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

  1. Tera

    I am so glad to read that you have found value in asking “why?”, because that is my nature as well. I am wired to want to UNDERSTAND and have always been the person asking “why” about almost all aspects of human behavior and motivation. Asking “why” for me also means being willing to take accountability for things that I have done that brought us to this place and for which I need to make amends (and I have tried). Asking “why” has also led me to some conclusions about my son’s personality, temperament, and “brain-wiring”clearly playing a role in him waking up every day of his life and continuing to choose to punish me. (I believe he has some Aspie tendencies and can’t let go of things once he’s “locked in”.) And lastly, I hold grasp tightly to the delusion that if I can just answer the question “why”, I can find a way back and fix whatever got us here. I can’t fix what I don’t understand and I can’t fathom living without my son for the rest of my life, so asking why seems like the only power left to me when everything else has been stripped away.

    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Tera,

      I think that at some point, the more empowering question becomes: What now? Ultimately, you could be asking why? forever, and even if your certain of an answer, you may not be able to fix it if fixing it means no longer being estranged. That takes more than one person wanting it.

      Actually, I hope you will make the most of your life despite this thing.

      Why? — the question can be a time wasting time filler.

      Hugs to you.

      Sheri McGregor

  2. Maybelle

    Why was a question I asked myself many times. When the answer came, it almost killed me. So after much soul searching I learned 1) I don’t get to tell someone how to love me, I get to choose if I want to accept the way they love me. Yes, I get to choose. 2) Relationships are classrooms where you learn about yourself, not where you go to get your needs met.

    This was an Eye opener. I didn’t realize how needy I was because I was divorced mother of 3 boys. Fast forward 2019, I am retired, my job pays for my medical for the rest of my life, I get 3 pensions….whoa, I didn’t do so bad after all. Sometimes we forget to pat ourselves on the back.

    So I found my strength. I learned like any toxic relationship, one has to understand that your child can be toxic, just like that certain bff or horrible boyfriend. Yes, we never include our kids in this category. Maybe it’s time we did.

    So pat yourself on the back. You’re amazing. You’re still here! You’re still enduring. You’re still believing. You can love someone with all your heart for all the right reasons, but in a moment they can choose to walk away, love away. Live anyway.


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