Adult child’s rejection: Asking why?

Help for parents of estranged adult children
An adult child’s rejection: Asking why?

adult child's rejectionAn adult child’s rejection is momentous. So it’s natural to ask: Why? Unfortunately, parents may not have a clear answer. The child may offer nonsensical reasons, or cut parents off in a sudden, bewildering manner.

Speculating on why? has helped me, but can frustrate those around me. Yesterday, an idea struck about how my encouraging my son’s interests might have played into the eventual estrangement.

When I voiced my thoughts, a friend stopped me. “Will you ever stop beating yourself up over this?” she asked.

She meant well, but didn’t understand that I was not beating myself up. She also doesn’t fully understand the depth of hurt and confusion that go with an adult child’s rejection. And she wants me to stop – – stop wondering why, stop hurting myself with the questions, and stop talking about it. She hates that I have been hurt.

Beating yourself up after an adult child’s rejection

I no longer talk about my estranged son every day, but now, nearly three years after the break, I still think of him daily–partially because of running this site. I’m no longer beating myself up with blame, but I still don’t understand. I’ve examined my son’s childhood, and have compared how he was raised to how my other four children were treated, which was about the same. So why did he leave? And why does the rest of the family remain so close? For the most part, I’ve made peace with the uncertainty. But from-time-to-time, the questioning returns. Asking is normal.

Some experts believe that asking “why?” is counterproductive to recovery after emotional distress. In my experience, asking leads to partial answers that help me move forward. Even bits of clarity help my mind to rest, if not forever, at least for a little while.

Research reported in the Journal of Social Psychological & Personality Science in 2013, found that clarity about the cause of a traumatic event helped study participants feel more certain. Certainty helps defuse negative emotions. After an adult child’s rejection, examining events and memories that occurred throughout the years may offer a big picture view, as well as provide some distance – – both of which the study found helpful.

Some examples of how answers can help:

Concluding that an adult daughter’s rejection stemmed from drug use helps a mother realize: My daughter’s drug use is out of my control. The realization allows her to begin to release the pain of the gaping wound from her adult child’s rejection. Though still disappointed and hurting, she can rest with that reason, and move on with other relationships and in her life. This wasn’t her fault.

Even parents who conclude their actions contributed to their adult child’s rejection can find a settling point in the answer. Parents may identify how family strife or tragic events hampered communication at a vulnerable time in their child’s development. Okay, so I was preoccupied with this other horrible hurting, and my child felt alone at the time. Empathy gleaned by stepping into the child’s shoes can promote acceptance and peace after an adult child’s rejection. All parents make mistakes. Looking for, and finding potential answers may eventually lead to conversation that opens an adult child’s heart – – if not now, perhaps in the future. For the moment, a parent has at least some answer on which to lean.

A mother who recognizes a starting point that eventually led to her adult child’s rejection has the beginnings of an answer. That girlfriend didn’t want to share my son. Or: That boyfriend’s family swept my daughter off her feet and turned her against me. Other questions may follow, but a small piece to the puzzle can allow a mom to feel settled – – for a day, for a week, for a month….

Perhaps most helpful is accepting that there’s no real answer. This doesn’t make sense becomes a placeholder, a pausing point that provides peace (or can later be returned to and picked up again).

An adult child’s rejection: Why? The universal question

Unique scenarios involving an adult child’s rejection are endless, but parents asking, “Why?” is universal. Why did my child leave? Why did he get involved with drugs? Why was my adult child so vulnerable to that individual’s influence? Why didn’t I see this coming? Why did this happen?

Seeking answers is a natural part of the human experience. For me, trying to stop the questions added a secondary burden to an already traumatic experience. For a time, asking why? was the only question that made sense.

adult child's rejectionOver time, my questioning has led to several conclusions. Some involve my estranged adult child’s personality and decisions. Some involve the influence of other people, and how they may have added to problems. Others take in my own parenting style, and how my actions might have contributed.  Alone, none of these provides the entire answer. But they have been clues at least, small, sunny beaches of understanding where I could rest and collect my strength. Eventually, those partial answers connected with other ideas and began to gather, like fallen leaves caught in a stream, collecting to form a sort of raft. I’m afloat and moving forward.

Dealing with others’ feelings after an adult child’s rejection

I understand why my friend is weary of me talking about my estranged adult son. She doesn’t want to see me hurting. She believes that by reexamining, I’m beating myself up. But seeking and finding answers helps. Just as my outlook changed when I first held my tiny babies, my outlook is affected by this unexpected disappointment and hurt. I’m no longer blaming myself, but may always, at least at times, try to better understand.

For me, discussing the situation with others, studying society and history, as well writing out my thoughts, helped my understanding of the situation grow clearer. But I’ve learned to moderate my words, and to choose carefully with whom I share. A forum has recently been added at this site, for parents to share their thoughts, join discussions, post new topics, and help ourselves and other parents of estranged adult children in the process. The forum discussions will be moderated lightly to avoid any issues of spam, etc. Users must also register, to promote a safe, helpful environment – – although user names will be cloaked, and email addresses will not appear in the discussion forum. You are invited to register for the Help for parents of estranged adult children discussion forum here.

Also consider leaving a comment to this post.

Find additional help with these articles:

Emotional well-being series: Be Kind to yourself

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


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18 thoughts on “Adult child’s rejection: Asking why?

  1. Pam L.

    Ren-Thank you. My son has been calling me a narcissist for awhile now, along with throwing accusations that I have said and done things for the past 20 years that are hurtful and mean. When I say I cannot remember these things he says I am a narcissist. I have looked at (and share with him) the definition of a narcissist and he is incorrect. That being said, I must be something right? He and his wife (whom I have always thought of as my own daughter), sat me down and shared all these “things” I have done over the years that they found hurtful. After two extremely hard conversations he believes I will never change. Has he given me the opportunity to find a way to mend this riff? No, now he says he is ready to move on and try to be a family. He even said, “I don’t want you to think I am sitting around thinking about all these things.” Well I am. These things he says are all I can think about. I am able to admit my mistakes and I want to provide whatever is needed to make up for any hurt I have caused. When I tried to apologize he said it was a BS attempt. He asked for space and I gave him that. Now, I sit and wonder why. I am diving into this blog and hope I can find some help, or at the very least some peace.

    1. rparents Post author

      And WHO’S the narcissist? Sorry…but this way of attacking you and weakening you is cruel and unkind and feels like a great big projection.

      I hope you can look in the mirror and see without these stained glasses he has fitted you with.

      Sheri McGregor

  2. Jackie T.

    I grew up in a large family and I think, in hindsight, that was a blessing as I got to see 5 different personalities other than myself. Also, my parents were very different from each other, culturally, religiously, etc. Growing up, their marriage got more and more difficult and eventually, after 37 years they split. They were not the greatest parents, nor were they the worst. What I learned in life was the diversity of personalities that exists and the genetic roll of the dice regarding the same. Meaning, that we do not have control over what kind of personality our children will have. We can look to our ancestors and see that, oh, Johnny inherited his great uncle Robert’s scallywag ways. My own father bordered on being abusive and my mother was a bit of a narcissist, so I would have had good reason to back away but I chose to let that go as they did not interfere in my life and they had their good points.
    When I left my husband after 21 years, my children were mad at me but thankfully, they had the kind of personality where they eventually worked it out. Now they see that their dad has his faults, too.
    My current partner on the other hand, has a sister who for no particular reason, does not talk to family anymore. Then after a marriage split, he had a daughter do the same for six years and she lived in the same town. He was devastated. When she finally contacted him, it was only to blame him for her problems, not to exchange phone numbers. I feel for him because he is a fairly passive person and that just made things worse.
    In my senior years, I have come to believe that some people are that way, they just don’t want contact. It is hard to come to terms with because a lot of us are family oriented and that shouldn’t happen but it does. I hope this helps.

  3. Ann

    We have no idea why our adult son suddenly didn’t want anything to do with us the past 16 years. I emailed him many times, called and left messages and finally sent a registered letter to his home so I would be sure he got it. In it I said we miss him and can he please come over or call so we can find out how we can fix whatever problem there is. He and his wife and 2 children who were about 8 & 10 years old took us out for my husband’s 69th birthday and we thought all was normal. They drove us home and didn’t want to come inside which was unusual but ok. After that nothing. He was the youngest of 4 and lives about 8 miles away. He has nothing to do with his siblings and when his older brother reached out to him to get together he only had 1/2 an hour early on a Saturday when my son could not meet him where he wanted.My older son was crushed as they used to be close and really needed to talk to him. When that same son committed suicide, the younger one didn’t come to the funeral or anything. I don’t talk about him anymore but think of him occasionally. I wish we were a family again.

    1. JANE

      Your story touched my heart. I am thankful for Sherri and for all of you grieving parents. When my ED estranged from us I didn’t want to live. To the online therapists and cruel friends who are destroying families I would say: “Your time will come, because nothing evil on this earth will go unpunished.” To all the religious leaders who forgot to preach about honoring and respecting older parents, and who worry more about loosing young members, I have a question to ask: “Why did you become à priest or pastor?” To the polititions who are silent about this epidemic, called parental estrangement and who think more about votes I say: “Shame on you! Any society that doesn’t try to prevent breakdown of traditional family, is not a progressive, civilized society. To the estranged adults: “The only way you can save yourselves before it’s too late is to ask for forgiveness.” And to the estranged parents: “No parent deserves this unthinkable, evil death sentence, called parental estrangement. When older parents are abused and neglected, God is angry, but when good parents are estranged, God cries. It is our turn to comfort him, to show him that we can rise again. God bless you all!

  4. Carrie-Ann

    Narcissist’s Prayer (Sound familiar??)
    That didn’t happen.
    And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.
    And if it was, that’s not a big deal.
    And if it is, that’s not my fault.
    And if it was, I didn’t mean it.
    And if I did, you deserved it.
    -Author Unknown
    *Excerpt from “Believing Me – Healing from Narcissistic Abuse and Complex Trauma” by Dr. Ingrid Clayton, PhD

  5. Jane W.

    After 35 years of being divorced from my Children’s Dad, he continues to “brainwash” 2 of my 3 Adult Children. I haven’t seen my Son in 30 years and recently my youngest has decided to stop talking to me. They are well into their Adulthood so it is not an immature thing on their part. My other Adult Child sees the situation as I and we are close. I believe they are afraid of their Father as he has to control everyone in his life. I have not done anything to make them behave this way to me and I have decided to let it all go and place it in God’s hands However, It hurts deeply, that this has been their choice. My current Husband has the same issue with his Adult Children as they are too busy to call. We are well into our 70s and are afraid they will all regret not spending time with us before we leave this Earth.

    1. Al

      I also have an adult child who was brainwashed against me yet her Dad was the one abusing both of us. I recently spent over a year getting closer, donating about $40K of my time to renovate a chalet she bought as an investment because she can’t afford housing downtown. Things were going pretty well until I decided to throw her a surprise 30th birthday party. Between her and her boyfriend, they shifted the plan so it was still my plan but I was not invited. But it wasn’t just that, her deep seated anger gave all the reasons for this exclusion. Basically I was not fit to attend because I didn’t deserve to.

      Her father made her ashamed of me as he does with anyone who is not ultra fit. I’m good enough to be her slave but not good enough to be included at a party. The realization that she has used me to get what she wants is just searing. I don’t know how I didn’t see it before! When I called her out on it, she threw a fit and has now disconnected from me. She will cry victim to anyone who listens.

      I’m not part of her consideration anyway and am tempted to reveal the truth about her Dad — things like — that as soon as I told him I was pregnant for her, he told me he wanted me to abort so I wouldn’t lose my figure. And when I was 8 mos pregnant, he jerked the car while I got in or out and laughed saying maybe I’d lose the baby. Oh, and that he has another daughter he forgot to tell anyone about. Must have slipped his mind. He’s well off too so he’s her personal bank. She’s been spoiled by him, and by her boyfriend who inherited a whack of money and takes her everywhere her little heart desires.

      Psychologists say don’t tell her these things, but she is ashamed of me because of him, he tells her I’m not good enough, it’s my fault, I’m fat and ugly, she blames me for leaving the marriage, she blames me for everything that happens no matter what. So why bother worrying about what spin she makes?? I’ll get blamed for everything either way. Right now her Dad is laughing and joking on FB about being included. He knows full well that I’m on the outside. How is that fair? I feel like a sucker for not telling her everything. I promised her father when she was a baby that I’d reveal him and his crap when she was old enough to understand what happened.

      He has shamed her into believing she has to be perfect to be loved, and that her whole world must be perfect too, so how could she have her 60 yr old overweight mother attend. It’s shameful imho. She lies to prevent anyone from seeing the truth, and to avoid accountability about this need for perfection. His abuse has destroyed her sense of herself and any sense of appreciation for anything that is not perfect.

      I see it the same as anyone who victimizes someone else. Without exposing them they get away with it all. Right now she worships him because of the money and his seemingly perfect world. She will never free herself from him and his crap. Won’t exposing him bring about a spark for her to heal herself? Isn’t there ever a time that abuse and abusive people can get exposed?

  6. Gidget H.

    I finally found my adult howas kidnapped from me at birth. It’s a long, long story. Anyway, I was thrilled to get a nice response and at first it was wonderful. We wrote to each other every day, several times a day. Then I shared with him that I suffer from CPTSD and then things changed dramatically. It began making crude, hurtful jokes about my condition. When I nicely explained to me how much that hurt and made me feel disrespected, he got angry and suggested that maybe we shouldn’t write so much because he doesn’t want to have to tiptoe around everything he says on the change it will make me more insane. THAT REALLY HURT and since I had no desire to fight with him I merely wrote back and thanked him for his honesty and said I agreed. So we didn’t speak for a month.

    Then he sent me a generic birthday card just saying Happy Birthday. We’re fine. I hope you are too and signed it, Love your son. My hopes soared again so I wrote to him and thanked him for the card and told him how mch that meant to me. However, whenever he writes now his messages are short and to the point. Like for example, It’s hot here. Hope you are fine. Love your son. Seriously, that’s it! I’ve written him long messages asking about things like his family, his dg,his job, his hobbies, etc. I explained I wanted to get to know him and told him it makes me sad that I don’t even know his favorite color. He NEVER answers those. It’s just short, hollow messages. I get more conversations with total strangers on facebook groups. I’m at the point of “why even bother?”

    I feel as though I’m being punished for a disability that I can’t help. ‘Ve even explained this to him and his response is, “I’m a simple man and I refuse to change. My son is 48 years old. So he’s a grown man and knows exactly what he’s doing. I asked if I could call him and he says, “No.” Because he would get emotional and cry.

    When I stop writing then he sends me a message saying that he loves me and is grateful that I’m his mother. These head games are driving me crazy and I don’t know how to handle the situation. My husband, not his father, knows how long and how hard I tried to find him and how excited I was about the reunion and tells me not to give up. Just write short messages back when and if he decides to write, but that leaves me depressed and frustrated and I feel devalued and manipulated and, like I said, “why bother?” That’s not a good relationship. I would be so grateful to hear if anyone else has gone through this type of situation and/or any advice. Sometimes people on the outside can see more clearly. Thanks so mch for giving me your time.

    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Gidget,

      It is unkind for him to make purposeful comments to hurt you (make fun of someone with CPTSD?! What??). Without further information, the first things that comes to mind is a question:

      Does it make sense to communicate with someone who purposely hurts you?

      HUGS to you dear Gidget. Take kind care of yourself,
      Sheri McGregor

  7. Toni C.

    Dear Carol— your son lives with you and doesn’t speak to you???? That’s an easy one…. OUT HE GOES!!!
    If he is going down the road of turning on you; you are delaying the inevitable.
    I have come to believe that children who abandon their parents are mostly not victims of terrible parents, abuse, or mental illness. They are influenced by our rotten society, their partners, and their own feelings of being “wronged” — everybody today is a victim. They must be victims , too.
    Another conclusion– My experience has been with this generation ( son is almost 34)– the worse of a parent you are; the MORE THEY LOVE YOU. The more you try to be firm, strict, and guiding with them; the more they turn on you. Have seen it over and over. Learning that lesson!

    1. Geraldine H.

      Toni it’s so true what you are saying. I am estranged from my son for 13 years now. In my heart of hearts I know that I was a good mum. I am to blame a lot as I feel I spoilt him. I was a single parent. We were extremely close. However, he met his first real girlfriend when he was around 18 years old. I always got the impression that she never liked me, and she was a great influence on my on. My other son who keeps contact with his brother, told me is brother is now married to the girl. I wasn’t invited to the wedding.

  8. Cleopadera

    I asked my 33 year old daughter what I did to make her end her relationship with me a year ago, at the beginning of the pandemic in NJ. Here’s what she wrote: “Because you took away my ability to not be okay. Because I felt like I had to be the stone wall 100% of the time to weather the storm without a break from it. Because I felt like you were so afraid to lose me you would rather lash out and hurt me. Because I felt you didn’t respect my boundaries when I did show a crack. Because I love you so much but I lost myself inside of what you needed or wanted, even though I know you never asked me to. But I never learned how to step away from that role.” I don’t even know what she thought I needed or wanted. I still know nothing. I still don’t know what I did.

  9. Mindy

    My now 20 years old daughter completely cut me and everyone in our family the moment she met this guy. It is not his fault. She was using us, now she uses him. I would honestly prefer insults. But she just doesn’t talk. Blocked messages from me, never responds to emails. We raised her wrong, giving her too much. She is unappreciative see you next tuesday. Breaks my heart.

  10. Carol

    Debbie, sometimes they just need space. It is usually mothers who post pain and it is usually mothers that ‘over mother.’ Sometimes they need a couple years of living free without mom demands and expectations. Try thinking of him as going through a growing stage and not needing a mom so much. I have had an estranged son and daughter and they eventually decide they need mom if only for a bail out or a place to drop out of the rat race for awhile. Lots of moms are lucky and their kids hang on for dear life, others raise independent thinkers who shed the ties that bind. Take it in stride and stop the contacts. Just my opinion having been there and done that!

  11. Debbie

    I am so glad I found this information. I have been dealing with major issues with my youngest adult son in the last few months it has exploded into nasty text messages and emails. I have not seen him or spoke to him in person in almost 5 months at this point I believe we have officially stepped into Estrangement. I have begged him to meet with me to discuss issues or go for counseling if he wishes. He chooses to ignore those requests instead choosing to refer to me as self absorbed narcissist who has never been there for him, hurling insults and sarcastic messages. I am emotionally distraught and have had many sleepless nights wondering what I could have or should have done better to be there for him. Last evening he was at it again via email with me. I have not responded and really don’t know if I even should at this point. I asked him a number of weeks ago what I could do to make things better, apologizing to him for not being there as he perceives it. Again asking him to meet with me in person or see a counselor. Radio silence for a number of weeks and now this. I can’t take it any more…I am going to sit down this evening and read thru this entire article and pray I can find some answers and maybe some peace. My heart is broken over this.

    1. Carol

      How old is your so ? My youngest child and only boy is 24. This sounds very familiar. The more my husband and I helped him, the worse he treated us. He ended up in jail after getting into a fight with his sister at our house. I bailed him out after 5 nights of him crying and begging. It cost $2,000! Never again! As soon as he got out, he only cared about his girlfriend and weed. He hasn’t spoken to us since even though he lives with us. This has been going on since 12/8/2020.

    2. Ren

      Debbie, from what I understand, it is not typical for narcissists to apologize nor to try to figure out where they have gone wrong. I don’t think you are a narcissist at all! I think your son has chosen to act cruelly and to insult you with the label. But that says much more about him than you.
      He is an adult, and has been for several years now. He should be examining his own behavior at this point.
      It’s not right if he insults you like that — he’s not acting right towards you.
      Best of luck to you.


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