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

adult children no longer talk to you

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

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

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

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

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

Synonyms for cope

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

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

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

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

 Successful participation: confront, handle, dispatch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Ronald

    It’s being two years my adult son stopped talking to me. Everything started in the middle of the Covid pandemic, but problem has its roots from couple years back. Never saw coming. My wife -me got divorced , separated first. Recently , he said to me ‘ I dont need you inside the house everytime you come to bring something’ …I can see ‘ is not a matter of time’ like the psicologhist said. I wish I can forget everything and start over. I believe I overcame the situation, but I am so far , lost from it overcome it. I am fine now , i got so sad at sunset

  2. Kate

    Leave your estate to people who care about you or as in my case, I am leaving my stuff to a charity that I love. I changed my will a few years ago. In my opinion, those who don’t care about us deserve absolutely nothing.

    1. Jerrie C.

      I have done the same with my will. Three family members are allowed to pick 1 item of family heirlooms. Every thing most be sold and all debts paid off. If there is money remaining it goes to my favorite animal rescue group.
      If I’m not good enough to talk with while I’m alive then you will be faced with the consequences upon my passing

  3. Deborah S.

    Yes. Sheri…thank you for the words to define cope…see how I am progressing from struggling and battling to suffering and just living with the rejection from my youngest son now 26 yrs old….as you point out, C. is no longer the child that I miss so dearly…I might not even know him now but will always love him as my son… Hope to progress to confronting this reality and dispatching the pain, getting on with my own life as I am sure he is!!!

  4. DS

    Most days are good, I have another son & grandchildren who adore me. But Mother’s Day is hard, that’s tomorrow. I doubt I’ll hear from my youngest son, but I keep telling myself “his loss, his loss. He’s missing out on a relationship with a loving mother. Not perfect, but loving. “

  5. Blake


    The estrangement has been ten years from my three adult children. Life is getting better and better. About 2.5 years ago I realized that my heart is broken over children that are no longer children. All of them are in their upper 20’s now and it came to me that they are grown adults. For me it just hit me, why am I in misery? They are not children they are adults. The “children” I miss so badly are not “alive.” Those children that I miss are grown adults and are different. I decided to live for me. So I started a business that is thankfully now cash flowing. Business has always been fun for me. This time I’m in the blue collar space and it gives me an opportunity to share life skills with younger men. I’m told that I’m the best boss these young men have ever had. Life moves forward. I find I almost never experience deep upset. It’s perhaps one day every two months and then I find I’m letting myself get upset. I ask myself what I’m doing and what I’m getting out of being upset. That seems to do the trick. I’m very happy that I had the experience of being a loving father. I got to experience that and now I accept that it’s a complete experience for me. Oddly, I do have a funny feeling that in 20 years I’ll have grandchildren that seek me out and that we will have great conversations. Of course, I’ll be 82 at that time but it’s fine because I’m living to 100. Chin up everyone! This estrangement nonsense can be beat and it can be in the rear view mirror.

    1. Southern_Writer

      I love your upbeat attitude! You have faced reality and overcome. I’m with you! I now call my two older adult children my step children. Genetics from their father rules them- he is a narcissistic person that abandoned us in pursuit of a worldly lifestyle. I sacrificed greatly (with no contact or one cent from him) to raise these kids. I gave them too much of everything and they took it as their rightful dues. They’re not my kids-anymore. I did my job.
      I’d like to be your friend- I feel we are on the same page.
      Thank you for your post.

  6. Teresa

    Even though it is heartbreaking to read the pain everyone is going through, each entry describes almost exactly what I am going through as well. I thought it was only me for so long! I have found out about many horrific secrets kept from me throughout my kids lives, which they now blame me for. They know me better than that!! I’m a mamabear if my kids are harmed, but couldn’t protect them when I did not know the truth. It is other’s fear and guilt that instills fear in them so they will keep ‘quiet’. Also as punishment for leaving my abusive husband (this all started the day I left him over 9 years ago). Seems there is an ‘Alternate society’ that believes in harming children and cheating on your spouse, I never knew about it. They do the Bible commandments ‘backward’ , (i.e. thou shalt DISHONOR thy parents) and has gone viral via social media.
    I take solace in, there wasn’t a day I did not put them first, in every single way. I wish I had had a mom like me.
    Peace to us all ..

  7. Jill J.

    Am sorry for y/our shared plight. I have experienced same with my daughter as you. It’s as if they have lost the ability to reason, and make up stuff to say that just cuts through you….and yes, they want only to text or email these things. But mine was definitely not original, as I hear these children doing/saying almost exactly the same things.
    God bless. My heart goes out to you, along with prayers.
    I have found that since I have taken up few hobbies, one being learning the harp, I feel my life moving in a positive direction. For a while I could not move forward at all…was just kind of in a funk. But as in all grief, we overcome it in stages.

    Jill J.

  8. b denver

    I’ll pray for you Millie. You are deserving of the Lord’s love and respect from your children. Unfortunately, we can’t control how other people think even it’s our own flesh and bonehead of a child. Let life be!

  9. Millie H.

    The Easter has been really difficult for me. My eldest, a son who meant everything to me moved many years ago and chooses not to include me in his life. My eldest daughter, has done the same and sadly she has a daughter, whose life I have totally missed out on. The youngest turned 40 a couple of years ago and for many many years we were as close as two people could be. Her father gave her all the toys and I gave her all the love. He and I had split, divorced not amicably, and he bad mouthed me to her at every opportunity. I am remarried for the last time (3) and when the youngest daughter we felt that we were not good enough for her social circle. Although we didn’t tell her how we felt it just got worse over the years and I always felt like I was walking on egg shells with her. Last November, when we were talking on the phone she suddenly started lashing out, swearing, saying I don’t defend her against me stepchildren and that I am a too negative influence in her life. I am ill with end stage copd and along this path she has wanted to be updated but has only gone to 2 appointments with me. She has no idea what is going on with my body because when I do update her on a situation, she gets mad and says that’s all I even talk about. We don’t talk that often and even then she wants to text only which I do not like not do I do it well. Thanks to your books, I have given up trying. I know I did the very best that I could for each of them and they have made their own choices. That is not to say that my heart is broken and I grieve every day for what should have been but isn’t. I honestly look forward to the day this disease takes me away.

    1. b denver

      I’ll pray for you Millie. You are deserving of the Lord’s love and respect from your children. Unfortunately, we can’t control how other people think even it’s our own flesh and bonehead of a child. Let life be!

  10. Marlene E.

    Thank you for your news letters. I haven’t heard from my daughter in over 26 yrs. My ex husband turned her against me. She moved out of state and half way across the country. She told me not to try to contact her. She has posted nasty things on Instagram about me that aren’t true. To this day, I still do not know what I did wrong. Yes, I hurt every day. And I have no one to look after me, when the time comes. Why don’t we have more affordable senior housing with washers and dryers and everything on one floor? But, I have learned to move on and take care of me. The rest is in God’s hands and not mine.

  11. Sandra A.

    So our daughter hasn’t spoke to us since November. I have waited to see if she would call or text. She hasn’t. I called her last Sunday. She called me back and unfortunately I missed the call. I have texted her and called and left messages, saying we need to talk and asked her if she is coming for Easter. No response since the missed call. This is affecting me , my husband is done.
    I’m heart broken. I would like to know what is going on and why she won’t talk to us. Maybe I’m wrong , but as her mother the pain goes deep.

  12. Maureen B.

    I recently read that parenting was about doing one thing wrong or perceived wrong. It was in a novel and it explained that no one goes to counseling because their mother helped get them into college financially and otherwise; or had to work 3 jobs when the kids were with their father to keep a roof over their heads or stayed with their adult daughter when she had children of her own for 6 weeks and did everything, washing, ironing, cooking, taking care of the baby. ( These are all examples from my life with my daughters) But do one thing, like take their picture at the bus stop 1st day of school, or bring her favorite roses (purple) for 8th grade honor society and be told that I embarrassed her, and these are the things adult children seek counseling for.

    That opened my eyes to how perception is not under my control.

  13. Ruthie Lee

    Good morning, Sheri: A Happy Valentines to you. I’m so thankful to be on your blog. I am having a happy day because I choose NOT TO BE A VICTIM OF THEIR POOR, SELFISH CHOICES. Yesterday one of our daughters turned 39 I texted her very kindly and she texted back all about her. She didn’t even ask how her dad (with stage 4) cancer was. Nor did she ask about me. She has been off and on our radar for years. A huge mystery. She’s not married, out of a job but getting unemployment and seems quite happy living in a townhouse with two roommates. My other daughter who will be 48 end of this month not in contact 30 yrs. She has married and has children. I took Valentines to my son, age 51, yesterday and he’s never married just had a couple dating relationships but turning into a complete selfish hermit. I know he hurts from abuse of his father who is out of contact with him for years now but he just won’t be open to counseling or seeking help. His buddies have all moved on to having a life with girlfriend or married and children, but he just sits in his dark living room with t.v. if not at work. He even started working night shift to not be in contact much with public. Just breaks my heart but these kids were raised with spiritual values. And yes, I did fail them in some instances, such as not knowing about unconditional love and having way too high expectations of them (like I was raised), but I certainly tried! Especially when their dad divorced me after 17 years. I am now happily married33 yrs. but it’s hard to believe these once kind, caring people are so self-centered. I honored my parents and helped them so much. Now we are vulnerable because in our 70’s we have no “kids” having our backs. Just hurt for them that they are so narcissistic. . All about them. I know it’ll be way worse when my husband dies, because at our age we are losing a lot of friends too to death or moving out of state to be with their kids, etc. So I take one day at a time, pray for them, and thank GOD for our church family! I have one sister and so does husband, but they are no help either. Just so short a life for kids to act so selfish. I wonder the regrets they’ll have later in life?? THANKS FOR ALL YOUR HELP!!! SO APPRECIATED!!!

    1. Karen

      I am estranged from my two adult children but very close with my adult grandchildren. I wonder how I should deal with my estate. Do my adult children who do not want me in their life deserve it, or should my grandchildren who love and support me deserve it. I would appreciate any insight into how people have dealt with this.

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