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:

The Boat

Abusive adult children negatively influence parents’ self-image

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

  1. Yesenia D

    I’m a mother of a 23 years old boy and since he was a kid he is been stealing and lying, as a teen smoking marijuana till now he hasn’t stop doing all this stuff that he didn’t learn from us(mom n stepdad) He is honestly not in jail by Gods Grace. He has a 4 years old kid n is unfortunate that his son will one day find out how his dad is. I am just extremely tired of his actions and ashamed of it. I sometimes think on calling the cops on him to expose all his stuff he is doing and maybe jail time is what he needs. Everything crossed my mind but then I get the guilt”that will make me a super bad mother”
    Honestly I’m tired of advising him, he refuse advice n get mad when we do tell him anything. He calms down for a few weeks and boom, another stupid thing comes to light. I have surrendered to Jesus my son but I’m still waiting on Gods miracle for his life.
    I don’t know what else to do. I’m tired.
    Feel like I been stabbed on my stomach every time something happened. I have a 15 years old daughter and thanks to Jesus things are going good with her. I pray a lot for her.
    Thank you all for sharing your situation, we have a lot in common, I can write a book with all my son has put us trough all this years.

    Reply
    1. Marie

      I absolutely relate to ur situation! Everything u said about ur son is exactly what I’m dealing with in my son…I’m beyond exhausted emotionally n physically n I’m just fed up with his disgusting n disrespectful behavior…he wasn’t raised to be like this and I don’t deserve to be treated so crappy from him..it’s heartbreaking on a daily basis that he has no care honor or value for the mother who sacrificed s much for him…I also pray for him constantly….how do u deal with it emotionally?

  2. Sharon G.

    I’ve been dealing with the loss of my firstborn son, in 2015, and dealing with my currently alive, middle son, who has been in and out of juvenile hall, county jail and prison since he was 14 years old, and my 26 year old daughter. My daughter is amazing, college degree, great job, financially secure, loving and respectful, My middle son is horrible. My other two are and were great. My middle son has cost me my home, my career, several vehicles, a relationship, my relationship with my daughter, (she is tired of picking up the slack for him) he has had seven children, I have adopted two of them. My daughter and I live together with her son, and my adopted two. I have put him through a $35,000.00 rehab program, for alcohol, and nothing has changed him. The part where you wrote, Does your computer have to crash for you to get rid of the abusive messages??? Oh boy, right on point!!!! I have been looking at them trying to read between the lines of where I went wrong?!?!? I was a great parent! What i did wrong was stay in a marriage that was verbally and mentally abusive. But even that should not have been a life trigger for him. He had the option to do otherwise at any point in his life, just as I did. I took him to and from school everyday. I signed him up for EVERY sport, and I team mothered EVERY sport. He had medical, a great house, great clothes, great food. He DID not have a good father. He had an father who was only there to pay bills. BUT…He also had the option at any time in his life to CHANGE HIS LIFE. He has destroyed seven womens lives from I can remember. Left SEVEN children with out a father, and has the nerve to call me a bad parent?!?!? BUT, that darn umbilical cord kept pulling on my heart. Your his MOTHER. A Mother loves you when no one else will. A MOTHER never abandons their child EVER. A Mothers love has no boundaries. HORSE CRAP> Jeffrey Dahmers mom did not set out to give birth to a serial killer and certainly did not intend to raise one. Mother is not always at fault. I gave birth to a beautiful little boy who at 13 years old started making all HIS OWN DECISIONS and refused to accept responsibility or change his ways. The fact that my parents put me in an orphanage at 4 years old, weighed heavily on my umbilical cord that I would never desert my own kids. So I bought into it and NEVER GAVE UP…till now. Other than that, I made a conscious decision to be a survivor, not a victim. Still, with no counseling I made some real bone head mistakes, but, hey , here I am 65, and spent ten years in law enforcement, and raised two other great human beings. Not perfect humans, but great.
    My middle son has said every horrible thing he could possibly say to me. Drugs, alcohol, gangs, prison, he’s done it all. I have spent money on lawyers, money on his books, took a second mortgage on my home, and LOST IT, soooooo many dumb things.
    And this that I read, FINALLY was the ONE thing that set me free from this prison of abuse. I did not do this to him. I did EVERYTHING to help him. He made the choices against everything I said to him. I am FINALLLY free at last. Just to hear from others that its OK…..Thank you….

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      Carol,

      It’s available wherever audiobooks are sold. Audible has it, as do others. If you get the audiobook, consider getting the Done With The Crying WORKBOOK for Parents of Estranged Adult Children, which provides all the exercises and lots of room to do them. The audio mentions the exercises so you can stop the recording and conveniently get to them.

      HUGS to you.

      Sheri McGregor

  3. Sue

    Thank you all for validating the reasons why I have distanced myself from my almost 28 year old daughter. I divorced her controlling, angry and narcissistic father back in 2016 when she was only 14 years old. My ex refused to co-parent with me in favor or providing my daughter with anything she wanted, cars, clothes, money, etc. He was permissive to say the least and loved it when she expressed her dissatisfaction over me being the parent who wanted to enforce a form of punishment in order that she was accountable. He was the buddy. For years I was sick to my stomach and lost sleep over what the repercussions of his twisted relationship with her might do to her as an adult. She is currently self centered, disrespectful and hateful towards me. I have tried to be around her, but find it difficult when she scoffs at me, ridicules me, and does nothing but take what I have to offer her. She has lived with me on and off over the past two years because her job is seasonal (outdoor adventure guide). While under my roof, she broods, complains about my pets, cooks only for herself, and feels free to offer up advice to me about how I should view the world. The last time I told her to leave because of her ungrateful, selfish and arrogant attitude was it for me!! It hurts to be estranged from her, but until she grows up and begins to acknowledge that I am not her issue, I don’t care to be around her.

    Reply
    1. Mandy S

      Sue, my daughter moved out at 15 in 2012 with her estranged father ( left when she was born)and her fathers parents who helped me raise her at 15. I was going through a divorce at the time, my first and only marraige of 7 years and it was not a fun one as most divorces are not. I was a young mother at 17 when I had her but I was a good mother despite us growing up together. Her grandmother was exactly like your husband and was always trying to intervene in a bad way and found an opportunity to slither in and cause chaos. Some people are just pure evil. Throughout the years the woman was trying to always get us apart. My daughter treats me like yours does, before it was the rudeness and distancing. We started talking on the phone for a brief time and things truly were good, then all of sudden she fell off the planet and treated me like she never knew me. The latest is the ignore game. I pray alot….I go through anger and resentment to being ok to not being ok. Throughout years in our estrangement I went through severe depression and pure self destruction that almost killed me. Where I get upset is I see these drugged out or mentally messed up parents who abuse and give their children no life and a reason to leave. That is not our story, I go through waves of being ok and not ok over the judgment of others which has lead me to being a hermit. I struggle with social media due to seeing her on it and I try from time to time to get on and talk to friends or family then I find myself deleting the site. As the years have gone by I am finding myself more rough and not caring as much what others think or why they have no life to wonder about ours. There are always 2 stories not just one. I know I am not perfect and take full responsibility for my good or bad actions and have paid dearly but I did not deserve this one to this extent. Its hard being pushed away in a mean way especially from someone you loved from the minute you first seen them. Sooo I am where you are. I am so glad I found this article. Hope you are well and are being good to yourself, I know I will try to be.

  4. Mandy S

    Thankyou for this article. I have been estranged from my daughter going into 8 years. The pain and embarrassment of all of it has been an emotional rollercoaster ride. I felt alone with it for the first 5 years and was so self destructive, around 2016 I started finding articles and books on the subject letting me know it IS a real thing and I am not alone and I do pray alot. I also did some counseling throughout years and tried to learn some tools how to deal and take responsibility on my own actions but I never felt much peace with it. I have never read anything though until this that was a verbatim of my emotions and life, finally your words made something click in my mind giving me peace to let go and not waste anymore time on someone who ignores me. I have sent my notes, kept my door open, moved away and have left social media due to not handling the situation around me well. Your right, life is to short and precious and we as parents are valuable too. Thankyou so much for this article I am going to read the full book I think that it will help me move on with my life.

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      Hi Mandy,
      I hope you will find the full book as helpful as this article. That something that “clicked” is a turning point that many parents come to: Enough. I’ve got to take care of myself and find my life again.

      I hope you will move forward and find joy and peace again! It’s time to get off that roller coaster ride.

      Hugs to you,
      Sheri McGregor

  5. J J

    Our previously loving and sweet son married a woman who started criticizing my wife. They had a child and accused my wife of crossing boundaries: Like giving a grandchild an apple when she was supposed to give a kiwi. Suddenly they couldn’t trust my wife. Our son was still reasonable and expressed his love for us many times. A year ago, almost overnight he said he couldn’t trust us. He wrote a letter accusing us of publicly attacking them and manipulating their two daughters. We have walked on egg shells for years now. We begged for therapy. During the only session trivial complaints were made about my wife. Then our son accused us of planting ideas in our grandchildren so they would ask their parents if they could sleep over. I told my son that of course we would never do that. We haven’t babysat the children for a year. My son says they are not there yet. They see my sister and other son when they visit, specifically excluding us and making my sister and son and wife angry and uncomfortable. I have heard of married sons never contacting parents once they are married to certain women. I have never heard of a wife who would exclude parents-in-law and be inviting to others in the family. I have concluded that his wife lies, manipulates and has no empathy, signs of a sociopath. My son has adopted her behavior, finally succumbing after living in fear of her behavior. We are said every day. We do sometimes feel something we did in his childhood was somehow less than we could. But really, we loved him, encouraged him, let him have his friends and would play and laugh together. My sister described our feelings as ambiguous grief. I am sad and sometimes depressed that the chance to be fun and loving grandparents has been taken away from us. It hurts to see our friends involved with their grandchildren. Being a grandparent is the best career there is. I feel empty and lost. Our other son is loving and his wife adores us as we adore her. They live in another city, may move for careers in a few years. They have no children at this time. We would move to be near them in a second but don’t know where they will be in the near future. Signed, good person with devastating situation.

    Reply
  6. Max

    I have a 32 year old son with multiple problems: Bi-polar, drugs, alcohol, not able to hold a job, etc. I’m 63 and tired of trying to raise him. We have spent so much time and energy (and $) and have made no progress. We support him financially but I won’t give him my future anymore. My wife thinks that it’s her duty to stand by him and absorb his problems no matter what. It has cost us a very good relationship. I’ll never divorce her but I’ve had enough. Should I give an ultimatum: him or me? I can’t go on like this and if she honest; neither can she. I’m considering moving out. We deserve peace and a nice retirement. We’ve tried handing him over to God but we’re still waiting on a miracle. Is it time for more me to move on? Anyone else been through this marriage buster situation?

    Reply
    1. Lynne G.

      Just wanted to tell you that my situation with my son, who is now 46, sounds much like yours. I was married to his father for 35 years. The years of constant turmoil with this son did take its toll. If I could go back there would be many things I would do differently. I think the biggest would be to not be a rescuer. I wanted so much that he would make better decisions and stay out of trouble….thinking it was my responsibility to somehow fix him or the problems that he chose to create. I wish now I would have let him know there was no bailout for wrong choices.
      There did come a day when he knew he could no longer manipulate me. It was then that he estranged himself. I remarried to a wonderful man. He has helped me. We live a retired, peaceful life. My advice is don’t let your son come between you and your wife. Do whatever you need to do to free yourselves from your son. I chose to move away. It was then, after several years, I began to heal from years of struggle trying to “help” him.

  7. candleinthewind

    Hello Max. I think, put bluntly, that women as mothers have a greater affection, connection and loyalty to their children than to their husbands, and other relationships. Society likewise accepts separation from spouses more readily than estrangement from children. It’s just too difficult for women as mothers to deal with, and there are casualties, husbands included. But it’s nice to know that others like myself are up in the middle of the night trying to work out the way forward, exasperated no doubt by the CV situation.

    Reply
  8. LindenLea

    New to the group – I’m facing that my distant daughter, living in the family enclave of my ex (her father) doesnt invite me to any of the young grandchildrens birthday parties, or to join them at Xmas. She doesnt want me to visit for longer than a day, and she “doesn’t have room” for me to stay when I do visit ( a 5hr trip, by car and plane, motel costs), and doesnt want to consider placing a caravan on their farm that I might use (and buy and maintain at my own expense). In fact despite the polite catch up by text, or a few photos of the kids (no Skype allowed), and a general superficial but dismissive polite facade, she is basically, hostile to me, and doesnt want me involved other than as a remote relative in her life. Its been 12 months for me of the cycles of accept, deny, disbelieve my own gut feeling and then deny again, only to be confronted again by her hostility, hidden (barely) by a polite remoteness and dismissiveness. I now I need to give up, but its hard….

    Reply
  9. 613

    Just today I decided that I’m done. I’m done with waiting, hoping, praying that something will change. I’ve taken enough from this kid. I’m done. I’m not going to stand at the door waiting for someone who isn’t going to show up. No more being supportive and showing unconditional love, etc etc. I’m done. I don’t deserve this and I never deserved it but here it is. And I have to take care of myself and quit feeling like I’m a victim. Yes, it’s heartbreaking but I won’t live in that anymore.

    Reply
  10. Resilient

    What I want to know is, do I send birthday cards to the grand babies that will never know me or the truth of what happened?

    Reply
  11. Heidi

    Hi I’m new to this group. I have just finished reading , done with the crying, and I’m glad I found this great book. I and my husband are parents who are estranged from our daughter and our 4 beautiful grand children who where a big part of our life’s for 17 years. We are now estranged for close to a year for circumstances which where out of our control. As we have been to hell and back with the heart ache and no understanding Of how this could ever happen to our perfect family, I take great help from all of you who suffer as much as we do. But, no more (or sometimes a little) crying and, with the help of the book, looking forward of building a new and different life Just trying to be great full for the time we had.

    Reply

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