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

  1. momctina

    Not knowing why your child has rejected you is really hard to deal with. Both of my adult children have rejected me and I do not have other children. I spend so much time going over and over things trying to make sense of what has happened. I just want peace but constantly beat myself up.

    I think friend’s are sick of me going on to, but it’s so hard when it feels like everyone else has their family around them. I feel ashamed that I have been unable to keep my family together.

  2. Candy

    Boy I know what you mean. I too feel the embarrassment of being a failure as a mom but not really knowing why. I no longer tell anyone about my son not being in my life because I am too embarrassed and ashamed. I think the holidays that roll around make things even worse. Hang in there. Candy

    1. rparents Post author

      You’re welcome, KMurdoch! I’m so glad you found these “why?” articles when you needed them – – and found them helpful.

  3. m.

    My daughter has been reeling me in and dropping me off a cliff numerous times over the past few years. I have come to realize that she is a victim of the whims of other people around her. It started with her now ex-husband. He despised me because he blames me for discovering the affairs he had while they were married. My daughter wanted my help because she suspected him but could not find evidence. After examining his computer, I found the evidence she had failed to find. They got back together and all of a sudden I was no longer her hero but a villain. Now it is her best friend whom she works side by side with 5 days a week. The friend despised her own mother who died a few years ago, and my daughter who is susceptible to taking on other people’s beliefs as her own, has decided that she hates me simply because her friend doesn’t need a mother, so now my daughter feels the same way. It’s as if she has a nose ring with an attached gold chain that she allows people to lead her around with. This realization makes it hurt no less, but it’s a reason I can hold on to where I don’t have to take her blame as my own. She cut me out of my grandson’s life (he is 6 now) because her husband said it should be so. I’ve seen him a handful of times. I have come to realize that she uses him as a carrot in front of my nose to get what she wants. I think that’s why I haven’t allowed myself to become too attached to seeing my grandson. I just try not to think about him. From time to time I find myself putting his many pictures away because it’s too painful to look at them. I only have 2 pictures of her out in sight, one with my grandson the day he was born (an event I was not allowed to attend) and another of her a a toddler. Those stay put away most of the time, too painful. When my own mother passed away about 5 years ago, she let me know that she thought more of my mother as HER mother, and not much of me as her mother. OK, so I was a single mother with help raising her from my own mother who did not ever have to work outside the home, also my father was her father figure which I can understand, but she HAD a mother other than my own mother. Is it my fault I was an abused wife and left her own father to save both of our lives? Was it my fault her own father wanted nothing to do with her after the divorce? NO, it was not.

    Now that this new abandonment has begun I am angry more than hurt. I’m sick of this and I want and deserve a life of my own. She has never allowed me to be happy with a man since my mother died. No one is good enough to be around her son she says. OK. But I’m not good enough either! So, I think I will just put it all away and try to make myself happy now. I’m not going to tell her any of how I feel because that is like handing her live grenades. I’ve walked on eggshells around her for 10 years and I am done. Do I sound angry and bitter? Yes, I do. But I am 60 year old and enough of my life has been wasted trying to make a spoiled brat happy. Nothing i ever do short of continuing to live as a hermit will ever make her happy. I’m tired of being a hermit for her sake and for no gain with her in having a relationship with her and my grandson. No more eggshells. I’m done after 10 years of this. I deserve more and so does everyone else.

    Bt the way, I should have mentioned somewhere in there that I have not been able to get over the loss of my mother after she passed away suddenly a little over 5 years ago. My mother was my best frien for over 54 years of my life. i would never have spoken to Mama like my daughter has spoken to me, never. I love my Mama forever and I cherish every minute we had together all those years. I took care of Mama for the last 20 years of her life when she was so frail and don’t regret one second of the physically demanding work it took to accomplish making those last 20 years some of her best years. i continued to take care of my Dad for a year and a half after Mama died even though he had no idea who I was anymore. That’s what real daughters do! I expect no less from a child of my own, and my daughter is my only child. i gave her everything a child could possibly want. I did all the Mom stuff, driving her here and there, giving up new clothes and things so she could have those things, all of it. I don’t deserve this! I’m glad I don’t have to ask WHY anymore. I am glad I discovered the little gold nose ring and gold chain.

    This is probably not the response anyone wants to hear, but it’s my truth. I hope that you all can put your hurt aside and see your own truths someday. It’s a freeing experience. At least tonight it is. Maybe tomorrow I will cry again, but I sure hope not.

    1. Annie

      I think we all feel your pain and anger. It’s the worst betrayal of all and I’m sorry for your pain and loss. I pray someday your daughter comes to her senses and that she realizes what she’s done here. Meanwhile, it is up to us to move forward and find our own happiness realizing some days will be rough.
      I think it’s good for you to express your feelings. There’s such a tendency to isolate oneself. Do get Sheri’s book, ‘Done with the Crying’. It helped me tremendously with coming to terms with tools to move forward. It’s not easy but God will provide. Keep your head up and we’re all here for one another.

  4. Meg

    My son is in his 40s and we’ve been estranged now for many years. I saw him through over 15 years of addiction, helped get him into treatments twice, provided full time care for his son from birth through the first year because all of his money was spent on crack and the child’s mother was a loser. I know that I was instrumental in my son’s sobriety when it came, but he didn’t finish growing up. He quit meetings, because he didn’t think he was like “those people,” and he put restrictions on me about ever talking about his years of arrests, passing out, auto accidents, stealing, and emaciated illness from extended periods of hard crack use. I was not ever to speak of it, even with close friends or family. Once he stopped using (became a “dry drunk”) we were all to pretend that it had never happened. I was still hurting and afraid that he’d resume drug use, so did talk with a long term girlfriend, as it was too much to hold inside, but that earned me total rejection. Well, that and my unwillingness to enable him any longer, which enraged him. He’s also pulled his son away from me, so I have no family left, but I’ve processed my way through the emotions of it and will soon move out of state where I can start over without any of them in my environment. If new people I meet ask if I have children, I’ll tell them that I lost my son to drugs. There’s truth in it. I feel some sense of responsibility for how he turned out, as I wasn’t a perfect mother, but I did the best that I knew how to, and he was certainly parented better than I or many other children were. In a way, I feel relieved to be free from all the stress that he brought into my life on an ongoing basis. I would never have pushed him out myself, but also won’t run after him anymore. I did try to invite him to my home on more than one occasion, but he chose to not come. The door is now closed. I really am done with it all and have written him carefully and cleanly out of my will and as much as possible, my heart. This is not as I would have wished life to turn out, but it’s what happened, and I won’t let him drag me down any longer. There should be a ceremony where we “divorce” hateful adult children. Maybe I’ll go stand under a moonlit sky and chant 5 times “I have no family, I choose happiness, I am free…”

  5. Greg

    It makes me sad to read these. Selfishly its bc i am scared i too will not see my son again either. Its only been a few months but it began slowly and finally broke completly. Every major decision i have ever made since my son was born considered him. Cleaned up. Got my life together. Made every effort to be there for him whenever i could. Made nice with his mom when she allowed. Quit my job when they decided to send me to germany bc i wanted to stay and teach him to drive and watch his last highschool soccer games. Even when i went back to school and was too broke to help him financially i sold plasma and put it all on a card and gave it to him for his graduation. $2000. Immediatly aftrr that he vanished. Hes not an addict. He talks to his mom…but blows me and my family off when he used to love hanging put with us. We r sure his mother and her family are behind this…but what do we do? What can i do? Nothing.

  6. RobinW

    “There should be a ceremony where we “divorce” hateful adult children”. Yes, by all means we should have a PARTY. Maybe someday my daughter’s daughter will treat her as terribly and not want anything to do with her as well, but that won’t be for another 10 -15 years. I was going to send her a “sympathy card for the loss of your mother” because it is a type of death. Her choice and I will never understand why she went on the attack, only that I’m so DONE with the abuse. Her irrational anger toward me will only hurt her in the end. I have 2 other daughters who are very close to me, so time to let go and move on!

  7. bonnebelle

    As the estrangement continues, I know that my daughter has come under the spell of her half brother, half sister and their mother. None of the three adult children are communicating with us beyond an occasional text with a photo of a grandchild – I think it’s meant to taunt us. My husband and I have been thrown away and they seem to have no remorse or feel any responsibility to talk to us about why they are doing this. I cannot describe the pain of this loss and do not see an end to it. I have examined every conversation to find what my husband and I did to deserve this – and can find nothing to warrant this type of viciousness. How do we go on?

  8. MsExistential

    Its frustrating when you thave typed out a comment and then have it disappear because the post comment bar isn’t available

    1. MsExistential

      Trying again, sheesh. I have struggled with the same question, why ostracize? With not having any explanation, I look for reasons, answers. I may just be trying to place blame somewhere, but I have thought perhaps physiologists might be at fault. I’ve seen the advice often given to cut the problem out of your life. Maybe it is taken too often as the only solution. Maybe physocolgist should be offering coping technics instead. To ostracize is hurtful, its intended to be just that. Could be very bad advice in resolving personal issues. Ok now wheres the post bar? Post please.
      Where’s the post bar

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