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

  1. Zoe

    Reading everyone’s comments. And finding this site has made me see I am not alone in this ,thank you all for sharing.
    It has also let me see enough is enough and that I can move on.
    I have been blaming myself for 8 yrs .my then 26 yr old daughter turned on me .in a matter of a year, our once good relationship just crumbled.we had a few arguments and some bad things were said from both sides.she then had 2 children in 18mths .we had a very big ridiculous argument after her second child was born.and from this argument the flood doors opened.she stopped talking to me her farther and sister. 3mths later she left the country and moved back to our original home country to be with her husbands family and mine.Australia to the UK.
    I never knew until I was told by family she was there. I travel back to try to work it out .but she refused to see me .so I wrote a letter to her .I received it back unopened.
    My son in law text me .telling me I was the worst mother ever .that i was a narsasitic person and that I had abused my daughter all her life and that he did not want his children near me. He the ended the text saying ,your head is an apple and I will be the worm in your head forever eating at it ,and that’s your punishment for being such a bad mother.
    The pain continued as my daughter then turned all my uk family against me .my sister and mother .never telling me what I had supposed to have done wrong .just ignoring me ,nobody talking .
    Nobody ever telling me why ,it never making any sence .
    I tried again reaching out visiting the UK. For my daughter to tell me never to contact her again that i am dead to her and her life is better without me. On those words I very painfully moved on ,there was good and bad days ,and had it not have been for my youngest child I would have not have made it through .a few years later the story started to unfold a little, my daughter had been telling everyone she had been physically and mentally abused by me.
    I had my daughter at 17yrs old ,my mum and my sister were in my life every day, we lived in each other’s pockets ,holidaying together,Christmas all as one ,so if I had created this abuse why had they also not been blamed, or witnessed to it and stopped it.
    I reflected and I do blame my self thinking was I too strict,did I say the wrong things .yes I smacked her and yes we did fight a little .I lived for years blaming my self . I twisted my own head picturing my self beating my own child, everyday I thourght of what I said to her and how I should have said it differently, thinking of the fights we had .I brought my self to an all time low of wanting to end it all, not being able to live with myself being this horrid abusive person I was made out to be.
    I rembered a time I was on holiday in Florida and she was 9 yrs old and she was smacked on the bottom becouse she wanted the biggest most expensive burger on the menu and then took one bite and refused to eat it. She was smacked .when she was 15 we started to flight a lot .she disappeared one night and we had been out looking for her .she turned up in a taxi at 3am drunk ,I slapped her . Looking back I wish I could have done it all diffrent, I smacked her and we fought.
    And i was wrong. Into days world we would never do this .I believed I had beaten her I had convinced myself of this.
    But in truth, I remember everytime she was smacked or when we had fought, beacouse there was so many little times I can count on one hand how many there was in her growing up. I my self had been smacked and fourght with my own mother more times than her with me, and I never held this on my mother, it was just growing up.
    I had given my daughter everything .luxury holidays, private education, expensive clothes , jewellery, cars , birthday party’s, wedding. when my grandchildren were born ,I bourght prams ,everything. I had worked hard all her life to give her everything I could, in reality she was spoiled and never been told no, whatever she wanted she got, were ever she wanted to go I allowed her to go. Best of holidays with her friends from 17, out partying. I never stopped her always happy to be the taxi at 2am pickups as she got older.
    And no I was not perfect but she was my world and I only ever wanted the best for her.
    8 yrs on and no contact, she has never contacted me or her dad and sister .now out of the blue she is comming back to Australia. She has made contact with her sister saying she left to protect her children and put them first and she hopes to rekindle there relationship.
    This hurt all over again .I can not do this a second time around .I have realised I am not perfect and I did my best but I can not live up to her expectations. I am sorry she feels I let her down. But my whole life since I was 17 was about her, and now I need it to be for me and my husband and youngest daughter .and this is just another guilt I have to live with yet again for feeling this way.
    I love her and always will, I know she see,s things differently than me, she looks for the bad and has forgotten all the good, I wish I could hug her and tell her her how good it really was.
    The cruellest thing in the world is the loss of a child in anyway.

  2. Gloria

    I have been grieving over my adult daughter’s abusive way of talking to me, since she was a teenager and she is now 36 and still is disrespectful and hateful toward me. I’ve tried to walk on eggshells with her to no avail, and feel most of the time “damned if I do, and damned, if I don’t.” I have now taken the attitude that I cannot live this way with feeling as if I am guilty of not raising her properly. And in my heart-of-hearts I don’t think I ever did anything wrong to make her hate me so. She can go 6 months without talking to me, and I think time is passing by so quickly that we don’t have time to have any kind of good relationship and I can’t keep hoping. So, I’ve now become apathetic about trying to get along well with her, and trying to take the attitude of —it’s HER LOSS! There’s only so much a person/Mother/Father can do to have a good relationship with our children, and when you’ve done all that you can think of, maybe time to give up and let the chips fall where they may and not worry about it any more! Take the attitude that life isn’t fair, and this estrangement from our children is just one more “cross to bear.”

  3. Gloria

    I think we have to realize that after having done all that we can think of to reconcile with our adult children, and they show that they do not care, then we have to face the facts and realize that they are not worth our caring any more. We’ve done all that we could do to raise them properly so that they could take care of themselves well and be who they want to be. AND if they don’t want a relationship with us, well maybe that is THEIR LOSS! I used to cry about the estrangement and grieve the lack of closeness or caring or love, but I realized that I shouldn’t have to suffer like that, because in my heart of hearts I really don’t know why I deserve the abuse my adult daughter gives me —abuse with hateful words, or estrangement. I am really trying to NOT CARE any more! Why should I allow myself to be tortured by her!

  4. Javkie

    I have recently (4weeks ago) started reconciling with my daughter)5yesrs) gone. She has told me why she had estranged and I have listened and apologised. It was nothing big but to her it is so that’s important. BUT I simply don’t feel the same about her anymore and I’m just “going through the motions) . I feel terrible and keep going because being without her was sooo bloody painful and I don’t want to feel that way again ever. So, I’m stuck in this void of nothing ness. I’ve just told myself I’ll keep to myself and keep a distance without being obvious. Don’t know what else to do x god bless us allx

    1. Gloria

      I feel the same way about “protecting my feelings” with being apathetic about the rudeness my daughter gives me and not keeping in touch. I’ve come to the conclusion she is not the caring, loving daughter I had hope she would grow up to be, and I don’t expect much of a relationship with any more and have modified my love for her, I am sorry to say!

  5. 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.

    1. Gloria

      I used to respond in angry way such as you described, but I felt so bad about it that when my daughter spews hateful words to me now, I just look at her without any reaction and just walk away. I don’t know WHAT she thinks when I do that and sometimes she starts acting better and friendlier, but NEVER apologizes. When I’ve tried to ask her why she is so hateful she doesn’t give me any answer. She is now 36 and she has been doing this to me on and off since being a teenager and saying that she “hates me.” She is sometimes nice but mostly she is what I call “moody” and unreasonable, even rude and hateful.

  6. 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……….

  7. 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!

    1. Sharon G

      Dear Karen,
      God bless you. Your story makes me very sad for you as I am going through the first stages with my own 31 yr old daughter. She blames her father and I for all her mistakes and bad decisions and her life that she hates. We, like you, have always been there for her time and time again but she disregards all of our help and suggestions as controlling and not letting her be an adult then blames us when her own way causes her disappointment and hardships. She now abuses drugs and tried to commit suicide which has devastated us even more and made us want to protect her even more. She keeps going back to an abusive relationship and the cycle begins all over again. Our heart breaks for her because we know where she could be in life if she would only make the changes necessary but we can’t make her see that. We are now not letting her come back to our house and letting go because it has become unhealthy for us. I will pray for you and our daughters. That is all we can do because caring, loving hearts are missing from them and a void exists that only God can fill and restore.

  8. 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.

    1. Gloria

      No –you are not alone. I, too, feel the same pain as you have felt. I’ve suffered with the hateful words my adult daughter spews so easily at me for over 15 years now, ever since she was a teenage and I thought she would grow out of it, but she hasn’t, and I’ve made up my mind I’m going to be take an apathetic attitude to her abusive treatment toward me and realize that she is not the daughter I had hoped, —a caring, loving daughter. It hurts to let her go and not keep trying to get along well with her, but I feel too exhausted to keep doing all the work in relationship with her, and am pulling back and staying back. I don’t deserve to be tortured by her uncaring and even hateful treatment/behavior to me, I’ve told myself —like being my own best-friend!

  9. 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

  10. 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.

    1. Audrey H.

      Rebecca, what makes you believe you were an ‘awful mother’?
      we all makes mistakes, we all get things wrong, but to call yourself an awful mother is harsh. I’m sure you did the best you could. You don’t give much background to your conclusion, but every mother does what they feel right (at the time) – even if those actions prove wrong later on.
      I can’t help thinking you are being a tad hard on yourself.
      But like you, I can relate. I have two children in their 30’s and my son has gone as far as telling me that if I contact him again, he will take me to court!
      The only reason I am now in contact with my daughter, is because of my granddaughter, as she lets me see her.
      But my daughter doesn’t want to see me, or try and sort the issues out.
      Like you, I deserve the chance to move on, and have that peace and happiness, which I get from my new husband, and good friends that have been a constant support for me.
      I am now at the point of wanting to cut my kids off completely, or at least until they are ready for a reconciliation. But that time is not yet. It may never be, but I need to be at peace either way.
      also like you, I have apologized time and time again, but I won’t do anymore as there is just no point.
      They haven’t – so why should I keep doing it?
      I found it helpful to look at some grieving sites, as this is a kind of grieving process, and first of all, we need to look after ourselves, and only do what we have to do until we feel stronger to deal with other stuff.
      find new ways of using our time, I am a member of a new church, and am finding new friends there.
      and God is a God of comfort, and is familiar with all our ways, so turning to Him helps hugely, I hope our God can encourage you too.
      I hope this reply helped.

  11. 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.

  12. 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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