Adult children who reject parents: Why do they make contact now?

reconciling with estranged adult childrenby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

I can’t count how many times parents have written to me saying that just when they’ve gotten past the wincing pain and began to regain their joy of living, their estranged adult child makes contact. Why does this happen? What is it that brings adult children who reject parents back?

Energetically connected, or something more tangible?

Maybe we’re connected energetically to the people who are important to us, and that’s why adult children who reject parents suddenly make contact when Mom or Dad’s attitude has changed. Or, maybe there’s a more tangible explanation.

In my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children , I advise parents not to follow their estranged adult children over the Internet or through social media accounts—and I take my own advice. My estranged son’s life, the people he chooses to be with, and the things he chooses to do are not my business. But even if you keep your eyes on your own life, that doesn’t mean your estranged adult children won’t follow you.

Parents whose estranged adult children suddenly make contact sometimes relate that it started with a photo or a bit of news that their son or daughter saw about them online. In our modern world with its virtual connections, it’s difficult to keep your private life completely private. And seeing parents well and happy might indeed trigger an adult child’s contact—whether in anger, for other motives, or out of a genuine desire to reconcile.

They’re ba-ack

adult children who reject parents“They’re ba-ack.” Most of us recognize the now famous line from the scary 1980s sequel movie, Poltergeist II. Now, the phrase is sometimes used in fun to indicate an undesirable’s return. Although it may seem harsh to say, some parents can start to feel that way. They may wonder if their estranged adult children just want money. Have they come back to inflict more pain? Or do they really want to reconcile? Parents who have been repeatedly hurt wonder if they’re wise to trust, or fear the contact will only open up old wounds.

I frequently hear from parents whose estranged adult children have popped up and then disappeared again so many times that they no longer let themselves even go there emotionally. They no longer hope. You may feel as James does, a father whose adult children have been estranged for more than a decade. He says that he knows, “They’re only back to twist the knife.”

Some parents of estranged adult children have simply had enough. Because of emotional or financial abuse, they change their phone numbers, move away, and keep their personal information private. Because they’ve been bullied or repeatedly hurt, they can’t see opening themselves up to the possibility again. For these parents, no contact becomes a relief.

It’s even possible that some adult children who reject parents are miffed that they’ve lost emotional control. For manipulative people, or those with certain personality disorders, control may be everything—so a sense of losing their power could spur them to make contact.

It’s true, though, that most parents would want to reconcile. And sometimes adult children who reject parents later make contact with good intentions. In the last few months, a handful of parents have told me they have reconciled. Those who shared some of the details are hopeful to one day feel secure in those connections. For now, they admit to a variety of issues—and there’s more about that later in this article. It’s at least safe to say that where there is honest effort and communication, there is a chance. If you have reconciled, I hope that you will consider sharing your circumstances by taking the short survey I’ve created to learn more about the subject. Your experience may help others.

Getting your hopes up?

reconciling with estranged adult childrenWith any contact, most parents become hopeful—and sometimes reconciliation happens. But  be careful. Don’t assume contact will solve past problems. While some adult children may truly want to reconcile, others might make contact for other reasons.

Evaluating the contact made by adult children who reject parents

Consider the tone. If your son or daughter reaches out in a threatening, angry, or accusatory tone, your caution is wise. A brief reply can verify you’ve received the message or convey that your son or daughter is still loved. Not replying at all is also acceptable and maybe even wise. A parent needn’t feel obligated to respond. Refusing to allow yourself to get drawn into an argument or other pointless discourse could protect you from further hurt. Sometimes, protecting yourself is the only sound choice.

Consider the circumstances. Is a holiday or birthday triggering a text or card? While a special occasion greeting may be nice, try not to read too much into it.

A short reply, or depending on your situation a more direct or personal response could convey that you remain open to a healthy relationship. But don’t assume a holiday or birthday greeting is an open invitation or indicates a complete change of heart.

Many parents of estranged adults have told of receiving sudden wedding invites. Upon deliberation, they sometimes conclude the request for their presence at nuptials after months (or even years) of silence has selfish motives, such as a son or daughter’s desire to save face or put on a front. These parents often don’t attend—and perhaps they made a wise choice. I have heard many stories from parents who did attend and were humiliated by being seated in a far corner and ignored. That’s not to say there are no happy endings. One divorced mother’s estranged daughter remains close to her ex-husband (her daughter’s father). This mother always believed that his family took her daughter’s side. At the wedding, some of them approached her to correct that assumption. While her daughter didn’t speak much to her, and has made no overtures since the wedding, she did include her in photographs. So she feels somewhat hopeful, and no longer believes her ex-husband’s relatives are aiding her daughter’s estrangement.

It’s also possible that material factors are at the root of contact. I’ve heard many stories where adult children who reject parents reconnect when, as James says, “They get a whiff of money.”

Others tell me they’re contacted when facing illness. Often, they wonder if guilt might be the motivator. These parents are often torn though. They know they need their energy to care for themselves, yet wonder if it’s fair not to make an effort if their child has reached out. My advice is to trust your gut. Go back and read the section above, Consider the tone. The manner in which your son or daughter speaks to you can help you decide what’s best for you. Also read on, because your feelings are important. Again, trust your gut. You have the right to protect yourself.

Consider how the contact makes you feel. Estranged adult children who have a history of manipulative behavior may fall back on old patterns of laying blame, or playing the victim. An adult child, their spouse or significant other (called “influential adversaries” in my book), might make threats of some sort, accuse you of being a bad parent, say that a good mother wouldn’t give up on her own daughter, or accuse a father of leaving his son behind.

If contact from your estranged adult child triggers guilt, only you can decide whether that guilt is warranted (see my article on “innocent guilt“). It’s possible your reaction stems from past relationship patterns—ones you’ve broken away from but that are triggered by contact because they were so entrenched.

More about intentions

Does a two-sentence message represent a desire to reconnect? Or is it more that you’re hanging on each word, weighing the comments at different angles to find that meaning? I recently wrote about not feeling obligated to inform estranged adult children about a family member’s death (see Do they have a right to know?). I feel similarly about any obligation to respond to an adult who has stepped out of your life. Of course, most parents would like to reconcile. Sending a thank you reply to a birthday or other greeting might be a way to keep the door open.

Parents whose children express a desire to reconnect may be fearful of potential pain and uncertain about trusting their adult child. Considering the circumstances, those feelings are normal. Only you can decide whether you’re open to connect, and as discussed in my book, what boundaries this connection might involve. Its included questions and reflection points can help you define what successful reconciliation might actually look like and entail, as well as whether you and your son or daughter can agree on how reconciliation is defined. There might be work to do on both sides, and it’s important that everyone’s intentions match (or can be negotiated).

Is a good relationship possible?

Some will see this article as a dreary view of the potential to reconcile. But it does happen. Maybe with time and life experience, adult children who reject parents later realize how quickly the years slip by, and want a good relationship before it’s too late.

Some of those who have shared their recent successes didn’t share the details. Those who did admitted to feeling vulnerable. Despite treading gingerly forward, as one parent put it, “in a relationship with thorns,” they’re also hopeful and glad to have the chance. It is absolutely true that some adult children who reject parents do want to reconcile. They may be sorry and truly want to make amends.

Recently, an estranged adult child commented about reconciling at my blog. “R” said:

Allow me to apologize on behalf of all us adult children who rejected our parents. I was broken in ways I did not know and walked into an unhealthy relationship, where my partner introduced me to drugs, abused and isolated me. My parents are spiritual people who could never condone bad lifestyle choices. I was the apple of my father’s eye, but I rejected him for someone who would eventually ruin me. When my life came crashing down, I found my way home, even though I had chosen to share very little of my life with them in the previous two years. It was difficult at first. I’ve been home for three months, and the last few weeks have truly been amazing. God restored my family and we are happier than we’ve ever been. I’m still finding my feet, but I would not be able to if it weren’t for their forgiveness and patience. I pray your children may find their way back home to you. God bless.

Obviously, the words here are only a slice of this individual’s life, but some parents may recognize parts of their own estranged son or daughter in what is said—about an influential adversary, personal brokenness, or substance abuse. Or maybe they recognize elements of themselves, their relationship with their adult children, or the patience and forgiveness this adult child expresses thanks for.

Only you can decide what’s best for you in your situation. I hope this article, as well as this adult child’s comment will help you recognize the intent behind any contact your estranged adult son or daughter might make.

Help with my research—and help others

If you do reconcile, I hope that you will share the experience—its difficulties, as well as joy. If you have reconciled, please fill in  the short survey. Please note, THIS survey is for those who have reconciled with previously estranged adult children (see below for one on estrangement). I hope to use any information gained from survey respondents’ answers to provide more information about the possibility of reconciling with estranged adult children.

If you’re NOT reconciled, consider taking my survey for parents of estranged adult children. More than 9,000 responses to the survey, plus personal interviews with many of the parents, were utilized in connection with my book. Since the book’s release, thousands more have responded.

Copyright Notice: All content of any post or page found on any page at this site is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. To share with others, provide a link to the page on this website where the content is found. Reposting of any content is not permitted without express permission. Please see Copyright Notice/Restrictions in the right-hand sidebar for complete copyright notice. You can always contact me with any questions.


Join the newsletter

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

18 thoughts on “Adult children who reject parents: Why do they make contact now?

  1. Nora M.

    I made the mistake of allowing my daughter back into my life after she apologized for her behavior. I sent boundaries–namely that she is not to interfere in my life. But, I made a mistake. Once a scorpion–always a scorpion. I should have just gone with my gut instinct that told me to stay well away. So, even though our circumstances may all differ–my advice is to always go with your gut feelings.

  2. Brian

    I am the father of an estranged son. My son is the survivor of divorce. He is also the child who survived his mom walking out of his life and into another without him. Considering his age and the atmosphere surrounding his situation all events I have shouldered for the 40 years of his life. Out of sight, still in the heart. My steps are beside him even if he does not know it. His actions and attitudes towards me are crippling. My son shut down on me at 5 years of age. Did the routine stuff of counseling, to no avail. He was unable to verbalize his pain. So, he tormented the school system to the point of being expelled from not one but 3 schools. My anguish rose with each event. What am I going to do now. How will I overcome this and help him? Again, each corner turned only opened another wound. He was in pain, and I was his target for relief, Understandable. Eventually, he took up a relationship with a young lady. She too was a mess. A new dynamic to an old problem. We had a falling out, he raised his hand to me, and I hit back. Enough I said. Then silence for 20 more years. The other day, some 35 years since his mom walked away, he says I talked to my mom the other day. Great now you can resolve your pain. In an effort to do so he says, mom said you stole me from her. The reason she never came around. Nice, more pain is heaped onto the old dusty past and I am setting here in the middle of the night unable to sleep because he laid yet another lie at my feet. With the victim being him and now his mother. I know right from wrong. I know what he feels is wrong and I also know that no matter what is said or done nothing will fix the past. The reason my choice is for him to stay away. At some point, my life is less about being the wooden statue in the corner taking blame for others past as though my existence was a direct cause of their issues and more about finding silence within the storm. I am like Sisyphus and my son is the proverbial stone. In this darkness I have chosen to step aside and allow the stone to roll on without my interaction with it. Healthy for me and hopefully, with his mother involved, healing for him.

  3. Elizabeth

    I googled “estranged children who come back and then disappear again” and happened upon this website/forum. I’m so thankful for it! Each of you sharing your experiences helps me FINALLY feel not so alone, and reading something where someone else put my feelings to words has helped me considerably. My ED wrote me a 6 page awful letter full of hatred and anger and twisted truths – we had a horrible experience together with an abusive relationship that I involved us in when she and her siblings were young, so I could understand the hatred and anger and was glad to see her finally let these things out. I had not heard anything from her for 11 months, and just last week Thursday I received a text out-of-the-blue of her apologizing and hoping I still love her. I told her I forgive her, and that I have missed her and look forward to working on the relationship, but when we were to meet this morning for breakfast for a first time meeting since last year, she said she had things to do around the house and would I mind if we wait until sometime next week. As people on the receiving end of this, we need to read between the lines and see she was feeling hesitant about meeting up and working through anything. I told her to let me know when she was ready and that we would try to make it work then. I told her I love her, and that I’ll keep praying for her, and that if she thinks of me to say a prayer for me. I hope she finds peace in her heart one day; I’ve healed enough that I no longer desire the emotional roller coaster to “prove my love” as her mother.

    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Elizabeth,

      I’m glad you stumbled upon my website! Yes, the ups and downs, ins and outs, can definitely become a pattern in these estrangements. Sounds like you have stepped off the roller coaster (good for you to feel at peace).

      For those reading, I hope you will subscribe to the free newsletter (form at the bottom of the page), which goes out about once per month. It’ll keep you updated to new information here at the site, resources, etc.

      HUGS to you,
      Sheri McGregor

    2. Workingonme

      Wow….so nice to read a message from a newcomer who is “kinda” on an upswing in their estranged relationship. I wish you all the best….be patient….keep praying….God be with you

  4. Beth

    Compared with a lot of the parents on here I’m still in relatively early days with my ES. We have not spoken since September 2021, when my husband (ES father) and I attended a family gathering where he and his wife also attended. We had already been ‘instructed’ not to approach them, meaning I and my husband had a pretty miserable time feeling ostracised. Now my younger daughter has once again said to me that I should phone him, even though his attitude to me and any conversation over 2021 at least was so disrespectful. I asked my daughter “have you said the same thing to him”, but she could not answer, which I take to mean that he is waiting for me to put things right. But the place I am in right now means he’s likely to have a long wait. I do miss him because he is my son and I love him but I don’t miss the abusive way he and his wife have treated me, they never expected me to stand up to them after all the years of ‘putting up and shutting up’ but I’m not doing that anymore. I wish I could offer more words of advice but to all newcomers to this site I would say you have found perhaps the one place where your voice will be heard and understood.

  5. Kerry A.

    Hello there too all that read this!
    Here a short pre too my estranged children..let’s see over a decade it’s been now and over the last 5 years..I was doing well at capartmentalizing!!..I was not thrilled about the situation with the kids..
    I was ,I thought ok..then bang!!
    My son had sent a request on FB and I will say this..I wasn’t happy !!!why?? ask?!
    I was cordual at first,..he did not disappoint!!
    Sent my cell num at his request..I replied too pls. Call me not texting an essay.!!!!too much time has gone by and I don’t know them!!he told me that he was just reaching out and wanted me too know about his daughter?! which I replied..I had know of her since she was born..he stated he would call me but not now..he can take the time too text me for ten minutes..can’t call?!
    I’ll admit I was fuming!!
    So,in written response was simply..he stated the reaching out and he replied at the short end..his sister and himself are the victims here!!I believe I was also told not too play the victim, just reaching out!!thought you would like to know about my grandchild?! Then cut me off, his greenlight disappeared and my daughter who was always on my FB even tho we didn’t speak!!by God,that green light went out too?!!!
    What a bleeping shock!!
    I struggle every Dame day but this !!is simply too much!!I was fine..doing ok without that in my life and like 2 dropped shoes!!!it has been a ruining of my mental strain and I’m not doing this again!!
    I will not have my grandchildren used as pawns on a chessboard!!i
    My biggest fear,is that!!
    So,this story as it stands today..may not be a happy ending!! very intuned too not just body can’t see them at the end of a text!!
    I’m not even sure anymore myself!!
    I know by all that many say..I’m not going too be a sounding board for this version of the truth!!
    I feel like all the time it took me too try and get through to where I Was ..has crashed and I’m left picking up my own pieces!!
    I wish sometimes..I never had them!!
    Thanks for listening..good luck too all !!

  6. Janet

    Nancylynn and Sophia,
    I understand the hesitancy. After six months of not seeing my daughter or my two grandchildren, she sends an invite to come over (70 miles) and they will take me out to eat and celebrate a belated birthday of mine. She also mentioned that she wants me to talk about where I am with everything. That is a loaded statement. Our last time together she said horrible things to me, treating me so disrespectful, blamed me for anything she could think of from birth to present. I have treated her with gifts of the spirit and never raised my voice. I felt like I had been run over by a bus.
    So I am gun shy about being with her and don’t want to to blow up at me in front of her children and fiance. I told her I would love to come over, but I don’t want to bring up what tore us apart. She is estranged from her sister and expects me to join her in that estrangement and I will not! Regardless of their relationship, I want to have a relationship with both my daughters and grandchildren.
    I asked her to respect my wishes on that and if she still wants me to come, I will.
    Did I respond appropriately? I can’t stand all the drama and she loves drama.

  7. Barb

    Dear Nancy Lynn, I can relate to this, I had one of my sons tell me how he hated his teen- age years living in our home, and he could feel in his bones how I hated him, he said alot of other horrible things too but those are the highlights, we like you did so much for this kid and his family i wouldn’t know where to start, we feel he no longer needs us, but will stop over maybe once every few months, here’s the thing I don’t trust it, I feel worse when he leaves (we aren’t welcome in his home) but we keep taking the so called crumbs, I feel I’m not the same loving fun Grandma I use to be, my husband uses the term calloused and that’s what has happened with us,!! Good luck with your decisions

    1. Carrie-Ann

      In reply to Barb’s comment: You say “…my husband uses the term calloused and that’s what has happened with us…!! Maybe you’re seeing the situation/reality for what it really is…You say “…we keep taking the so called crumbs, I feel I’m not the same loving fun Grandma I used to be…” Maybe the realization and the facing of this reality cannot be “reconciled with, or experienced as a “loving fun Grandma.” That being said, Thank God for callouses…if they protect us from the harshness, coldness, loneliness, of this situation…Callouses can be good…Keep safe boundaries…I am so very thankful, Barb, for your sharing you and your husband’s experience…May you both be Blessed with Radical Acceptance, Peace, & Joy…In Gratitude for Beautiful Sheri, this Haven of a Website, and All Who Open Their Hearts…It brings great comfort to me and provides a soft-place to fall…

    1. HasToStop

      I am 72 and 1st read Khalil Gibran when I was 14. I still have the original book plus a pocket sized version.
      The On Children verses have carried me through many long, difficult years. Truly, my ED, was never actually mine to possess. I did my best to teach empathy, kindness, honesty and integrity. I gave her the tools but it was her choice which path to take.
      Thanks for your post . I believe another journey through those beautiful verses is in order.
      PEACE, Sue H

    2. Elizabeth

      My only child, my daughter uninvited me from her wedding 10 years ago (she was 40 years old) saying I had abused her during her childhood. She married a wealthy doctor who has since divorced her. The truth is she was never abused by either me or her father, always lovingly cared for and perhaps spoiled as she was the only child. I am a quiet, kind and very presentably mother. She strangely invited my alcoholic, unreliable sister to the wedding who sort of stood in as a mother figure. Suddenly, after the death of my 2 sisters, my daughter called me on the phone talking for hours with no mention of why she humiliated and hurt me in front of the entire family by not wanting me at her wedding and cutting me out of her life. I listened, did not mention the wedding and now she calls me on occasion to update me on her fabulous life happenings I never initiate a phone call. She has suggested I visit her and wants to pay for the ticket for me to fly across the country to her home. I am actually afraid of her now and would be uncomfortable staying with her. If she had called and apologized about the wedding with some sort of reason why she did that, perhaps I would feel differently about her reconnect. Her reconnect has caused me to contact my lawyer to make certain she is not included in my will. I have no plans to die anytime soon anyway!!

  8. Nancylynn

    This is a helpful article. After 7 years of silence and not knowing if I’d ever see my son again or his children. I can’t say grandchildren because I don’t know them, never was allowed any contact. I let my son and the family go for my own heart. I couldn’t chew on the rejection anymore. No one in the family received any reason, so how could I help repair the relationship without cause and understanding?
    We believe his wife just hates me..she’s never said why or what I did. Apparently he had to choose between us. So all I could do is pray for them to be happy.
    Anyway, I received a card from my son wanting to “turn the corner” , I replied with guarded hope and asking if I can trust him.The second card thanked me for how I extended grace to him , his children will met me and told me about the children. We live in a different state. He said I can trust him. I can’t seem to write back. I feel it opening a wound and tears start again, I don’t think I can trust him especially since I don’t know what caused the silence to begin with. 7 years of no relationship, nothing when his children were born, now what am I supposed to say. I don’t want to know what I missed, it’s too heartbreaking.
    I’m bad at small talk. I want him to know how painful it is to have a child reject you.
    How can I move on with him and act like it never happened? What does this reconciliation look like?
    He is a stranger but he is my son..
    Guarded, hope? Advice?

    1. Sophia

      I think you’re wise to withhold trust until your questions receive answers. I would feel the same.

      Since you live out of state, if you want to, maybe start with a 10 minute call? See how that feels. Then maybe another call in a few weeks. You must be comfortable with your own feelings.

      I had a sibling who cut off everyone and took my nephew with her. She reached out by text after 10 years of silence. No apology, just trying to pick up like it was nothing. Hardest thing to do was to walk away for good. But I could not risk yet another painful estrangement.

      And that’s how it is with our adult children. Cutting a parent off without ever offering a reason or opportunity to work things out, in my book, is atrocious behavior. Nothing is ever the same.

      Hugs to you in whatever way you proceed!

    2. Barb

      Dear Nancy Lynn after thinking about this, maybe with your grandchildren growing up he’s afraid of the example he has shown to his children and he fears they could turn on him as well, I believe the term is Karma! Anyway I would pray for courage and meet with them, but I wouldn’t set high standards to protect myself from further heartache!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *