hurting, and experiencing anger she doesn’t know how to handle.

“I want revenge,” Doreen admitted. “And I hate myself for feeling that way.”

Doreen’s emotions are similar to those of other parents’ who express their anger then harshly judge themselves. We often associate feelings like rage and revenge with violence, so experiencing those feelings can be scary, and may seem as if we’re losing control. Doreen put it this way: “What kind of person have I become?”

Obviously, anger is an important topic. In some situations, anger leads to violence. Displaced anger can cause people to act in ways that damage other relationships, or are unhealthy to themselves. We might find ourselves yelling at the dog, slamming a door, drinking more alcohol, or snapping at somebody close to us. While the many aspects of anger are important to be aware of and examine, this article speaks only to better understanding our feelings about our anger, and looks at first steps to dealing with the emotion.

When your adult child rejects you: Why is anger so troubling?

For most of us, expressing anger was never encouraged. In childhood, an angry outburst may have resulted in a time-out. We may have been sent to our room, asked to sit in a corner, or told to control ourselves. Rather than being taught ways to channel anger, and express it safely and productively, we may have been taught to repress anger. As a result, in adulthood, feeling anger can be uncomfortable – – particularly toward our own child. This may be especially true for women, who may have been told to “be nice,” or that expressions of anger weren’t “ladylike.”

When your adult child rejects you: Understanding your anger

If you’re angry over your estranged adult child’s rejection, recognize that you’re not alone. When your adult child rejects you, one reason for your anger may be a sense of powerlessness. Many of us have tried to understand our grown sons’ or daughters’ actions. We repeatedly reach out, attempt to reconcile, and get nowhere. Years may pass. We get tired. We’re still hurting. And we’re weary of lying awake at night, our minds running an endless loop: What was it I did? What can I do now? How can I make this right? With no real answers, no satisfaction for our efforts, and no end to the emotional torture in sight, anger builds.

How we perceive the reason for the rejection can influence our feelings, too. Research reported on in the July, 2013 Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that people who blamed a rejection on their incompetence became angry. Those viewing rejection as less personal and based on a lack of warmth experienced more sadness.

Linda*, another estranged mom, told me she knew she was a good parent. She is like so many of the parents who contact me, recounting school involvement, a stable home environment, time spent with their children cooking, cheering their sports events, and so on throughout the years. Even so, Linda insisted she must have done something to cause the estrangement. “It’s always the mom’s fault,” Linda said, insisting this is true even though her estranged daughter won’t explain, and her other adult children feel their sister is wrong. Linda is angry.

While raising our children, moms and dads routinely accept children’s foibles, and move forward with the patience and understanding characteristic of loving parents. We view our children as inexperienced, so rise above the situation.

Later, when our children grow up, desert us, and leave us powerless to change a situation we don’t understand, we’re confused, and we become frustrated. Many of us come to realize that despite our efforts, the state of affairs isn’t changing. This takes the focus off us and our actions, and places responsibility squarely on the shoulders of our estranged sons and daughters. We now realize that they are in control. And they choose actions that hurt us. This realization can make us angry.

When your adult child rejects you: Anger and guilt

For many of us, anger doesn’t feel good. Anger can bring on guilt. These are our children after all. People we have loved and nurtured. Does our anger mean we no longer have unconditional love for them? Are we failing at the vital basics of being a decent parent and human being? Not necessarily, but anger toward our adult children may be difficult to express in a healthy, open way. We may fear judgment, or judge ourselves. Seething anger may even bleed into our other relationships, bringing more hurt and pain.

Here are a couple of ideas: Find a place where you can openly discuss your feelings, such as the online support forum for parents of estranged adult children hosted here. Join the forum.

You could also join the facebook page, help & healing for parents of estranged adult children.

Overcoming anger: Acceptance can help

When your adult child rejects you, coming to a place of acceptance in several areas is crucial to leaving anger behind and channeling it wisely as you move forward. Reflect upon and expand the areas outlined below to apply them in your own life.

  1. Accept that you’ve done your best. You deserve a happy life. To successfully move on, we must accept that despite doing our best, at least for now, we can’t change the situation. We can reach out, but until an estranged adult child wants to reconcile, we can’t make it happen. Accepting that our efforts are fruitless allows us to shift focus, put our efforts in people who reciprocate, in activities that bring us joy, and in a future we can affect and play a part in. Beyond our role as parents, we’re people, deserving of happy, satisfying lives.

2. Accept that you can only control yourself. Take charge where you can. As mature adults, we’ve likely had lots of experience at finding immediate solutions. We learned to shut the door on our teenager’s messy room. When our spouse was always late, we may have adjusted our schedule, or incorporated earlier start times to accommodate the bad habit. By accepting that we can only control ourselves, we free up energy for solutions that help us feel better now. We can take down family photos that remind us of an estranged son. We can box up for storage, or even dispose of items left behind by an estranged daughter. We can then put up artwork that inspires us. Making new and productive use of the space is liberating.

3. Accept the need to forgive. Do it for your own happiness. You may instantly react with anger at the thought of forgiving. If that’s you, perhaps you’re one of those people who can call forgiveness something else. Perhaps you don’t feel a need to forgive, or perhaps you don’t want to. If forgiving doesn’t feel right, let this tip go and don’t worry about it. But if you’re open to the idea of how forgiveness may help you, read on. Forgiveness can be complex. We may be angry or blame people who are involved with our adult children. Forgiving someone who has wrongly hurt us can feel unjust. But forgiveness isn’t about guilt. We can blame someone but still forgive them. To read more about this, see my article: Why forgive? Forgiveness isn’t about the other person. Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. In a study published by the National Institute of Health in 2011, researchers found that forgiving freely, particularly without requiring an apology or admission of wrongdoing, resulted in high levels of life satisfaction. Holding forgiveness hostage to some act or condition was associated with psychological distress and depression.

For some more concrete ways to deal with your emotions and move toward forgiveness, see my article that discusses ways to move on when your adult child rejects you.

When your adult child rejects you, anger is normal. Acceptance, and a take-charge attitude placed where your efforts can make a difference will help you take steps to leave anger behind, and move confidently forward in a new and happy life.

*Name changed to protect privacy

Related Reading:

Anger: A positive energizer? Or an easy fix?

Why forgive?

Rejected by an adult child, why do I feel guilt?

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



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14 thoughts on “When your adult child rejects you: First steps to getting past anger

  1. Diane H.

    On my better days, it’s fair to say this whole situation is actually laughable. Thinking of issues of rage and anger, I’ve felt them all. Add the injustice and loneliness and despair, and then I hear a radio interview that talks about menopause and guess what? Yep, rage is a side effect. Well! So we are either feeling rage for loss and unfairness, or we feel it because of our biology. Honestly. Do women ever win?? Let’s lean into humor, peace and kindness towards each other. We are all on fire anyway.

    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Diane,

      Rage, at least for a time, can be a normal response to some of the abuse we have put up with. As for menopause, it can be a symptom…but women who experience anger as part of menopause shouldn’t be dismissed. Perhaps if they listen to themselves they will discover they are angry for good reason. That’s when the changes can come for our own benefit (and that often helps our loved ones too).

      Hugs to you. Yes, let’s be kind.
      Sheri McGregor

  2. Michelle

    I am a mother who is really hurting. My son has treated me badly for the last 5 years. He stared dating a girl who I found out went to jail for drug dealing. I was not keen on that idea but my son forgave her so I decided to give her a Chance as he she works hard and seems friendly. After the fake ness wore off she started manipulating and has not stopped. My son is a gifted person and was going to college to become a doctor and after he finished and graduated my family flew out and my father who was battling cancer came out to see him. His girlfriend tried to get him to no attend his graduation. He was Suma Cum Lade and I could not believe it. She caused all kinds of drama and it hurt me and my parents. After that fiasco they broke up and he told me that she didn’t really like our family and never wanted to spend time with us. I told him if he married her it would get worse. Well he married her and that is exactly what happens. The wedding we. Were completely excluded and when we held that family dinner her family invited all kinds of people and left us with the bill. Now they are having their first baby and she basically told me right after I held a baby shower for her and 2 days after the shower I received a text announcement from my son that I would not be allowed to see my son if I did not have a vaccine. I was pretty upset as that is a pretty stupid why for my daughter in law to exclude me. No I will not get a vaccine. I have had all my vaccines and am not going to get things unecessarilily, because she is paranoid! My son is working on his doctorate for Pharmacology and he is going along with this to appease I assume. So I was told I wont get to see my grandson. Pretty crappy thing to do to our whole family.

  3. De

    No mother is perfect. I was a single mom, worked my butt off and went to college, all while being very ill with Crohns. I did my best as a young mom and after a few yrs got involved with a guy who had similar goals, worked hard and was great, then he wasn’t.
    While recovering in the hospital, 7 yrs into our relationship, he touched her inappropriately.
    When I found out, he was outcastes, we left and that was it. She and I were great, along with her baby brother. She rebelled as a teen, got pregnant at 15 from a 19yr old. I could have had him arrested as a sex offender and instead, I agreed to their relationship, and they married at 17. I regret that as well as leaving her at 11 with my boyfriend as I was in hospital.
    Our relationship was close, she asked for motherly advice, all was fine as she had 2 more children. Her relationship with my mom was close, as she watched my children when I worked and went to college.
    Years went by, I got remarried and had 3 children. My daughter worked, her husband worked, they had good money, but my mom was in a bad way when my dad died, bad planning.
    My daughter convinced my mom to sign over her house to her, a million dollar home. She felt entitled, as she was living in apt down stairs from home and helping with mortgage.
    I was furious she did this, and that my mom didn’t discuss with me. My son and I got involved to get house back 8n mom’s name but she wouldn’t listen to reason. Verbal abuse was constant and mom had heart surgery. The home was sold and my daughter got almost all the money, crumbs to my mom, my children and myself, nothing!
    No contact since. My grown grandchildren, no contact, yet I was a big part of their lives.
    I’m angry, hurt and furious she pulled this scam, yet, she took me out of their lives.
    My grandchildren should be reasonable enough to realize what she did was morally wrong and legally wrong, yet no contact with me. My mom secretly speaks to them. I believe she’s the cause of this whole disaster yet I tried to assist her, even got her a nice house with the little money she had left.
    So, everything is a huge mess, and 5hecpa8n so deep when I read online about graduations, marriages, and a new grandson.
    Yet, I don’t exist to any of them.
    My mom is a liar and manipulator, so I blame her. But I want to be back in my daughter and grandkids lives. I give up as it’s been 5 yrs, I’ve nearly died( leg amputation) and no contact.
    So much anger, resentment and fury, and I would apologize for the past but she certainly has much to apologize for.

  4. Katherine

    My daughter’s partner is a “broken” person and so is his mom. They are incapable of forming good relationships and so try to sabotage our family. We have always had good Christmases and in the spirit of the season decorate and have presents and a family meal. My daughter has a new family – our in laws – that have imbued her with the responsibility of taking the place of their recently deceased daughter (traffic accident). And this dysfunctional family (single mother and son) have said she is now the daughter who died and expect that she will make them into a whole family. Unfortunately it has not worked. My husband privately refers to them as losers and low life.

    They are not over achievers having lived on disability or thru money received from injuries. She also abandoned her children during their teens. They live in their PJ’s all day long and the mom (who lived with a Nazi drug user when we met – no kidding) recently attended Christmas dinner at our house in PJ’s. I have mentioned to my daughter (who has a degree in Music) that I am embarrassed by her partner’s state of undress when I visit maybe a few times a month. These visits will now stop as will any chance of seeing his mom again with whom I have nothing in common. We are not interested in promoting the idea that they are part of our family which we have tried for 2 years now. They are comfortable with this as it is the dysfunction they are used to and a feeling they can handle. Our daughter will continue to be supported by us. A state of denying that an extended family with them is possible is a relief. He is not able to work or just not wanting to work and is barely educated but intelligent. They play digital games all night so have to sleep in the daytime. Our daughter provides the stability and glue that holds them together (paying the rent and bills) and it has run her down. Apparently my wishing for him to put on pants is a problem worthy of a world war 3.

    I am also comfortable with saying goodbye to building anything with them. It has worn me down moneywise and emotionally too – 2 bad Christmases is enough. If we loose our daughter over this at least I hope we do not then I no longer have to listen to him maligning me as being manipulative, mentally unstable or abusive to him because I dress myself and expect the same in return. I have told my daughter that I love her and will love whoever she chooses as a partner and will continue to support her but that love does not mean I do not have boundaries. Call me crazy because I feel better in clothes and would wish him to as well. His PJ’s are worn out and he does not look good in them. He is depressed and needs to work on this. The dressing is a part of that. I believe his mother thinks she was supporting him by not dressing for dinner but her hair was unkempt also and no attempt at make up either. He dressed for dinner. My daughter says he is wearing underwear beneath the PJ’s which begs a hygiene question next. HELP ME SAVE ME or whatever will bring me out of this! I see no need to give in to a slob and his mother. If they want to undress then it should be without my presence and when I am not invited over. She invited herself over for Christmas dinner (after 2 years I expected something bad). My expectation for clothes seems totally natural and a normal reaction. My husband agrees with me but uses angry words to describe it. I do not feel angry at him but his lack of understanding is appalling. You should want to impress your mother-in-law enough to put on some clothing even sweat pants. It is like I am the only responsible adult in the bunch. I always feel like I am put in this position when I just want to enjoy Christmas with a nice turkey dinner. Do not need presents or fancy clothes or to be worshiped. Just act like you care enough about yourself to make an effort.

    We ignored the mom’s undress when they came but everything else went wrong…undercooked turkey, veggies not fresh enough, they disappeared into the basement for the whole event until I called dinner at 8 PM she tried to help but ruined the drink mix by adding water to the club soda (lucky I had back up) … hmmm could not wait for them to leave. I felt so tired and exhausted I am 70 years old and too old for this shit. I feel like I come across snotty but I had a problem family of origin too and my husband grew up with a single mother. His mother none the less had a bad relationship with me saying “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.” to me when I met her in person. So I am sensitive to trying harder with my daughter. I am not perfect but I am not the one to blame for everything like he makes out. Also says I am always trying to be the victim. Really? This is so immature. I do not want to always forgive which I continually do.

  5. Rebecca

    I am angry. I am very, very angry. I am deeply hurt. My soul hurts and I am tired of being treated poorly. I feel as though, at present , that I will not ever be able to forgive my Daughter for the ways that she has treated me. Maybe in the future somewhere , God willing, but her abuse of me is hardening my heart. I have cried my eyes and heart out. Prayed and prayed. Called, wrote letters. I am tired of her punishments. I deserve better. I have done all that I know to do, to no avail. It’s time that I free myself . I don’t have to stay on her hook. I can’t believe a human can be so cold to another human. I care. I have loved her and tried to be there. I was there. My mistakes were unaware, innocent and unintentional. Hers are deliberate. I have apologized, reached out, kept my mouth shut, spoke up, bent forward and backward. I went through hell trying to raise her, provide , love, and see to her safety and well being. I gave it all. I can’t believe this is our life. It doesn’t have to be this way. She holds the keys to freeing us both but insists on holding our lives and what could be happiness for both, hostage. Cruel. Absolutely cruel.Heartless. It’s been four years of this. Enough is enough.

    1. Finished

      My son is also deliberately cruel. This has been ongoing for at least 10 years. And I’ve put up with it. Meeting for holidays only (bdays, Mother’s Day and Chaunkah). He rushes through meals and leaves. I ask him what type of relationship we have. He feels there’s nothing wrong. I stopped crying 2 years ago. I still have episodes of anger though. I am dead inside; there is no love at all for him. This is the result of the way he treats me. I turned to this support group so I can see that I’m not alone, and it’s not my fault. I’ve been in therapy since 12/2019 to move forward without him. He keeps calling and doing the samething over and over again. I have no love for him and he makes me angry. I have no hope of things improving. I truly believe these kids keep coming back to try to break us. I’m a strong person and won’t permit it. He recently saw my therapist as a one on one. He agreed to joint therapy but I cancelled. Why should I go? He will never change. I’m swimming to shore and he keeps trying to pull me back. I know I’m the only one who can control MY behavior. I’m going to reach shore shortly without him. The hardest part for me was to stop the crying. As I said, that happened 2 years ago. Now I need to control my anger. We’re all going to get though this. Let’s please try to stay strong. My priority is my mental and physical health.

    2. HurtDad

      I have been in pain for a while. When things blew up with my son I was working in another state. He was having trouble making ends meet, got evicted for fighting either the neighbor. He was mean and berating my wife and being 1200 miles away I was unable to intervene. I felt helpless and contacted a therapist. I immediately felt relief and cried at the end of the first session. I have tried to engage my son with the therapist for 3 years at first he agreed but then quickly rejected the therapist. Two years later he trie again. Both therapists feel he needs a clinical diagnoses. One says it may be borderline personality disorder. It seems to describe his anger. He is intentionally cruel when he is angry and I don’t see anything happening unless he gets help. I cannot let go or give up, especially now I understand the pain that he must be going through. I love him in-spite of all of the pain and suffering my wife and I have gone through. I pray to fined peace and hope that everyone of us with troubled children find peace. For me therapy helps me accept what is. I hope we all find some peace. Coming here I know I am not alone

    3. Gloria

      I have experienced just what you have written here. It is agony to love a child and get hostility on a regular basis from that adult child, as if they don’t love us, I believe because I can’t see any other reason for my daughter’s behavior except that she is cruel, not caring, not loving. And now I think when she was being nice to me it’s because she was using me. I don’t know the reason for her hostility toward me, except that she was rebellious and I don’t know why, because I think I showed her love and caring but she just turned against me when her teenage friends told her to “get away from her overprotective Mother.” So she did just that and has kept it up, and is nice sometimes, but mostly it’s a situation of “damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.” This has been going on for over 15 years now. She’s now 36 and I think I have to give up on trying to contact her and keep in touch which she doesn’t seem to need. I believe we can’t force people to like us or want to be around us, even our children whom we love but they don’t seem to love us, from what I can determine. So, I think I’ve given up. What else can a person do when they’ve tried over and over again to have a good relationship with our adult children? I don’t know what the answer is but I’m realizing I am wasting my time, and life on this horrible situation, grieving most of the time and nothing else but living a sorrowful life because I think I’ve failed as a Mother, which was very important to me! What to do,—I don’t know!

    4. Jan

      Not a judgement, just a comment.
      You hold the keys to freeing you. She holds the keys to freeing herself.
      One is not dependent on the other or exclusive to another.
      As I’ve read some of the stories here where adult children hold their parents hostage my heart hurts for them. This used to be my story, my emotional minute of every hour, of every day. I’m not sure where I learned the following two concepts, but they are now my mantra of heath. I tell myself it is ‘okay to put down the rope. It is very okay not to play tug-of-war any longer’. Once I am no longer involved with explaining myself, answering the ‘why questions’ I return back to a safe and peaceful place in my heart, instead of fretting why my adult child is unwilling to ‘get me’.
      The other freeing mantra, “my children are not the barometer of my success as a mother’. Yes. I gave them everything. But in that giving, I did not ask for a ‘thank you’ because I willingly gave. They know of no real sacrifice on my part. They are not me. They didn’t, and don’t know the costs I endured to provide for them, emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially. And even if they say they do/did, they couldn’t. They were there yes, but they were not emotionally and mentally capable of understanding my entire sacrifice, so I put down the ’emotional rope’ and do not engage them, or myself, in a tug-of-war to which there are no winners. And who they are is all about and up to them. I detach from guilt, blame, or shame. They are not the barometer of how well I raised them, and any self talk I have about any of that I quickly dismiss because it is useless anyway.
      I have rules for myself now to keep me from plunging into the abyss of ‘whys’ my adult children would pepper me with. I don’t ‘loan, or give money to anyone for anything’. I don’t sign on loans. There is a healthy understanding of don’t ask.
      They all get the same family Christmas gift – no individual gifts, not even to the grandchildren. That frees me from accusations of ‘spending more’ and ‘loving more’. And if they don’t like my decision I frankly tell them that ‘if you do not like my gift, I’ll save spending next year on myself instead.’
      Around family dinners like Thanksgiving, I do all the cooking so they cannot feel put upon to bring something that they like, but which no one else does. I do tell them to bring an amount, say $10, and these amounts are then put into a lined muffin tin with the name of the adult child listed on the muffin liner in the middle of the table. It really sorts out who is not willing to contribute to the meal, and if there does become an issue about the amount then, in the past, I have asked for a ‘price per head’. These ‘contributions’ are then tallied and will be used for purchases of food for the food bank. I also tell them when these purchases will be made, so if the grandchildren or the adult children would like to attend, they can show up, it’s their decision. And I don’t move the date or the time of shopping. Period.
      For me, the more I leave to chance and my adult children, the more I, in the past, have felt angry and taken advantage of. It’s not always perfect, and sometimes I could feel used or alone if I wanted to, but that’s my decision, not theirs.

  6. diane

    My heart is broken. Unlike many parents on this site, my daughter removing me from her life and the lives of her children are warranted and understandable. I was and still am an- out- of- control, critical, angry individual. To meet me, you would never know it. My only child received the brunt of my inability to manage life. I was a working single mom since the day she was born. We had/have no family so support systems have been non existent. My prayer request is for my daughter and grandsons. May she heal from the instability, criticism, trauma and abuse from me that caused such deep wounds. I am now in intensive therapy and praying for forgiveness.

    1. L Condon

      Bless you. You unlike many others feel the pain of regret and that make you so much more forgiveable than others who are unpunished and believe they did a great job. Some people never empathise or entertain the idea that they made mistakes. Your child’s continuing rejection means they’re unwilling to look at their own behaviour as two wrongs never make a right. Pat yourself on the back that you raised and protected a child as best as you were able. Your child shall also be judged by their own child. Let’s hope it’s not as harshly

    2. Karen

      Diane, I am so sorry for your pain. I was severely abused by my Dad growing up. The last time he beat me I was 18 and he was punching my head so hard I urinated on myself. The verbal was just as bad, if not worse. BUT, he was also the most wonderful, selfless, fun and protective Dad. He lost his mom when he was 9 and his dad never recovered. He was beaten by aunts and uncles until he ran away to the Army at 17. He has been gone now for 21 years and I still miss him. This time has allowed me to come to an understanding of his wounds that he took out on me. I was just a little girl and he was a towering, powerful man at 6’2″ with a huge college ring that I can still feel hitting my head. What he did was horrible. It changed who I was and at 62 I still don’t know who I was supposed to be. It has affected every single area of my life and not in a good way. Fortunately I never even spanked my own child once (haven’t seen her in 4+ years either but that’s another story for another day). What I want you to know Diane is my Dad was a good person and you are a good person. I forgive him completely because I really do understand – I do NOT condone, there’s a difference. The one thing that would have made all the difference is if my Dad had apologized and told me I didn’t deserve any of his beatings. But he never did, not once, so there will forever and ever be a part of me that believes I did indeed deserve it. Don’t leave your daughter without knowing your heart and regrets. Even if it doesn’t seem to register at first, it will at some point. It’s not too late. I sincerely wish you all the very best.

  7. Miriam Dixon

    Yes, you can pray to our God who is faithful when children are estranged and cause hurt. God loves you and wants you to love the good person you are, despite rejection from those you raised with discipline because you care and you love them. God knows every hair on your head and every heart ache you’ve experienced. Give God your cares and pain and He’ll carry you through every moment of each day. He’ll guide your steps to desire to only follow His leading. Think of Him, He created You in His image.
    I will pray for you and ask God to give You healing and strength as only He can give.


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