Letters to estranged adult children

letters to estranged adult childrenAsk Sheri McGregor: Letters to estranged adult children

I routinely hear from parents asking if I have sample letters to adult children, showing them what to say. They hope their words will motivate a reconciliation. With so many “experts” out there recommending amends letters to estranged adult children and telling parents what to do or say to get results, it’s no wonder so many parents believe that if they can say just the right thing, their children will respond as desired. I have written extensively about this subject in my books to help parents of estranged adults. Here, I’ll share one email from parents whose situation may be useful for others. We cover their question about what to say—and more.

Ask Sheri McGregor–Letters to estranged adult children:
What words will motivate reconciliation?

Q: Hi Sheri. Our 29-year-old son who does not live with my husband and I anymore, has mental issues including depression, anxiety and a mood disorder. He is currently in therapy and is taking medication. He also smokes marijuana and has been doing this for at least 10 years. 

 Six months ago, shortly after he moved out, he blocked us on his phone, and he did not reply to our text messages. He stopped speaking to us and would not reply to our emails. He only speaks through my parents, and only if absolutely necessary. He gets mad if we reach out or try to reconcile directly or through someone else. We hear from my parents that he wants to reconcile but he is not ready nor is he ready to apologize.

Is there anything we can do to get him to contact us sooner rather than later or do we have to wait for him to contact us when he is ready? We are sending an e-card to him on his birthday soon. Is there a good message to write in it to encourage him to call us? 

 As background, we were not getting along before the estrangement, and he was verbally abusive to us. During this estrangement, we have spoken only a couple of times, but it was not positive. He has been verbally abusive, talked behind our back and lied or exaggerated regarding our relationship and the facts. For six months, we have been hurt, angry and frustrated, but we understand it may be part of his mental illness or he is just taking it out on us that his life is bad right now. It is also hard to wait, but we will if we need to.

Is there anything we can do or do we wait? We are in therapy to learn how to better get along with him when he does come back. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this and we appreciate your response.

Bernice and Hal

Answer from Sheri McGregor

A: You know what, Bernice and Hal? You can just love him. You can say Happy Birthday and you can say you hope he’s doing well. You can even say you’d love to see or him, and if it’s true and fits, you could tell him that, in looking back, you regret your words or actions. (I add this because you said you weren’t getting along earlier.) However, to be absolutely honest, my guess is that he will do what he wants to do when he’s ready. If he is ever ready.

You asked if you “have” to just wait, etc. My feelings are that you don’t “have” to do anything. Having said that, though, trying to force him to speak to you isn’t likely to get a different result than you have already seen. Also, when sending letters to estranged adult children there are no magic, “just right” words to motivate your desired outcome (no matter who might say so). That’s his call. There are, however, things you can say that will perhaps push him away—and you likely know what they are. You mentioned your folks saying he’s not ready to apologize, for example. If you’re demanding an apology, mentioning that (again) might further enrage him.

You mentioned your son’s mental health issues. Anyone who has dealt with mental illness knows that those terms and diagnoses can’t begin to convey the actual situation, so I can’t fully know what all you have  been through. Let me just say that, when given agency in their own lives, and the responsibility for their lives, relationships, and behavior, even people with mental illness often make better choices. Is it possible that your son doesn’t need to do that? It may be true, if everyone tiptoes around him. I talk about this more in Beyond Done With The Crying: More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children.  Only you know how far you have bent toward enabling him or excusing his behavior, but you did mention his verbal abuse. My feeling is that abuse is not acceptable under any circumstances, and if it happens again, you might calmly say so and disengage from the conversation.

You also mentioned his long-term marijuana use. This will not enhance and may even interfere with any medication he’s taking. Nor will it help him think clearly toward his own progress. Unfortunately, in today’s cannabis friendly society, not all mental health clinicians are well informed.

Regarding the fact that you two are in therapy to learn how to better communicate with your son, that’s a wise move. Adult children with mental illness are sometimes manipulative or nonsensical, and patterns may have developed between you. Years of drain-circling conversations that make no sense can foster unhealthy communication habits. You are wise to educate yourselves in ways to break free from unhealthy patterns, learn to better recognize and manage your emotional responses in conversations with him, and avoid falling into argumentative traps that go nowhere and can escalate.

Finally, and I hope this doesn’t sound harsh, your note sounds a bit like your lives are all about your son—and perhaps have been for a very long time (even your therapy). While I understand the love and concern for his well-being, I hope that you will consider … just consider … living for yourselves more.

Rather than waiting around, consulting with your parents about him and worrying over your every word or action, how about forgetting about him a bit? How about enjoying a vacation together, or even just a weekend where you purposely avoid making him part of your conversation? How about trying something new—for the holidays and even beyond? How about letting him be an adult who will need to learn to navigate his challenges (even if he is mentally ill)? Small steps … letting go emotionally … might be helpful to all involved.

I know that this has all been heartbreaking and I fully understand your worry and hope for positive change. Believe me, I know. That’s your precious son! The thing is, you can let an adult child consume you—your time, your energy, your very life—or you can create boundaries for your own well-being and integrity (even interior boundaries in your thinking).

If, as your parents have said, your son does want to reconcile, taking care of yourselves now will prepare you. That’s every bit as important as learning to better communicate with your son. In any reconciliation, you will need to be strong and know how to take care of yourselves—because no one else will.

Sometimes, mental illnesses include elements of manipulative behavior as well as illogical thinking. So does addiction. While it is wise to learn how to better communicate and prepare for future contact, I hope you are working at your own wellness and future, too. You count. Parents can be supportive but cannot force adults to recognize that our support is needed by or right for them. Learn to care well for yourselves now, during this break.

As an aside, when other family members act as the go-between as you indicate your parents do, my alarm bells begin to ring. Sometimes, ulterior motives exist, or the situation is part of a bigger dysfunctional dynamic. I don’t know your details, so these thoughts may not be relevant for you, but grandparents may be eager to appease grandchildren. Their affection and love may follow a long history in their non-disciplinary roles with grandchildren. The old cliché of spoiling the grandchildren—and then giving them back to their parents—is at least rooted in truth sometimes.

Consider also whether the grandparents, in their advancing age, fully comprehend the situation. They may have found themselves in the middle, wanting to please everyone and trying to help. Too often, the peace of vulnerable older folks’ is highjacked by angry adults who are embroiled in family disputes and self-serving pursuits. This is true for grandparents and parents—who are getting older too. In Beyond Done, I cover more about the complexities of extended family as well as stress as we age and how we don’t recover so easily.

You may want to discuss your parents’ involvement in the situation with your therapist. With more complete details and your existing therapeutic relationship, he or she is can better assess your situation, and perhaps guide you and your folks to mitigate stress and attend to your own well-being,

I hope this helps a little.

Hugs to you, Bernice and Hal.

Sheri McGregor

Related Reading

Parents wonder: Does my estranged adult child have mental illness?

An adult daughter’s criticizing: When the child holds onto offenses

Angry adult children: Could Marijuana use be a part of the problem?



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45 thoughts on “Letters to estranged adult children

  1. Kathy d.

    I wish I could say it’s only been 5 months, but it’s actually been 5 years. I have 3 grandsons and have not met the last 2. And I miss the oldest so much as he was 2 the last time I seen him. It never gets easier, but I’ve had 2 other children to focus on as I’m a single mom. But there are times where I sit and mourn all over again, my daughter. She was my world when she was little. I always wanted a daughter I could be close with as an adult and I got just the opposite. Not a second goes by that I don’t think of her voice or her smile or her laugh. Or how her beauty could lighten up any dark room. I don’t even know where she lives. I do have family that talk to her but none of them will help me or “get involved” with helping me to reunite with her. I have messaged the last number I had for her and never a response back. Today is particularly hard for me as her birthday is coming up. This is the time of year every year that I dread because it’s when I allow myself to think of her and I break down. I mourn get all over again this time every year. And even saying that I mourn my child who is still living just breaks my heart. I never could imagine anything like this could happen and then I think where did I go wrong? I did the best I could as a single mom from the age of 18. I will never understand how a child could willingly hurt their parent in this manner. And it’s the hurt that keeps on hurting. Would be better if she or I were past because then at least there would be a mo nunent to go visit. I have nothing. Im not even allowed to get pictures of my grandsons. I keep thinking, what if I died, would whe even care? What if I had a terminal Illness, is that the moment she would reach out, or would she continue to hide and be silent? I have learned to live without her and them as it has been 5 years, but it still hurts just as badly as the first 5 months. I periodically will send a text to the last number I have for her. She doesn’t even reach out to her brothers that have their own phones. Or if she did, they won’t tell me. I pray everyday that that will be the day she comes back to me. But I never allow myself to feel hopeful. For I know it’s wishful thinking. So no, it never gets easier, but you find yourself trying not to think of them so you can move forward. Mourning a living child isn’t right. And it’s plain torture and extremely mean. But I know I have done my part to reach out and I have forgiven myself for the circumstances that led up to. It’s her issue now. I’ve cleared my conscience and have asked for forgiveness so my hands are clean. I can no longer allow her to continuously hurt me over and over. But… Deep down I keep praying for the day that she will realize I’m her mother. I’m the reason she is even alive and breathing and has become a mother herself. Maybe one day she will come back, but I’m prepared for her not to.

    1. Kathy D.

      I have been waiting so long to reconcile, almost 15 years. I have never met my one and only grandson. I hope it is different for you.
      It has been so long that I have just given it to God to resolve.

    2. Susan H.

      I feel so sorry that this has happened to you. Like you, I always a daughter. My daughter is my first child. We are not estranged, but as I was reading your letter, I was thinking of my daughter and the sadness I would feel in that situation. I am estranged from my son, my 2nd child. It’s been 7 years. I know very little of why he is staying away. He has aspergers (high functioning autism) and feels I looked down on him. But I see it just the opposite. Getting divorced from his dad who he was very close to had to have an affect on him. These adult children may not feel the deep love for us as we feel toward them. Maybe we loved them too much. Maybe they feel a resentment of what is expected of them. And they do not feel a duty to tell us why? It seems a form of selfishness. They have taken themselves from us. I do have hope though. There has to be something in the back of their minds….a glimmer of a time when they were little, maybe sitting on their mother’s laps. I pray to the Lord that we both will see these children again.

    3. SUSAN C.

      I feel your pain, and I am truly sorry you have to experience this headache as a mother. 5 years is a long time but you seem to be heading in the right direction by forgiving her but more importantly yourself. It doesn’t stop the hurt but if you have done all you can do which sounds like you truly have, and then some, you have no control over the situation. We can only control ourselves and the way we choose to respond to these circumstances. I don’t have communication with my oldest son (35) because he refuses to get help for a drug addiction. My younger son (32) lives in his own world and only cares about the next girl. He has 2 children from 2 different women. My youngest grandson I have only met at birth and my oldest grandson who I am close to is what keeps me going. At present my both parents including my son and his ex are making it nearly impossible for me to keep in contact with. Why? Immaturity and self entitlement. My prayers are with you. Take care of yourself first!

    4. Joan

      It’s been 12 long years. I never got over it.
      estranged daughter who never told me why though I repeatedly asked why.
      I know this is hard to believe but the times I asked, she said this isn’t a good time.
      Finally after 4 years, I said “It wil never be a good time, I guess”

      I strongly suspect that parental alienation by my covert narcissistic husband happened under my own eyes without my realizing it. In fact, I did not realize he was a Narc until way too late.

      I saw a therapist who suggested this dtr has narcissistic traits as well. I dont know. I hope not. But she has said mean, cruel things attacking me on things I have no control over (my weight, my looks, etc. In other words, NOT anything I did to HER. It was mean. I never retaliated.

      It has ruined my entire life. It is a living death and as hard as it was to lose my Mom (grieving for yearsover that), it is in many ways harder. My Mom loved me and had to leave. Thisdaguther does not love me and chose to leave. Will not see a therapist, will not tell me why.

      You don’t have to believe me, but it is all the truth. At times, I start to go through her entire life: Did i abuse her in any way? Ever? Answer: No. Did I show love and have her back. Answer: Always.
      Was I perfect? Absolutly not.

      Many tell me I am a kind compassionate woman. I will die not knowing why.

  2. Peacefulgirl57

    I have made amends several times. It doesn’t seem to be enough. This is his second estrangement. Only this time (6 months ago) he estranged after letting me fall in love with my first grandchild. My last visit seeing her was at her one year birthday party. We had no fuss-I really have not been told what I did wrong. I miss my granddaughter. My heart is broken. At times, I want to die. Yes, I’m in therapy, but I don’t feel better yet. I read everything on estrangement and am always willing to talk through anything. But he goes away. I don’t even know where he is. He moved to Arizona, and that’s all I know. God, this is hard.

    1. Diane

      So sorry you are being subjected to this cruelty we are all so familiar with. When you are feeling sad and alone, here’s a phrase we use alot in New Zealand – Kia Kaha – it means to be strong. Stand in dignity and self respect. Hold Kia Kaha in your head. We are all with you.

    2. Vanessa B.

      I feel your pain and I, too, am searching for answers. My situation resembles yours in the sense it involves a granddaughter. In my case, it’s my daughter’s husband that is pushing me out and my daughter obeying everything he says. They are constantly going to his family’s home but I am never considered despite constant requests from me. They don’t teach you about this before having children…

    3. Broken-hearted

      I can totally relate to you. I started seeing a therapist online. One of the things she suggested was doing a group call with my two daughters via Zoom. My oldest daughter is not totally estranged from me, but my youngest has been going on three years. I did not do a Zoom meeting. I did however reach out to my youngest through an email saying “if I offended you in any way I apologize “ . I told her I wanted a relationship with her, as well as my 6 year old granddaughter. She ghosted me after I told her it was improper to have an affair with a married man. This was three years ago. I live in another state am 68 years old. I always make an effort to visit them once a year . I have lived in this state more than 20 years now after I got married in 2002. My two daughters were resentful after I moved. Sadly they have only been to visit me once or twice . My husband pointed out to me “is it worth it for you to go every year, for them to disrespect you , only for you to spend 30 minutes with the 6 year old granddaughter?” Sadly he is right. I make the expense to visit and it’s not reciprocated.
      I’m devastated and severely depressed. I’ve been on anti depressants for years because of their disrespect. I keep saying “it’s time for me “ but I keep hoping and waiting, for what? It’s never going to happen. Yes this is hard yes I would never have done this to my parents .

      1. Elaine

        I feel for u as I know how it is to be estranged especially the grandchildren ranging in ages 18 to 10. I’m 78 will be 79 June 25 who knows how long I can live if my mentality is destroyed and I don’t feel I’m worth anythimg

    4. Suzette A.

      I feel your pain. My son decided 6 months ago that he wanted to cut off all contact with me. I haven’t spoken or heard from him since. I do send him messages reminding him that I love him and I’m thinking of him. I try and limit the contact for fear of pushing him further away. I wonder every day if he’s alright, if he’s eating properly, is he safe? I don’t even know where he is.? I’m here if you need to talk. I understand. I know.

    5. Alexandra

      I am so sorry for your pain. I have come to understand that this is what schools and psychologists have done to our children. The goal these days is to separate us. My son and daughter-in-law have moved my husband and I to the fringes of their lives even though they live 2 miles away. We get to see the grandkids at a restaurant or a crowded family holiday gathering (if we’re lucky) but we are not allowed to have them over or spend any quality time with them. They are so afraid we will damage them with our Christian values.

  3. carmen

    hola ! Tengo un hijo de 36 años y un nieto.Me divorcie cuando el tenia 9 meses. Se que hecho cosas mal..llevo 3 años sin verle a mi nieto un par de veces a raiz de un problema familiar de origen madre hermana etc.. el no me cree.. cree a mi hermana. Convivi con mi hermana con una esquizofrenia no fue facil.. bueno yo tengo esperanza .. pero eso es devastador , es lo peor que me ha pasado en mi vida . que hago

  4. Bodhi

    My 26 year old adopted daughter has been estranged from me for five months. However, she kept a relationship with her father, my husband. She lives in our rental property nearby. The reason for estrangement is because she had a secret affair with a sketchy guy, and they continue to be a pair. She told many lies, and manipulated us. I was tired of all the lies. I don’t care about the boyfriend, she has a right to her private life. But why lie, and keep it a secret? We banned the boyfriend from moving into the rental house. All contact ended with me. But her father continued to pick her up from work, on late shifts. She was often rude and disrespectful, as I read some texts sent to him. I remained neutral.
    Now, two days ago, my husband had a heart attack. I suspected it, and took him to Emergency. He is currently in ICU, and hopefully will recover, after a stay in hospital. The part that grieves me, is that the added stress of my daughter, I believe contributed to his heart attack. He does not see it.
    She visited him in hospital, when I was not there. She shed crocodile tears, and said she and the boy will find an apartment near her work. Finally, my husband won’t have to keep driving her. It took a heart attack, for her to grow up and do what she should have done ages ago. It will be a relief to have her out of that property, and I don’t see reconciliation. She has made no effort to connect with me. She only uses her father, for her own benefit. It is not a good way to end 2022. My husband is under her spell. It is so sad, and now I will be the caretaker of him, as it will take many weeks to fully recover. I was able to set clear boundaries, when I saw what she was doing, but my husband could not. He thinks he is being a good dad, but I don’t agree. Rewarding bad behaviour is never a good thing. The boyfriend might be ok, but comes from a drug addicted mother, now recovered. Plus he takes steroids, and has little education. I hope they have a good future, and wish them well, but I prefer not to be involved now. They both do not want to have children.

  5. Julia

    A few things in this article I can relate to. But the main thing – my parents – my estranged daughter’s grandparents, my mother in particular has been extremely unhelpful with in the situation. She has supported my daughter in the separation with me & the rest of the family & while I deeply resent her & my father I’m aware that her darkness is about her patterns of relating. But in short I think she likes the division. I’m glad not to be a part of those unhealthy dynamics.

    We’ve reached out to her & my dad but it resulted in nothing. I’ve realised over the last few years that my mother was emotionally abusive to me as a child & I don’t miss her toxicity.

    My daughter has mental health issues & what I do know about this is that it consumes families & is destructive to family relationships.

    Let’s face it family breakdown is no good for anyones mental health.. I know mine has suffered. I don’t think this is the same as having a mental health disorder but still it takes it’s toll

  6. Carrie-Ann

    December 25, 2022

    Dearest Beautiful Beloved Sheri, & Each & Every Beloved One, In This On-Line Healing Community,

    I just want to Wish You All A Very Merry Christmas & A Wonder-Full New Year!!!

    Thank You For Sharing Your Hearts…May You, Your Families, All Estranged Adult Children, and All Beings, Animals, Plants, Minerals, Of Air, Land, & Sea, & Mother Earth, Be Blessed In Body, Mind, & Spirit…

    In Gratitude & Friendship,
    Carrie-Ann & My Divine Cat “Beauty”

    (p.s. Hopefully this can be posted today…)

  7. NancyK

    This topic is very timely for me as my ED’s birthday falls just before Christmas. Every year I consider whether to send a birthday email and so far, every year I decide against it. When I had in the past, in the early years after the estrangement, she never acknowledged or reciprocated. One year, as December approached, our son preemptively told us not to send anything, she didn’t want to hear from us.

    A birthday or holiday is one day in a year. If someone ignores you for 364 days each year, including when you’re being treated for cancer or stuck in Covid quarantine in a Third World Country—both of which happened to me—there’s no reason to think something compelling will happen from a birthday card.

    Others may think differently but that’s my approach to birthdays.

    As for sending “letters of amends” apologizing for things you never did—never. I was a devoted, caring, generous mother.

    1. Sophia


      I’m very sorry for your situation and for all parents who struggle with estrangement @ the holidays. You did your best reaching out. One of the reasons that this will be my last outreach is that I get no reply.

      I have come to accept that my nearly 30 YO ED has extreme anxiety disorder. She doesn’t leave the house very often & was like that growing up. I tried to coax her out. I tried to make her feel better @ herself. If only works if she wants it.

      They say that no response or request for no contact are 2 good reasons not to reach out. I’ll add a third: when your heart gets tired of being ignored, or worse, rebuked. If it hurts, don’t do it.

      Our children have their problems to fix on their own. We can’t fix another person no matter how hard we bang our heads against the wall.

      Let’s stop looking for pain.

      Enjoy a lovely holiday. You deserve it!

    2. Jaqquie

      Thank you Nancy K for bringing these things up. I did ask her to tell me what I had done and she never would tell me. She said she didn’t want to hurt me. Really? I pray to let go and to forgive (for my sake) I know I was a good (not perfect) mother. It is done. I loved the child. I do not like the adult, but I love her because she is my daughter. Dont know if this makes any sense. What I won’t accept is a shallow relationship. Loved too much for that.

    3. H.A.

      I can relate to this. My daughter’s birthday is Christmas Eve. It has become a different atmosphere in our home in the run up to it. When she estranged herself from us the last time, she suddenly texted my husband, her father, that she would send her partner to the house to give us gifts. We replied that we would much prefer an apology. Nothing since. Any effort made to contact her results in being ghosted.
      She only shows up if she wants something it would seem.

      I have bought Sheri’s book and I’m reading it now. It’s full of commonsense and good advice and a great comfort to those of us who are struggling with estrangement.

      It is very hard to have to face the fact that while I gave birth to my daughter, and raised her with love and stability, she does not want to be part of our family. Social and biological conditioning tells me that she should be in the family. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t. I enjoyed the first fourteen years of her life. Now I have to consider spending the rest of my life without her in it – and try not to feel tortured by her absence. I suppose some of us are destined to deliver children but not to grow old with them. x

    4. Theresa

      It appears we are in the same situation. Our son’s birthday is just before Christmas. I’m not “allowed” to send correspondence or a package. I’ve always made a big deal about birthdays. He and our daughter-in-law have a beautiful 18-month old little girl whom they’ve never allowed us to meet. I finally saw her in person seven months ago, from across the room, but members of my extended family warned me not to approach them. It was agony. My first grandchild! I’ve looked forward to being a grandma my whole life, and prepared myself well—saving all the best toys we used with our children, staying healthy and energetic so I can play and sing and read and cuddle! We are such devoted parents and are greatly blessed by our daughter and her baby in our lives. We are still incomplete.
      They’ve decided to claim they’ve been offended because we’ve insulted them behind their backs (what?), when I was merely drying my daughter’s tears at being snubbed by them. They haven’t spoken to us in over two years, ans have blocked us from phones and social media; the only form of communication has been through email, every once in a while, with me expressing my love and them insulting us and telling us to leave them alone. What a nightmare.
      I agree that a letter apologizing for something we never did is not the answer. But I’d love some inspiration for what should be said in a letter that might appeal to a son (who may have narcissistic personality disorder) and a very insecure daughter-in-law, who has decided that everyone is judging her. I want them to know we still love them and are here when they decide to reconnect. I want to keep the door open.

    5. Sheila

      I understand your words Nancy. It’s something no loving mother should have to go through. My son and I had a wonderful relationship….I thought. Now he lives in his father’s basement at the age of 32 and won’t talk to me (for 2 years now). His father doesn’t seem to have any problem with it as he helps with his adopted 13 year old. So he is in denial about the enabling and how its destroying our sons future. I feel so helpless. My sadness for myself isn’t as great as my sadness for my son.
      You are not alone. Love yourself.

  8. MuffinAlex


    RAD stands for reactive attachment disorder. And I believe SAHM stands for stay at home mom. We need a dictionary for all the acronyms in today’s world!


  9. Rose

    My adult daughters have had me convinced for years that I was an evil mother, they spread untrue stories to who ever would listen about how I beat them, finally telling me they wish I had died instead of the dad that deserted them for 20 years for a girl they went to school with. So very much more, I have not spoken to either of them in 3 years or any of my 6 grown grandchildren that they convinced with their lies. I am 73 now, with a husband with failing health, and as much as it hurts I am finished with all of this,but it still hurts so much.

    1. Margaret

      Focus on those who do respect and love you Rose, your husband, your friends, and most of all GOD ✝️. This has helped me let go of trying to work out why my eldest daughter has cut me off. I believe there’s stuff going on that I don’t know about but she’s still responsible for her actions. That includes no contact with the three grandkids she has, and it hurts to the bone and always will. I’ve removed any pictures etc of them because I don’t need reminding of the pain. I’m more grateful to have real friends and family that understand and love me. I’ve let go. I’m OK. Life is good. There’s so many of us out there. God ✝️ bless you Rose Love from Australia

    2. Barbara

      To be on the receiving end of such cruel behavior from offsprings is way beyond the pale. To lessen the pain of such behavior I suggest two strategies that have worked for me. One, dissociate. This takes time and wisdom. Once, you gain control over your own feelings you will feel a lot better. The problem is with them not you. When you dissociate you become aware that your reactions are being controlled by their terrible behavior and thinking. Once you disassociate you regain your freedom and begin to think clearer. You don’t want to be a ping pong ball anymore. This doesn’t mean you no longer love your daughters. It means you still have fond memories when they were children and it means loving them from a distance. The idea is not to allow this rupture in family life to pollute the rest of your life. You deserve to enjoy every moment of your remaining life.

      The second strategy is building and relying on your faith if you are a believer that there is a life force, call it what you will, in charge of everything. The prayers from a humble heart are very powerful.

      I hope this has helped you from falling into bitterness.

  10. Barbara

    We adopted our son at 3 days old. At 30, his birthmother came back into his life and has completely stolen him from us and his 4 siblings. He had as much a perfect life as anyone could have-honestly! We are devastated beyond words. She has twisted his memories of his upbringing and turned him away from everything he believed. (He even left his wife for 6 months and moved in with his birthmother). He quit his job, she moved her family and business to be near him, and formed a band with him. We don’t communicate at all and are absolutely heartbroken. Aside from being brainwashed, could there be any other explanation??

    1. Tovah

      Dear Barbara,

      I can’t speak for your son but I have a lot of life experience with adoption. All of the kids in my nuclear family were adopted, including myself. My children were also adopted, which on my part was to to pay it forward and grace other children with a loving family when they were abandoned.

      My older sibling was adopted at 14 months old from an alcoholic couple who already had several children they couldn’t care for. The youngest was adopted within a week of his birth but was exposed to drugs in the womb. This is only relevant because these circumstances led to their inability to properly bond. Both of them deserted my parents and myself during adolescence. Both of them also sought out their birth families but not just for medical reasons or normal curiosity but to replace us with them.

      Why? I have always felt that both my older and younger siblings had a strong need to portray themselves as victims which matched what likely was their birth families’ guilt for having abandoned them.

      I seem to have been the only one among us who understood that “Mom” and “Dad” were the people who were there for me not who conceived me but there are many adoptees who feel that their adoptive parents were not their “real” parents, an idea that is strongly supported in our society. If you’re mature enough you might recall all of those highly emotional reunions between adopted people and their so-called real families that played on the Jenny Jones Show, Maury Povich, Jerry Springer, etc.

      As an adoptee I was of course intrigued but very uncomfortable with this logic and didn’t believe in it. I did find my biological parents and maintained long distance relationship with my birth mother and had the chance to meet her. I handed her a letter before she boarded the plane to go home, thanking her for giving me up for adoption (instead of the obvious alternative) and that I had always felt that my adoptive family was my destiny, and that I cherished them. Her act of kindness toward me had united me with them! We kept in touch until her death last year.

      She was a wonderful person and there were times that I became lost in the imagination of what my life would have been if she had kept me but where I was was where I belonged.

      Sadly, I believe this attitude is somewhat rare. Many still believe that only biology matters.

      Without proof of how a baby and his/her well being is regarded during pregnancy, aspects of prenatal care can greatly affect the brain of a fetus and carry over into adulthood. Then, one’s own personality , experiences outside the home, exposure to media, genetics and a host of other things can shape us.

      Our estranged children have reactive attachment disorder and that caused them to identify as victims. All victims have perpetrators and there is no more obvious perpetrator than the people who raised you. Even if they didn’t arrive at that decision there are others in their lives (i.e. birth families, spouses, “chosen” families) who will persuade them they are a victim. Those same people will appear to them almost as first responders who will fix them. They don’t do that out of altruism but selfishness and a compelling need to rescue. It results in a kind of symbiosis; people wouldn’t conduct their lives that way unless it worked for them.

      It’s my opinion that if you have a true bond with your adoptive parents — I refer to this as Pure Love — it is not something that can be so easily broken, by anybody.

      I’m sorry for your situation. I can’t offer an ironclad explanation for your son’s abandonment but can at least share my experience, for what it’s worth.

      Please be loving toward yourself. You deserve a million thanks for adopting him and one day I hope you get that.

      Warm hugs,

  11. Donna

    My husband and I must have a therapist that is on the right track, because Sheri, she agrees with you that there are no magic words that automatically facilitate reconciliation. She is helping us navigate the trauma that is estrangement, while supporting our efforts to reconcile and helping us understand the estrangement in light of our daughter’s past behaviors. One of the things that upsets me is the phrase given by so-called experts and estranged adult children that parents are to do “the work”, without specifying what that means, and implying that somehow will leave us in a better spot to reconcile. I wish it were that clear. When there is no explanation given for the estrangement (she said she needs a “break” and it’s been almost 7 months), absolutely no communication or response to our few contact attempts, we are blocked from her phone, email, etc., and no requests for how to improve the relationship, what “work” are we to do in regards to reconciliation? For now, we are trying to take care of ourselves, maintain our good relationship with our older daughter and her husband, and survive this awful situation. The holiday season is very difficult.

    1. elizabeth

      Hi Donna –

      I, too, am in an estrangement for which I was given no reason and it has been years. There has also been a grandchild born almost two years ago that I have not even been able to meet. I just turned 51 and I spent so many years wallowing around in this. I love my child, and I refuse to be defined by his choices. Please know you are not alone.

  12. Judy

    Sheri, I always find your emails to be so helpful and your advise is right-on. I appreciate this Q&A and I know your thoughts will be helpful to this family.

  13. Barbara W.

    Hooray for all these letters and Sheri’s advice. So many of the “advice” columns out there for estrangements automatically blame parents and place all the responsibility for “owning” behaviors, etc. etc, on them. That is simply not always the case. Sometimes you can own your faults until you’re blue in the face, just to have more bile spewed at you. I find younger generations in general often have different values than those of us 60 and over. The current dramas over wokeness and “correct” speech are now verging on the ridiculous for example. I was explicitly raised to be anti racist. And kind, for example. It is now far from enough. I am nearly 70 and I admit to being fed up with groveling. A little self-care for a change

    1. Nancy

      Hi Barbara. I, too, have owned everything under the sun, including my daughter’s reframed or manufactured memories. When my granddaughter was born the more love and joy I showed her the less I was allowed to see her. It was so terribly toxic and abusive. We are not in contact. She doesn’t doesn’t have self awarenesses. It’s the blame and shame my mother game

  14. Clueless Dad

    Since becoming estranged several years ago, I have developed a deep interest in the subject, far beyond my personal story of being an estranged father. I was initially interested in hearing from other parents, and was amazed at the vast network of parents that were grieving. I read their stories with great interest and learned considerable amounts about the subject. I gradually shifted towards searching for adult estranged children that have chosen to go “no contact” with their parents, and that have taken the time to share their perspectives publicly in social media platforms. I find it especially interesting to read the comments from young adults that have chosen to go “no contact” with a parent or parents.

    At this time I would like to share some general observations I have formulated over time about the entire subject of parent-adult child estrangement.

    1. I whole heartedly agree with any adult child that has made the decision to cease contact with a parent that has been either physically abusive or sexually abusive. In addition, I equally support an adult child’s choice to go no contact with a parents that suffers from a severe personality disorder, and based upon such disorder, engages in various forms of substance abuse and/or emotional abuse on their children, grandchildren, and/or adult children. I get it. I applaud those choices that have been made by those adult children. I agree as a parent myself, and as an adult who enjoys free choice to disengage from abusive dysfunctional relationships. We should all enjoy the right, regardless from whom it is that we are seeking to disengage (i.e. parents included). We should all aspire to healthy relationships with others, and part and parcel of such aspirations is to distance oneself from those that we perceive as bringing dysfunction and hostility to our lives (friends, family, business associates, etc.).

    2. I do not think the subject of estrangement is a “one size fits all” matter. There are some adult children that have made improper choices in choosing to estrange, just as there are adult children that have made an appropriate choice to go no contact. Likewise, there are parents out there that are victims of unjustified estrangement, just as there are parents that have been cut-off from their adult children for truly justifiable, objectively based grounds.

    3. Each of us has our own narrative of our own individual situation. Some of us have shared our narratives. None of us can know the other side of the narrative, and it is possible that were we to learn and understand both sides of a given estrangement situation, we might find that our opinion about a person’s situation is different from the narrative initially presented to us. As such, I think it is prudent for all of us to keep an open mind about each person’s individual situation and to respect each person’s personal narrative. The bottom line is we just do not know the whole story, nor can we.

    4. As a parent, I want my adult children to not just survive, but to thrive! To be happy. To be enjoying their lives. To find love. Inner peace. Emotional fulfillment. Harmony with nature, people, and the inner self. To enjoy the pleasures a life affords. Etc. Given these wishes, if my adult child feels, in his or her judgment or opinion, that his or her life would be better served without me in it, then, as painful as it is to accept, in the bigger picture of my own life and my own wishes for my children’ happiness and success, this is something I must accept. As for the pain I experience in this “rejection”, that is my personal issue, and it is for me to deal with.

    5. I note that many parents feel they did not do anything to deserve being estranged. I happen to be one of those parents. I further note that many adult children do not agree when an estranged parent expresses this opinion. In my view, even if a parent feels he or she did not do anything sufficiently wrong to deserve estrangement, the fact is, the adult child has made this decision, right or wrong, and it is the adult child’s life that must be lived, and it is definitely not the parent’s life to control. Thus, for all of us, not every decision we make is correct, and none of us know whether our choices are going to be correct until they play out over time. It may be that over time, the adult child that has chosen to go no contact with his/her parents regrets the choice–or not. Either way, it is the adult child’s exclusive choice, and we all have to live with our choices, good and bad. Yes, it is sad, but a full and complete life comes with its share of sadness, and that is just part of the ebb and flow of living a real life. All of us—parents and our adult children– will, over the course of our lives, make choices we regret. Things happen in our lives, and we will look back and say: “if I had to do it over again, I’d make a different choice.” Our estranged adult children may now, or at some point in the future of their lives, engage in that look back. Or not. They may look back with great pride at the choices they have made. Only time will tell. There is nothing to be done in the interim by the estranged parents. We cannot force our adult children to make a different choice no matter how wrong we think their choices may be, or how strongly we feel about their choices.

    6. We all look at life through our own filtered lenses. Each person’s reality is just that. For some, it is a highly religious reality. For others, religion has nothing to do with it. For some there is a perception that a parent has a right to have “say” about an adult child’s adult choices including sexual orientation, marriage partners, academic and professional choices, and much else. For others, myself included, these are all subjects that a parent needs to lay off of and allow an adult child to find for himself or herself, even if that means falling down.

    7. We all fall down. It is the getting back up that is the testament of our lives. We must rise, dust ourselves off, and continue on in our journey. None of us should allow estrangement to define us. If estrangement has touched your life, no matter which side, may it simply be one aspect of the total you.

8. To all adult children that have chosen to go no contact with your parent or parents, it is my personal hope that all will, one day, make the choice to reach out to that parent or parents from whom that adult child chose to cease contact, and in a healthy, respectful way, express some positive wish or communication to bring peace to the family, both to the adult child, and to the estranged parent(s). This is not to suggest that the adult child should re-establish a relationship, or anything of the sort. There is no timetable. It is only a wish that at some point in time, when the adult child feels ready, and it is my hope that each adult child that has chosen to go no contact will reach a point in life when he or she feels ready and sees the value of reaching out. And if it should happen that an adult child make such a choice, is my hope that it brings some inner peace to all concerned.

    9. Sometimes a thimble full of love is all our loved ones have room for from us. We may wish to heap bounties of our love on others, but we must give love with respect for our loved ones–and isn’t that the most loving thing that we can do? Is that not love to love with consideration for the needs of our loved ones? Thus, if our loved ones do not want anything to do with us, or want little to do with us, the most loving thing we can do is to respect that wish, and even as it may feel painful, it is an act of giving love to step back and give that loved one space–and that is a thimble full of our love for that person that we are giving of ourselves.

Thank you for reading if you made it this far.

    1. emeraldksy9

      Thank you for your insightful wisdom. That was so well written and so well-said, and it was exactly what I needed to read today. 100% on point.

  15. Tovah

    Hi MuffinAlex,
    Yes our EDs are adopted both prior to 2nd birthday after living in orphanages. We received scant information from our agency about RAD, just one document in hundreds, so although they did their duty to inform us it was nowhere good enough.
    We knew something was very wrong right away but I was naive to the point of believing that my love alone would cure them. I chose to be a SAHM so that they could be raised with at least one parent at home as I was. One ED has the Inhibited version while the other has the Disinhibited version, both causing different behaviors but equally devastating impacts on their ability to bond.
    We started out rough, experienced a calmer period between 3 – 9 years of age but preadolescence reignited the earlier behaviors as if we were back there all over again.
    The smartphones GREATLY maximized the effects of attachment disorder.
    It’s a hard thing to say (and think) but had I known what we were in store for I may have interrupted the adoptions and not become their mother.
    But we followed through and invested every ounce of ourselves to their upbringing, only to be rejected.
    Sheri’s site and books have been a real game changer for us and even though we have suffered we know that we can heal eventually.
    Hoping that you and your husband begin to experience peace and distance from the chaos and rage as you say. Those are very apropos words to describe how our children behave.

    1. Julie j

      I also adopted my daughter. She is 31 now, and is experiencing mental health issues. Her bio mother was an addict and I suspect you are right about the RAD. She fits the “bullet points” of adult RAD. Trying to get her help is another story. The year and a half estrangement was hard ,but this is 100x harder. Knowing she needs help but can’t make her get it. She is communicating with me but our relationship is no where near what it was. I know what you mean though, at times I think, why did we adopt her. It’s a hard thing to admit but I’ve thought it multiple times too. The only difference between our stories is that my daughter didn’t seek out her bio mother, just her bros. She didn’t want much to do with bio mom, only to ask her WHY? She has also claimed she was a victim. So I’m in agreement with everything you’ve said here. What a mess!

  16. rattlesnake

    Love the wise advice to parents fo estranged children who are considering writing them. In spite of everything, and an estrangement with a few intermittent breaks of sort, since early 2019, I sent my ES a birthday card, put it in the mail yesterday but he would not have received it yet. It was a little generic, certainly not one of those “I’m so proud of the man you have become” birthday cards for sons. But I signed it with “Miss you” and Love, Always, Mom

    I don’t have much hope of ever reconciling with my ES but I know it is still actually a possibility. The main thing is I take your advise, Sheri, in making sure that I am living life to the fullest regardless of the situation with my ES. I miss him terribly and grieve the loss of the good parts of our past relationship, but I’m not going to waste my life allowing my life to revolve around a situation I have little control over.

    1. Sophia

      That’s very wise! I’m right there with you. This is Year 2 for me & ED. But this year, I’m living my life & creating a happy future.

      Frankly, we parents were sold a lot of nonsense putting all of our resources into adult children. I should have but that cord years ago!

      Onwards & upwards & happy holidays with peace in our hearts to all parents on this space️

    2. Angela W.

      Me too. I send birthday cards, father’s day, and Christmas card. In my case, I am blessed to have other children, their partners, their children to remind myself of how much joy I have. I’ve definitely been abused verbally and mentally. They had broken me down while my mother was dying. My son will one day be mature enough to see what he’s done. Or he might not. Either way, I live my life in abundance of blessings and pray God takes care of the rest. It has taken 3 years to get to this point. Wasn’t easy. I’m hesitant to reestablish relations just to have them do it all over again.

  17. Tovah

    Your advice is very wise about this!
    The grandparents in this scenario seem to be too deeply invested in their children’s lives which would probably be unwanted by their grown kids even if things were going smoothly but especially so if they are not.
    We have relatives that are similar to this couple. They have no issues that we know of but every day is spent texting, video calling or emailing their grown children to what seems like an unhealthy degree. This is the way it’s been with them forever; they were the parents going to their kids’ schools to eat lunch with them even into the higher grades which made us wonder how their kids had felt about that as they got older.
    For us, being estranged, the idea of writing any kind of letter is something we won’t do. We’ve been treated so horribly that it would seem like groveling and begging for affection from someone who has rejected you.
    During face to face conversations we were mocked by our youngest ED when we tried with humility to describe our feelings. It was heartless but very telling. It informed me like nothing else of her hatred.
    We did write several texts and a long snail mail letter to our eldest ED but got no reply. She is passive aggressive and tells relatives who are in touch with her that she is close to us and loves us while completely rejecting us. She does this to make us look bad. She manipulates her grandmother the most, presenting herself as angelic, sweet and nice. At one time she told me that she does this to make people feel guilty for being “mean” to her. At the time she was describing a customer in the store where she works who had said something critical to her but even the most insignificant remark or facial expression is viewed by her as mean and triggers her to respond with that same angelic and sweet reaction which helps her deflect any criticism which gives her an upper hand.
    This is a very difficult new development for us because it causes my mother to question and doubt what we have tried so hard to communicate about being estranged. I’m very close to my mother and have begun to feel fearful that our ED will succeed in severing my relationship with my mother or at least have to deal with pressure from her to do whatever she thinks we should be doing. We’ve always said that we respect her choice to see and speak to either of our EDs but it now feels like we are being played and manipulated.
    Both of our EDs engage in mind games; it’s a big part of them having RAD (reactive attachment disorder.) They must always be right, and will never be responsible for their behaviors.
    We just want to be at peace and that means being apart from our hostile children. But will that even be allowed to happen?

    1. MuffinAlex

      Tovah, I hope you don’t mind my asking, but were your daughters adopted? My children (ED and ES) were both adopted. And both have exhibited signs of attachment disorder, including sabotaging healthy relationships. Like you and your husband, my husband and I will not write an amends letter. We refuse to be accountable for false accusations used to justify our EC’s estrangement. And like you, we just want peace and distance from the chaos and rage. I hope we achieve both.


    2. Debra

      This hit home. After 3 + yes, I charged up an old phone and called my daughter. I wish I had not. I have ruined her life. I finally woke up. She made excuses and did tell me they moved but never said where, like um stalking her. I also go the distinct feeling her husband was right there listening to every word. She insisted would call before Christmas but I’m ok if she don’t. I will never call again. I’m done being beaten up.

    3. Alicia

      Wow.. I’m still learning with my daughter and her on and off personality. She was just diagnosis with BPD Behavioral Personality Disorder . She’s 25. It’s been a hard road but only with God’s help and very close God loving friends am I moving along.
      What is RAD? She sees a therapist. Praying he or she loves the Lord and helps to reunite and not separate families. The enemy is seeking to break families as he has been for centuries. Praying for all those here in pain. It’s devastating but yes, learning to move forward. I love my children very much.


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