Five ways to move on after an adult child’s rejection

adult child's rejectionby Sheri McGregor

When an adult child abandons parents, or in some cases the entire family, the what-ifs and how-coulds can limit recovery. What if my child returns to reconcile? How can I move on now yet still hold onto hope?

After an adult child’s rejection, the idea of moving on can feel like giving up, so trying to move forward brings guilt. You might question your character. What kind of a parent just gets on with life as if nothing has happened? Few parents move on with such abandon. Most, on some level, hold out hope for reconciliation. But staring at the silent telephone, desperately waiting for the uncertain return of your adult child can lead to despair. Getting on with life despite what’s happened connects you to other people and activities, helps fill the void of loss, and can help you to heal. In my book, Done With The Crying, tools, the latest research, and insight from more than 9,000 parents of estranged adults can help you move forward and heal.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. When you are betrayed by someone you love, perhaps particularly an estranged adult child who you nurtured and helped to shape, it’s as if the bottom falls out. You may question everything you thought about your child, your relationship, and how your life will continue in relation to your son or daughter, and perhaps in relation to your prior expectations. Getting to a point where you feel you’ve moved on may take time, so be kind to yourself. Expecting that you can go to sleep one night determined to leave the pain of an adult child’s rejection behind, and wake up over it, isn’t realistic. Recovering from deep emotional wounds takes time. I’ve gleaned a few tips from my own experience with my estranged adult child as well as from studies, books, and articles that can help.

An adult child’s rejection hurts.

One: Don’t pretend you’re not hurting.

Fearing judgment, you may be embarrassed to share your painful truth.  And you may be right to hold back with people at work, or certain friends you feel won’t understand or will judge you. It’s helpful to reach out to a trusted, empathetic friend or two, but whether you can or can’t confide in others, don’t deny your feelings exist. Accept your emotions as normal in the situation.

Some common feelings of rejected parents include:

*Guilt: I must not have raised my child right. An adult child’s rejection may cause parents to look back critically at their parenting skills, even magnifying some incidents or interactions during the child’s growing up years as proof they did a poor job.

*Anger: I raised my child better than this. What happened to honoring one’s parents?

*Helplessness: How can he/she refuse to take my call? Parents realize they have no control over their adult child’s actions.

*Fear: What if my other adult children leave me too?

*Denial: This can’t be happening. Surely it won’t last.

*Uncertainty: Am I crazy? Is this all my fault? Am I that insufferable? Will this ever end?

*Failure: I feel powerless. Parents may have a sense of failure at having tried everything, but nothing has worked to restore the relationship.

These are just a few of the feelings you may encounter in response to an adult child’s rejection, betrayal or neglect. Keeping a journal or simply free-writing about your feelings may provide a safe way to offload them. Some find an online group designed as support for parents of estranged adult children useful. We host an online group to help. Acknowledging your feelings, whether in a journal or by sharing with others you trust can be healthy, but not to excess or in a negative way.

Two: Don’t Ruminate

Listen to your thoughts. Do you catch yourself saying aloud or thinking, “I’ll never get over this..” Are you continually asking questions, such as, “Why do these sorts of things always happen to me?” Called “ruminating,” this sort of negative thinking spurs more negative thought, perhaps even calling to mind the other things that “always happen.” Clinical studies have linked ruminating to high blood pressure and to unhealthy behaviors such as binge drinking and overeating, so steer clear.

How do you avoid ruminating? Turn your statements and questions around with positive thoughts. I am moving past this. Good things happen in my life. This suggestion may sound trite, but if negative thoughts can produce more negative thoughts, positive thoughts can be as fruitful.

When you catch yourself thinking negatively about your adult child or the situation, notice your physical body as well. Are you holding your breath? Clenching your jaw? Tightening your fists? You may be experiencing a stress response that isn’t good for you.

As reported in the Harvard Health Newsletter, researchers at Hope College in Michigan found that changing one’s thoughts about a stressful situation, perhaps by considering the parts you handled well or imagining offering forgiveness, changes the body’s responses. In short, the way we think about things can reduce our physical stress response

Take a few deep breaths, loosen up or even get up and move around. Drink a glass of water. Do something to aid your physical body and health as well as positively altering your thoughts.

Three: Focus on the Good

Take time out each day to consider the positive situations and good people in your life. A journal of good thoughts written down at the end of each day is a healthy habit, and a formal record is fun to re-read later. However, a more casual approach can be effective.

Keeping a positive focus after an adult child’s rejection.

Here are a few suggestions:

Instead of joining everyone in the lunch break room each day, take a short stroll outdoors instead, or perhaps before you join the others. The benefits of nature to the psyche are well-documented. Be sure to experience your surroundings to the fullest, by taking notice. The dappled sunlight beneath this tree is pretty. The breeze feels good as it goes through my hair.

If getting outdoors isn’t an option, you can still focus your thoughts in a positive direction. Perhaps recall moments from your morning that went well.  I’m glad I was able to make that telephone connection and cross the task off my list. I arrived at the office earlier than my boss this morning. I’m lucky my co-workers are helpful.

Looking to the future with a positive focus promotes the well-known attitude of gratitude that’s so helpful. My dog will be waiting for me with a wagging tail. I look forward to my favorite television show tonight. I’m so thankful my aging mother is well.

Four: Forgive.

Parents have known and loved their children for so long that forgiveness may be second nature – – or not. Perhaps you blame other people who are involved with your adult children. Or maybe you blame yourself. We all make mistakes, so work to forgive. Because of the personal benefits, forgiveness is a gift you can give yourself. Forgive for the sake of your own happiness.

In a study published by National Institute of Health in 2011, researchers found that older adults (median age 66) who forgive others report higher levels of life satisfaction. Forgiving freely, without requiring an act of contrition, (such as an apology or admission), was particularly beneficial. Holding one’s forgiveness hostage to some act or condition was associated with psychological distress and symptoms of depression.

Five: Accept.

Accepting the reality of an adult child’s abandonment, and your helplessness to change it, may feel like letting go of hope. Reconciliation may eventually take place, but in the present, accepting what’s happened allows you to make the most of your life now.

Most of us have had to accept other disappointing realities during our lives: a loved one’s death, the inability to finish college due to other responsibilities, or an unrealized professional goal. We all have disappointments, but the vast majority of us accept reality and move forward, perhaps in more fulfilling directions. Even after an adult child’s rejection, you have the right to enjoy your life. Dwelling on the past or struggling with pursuits that, at least for the moment, are futile, rob you of precious time.

Acceptance may take determination, but is worth the effort. Acceptance has allowed me the freedom to be who I truly am: A strong woman blessed with many people, including four other adult children, to love and share my life with. By accepting the sad reality of one adult child’s rejection, I can better spend my time and energy on people that want my company, on interests that are meaningful and fulfilling to me, and where I can make a difference.

Recently, a parent told me she had reconciled with an estranged adult child after nearly two decades of estrangement. Her story illustrates the fulfillment of hope. Like she did, you can live your life now—-in a way that’s meaningful, fulfilling, and happy—-and still hold out hope for a future reconciliation.
parents of estranged adult childrenDone With The Crying is available through popular booksellers. Ask your local bookstore to order this book for parents of estranged adult children for you. Or order online. And fathers–this book can help you, too.

Take the confidential, 8-question survey to help parents of estranged adult children.

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Why forgive?

Related Articles from other sources:

Forgiveness by God, Forgiveness of Others, and Psychological Well-Being in Late Life

Five Reasons to Forgive




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24 thoughts on “Five ways to move on after an adult child’s rejection

  1. Maya

    I wish all of you some moments of equilibrium. After many years of being a mom in every sense — while enduring the emotional abuse of his father — our son has decided the both of us are for the birds. He writes with coldness, with ultimatums, with a scolding, sneering, tone. Those who knew him as a warmhearted, forgiving soul would not believe this. I carry this grief so close to my heart sometimes I feel my heart will rupture. The therapist I have had for a long time suggests he has taken on his father’s persona. Why did I give my child so much love? I did not expect to be protected in old age; but I did not expect to be cast aside like driftwood.

  2. Nathaniel

    I’m a single custodial dad who has mostly solo raised my two kids, 16 and 18 now, since they were 8 and 10. My story is much the same as the single moms here if that’s any comfort. Most of my life for the last 18 years has revolved around both of them. I realize now that they is almost no ‘me’ left anymore. Now they have completely rejected me for virtually no reason other than over angry words spoken…over getting them to help pitch in around the house. No abuse, no drugs, no alcohol, no violence. I overhear them talking together and deciding together to reject me. They won’t answer or reciprocate when I speak loving, kind words to them. All they seem to know if conflict, even with each other many times. I know what people are thinking…they are still just teens in a phase. but I’m a scientist and very observant and thoughtful and I can see that this is not a phase. I was a teen once too, and very angry with my folks at times, but there was never the slightest though of putting them out of my life. My future seems likely to be heading in the same direction as most of the people who’ve written comments here. I suppose I should feel grateful to be able to begin adjusting now, but it still feels like the two people I love most in the world are dead and never coming back. When I look at old photos of the many, many years of pure joy we three had together, I feel like I’m looking at photos of dead people. Of course, there are many times I feel like I wish I were dead myself, just to stop the pain, and the thought of so many more years of it ahead.

    1. rparents Post author


      I am hoping you will seek out a bit of that ‘me’ (you) every day. Make it a mission because you’re a treasure and surely worth finding again.

      Sheri McGregor

  3. Corinne

    I have been reading a lot of these posts and feel like I can relate to all of them in some way. It has only been 6 months of estrangement, but in reality it has been the last 10 years. The constant walking on eggshells and superficial conversations have been tough enough. Although it’s been the most painful period of time in my life, it has also been the most eye-opening and I hope to heal more as the time goes on. My husband and I were good parents. I stayed home to raise them, because they were a year apart, my husband worked long hours and I wanted to. I was the parent who did what I could to give my children what I thought they needed, my time and effort. Did I make mistakes? I’m sure I did, but I never did anything with bad intentions. I put my family first and was proud of all their accomplishments. We have a wonderful relationship with our son and his wife. He has been a rock for my husband and I. He confirms to us that we were good parents, because when you go through this you constantly relive everything you did while raising them. I have daughter who suffers from anxiety and depression, who we sent to many therapists since she was 15 for help. She has taken medication. She had as many as 5 therapists in 10 years because of high school and college and when she moved to different places for work. She recycled the same stories and grievances she had with us as a teenager to everyone of them, which everyone knows can be a difficult time normally. She never did any of the work they asked her to do to help herself and I felt that the recycling of the stories, just helped her to reinforce her beliefs. We didn’t spank or call our children names. We weren’t drinkers or didn’t take drugs. We were at every school event and award ceremony. She is a high functioning ultra sensitive perfectionist. I tried to tell her not to be so hard on herself. But I always felt dammed if I did or dammed if I didn’t with our conversations. We did apologize if she felt that we did things that hurt her feelings. We never had that intention. What decent parent wants to hurt their child? The last conversation we had was about some disturbing behavior she had the last time we got together. I asked her if she might need a medication adjustment. And that is the last time we spoke. She has also cut off her brother. She lives far away with her boyfriend, so at least I know she isn’t alone. I don’t know if he is the best person for her, because I don’t know him all that well. Although it hurts so deeply, I can’t say I was happy with the superficial relationship as it was anyway. I feel bad for her. She wants to play the victim role. I guess my sadness is mourning the relationship I always hoped to have with her as an adult, but believe I never will.

  4. Melissa

    We all make mistakes as parents and even if we didn’t know what we did to make our child so hateful, as much as it hurts, try to move on. Pondering on the hurt doesn’t do you any good; physically or emotionally. And we don’t need an early grave! Pray about the situation and rely on faith because it will help you get through it all. I have a son who’s dependency is driving me crazy. My other two daughters are more self-reliant but he isn’t. He’s homeless and I refuse to take him in. He’s on his own. Should I feel guilty? Nope. He’s grown. I was taught growing up, when you’re grown, you make your own way. As a parent it’s ok to help out now and again but w/ my son, it’s just downright ridiculous. I refuse to allow him to destroy my health and I’m on the verge of telling him to get the hell out for of mine for awhile. I need the space; and am more than entitled to the peace. Swim or sink. Especially in this age of these millennial children, don’t feel any guilt. Most of these kids are a pain in the ass now period.

  5. Bret

    You parents did nothing wrong. As an estranged child by choice, my mother never really did anything to deserve how I treat her. There were a few incidents, but they were minor. I, as an angry adult who expresses desire never to have been born in the first place, can attest that children who estrange their parents are mad about something. So mad, so angry, so sad that others feelings mean nothing to them, absolutely nothing. Its not your fault, other than you brought this angry person into the world, and Im sure they hate you for it. As I hate my mother for it. I wish i was never born.

    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Bret,

      I’m sorry that you feel the way you do about your life. I hope you will find some things that bring you joy, pursue them, and find fulfillment. Maybe that sounds trite, but it’s sincere.

      Sheri McGregor

  6. Julie Heerebrand

    Thank you for your honesty. I can’t even begin to tell you how much your comment had helped me. Between the name calling, no contact, criticism and demands for money, I have been utterly dumbfounded. I’m extremely sorry that you feel so hurt and angry, and for what it’s worth I hope you find peace. You have certainly eased my mind and heart.

  7. Nicole F.

    I am in total shock and disbelief that I am here, on this site, reading all these posts… and being one of them. I am a single mom with four kids. My kids were my world. In fact, to my detriment, I have made my life about them and always been there for them. I provided an upper class life for them, with a safe and beautiful home, trips and they never wanted for anything. I never missed any important dates in their lives. Two of my boys are/were in the military, my daughter is in a happy and healthy relationship and my youngest is still at home. My oldest was a Marine. He was my best friend. We did everything together. It nearly killed me when he left for the service. I immediately was supportive and visited him, almost monthly and never missed any major happenings. He married and she left him. He came home and started college while living at home. He then left for the main campus for one year. While there he found friendships with a crowd of marijuana smokers and sellers. He attempted suicide shortly after and I was there, immediately to get him through it all. I begged him to come home and take a break. He said he was taking a year off from school and was going to travel to Northern Cali to work on a weed farm. He promised he would make some money, live on his own and return. We never fought. He was close to his siblings. I took him to the airport, begrudgingly and after a night of telling him I was worried about this life choice. He got on the plane anyway. He sent a few scattered texts for a month. Then suddenly, it all stopped and he has “disappeared”–off the grid. No social media, number is changed. and he just vaporized. I am plagued with the pain and fear and anger daily. I feel like I should be looking for him. I have no clue where to start or what I would do if I found him. I am so confused and my whole world is a waiting period. I love my son and I don’t know if I should be angry or worried. How can I go on with life without knowing where he is and why he left.

  8. Karin

    Today, I queried, “what to do when an adult child rejects all communication with parents for many years,” and was astonished to find a whole community of us exists. My husband and I were estranged from our daughter for 8 years. This was hard for us to understand because her childhood years were happy ones and we were a close and loving family. Her teenage years, however, were tumultuous and challenging for us as parents. She was often angry and defiant. We tried using the best parenting skills we knew and although we didn’t have all the answers and made our fair share of mistakes, it didn’t stop us from loving her or believing in her. We weathered through the rebellious years and finally she seemed to mature, become responsible, she got a job, graduated from high school and then she moved away from home. Meanwhile, we seemed to be getting along with her when we got together, laughing and talking and sharing special moments. Then, things began changing. After her first child was born, she experienced postpartum depression and began taking antidepressants. When her relationship ended in divorce, her depression returned and she was prescribed Lithium by a regular medical doctor. When this medicine proved too strong for her, she was referred to a psychiatrist who eased her off this medicine and she began regular sessions with him. She continued working, during this time and began dating her current husband, a soft spoken quiet man. When we’d get together she’d sometimes drop comments about hating holidays with us, saying we yelled at her too much when she was a teenager and blaming us for her problems. Comments that seemed to come out of nowhere and stung. After they married, they moved several hours away from us, closer to his parents. We were still included in her life, however we saw her less and less. About a year and a half later, they had a baby boy. When he was a few months old, one day she called to ask if she and her kids could stay overnight with us. We later learned from her that her husband had become enraged with her after she made an unauthorized purchase and he had assaulted her shoving her up against the wall, while she was holding their baby, and left bruises on her body. This happened in front of her 7 year old daughter, who was terrified at the time. So, we were extremely surprised the next day when she told us that she and her husband had patched things up over the phone and that she was returning home to him. She shrugged off answering why and after that was never close to us again. That was when she stopped returning phone calls and ignoring invitations to get together. As months went on, we grew increasingly alarmed, and we reached out to his parents by email to ask if everybody was okay and asked if anything was wrong. Although, we never heard back from them, my daughter responded with an angry email and told us that she thought she and we should get a separation. We were stunned! She was breaking up with us! My husband and I had never heard of such a thing! Over time, however, it became obvious, it was a divorce of sorts she wanted. And, apparently, we weren’t to have visitation rights with any of her children. Once or twice her ex tried to arrange a time and place for us to see our granddaughter with him. However, when my daughter found out she became enraged and called to tell us never to talk to him again and she apologized to him for having to talk to us. We ultimately decided not to communicate with him or try to see our granddaughter as it seemed to upset our granddaughter and make her cry. So, we continued sending cards, gifts on birthdays and at Christmas, occasionally leaving a voice mail, text or email but never receiving any acknowledgements or responses back. It was a vacuum relationship. And, it broke our hearts. So why did we do it? Our position was that she may have made her decision, but we didn’t agree to stop being her parents and her children’s grandparents and we wanted to model love and forgiveness to our grandchildren and remind them of us so we wouldn’t be forgotten. Then, almost three months ago came the biggest shock of my lifetime, my beloved husband of over 40 years, died of a massive heart attack. It was had a huge impact on me and it was so unexpected. I guess death never is. I wasn’t ready for it and I know my husband wasn’t either. We had plans together, hopes, dreams. And, yes, always a hope for reconciliation with our daughter and grandchildren, which did happen, but not in the way we’d wanted it to. In the blur of activities that occurred that morning, my son called my daughter and she left work to drive several hours to the hospital and briefly into our lives. Although my husband never regained consciousness to speak with any of us, he did squeeze my hand before going into surgery and I do believe he was aware that our adult son, daughter and myself were all there together with him in the room before he died. On that day, my daughter agreed to answer her cell, and to read and answer texts and emails from me as her part in helping arrange a Celebration of Life for her dad. Then, about four weeks later, she, her husband and three children attended the Celebration of Life and then after that all communication ceased. There were no, “I’m sorry’s,” or “I love you’s,” or “I’m going to miss him.” For years her dad and I had sent her I love you sentiments. One time, she actually called to yell at us, “Love?” “What is love?” “I’m not angry with you….I don’t feel anything for you!” Two years ago, I visited her, unannounced, to say I was sorry, I missed her, and that I loved her and would always love her. During the 15 or so minutes that I was invited in, I gave her several long hugs, which she accepted, then she introduced me to my granddaughter for the first time and who was now 3 years of age. Then, it was over and she said I should probably leave. Now, just like then, it’s back to a vacuum relationship. Just as before, no responses to texts, emails and voice messages. If anyone actually reads this, I survive by having a strong faith in God, who promises to love and forgive unconditionally. has also become a part of my life. It applies to any loss. Not just a loved one but also the death of a relationship of a loved one. God bless you. I share your pain. Day by day, one step at a time, I move forward and seek to surround myself with positive and supportive people. I count my blessings, a good relationship with my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, a loving sister and kind and wonderfully supportive friends. God is good!


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