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, tangle
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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My second husband’s adult daughter came to our wedding but did not speak to us. This was after a year of being incredibly upset we would be getting married in the first place. Now she has not spoken to us for 6 months. My son rarely communicates with me, his father, or adult sister. He is the father of my only grandchild. Two different situations, one targeted and one who just hates everyone but both hurt. I truly believe that my husband and I are both good parents. Adult children make their own decisions. I have come to acceptance but my new husband has not. It nearly destroyed our new marriage. Finally after counseling and medication for him, things are starting to get better. It is a deep and painful subject. If I would share this with someone, I feel they would judge us as bad parents or that we did something wrong.
I understand and I’m having a kind of experience like you all are. It hasn’t hit me yet. It just happened in September, for her birthday. That daughter has been distant since going to college several years back. When she got married she told me to wear a dress that didn’t match the wedding party. My ex is included in everything. He would not adopt my kids but brags about them and doesn’t mention his own children. I have been asking what the problem is and asking to talk about it. Never a word back. I asked for forgiveness for things i don’t realize happened. I asked repeatedly. I apologized anything and all things but to no avail. I do not think having offered apology worked. I have not met my grandson. I tried to find out why. I apologized so much , i feel awful but satisfied that i was apologetic over i dont know what. I have remorse and am empathetic. I did what i could do. I am used to being ignored and not prioritized though. Ive tried. Its been inching closer and closer, i could feel it. And now, nothing.
Donna, I can relate to your efforts and the not knowing why the estrangement, seemingly out of the blue. Two of my daughters are estranged from us and some days the pain seems overwhelming. I find myself continuing to try reaching out, sending cards, gifts, email, texts which go mostly ignored. I wish I knew what to say or some way to encourage. This is a fairly new (within the past year) occurrence for us too. I need to get the “Done With the Crying” Book I guess, and start from there. I think the hardest part for me is the not knowing. All I was told is a psychologist told one of my daughters that we tried to make her “the golden child”. I don’t even understand that term, much less how to deal with it.
Thank you, Sherie for giving your thoughts on the post. I have always been sensitive as a survivor of crime and abuse. Maybe others are less sensitive than I am and interpreted the post as you did. PTSD is difficult to deal with as a survivor, I wanted to speak out for others who may have similar struggles with it as I do. Peace to everyone needing a safe place to go, free from violence.
This is a response to Mabel’s post on Sept. 5th regarding mother’s killing their children, Karma and son’s killing their father, etc. I personally found this post upsetting. It’s tough to be going through being estranged from our children. Mentioning violence and karma isn’t helpful to those of us who have children who are struggling with childhood abuse and instability issues because of it, and those of us dealing with domestic abuse. Please be considerate when posting. Thank you.
This comment was unsettling to me as well. However, after mulling its content, it struck me as a good example of the callous responses parents sometimes get when they bare their pain to someone as this mother did. I think parents are better prepared to deal with some of the hurtful responses when they hear extreme ones such as this (which are rarely communicatedhere). Additionally, there are some parents who may find the concept of an overarching karma such as was mentioned of comfort, as if something bigger is going on.
The mention of violence is rare here and will continue to be. I fully understand your sensitivity and appreciate your thoughts.
Hugs to you and everyone. Take kind care of yourselves.
I do not know your individual circumstances but I would definitely leave the majority of your estate if not all to the grandkids that love and are there for you ❤️
I’m estranged from my daughter because of mental illness. She has a 6 year old daughter and they lived with my husband and me for the first 5 years of her life. My daughter’s condition has deteriorated to the point of being intolerable, it was like living in a war zone. Brief periods of quiet punctuated by loud skirmishes. This wasn’t good for my granddaughter. She claims all her mental problems have been caused by us. That we called her stupid when she was growing up and always tried to “keep her down.” This is news to me since we were always her biggest cheer section and tried to encourage her to try new things. From music lessons to summer camp to teaching her to handle money. We were not perfect parents and we made mistakes but I remember getting up every day and trying to be a better mom than the day before. I also remember that it was almost impossible to get her to see and understand how her own action and choices affected her life. From an early age everything was someone else’s fault.
We finally kicked her out of the house a few months ago, (by the way we gave her a car when she moved out, lol who’s crazy?)
A few months ago we rewrote our will the following way. House to be sold, debts paid off. We have some investments and 401k and a 529 account. 50% goes to our son. We made a bequest to my younger sister who needs the money. Our other sibs on both sides are well off. We left our daughter 50k I like insurance, and the balance goes into a trust (not Kennedy money trust me!) for my granddaughters future education and any special needs, ie: medical. My son is the trustee.
I thought about this long and hard. In my case my daughter is ill, not evil. I wanted my last act to her to be one of love and kindness. I understand the I’ll show you desire because we had it!! In the end it comes down to your core beliefs about the estrangement and how you want to be remembered.
Thank you all for sharing your stories. Peace to all of us and to our misguided children.
I did want to completely disinherit
Dear Steph Q.,
What you’ve done is loving and thoughtful. I’m glad you found a way to feel at peace about it.
I want to say one thing, and this is in no way an argument. In the end, it is about our peace and you mentioned ‘how we want to be remembered.” That is what “we” want, and we cannot control that in the inheritors. They will or won’t remember us how “we” want them to … whether we leave them something or not.
If they want to remember you badly, they will say the money was you controlling them from the grave, that it wasn’t enough, or whatever.
This does not and would not detract from your intention. Your loving kindness will be what it is regardless of interpretation. A gift giver knows why they give and cannot control the receiver’s judgment of the gift. Still, we make peace with our decisions about what we leave and to whom … for ourselves, as you have.
My 29 year old son threw me out of his life on December 10, 2020. Since then he & his wife have had my first grandchild, a son named Xx. He’s now 9 months old and if I’m lucky I’ll occasionally get to see a photo of my son, daughter-in-law and grandson on Facebook. I’m still unsure why these events have happened and I cry myself to sleep every night, tossing and turning, wondering what words or actions will bring him back. I’m 63 and have been divorced from his mom since he was 6 but sacrificed everything to remain a supportive and helpful father in his life. I’m a broken man. 2 weeks ago my next to oldest brother killed himself largely in part to estrangement from his 3 children. TBH, he beat me to it. In the aftermath of this catastrophic event I can see now that this has done him no good. I’m jealous. As I read some of the previous posts I could identify with a few, but “you’re not alone”, is not a solution to the volume of mental anguish and self-hate I feel about myself. Even my ex-wife is hurting for me over it. She’s completely supportive. There’s much more to say but what’s the point? If you added up all the pain, sorrow and tears this so overpowers the cumulative effect of all the worst things to the millionth power I’m just an old bag of bones slowly dying externally day by day because whatever love I’ve ever experienced is completely obliterated. And There’s nothing I can do about it, which makes it a gazillion times worse than that.
I’m sorry you’re enduring this horrible loss, and I’m really sad to learn of your brother’s death too. Your feelings are understandable and many parents can relate. You are correct that knowing you’re not alone isn’t enough. I hope you will consider that and choose to fight forward for yourself. You have lits of integrity to have worked hard to be a good, supportive dad. Now is the time to give yourself support … even outside support. Your loss is profound and I know that many will relate. But things really can get better. You can work at that for yourself. Take charge of your ife in a new way and cope as the article discusses. Because of your words here, it’s necessary to refer you to a page here at the site with crisis information. I’m sure there are more local services too,but this is a start. Don’t hesitate to access help. This website doesn’t function as a crisis one, and isn’t monitored 24/7. Here is the page with links: https://www.rejectedparents.net/about-helping-parents-of-estranged-adult-children/crisis-info/
Please take kind care of yourself.
Dear Scott, I have read your letter several times. I do know exactly how you feel. I have two estranged grown children. My estrangement has been nearly 5 years now. I want to help you . The pain can’t really be adequately said in words. I have survived this knowing the truth which is children’s hearts have grown cold. If our children loved us as much as we love them these estrangement would not happen. Hang in there Scott. In time the pain eases some. There will always be days that you feel the pain more than other days. I am praying for you and know that truly you are not alone in this battle. Sending sincere wishes you will endure this and survive and thrive. God bless you.
Dear Scott…your story is similar to ours with regard to length of estrangement and age of yourself and your dear son. Even the 9 month old grandson applies. I know the sleepless nights well but am grateful to have conquered those about 6 months ago. You obviously have other significant tragedies you are dealing with as you additionally mourn the loss of your brother. I am praying for you and hoping you can slowly reclaim peace in your life. Be strong, seek help, reach out, don’t let these circumstances destroy you.
I know exactly how Scott feels. I feel the same way sometimes. I think the hardest part is that this grieving is like grieving a death, but worse because our kids, who we did EVERYTHING for, have CHOSEN to put us through this. They live their life and enjoy their kids that we waited for, looking forward to the years we would become a grandparent. I have two grandsons, 5 and 3 that I never got to have a relationship with. I was an excellent mom, not perfect, but did everything I possibly could for both my son and daughter. I ALWAYS put them before me. The truth came out that my kids lied to me about other’s harming them when they were children, I knew NOTHING about. When our kids shut us out, instead of turning to us for support, it is NOT our fault! It is disrespectful to us as parents and VERY hard to fathom.
HA, the power of an abuser. I had a completely different perception of our relationship. Both my kids chose to estrange from me, as soon as I was informed about their truth, and are hiding from me now.
Scott, there could be reasons that you don’t know about that have NOTHING to do with you or anything you did. THE TRUTH IS WHAT IS REAL, NOT THE WAY YOU ARE BEING TREATED! If you know you did right by your child, let that be your solace and peace. Practice affirmations daily. I will pray for your peace, please do not give up or give in. Fight for your truth and stand up to those who are emotionally abusing you. Say NO to abuse, even if the abuse is being imposed by your own child.
I am very sorry for the loss of your brother. I can empathize with you, as many here can, on the other loss you’re dealing with, whiich is losing your own adult son.
My only child, my daughter, just had her first baby and the pain is doubled when your child’s child is also in the mix.
I reallly don’t know what else to say other than there’s no shame in shedding tears over the hurt our children cause. I did not know there are so many going through the same heartache and I’m glad I found this site to share our common pain.
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
hello, everyone Yesterday I asked a friend telling him about my pain with which I wake up every morning. It’s not because getting up is the darkest and saddest moment. His answer struck me as true. To my question, how could this happen if I always gave everything to my son. He answered me .. there are also mothers who kill their children. In this life it’s your turn for a son to kill a father. You should live with that karna…it’s hard on me…I suffer without support from my husband…very sad ..I thank God for this forum.
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.
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
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!!!
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. “
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.
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.
Love this. Awesome. I wish we could hear from you more. Thanks for the uplift.
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 ..
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.
I am estranged from my adult daughter, age 42. I consider myself a great mom, perfect no. My children had a great childhood. After my daughter got married she started shunning all the family including her brother and family, I vowed I never wanted to be estranged from my children, and never thought my children would distant themselves from me. I have gone to counseling on two occasions, and have asked my daughter to join me, which she refused. She makes up things as to why she wants anything to do with me. She tells people I’m a narcissist or “ Mommy Dearest”, which I have no idea why she would say that. I’ve now have decided to focus on people, like my son and family, friends, etc instead of using my energy focusing on my daughter. She claims she needs to move on so I’m giving her her space. I don’t write or call. I do send monetary gifts to my granddaughter that I don’t see or hear from. I recently changed my will, and leaving the most part to my son, and a small part to all the grandchildren, even the one I’m not allowed to see. I still have bad days, but the most part I’m better. I can’t fix the problem. So to help with the stress I’ve given the problem to GOD.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.