Estrangement from adult children: Have you had enough?

estrangementby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

For parents of estranged adults who are sad, walking on eggshells to maintain even the most abusive or one-sided contact, or pining away for the son or daughter who lays blame for everything that has ever gone wrong in their life, there comes a time when enough is enough. Have you reached that point? The day when you’re ready to move on and seek out peace and happiness no matter what the “child” does?

Here are a few questions to help.

How long must you suffer?

Routinely, I hear from mothers and fathers who for ten or twenty years have been neglected, blamed, ridiculed, ignored, or contacted only when the son or daughter needs money. Their self-esteem has taken a huge hit because of the estrangement from adult children. Some are stuck in a sort of guilt mode that they don’t understand, even though they know they’ve been caring parents. Twice in recent months, life coaching clients have seen how their upbringing affected their boundaries and created undue guilt. Other parents wish there had been some closure, so they could lay it to rest. But although closure is bandied about in our society like a peaceful oasis, as I discuss in my book, Done With The Crying, closure is a myth.

Many of the parents in these long-term estrangements cope well most of the time, but their emotions are triggered when a death or other life event causes contact and/or renews their pain. When that happens, they can go on for weeks feeling blue, reliving the early shock and bewilderment of estrangement, and even asking “Why?” all over again.

Do you want to continue suffering? Sounds like a stupid question. Nobody wants to suffer, right? If you agree, then make a decision to change. Acknowledge all the hurt your son or daughter has caused, and decide not to allow it to shackle you anymore. If you find yourself resisting this idea, that it’s even possible, then it’s time to consider why.

estrangement from adult childrenSuffering: Has it become a habit?

For some, the idea of any relationship, even one that causes pain, is better than none—which keeps them stuck. If you feel this way, you may be caught in what’s become a habit or taken on a sort of victim mentality. But the truth is, you don’t have to. As I say in my book, only two letters separate the word victim from victor. Choosing to be a victor requires a choice, as the letters “OR” imply. It’s never too late to claim your right to be happy despite another adult’s decisions.

Does an idealistic belief hold you back?

You might be stuck because of the idea that a parent’s love should be unconditional. While no caring parent gives up instantly, after suffering with no change in sight, it’s okay to give yourself permission to take care of yourself. It may come down to thinking of releasing the need for a relationship that’s unhealthy, or even giving in rather than giving up.

Even if you’re a caring parent who did your best, it’s possible that a belief that it must be your fault is keeping you from moving forward. One mother shared that she grew up in a church with strict ideas about a mother’s role. Although she knew she had done her best, she also worried maybe the estrangement was a reflection of her working outside the home. It helped to see that stay-at-home mothers also have estranged children. Estrangement from adult children isn’t limited to a certain set of circumstances.

What beliefs might you have that affect your ability to move forward despite the estrangement? Pondering the question may be of use.

estrangementAre you reliving the past?

Some parents keep the pain alive by going over it again and again. One mother who has been estranged from her 52-year-old son for nearly thirty years routinely recounts her estrangement story in detail. She regularly relives the pain of the child she raised turning against her, slowly at first, and then with a full force that included insults and public humiliation. This intelligent woman runs a small business, has a devoted husband, and has raised two other successful and loving children whom the estranged son also left behind. She goes about her life with confidence, yet spends much of her quiet time ruminating over the son she lost, questioning how he could do such a thing to his family, and feeling sad.

This mother and a great many others regularly look for their adult children on social media, or even save old, unkind correspondence—and re-read it. Will it take a computer crash to free you from email from an angry estranged adult child that’s holding you back?

Right now, take a few moments to consider whether you are reliving the past and how doing so may hurt your progress.

Are you keeping company that keeps you stuck?

Some parents maintain relationships with people who remind them of their sorrow and keep them in limbo—unable to fix the problem yet unable to get on with their lives. That might be a relative or friend who says it’s the parent’s duty to keep trying no matter what—even when you’ve tried and been repeatedly beaten back by a son or daughter that wants no contact. daughter says no contactOften, these people with their platitudes don’t have a clue what estrangement is really all about. They think it’s a tiff that can blow over, or chalk it up to immaturity. Maybe those things are true in some instances, but after hearing from nearly 20,000 parents who’ve taken my survey, I know that isn’t true in most cases. Don’t let these people hold you back from a fulfilling life.

At times, even the guise of support can keep parents stuck. Here at the site, there’s a forum which, for the most part, is a helpful venue. Some parents who have moved beyond the pain stay active in the community to provide a caring word to newer members in the throes of early estrangement. While this is positive, there’s also a danger. It’s possible to get caught in an endless loop of recharged pain, anger, grief, and indignation as newcomers post about their circumstances and potentially trigger oldcomers’ pain. It’s also true that a support group can become a crutch, the go-to place to vent feelings or ask questions. At some point, it’s wise to step back and use your own good sense. Doing so can build your confidence.

When is enough enough?

One woman who joined the Facebook page some time ago left a wise comment. When out with her husband one day, they’d driven through the town in which her estranged adult child lives. In the past, she would say something to her husband, and the two would talk about the pain. But on that day, she purposely kept quiet. Her husband was surprised but glad. On Facebook, the woman said she’d come to the conclusion that enough was enough.

I can relate to this mother’s thoughts. Many have read my story, along with those of so many other parents in my book. They know that I used the book’s exercises and research to reclaim my self-esteem and confidence, and to move on in my life after estrangement. But my story didn’t stop with the last page of the book. I continue to move forward in a life with trials and distress (as well as happy times), and even the occasional conflict of some sort of contact from the estranged. I know as well as any parent that estrangement can press in like prying tentacles where and when we least expect it to. But I also know that it’s up to me how much that estrangedinfluence takes control. While it’s wise to face the reality and deal with residual effects, it’s not healthy to bemoan the loss and all its affects. Like that woman in the car who made a decision to drive on by, knowing her estranged adult child resided in the city yet choosing to let the pain alone, we can understand when enough is enough.

While attempting to reconcile with an estranged adult child is normal, don’t hinge your happiness on it. Going over what happened and why is natural, but there comes a time when you know you have done all that you can. For some, that includes an apology, or a note saying your door is open when or if they want to try. For others, based on their own situation, it means literally moving away.

Estrangement from adult children: Step forward

You can examine your relationship with a clear head, see how your beliefs might be limiting you, and understand how suffering can become a habit that keeps you stuck. With help and support, you can step forward in a way that strengthens and prepares you for a new way of life. Even while holding out hope, you can give yourself permission to let go, accept that change is inevitable, and embrace it for your own good. You can be done with the crying. Don’t waste another minute of your precious life.

Estrangement from adult children/Related posts:

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Abusive adult children negatively influence parents’ self-image

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9 thoughts on “Estrangement from adult children: Have you had enough?

  1. Andrea

    It has taken me a few times to step away and truly mean enough is enough, and follow through with my boundary. After the most recent interaction with my 24 year old son, the time to follow through is now. The abusive language he spewed at me from his hate filled heart put me over my breaking point. Sadly, I replied in kind. When I took a day to think about the argument I realized that I become a hateful person as well when interacting with him. I am far from an angry, hateful person but this is who I become when he screams obscenities and abuse at me, Having been estranged from him when he was 12 and not reconnecting, despite my repeated attempts until he was 22, my dreams for a loving relationship proved not to come to be. What i received and put up with were lies, obscenities, name calling, gas lighting, abuse and threats. I lost myself as badly as I had when he turned his back on me at 12 years old. No more. Never again. I bought this book two years ago. Time to read it now.

  2. S. Nolan

    Living with this pain for the last 6 months. I am 75, my daughter is 49. I never saw it coming. The pain is unimaginable. I wonder “Why” – no answers for me, despite my reaching out. I never thought my last years would be like this……….

  3. Karen T.

    My daughter did a 180 at 18 it got bad but in 2012 she started an argument with me over things from the past and left and I’ve not seen nor heard from her since? I’ve tried to no avail, she’s keeping my two grandsons from me. WHY, six months prior to this I’d received an adoring letter from her letting me know how much she thought of me and loved all the things I did for her and with her as her mother. My family was my everything, there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t have done for them and did. I’ve lost them all, as after 33 years of marriage I was abandoned by my husband without a word and divorced devastating me. Then after going through all the horrible things he put me through, turning into someone I didn’t no anymore I moved across the country, I found out through a social media message from a pilot he used to fly with over 15 years ago he passed away from covid. This was also devastating even though he was horrific to me until I saw the death certificate and there was a fiancé, etc. before seeing this though I’d reached out to our daughter to tell her even though I knew she probably already knew and she didn’t have the decency to respond. I’ve never felt so absolutely alone, sad, mad, confused, hopeless! PS my daughter will be 34 this year, old enough to no better but doesn’t. I’ve had no support!

  4. Gina

    Thank you for this, every waking moment I am consumed with guilt, constantly asking where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently? Was I too soft? Or perhaps too strict. I need to come to terms with ‘enough is enough’ but how do I get this through to my child I am over 70 he is mid forties, he feels he has done nothing wrong, there are times when I want sleep and never wake up, I just don’t think I can cope anymore.
    I needed to read this article to make me realise I am not alone.

  5. Susan M.

    I am thankful for this. In a world where family is everything, sometimes the ones we sacrificed for and loved turn on us and abuse us for their own deficiencies. At 68, I do not want to continue being a punching bag for a spoiled brat. It takes a lot for a mother to walk away from her child but as you say “enough is enough” we each must pursue our peace and happiness even if it means walking away. THANK YOU

  6. Rebecca

    I was an awful mother but spent years trying to make it right. I did everything I could. Apologized until I was blue in the face but it was never enough. I was constantly being reminded of things I can’t change or take back. Being told I was always going to be a horrible person. I’m not. I’m a good person who made mistakes tried to make amends and I as never allowed to be forgiven. I’ve finally given up. I refuse to me my child’s punching bag for the rest of my life. I deserve peace and happiness too. I deserve to move on and not have to watch every thing I say so I don’t start an argument. I have to cut the cancer out of my life.

  7. Donna

    This post is a breath of fresh air after wading through the articles by angry daughters blaming the parents for everything. After a year of wondering what was wrong with me that I’m estranged from my kids, I finally had to get honest with myself: do I really miss them and the stress of their constant belittling? And the answer is no, I don’t.

    I’m sorry that the relationship had to end this way but I honestly can’t see a reconciliation in the future. I don’t miss their ingratitude, I don’t miss their crappy comments, I don’t miss them blaming me for their mistakes. There was a final straw moment when I said, you know what? I won’t tolerate this treatment any longer.

    As you said in the article, enough is enough. There are plenty of people who know me and know how my kids were raised and how I was as a parent, so I try to remember that when someone tries to make me feel like a bad mother because I choose to no longer have a relationship with my kids.

  8. Elizabeth

    Thank you for reminding me that ruminating on this painful situation is only hurting myself. I have declared my finish with my uncaring son but still find myself going over and over the circumstances and wondering what more if anything I can do to make things better.

    1. FRANK M.

      I have not seen my adult son in over 20 years now. I was never invited to his wedding nor did he tell me about the birth of his son, who I have never met. He is now 38. I have not had contact with my adult daughter now for over 3 years. For some reason she wants to be close to her mother, we have been divorced for over 22 years now. I did everything for my children. So this is the thanks I have gotten from both of them. At first it hurt. Now I have moved on with my life and don’t plan on looking back anymore. I do keep pictures of them, but as time goes by they seem like strangers. They have become my distant children who I no longer know. I feel free and happy.

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