New estrangement research beats a dead horse (October 2021)

new estrangement research


Do you remember that word from childhood? Maybe you remember it with an eye roll: Duh-Uh.

The word came to mind when I read of a recent survey study on estrangement.

“New” estrangement research

The survey of 1,035 mothers of estranged adult children asked the women about the cause of the estrangement. Many of the moms talked about people who stirred up trouble between them and their adult children. I called these people “influential adversaries” in my book, Done With The Crying. They include the estranged parent’s ex-spouse, a son- or daughter-in-law, or other family members or friends who create division. Nearly two thirds of rejected moms from the new research also talked about an adult child’s mental illness or an addiction as contributing to estrangement.

My own estrangement research consists of more than 50,000 responses to surveys for parents of estranged adult children. I have also personally interviewed hundreds of abandoned moms, dads, and siblings, and I interact with them daily (as well as am a rejected mother myself).

All of this “new” information reads like yesterday’s news. But what is even older is that when the study authors looked at existing research, they found that the adult children cited different reasons for their choice to estrange.

Did you catch that? The adult children who estranged themselves disagreed with their mothers.


Estrangement: Very real issues

I could go on here about the very real problem of parental alienation syndrome, about how those with personality disorders can be neurotically possessive to the point of isolating another person from their own family, and how these persons will generally blame everyone else for their problems … but I won’t.

Many, maybe even most, of you, the loving parents who are rejected by adult children and read this blog, are familiar with one or more of these issues. You have lived through them and suffered the consequences. The supposed revelations of this “new” estrangement research is old news to you, too.


Hugs from Sheri McGregor


Schoppe-Sullivan, S. J. et al, Mothers’ attributions for estrangement from their adult children, Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice (2021).

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18 thoughts on “New estrangement research beats a dead horse (October 2021)

  1. Lorraine M.

    My son has been estranged from his sister and I (his mother) since 2008. Every year that passes doesn’t make this situation any easier especially on his birthday and Mother’s Day. I have been reading your book and I just finished the part where you write to remember the good things that I did for him and there were so many….maybe more than I should have done. As he grew older he started becoming inattentive to his dad and I and after he married, he totally alienated himself from us. I do believe my daughter in law has played a big part toward this estrangement but I thought my son had more of a back bone to stand up to her. I guess not. So for the time being, I will take your advice in your book and remember all the wonderful things I did for him and not blame myself anymore because I WAS A GOOD PARENT TO HIM.

  2. Jan P.

    Interesting that this “new” research appears to cite the majority of estrangements are due to influencers or mental Illness/drug abuse issues. What about those who don’t know the reason for the estrangement and whose family situations had been relatively healthy? In my case, my daughter is 47 years old, her husband is a wonderful man with whom we’ve always had a close relationship. My ex and I were divorced in 1983 and still have a very amicable relationship. I wrote my daughter a letter 18 months ago in which I expressed my sadness at how our relationship had devolved and even apologized for whatever I might have done to cause it—she never responded. The last (unpleasant) conversation I had with my daughter was nearly 6 months ago and I tried to find out why she has pushed me away, but she refuses to talk about it. We have not seen her or her family for almost 2 years (they only live 65 miles away). What does research say about these kinds of situations?

    Sheri, your book was so much more helpful than anything else I read (particularly those texts that indicate it is incumbent on the parents to make amends and change). Nothing left for us to do now but move on and enjoy our lives—and I don’t feel a bit guilty about it.

  3. Beth

    My son aged 47 is no longer talking to me or his father (my husband). We’ve not really been given a reason, other than that he has objections to a letter I wrote to his wife in response to one of her usual rants to me about where I have gone wrong and what I should be doing. It is obvious to me that the DIL does not like me and probably never has really and because of this their children have been kept at arms length from us all their lives. I’ve put up with this treatment because I did not want to lose my son. We had already seen the consequences of anyone falling out with his wife when he cut off his elder sister for 5 years. The letter the DIL wrote to me (a year ago) caused a sea change in me, I was no longer going to meekly go along with everything she said, so my letter to her was an attempt to put an end to all her recriminations, instead it has caused our son to cut all contact with us, and all because I will no longer participate in their game. I see a counsellor who has helped me to see that I too matter, something that had got lost over 20 years. And I must mention Sheri’s books which have enabled me to look at the whole sorry situation with fresh eyes. I now see that I cannot stop my son choosing not to talk to us but I hope that he too realises he cannot prevent my choice, which is to live as peaceful a life as I can achieve. My thoughts are with all those affected by estrangement.

    1. rparents Post author

      Thank you for your comment, Beth. I’m so sorry your son has chosen this route. Meanwhile, you can continue to be genuine and maintain your integrity as a real person, whole, with feelings and opinions and the right to live life without the constant rain ️ of criticism by his wife. It’s probably more peaceful for you. Maybe one day he will realize his mistake. Maybe she will too. I’ve seen a few miracles happen. I admire your strength and sensibility.

      Thank you again for your note, Beth. Take good kind care of yourself.

      From one strong woman to another, HUGS,
      Sheri McGregor

  4. emily38

    Hi Sheri,
    I only now read the synopsis on the website cited in your article
    I have to say the research is ‘old news’ and seems to be stuck
    in past performance or institutional recycling of earlier work. I know
    academics can be ‘inspired’ by previous research, reconstituting that
    ‘old news’ or using a piece of it to generate the next journal article.
    Publish or perish.

    When I read (in the authors’ reporting) that the approach is to measure
    the parents’ willingness to make necessary changes, my insides wanted
    to shriek. That parents are the ones to make changes, facilitate
    reconciliation depending on how they perceive their childrens’ reasons
    for estranging? Really?

    Your work, your Forum, our collective experience suggests this is
    misguided persuasion coming from ivory towers, not grounded reality.
    Or places where the ‘accepted’ approaches to this complex question
    of estrangement are simply recycled. Those who live in the real world
    of estrangement-damage know the authentic dynamics of the experience.

    You know what? The horse and rider in your photo are in a shape much
    too good to represent what we estranged parents have endured!

    I can’t wait to have your second book. Congratulations!


    1. rparents Post author


      You have hit the nail on the head about those of us who authentically understand the complex experience of estrangement by adult children from the inside out. Parents usually do try to “change” but many, many times us trying to please is a bit like beating a dead horse too. Ugh.

      I don’t mean to”stirrup” trouble but we don’t have to be “saddled” with the responsibility of everyone’s happiness for the rest of our lives. There comes a time to say “whoa” to self-sacrificing that isn’t appreciated, stop people pleasing the undeserving, and “ride off” onto our own “happy trails!”

      Sorry for getting carried away with the horse puns, but it’s fun to laugh and I don’t want to be a dry old skeleton quite yet. (I agree with you though, that the skeleton horse and rider aren’t even representative of the horror many parents suffer and are changed by.)

      Hugs to you from the parent-and-adult-chikd estrangement trenches. At least it’s real here, and honest.

      Sheri McGregor

  5. CanIdentify

    I just finished your book Sheri and I can honestly say it gave me a new outlook with a new way of thinking. The way you told your story of receiving that phone call, the way you described your feelings and thoughts … truly hit home. You were describing exactly how I’ve felt. I could feel your heartache and I cried as I turned the pages. I felt the same pain and reading your book gave me hope and it made me believe that I can get through this. It’s been heartbreaking to say the least and I thank YOU for writing your book that will help me move forward. “Done with the crying”.

    1. rparents Post author


      Thank you so very much for this note. It’s one of those days where a little validation by someone who can understand was just what I needed. THANK YOU for writing and I am so happy to hear that you found hope, a better outlook, and a feeling of momentum in moving forward for yourself! Yahoos all around.

      HUGS to you. Great big hugs.
      Sheri McGregor

  6. CounselorMom2ES

    As a therapist and as a mother to a son who has decided to estrange from the family, thank you.

    I had already seen this new research and was angry at the title. I don’t like “attributions” because it implies we are making an “attribution error.” Why do they always make it sound like the parents are a bunch of idiots who overstep boundaries and make up explanations for our children’s behavior. I know very well that my son’s wife has a personality disorder. She has been diagnosed with one and shared the diagnosis with me back when she adored me.

    Thank you for your bold courage, Sheri. And thank you for letting me share my thoughts.

    1. rparents Post author

      Dear CounselorMom2Es,
      Thank you for mentioning the title. I had similar thoughts as you but did not want to “beat a dead horse” about everything that’s off about this.

      Hugs to you,
      Sheri McGregor

  7. Debra H.

    Yes, I am very familiar with these very real problems. My daughter has borderline personality disorder, and she will blame and shame me rather than admit she has a problem and needs to get help. I get to see my grandchild, her baby boy, only when it suits her and she “loves” me. The other times, she hates me, blames me, and is always the classic victim. I don’t engage with her when she’s like that (anymore) and hope that will help her to get well or realize she needs to get well. Time will tell. Thank you for the post. I agree with you about the research. Duh-UH.

    1. rparents Post author

      Hi Debra H.,

      Thank you for posting. Your post will help other parents with sons/daughters who have BPD. I think you’re right not to engage and “reward” the bad behavior (anymore). Sounds like you have been learning how not to “feed” the disorder.

      It’s difficult, and you sound like a strong woman. Keep taking care of yourself.

      HUGS to you,
      Sheri McGregor

  8. Bonnie

    Thank you for always understanding, Sheri. While a bunch of academics push the same dull details around, you step forward to help. You also make us laugh! I appreciate that, and your subtle reference to Halloween with the photograph (so cool!!).

    1. rparents Post author

      Thank you for your kind words. And thank you for getting the subtle Halloween reference in the photo! That display is in my neighborhood!


  9. Elizabeth

    Good points, Sheri!! Well, of course, there are toxic parents…but that does NOT explain all that is happening today. Some of us with toxic parents NEVER cut them off. In our case, it was sadly interesting to note, that we never saw what was coming…until THE DAY OF the wedding…actually some strange things happened at the wedding itself. After it was over, a couple friends had some questions for me…of things they noticed. And I had a bit to add that they had not seen either. No one wants to think such things are a plan. But over the years, it became so very plain to see, that indeed there was a plan…and it meant we were to be less than even friends and strangers were. And tho’ we overlooked so much…I don’t remember ever even asking our child anything because we saw the huge amount of stress he was under and he was prone to some physical ailments anyway…so as any parent does who loves their child…we kept quiet…kept trying. Then when we were needed elsewhere…we moved away. We are nearing now 4 years since we have seen them in person and we do not expect them, or even some of them, to visit us a continent away. Covid has put some constraints on such too. Some of our friends at one point in all this, years back, watched some meetings that our son and his wife spoke at…it was online I guess…so our friends heard it. We did not have any illusions afterwards…we were some of the subject spoken of negatively. I think we were taking care of the children during that meeting, by the way. Cute, huh? Well…I am so glad I strongly believe in another world to come…and it will surpass this sad, evil place by so much…we try to focus on that to come. And be grateful our other 2 kids have kept in contact. I will forever be sad in this life however, that we were unable to rescue our child. Some personalities are not able to buck whatever system they find themselves in. This I understand because our son is so very much like my mother. I loved her so much but she was not able to protect us enough anyway, from our abusive dad. And now, I understand how my son has had to live too. Much the same. Heh, the book I could write…and never need to make up a single word of it!!

    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Elizabeth,

      Miracles can happen. Maybe one day your son will have a wake-up call. Just maybe. Meanwhile, you have been through the wringer and I hope you will have good, sunny days despite the sadness.

      HUGS to you, Elizabeth.

    2. Elizabeth

      Thank you so much Sheri…those are kind encouraging words. I have no idea if such will happen…but I have learned that one never knows what the future will hold. The daughter we moved near to help some years ago, was almost no contact for years…and then when she began to have children and needed our help…we came as asked. And with time and a lot of frank talks, especially between her and me, things are good now. We cannot reclaim lost time. But I try to accept such as a gift and go forth. Sometimes friends will become more dear to us than our own children are…and the young man who was our son’s best friend growing up and who also is not allowed contact much since the marriage…has been every bit a son to us. We are so grateful!! SO VERY grateful!! He called a couple days ago to chat…we talked nearly 3 hours…something that has not happened with our son and family…I am always amazed…and I always tell this “other son” that he owes us nothing and we so appreciate him. He says that a friend to him, is a friend for life. SO there are a FEW people in his age group that DO know how it ought to be.
      I so hope your move continues to be a good thing, Sheri and that some very good days are coming your way!! Hugs back to you dear, Elizabeth

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