When your adult child wants nothing to do with you: Is it time to go with the flow? 

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

when your adult child wants nothing to do with you

Photo by Gëzim Fazliu from Pexels

Have you read about that man in Munich, Germany, who floats to work every day? He got tired of the stops and starts of traffic, the long waits that got him nowhere fast, and the road rage. This man, Benjamin David, did something different. He looked to what was in his environment to help him, decided on a plan, prepared himself, and plunged into the river. Now, he floats along with the current each day—and it delivers him effortlessly to his workplace. He goes with the flow. 

Maybe it’s a stretch to compare this man to parents rejected by adult children—or maybe not. Especially as estrangement drags on, it can feel like we’re stuck in a sort of traffic limbo. We may be the recipient of anger we don’t deserve, or get angry ourselves. The tiniest breakthrough can get our hopes up and then drop us into a pit. Like when the cars go from a standstill to a crawl and we breathe a sigh of relief… only to get snagged in another snarl of traffic up ahead. 


Like this man who made a change for the better, parents rejected by adult children can assess their situations, realize they’re getting nowhere, and try something different. A realistic analysis is the first step to a solution, and new direction that drives progress.  

Parents around the globe continue to send holiday cards or gifts yet remain estranged.  As the holiday music jingles and the messages of family and restoration abound, they feel a mix of obligation, hope, and confusion. They start to ponder whether to reach out again this year.  

They may worry that not reaching out may be used as proof they don’t care. Or that a heartfelt message of love will be viewed as a manipulation tactic to “guilt” the son or daughter into responding. Grandparents who want to make sure their grandchildren know they’re loved face a dilemma: How can they choose gifts for the special family members they no longer know? Or worse, will their gifts given to innocent grandchildren be subverted to the trash bin?    


As this year comes to an end and a new one begins, I implore you to consider what one of my adult children who is not estranged recently said about estrangement from the sibling who is:  

“We’re about to start a new era.”  

We really are beginning a new era, moving into the third decade of the millennium, and far beyond the time when our estrangement from one adult son began. It’s a new era for our family as a whole, with fresh starts, changes in direction, and a time of renewed joy. Being stressed over something we couldn’t change has no place in our family’s future.  

How about you? As 2019 comes to a close, can you ring the holiday bell to end an era of heartache, and think of the season as a time of rebirth and joy? 


Make decisions that move you forward rather than keep you stuck. If you’re pondering whether or not to reach out this holiday, reflect on a few critical questions. Consider using a pen and paper to fully explore your thoughts. Ask yourself: 

  • Whether or not my estranged offspring has ever replied, has my reaching ever made a difference? 
  • If I’m worried about how my behavior will be construed or misconstrued, what are my fears specifically? Do they make sense? Or are they keeping me stuck? 

Don’t Stress 

There’s an old story about a woman whose daughter asks her why she cuts two inches off each end of the roast and throws them away. “That’s the way my mother did it,” she says. Curious, the daughter asks her grandmother the same question—and gets the same answer. Dying to know why it’s so important to cut two inches off either side, the girl calls her great grandmother to inquire. She’s surprised when her great grandmother laughs, saying, “Because the roast wouldn’t fit the pan!” 

At one point, reaching out may have kept the hope that you would reunite alive. Even when your adult child wants nothing to do with you, it has been a way to demonstrate (at least from your point of view) that you still love your child and were ready to forgive. But what’s the purpose now? Is it helping, or keeping you stuck in a cycle of hope and disillusionment? Is the expended energy doing you good, or are you only throwing it away? 

Times change. Feelings do, too. At what point do you listen to the message your child’s silence (anger, gossip, abuse. . .) sends? Is it time to decide to put your energy toward your own life, your emotional wellness, and the people who love you?  

Like the man in Munich did, is it time to take the plunge … and go with the flow?  

To prepare and plan for your new era, get a copy of Done With The Crying. Its advice and information based on current research and the input of thousands of parents rejected by adult children will help you take the plunge into a happy life beyond the pain of familial estrangement. Or, if you’ve read it once, now might be a good time to do some of the exercises again (the new Done With The Crying WORKBOOK: for Parents of Estranged Adult Childrenwill help). 

This holiday season, give yourself a supportive gift: permission to go with the flow. 

28 thoughts on “When your adult child wants nothing to do with you: Is it time to go with the flow? 

  1. AvatarJoe

    I have to say, that I feel better already finding this supportive community. I am a father of two. I left their mother for reason I will not go into. My eldest and I have a good relationship that includes open communication, honesty, forgiveness and acceptance. My x spouse started trash talking me early on in the divorce (I have people who have reported this to me), and had negatively effected my relationship with my youngest. He was too young to see through some lies she was telling him. Let me be clear, I am no angle and made my mistakes as well. Bottom line, my x spouse put herself before my youngest son, and trashed their father, which in turn wedged distance between us. I asked her to go to post divorce counselling, to co parent, to hold a united front and parent our kids as co parents. She gas lighted this. I have never trashed talked their mother to them.
    My youngest became distant, and refused to stay with me, only coming over for the odd supper. He told me flat out, “I won’t with you dad.”
    After my eldest became an adult (and moved out), combined with my youngest Son’s distances, and for other reasons, I chose to move to another City, which as compounded the situation. Before I decided to move, I explained how I was feeling, and my current situation, and new opportunities in another City. They both supported me with moving. We talked about what we could do to stay in contact, and I have done my best to be connected with them (letters, text, phone calls, sending care packages, leaving the messages, and travelling to see them Once per month for 3-5 days at a time.
    Over the last 4 years since I moved, there has been some challenges, and I have stuck to my word of staying in contact through various means. I have apologized to both kids for my mistakes, and how my choice to move may have negatively effected them. My eldest has been open, forgiving, and has actually apologized for moments he treated me unkindly. I realize how my choice to move has compounded the situation, but I am at a point of needing to stop beat myself up. The constant guilt is overwhelming. I do my best to practice acceptance, and self forgiveness.
    This leads me to my current situation. I was visiting the boys a month ago, and my youngest told me he considers me his dad, but not his parent. I accepted this, and thanked him for being honest. He also told me the past is the past, and not to bring it up with him. I talked to him about forgiveness, and he stopped me, saying the past is the past. I believe he is harboring anger and unforgiveness.
    Later that night, I was joking around with him stepping in front of the tv while he was playing a video game. He lashed out at me, telling me to F Off. I asked him to stop, and I didn’t appreciate this. He continued to say F Off, and he has the right to say this, and he won’t stop. I got space, and did not push the subject.
    Upon returning home, I texted him to say that I did not like how he talked to me, and that there was other ways he can communicate his frustrations. He got defensive, rationalized, blamed it on me, and stated that it is his right. after a little back an forth, I told him I love him, and that I will never be ok, or accept him telling me to F off. I suggested we re group later after he had some time to process. This has been two weeks. Despite my reaching out to him, I have not received a response. I told him that I was sad that he has not contacted me, and told him it was natural for disagreements, and differences in opinions. I asked if we could move forward with me in this. I am afraid he is going to cut me out of his life. He has always been distant emotionally, responding to some texts and phone calls while just ignoring others. I am ready to drop my expectations, stop pursing him give him the space he may need, and this scares me.

  2. Avatarm

    My estrangement stems from my meal health issues, however, sadly, knowing where it comes from seems to make it much more frustrating since I had very little control over it. nevertheless, I have spent 4 YEARS creating a new life and new compassion for myself with yoga and meditation. interestingly, this transformation has had almost no effect on the estrangement, and has in fact exacerbated it. I am at a loss, but my sense is they are also frustrated at my new found mindful healthy self, wishing I was functioning in this way during their childhoods. We just don’t seem to have much in common anymore or even like each other at all. I have recently been invited by them to family therapy, but at this point I am wondering how this will resolve this simple fact? At this point, I feel through the years, we have just grown vastly apart from an already toxic dynamic and I’m not willing to recreate it for their sakes or the sake of some arbitrary social construct to appease instagram. thoughts?

    1. Avatarcandleinthewind

      You’ve worked hard at creating a new life for yourself, well done you, and I would think carefully about unsettling that for what could turn into a family showdown rather than a useful conversation. Do our children become somewhat peeved when we find a new contentment? I think we go too far in trying to appease them. Sounds like you’re on a winning wicket – keep on track.

    2. AvatarJulia

      I think I’d go if you’re invited to family therapy as this may be your estranged relatives reaching out themselves to try to fix things. If it’s well managed it might give you an opportunity to give your side of things.

  3. AvatarVickie B.

    I have been estranged from my son for over twenty years. I made many attempts to see/talk to him, all rebuffed. Last year a relative impulsively googled his name and his obituary came up. He had died before his fortieth birthday leaving a wife and daughter. We all were in shock about the death and having a d-I-l and a granddaughter. They never called any of the family to tell them he died. It’s been over a year more and I can’t seem to realize he’s dead not estranged. The chance for any contact is gone now. The chances for contact with his wife and daughter aren’t promising.

    1. AvatarLisa

      I am so so sorry for your loss. It’s a horrible and painful experience to lose a child .. in a sense, twice. I have thought many times about this happening to me too. It easily could .. you are a brave and loving person and I hope you know that

  4. AvatarMelinda

    I am new to the community I am so glad I found the support group I have cried buckets and buckets of tears asking why are they treating me with such hatred my adult children I live in a retirement community because of health problems and 64 I have auto immune hepatitis now I have not heard from any of my family or my adult children since last November 2019 I stopped asking why are they treating me this way and decided to work on myself for personal growth and empowerment I blocked all calls change my phone number they probably haven’t called me anyway I felt like empty soul I do a lot of journal writing read a lot read the Bible because he’s the only want to listen to me and finally got myself up And decided to do kind things for my senior neighbors are taking the pretty flowers to him an inspiration card just sitting with my granddaughter is 18 and I have a grandson at five and I decided that there’s a Lotta 18-year-olds that would love to have a mama and five-year-olds that would love a mammal I give my love and kindness and empathy to other people I knew that no matter if I said a pretty card close presents for Christmas birthday graduation it wouldn’t matter one way or not they just don’t want to be a part of my life I quit looking at the front door to see if I would have a visitor from my family or a card or letter or a call I was delusional that they could have any empathy I have to except the flow of life I’m still Working on not let them have rent free space in my head it’s hard I just take every day and do something for myself to better me or help someone else it really does help I also am working on my emotions and trying to stay with them to figure this all out or maybe I won’t be able to figure it out My heart breaks for everyone of you the torture and trauma that you go through your adult children are strangers thanks for listening blessings to all

  5. AvatarNickole

    I literally have NO idea why my 19 year old daughter refuses a relationship with me. This is the most excruciating thing that I have ever been through. All growing up, she would barely let me out of her sight and wanted to be with me all of the time. When she went to college, she became depressed, cut herself and met a friend, a girl about 9 years older that is a bad influence while claiming to be a Christian.

    Honestly, after replaying ever moment of her life over and over, searching foe what I did wrong, I believe that she cannot have a relationship with me right now because she is doing something so horrible that she couldn’t bear me knowing/commenting. I don’t know.

    My husband is verbally abusive to me, specifically when she was 15 to 17. Maybe this plays in. Maybe she thinks I’m pathetic or not worthy of respect. Maybe she’s mad at me for staying. I don’t know. My husband is getting counseling and I am also.

    I just want to know if this is ever gonna end? Will she ever come back and resume a relationship with me?

    1. AvatarNickole

      Btw, she has a closer relationship with her dad now than she ever has. At the same time, he has little to no more information about her than I do.

  6. AvatarMary H

    It’s comforting to hear others experiences. I never thought this would happen to me. I have a daughter and 4yo granddaughter who lived with me and her stepdad for 8 months. In February 2020 I asked her to move out so we could sell our house, as we had to reduce some stress because my health was declining. We were having financial issues and the house was way too big and expensive. Plus I just never got a break and I require time alone to rejuvenate. I was watching my granddaughter every weekend. I love her but I was just exhausted. She was back on her feet with lots of money saved and had a job, and was not respectful of my home. She started to turn on me then. I could feel it. She was turning my other three kids against me. I could feel that too. COVID hit and she didn’t manage being alone with a 3 year old alone and over time she just talked to us less and less. Her anger about moving out was evident and COVID was just the icing on the cake along with her job loss. I tried to talk to her but the anger was just too much to cut through. She moved away in June and then when her boyfriend broke up with her in September she told me I was the reason she could not have a healthy relationship and she wanted nothing to do with our family, blocked me. Haven’t talked to her since, I’m heart broken. I missed a 4th birthday and all the holidays. Not a word from her. Heart sick!

  7. AvatarKathleen B.

    I am a single older parent king through this. It’s especially difficult going through this estrangement. I think it should be called strangement and just leave off the e. Ha! I do two things. Try to keep my sense of humor about the ridiculous nature of this whole thing, and realize I’m only responsible for my behavior and I’m not going to reflect their lack of care. I try to rise above their behavior and don’t turn myself into a pretzel trying to figure it out. One day at a time is my mantra and I try to put as much joy and laughter into it that I can.

    1. AvatarRichard F.

      My Eldest son hasn’t spoke to me for over 4 years, and I’ve since found out I’m a granddad. It all started when he met a religious girl and said he had to marry because of her religion, and I didn’t agree that was the right path. He has since got married and had a child, and ignores all my texts, In 4 years I haven’t had a reply and It cuts me to the core. I love and miss him more than words can say, but I doubt I will ever see him again. I read this article to try and help with my pain, which it has slightly and helped me realise, there is nothing I can do or say that will change this, to the point I have had to mourn him in a way. His brothers miss him very much as well, and even if he spoke to them it would be better. Out of desperation I drove to the In -laws house for the first time to drop off a card, and i was not welcome at all, and for the first time ever speaking to them, I now understand why my son changed the way he did. Religion for me, most believers are the most hypocritical, I thought god taught forgiveness and love, not the case for most religious people I’ve met, unless your a part of their club they don’t want to know you.
      apologies for the negativity, its just hard not to see my son or even speak to him, when he was my shadow for years, now he is a stranger

    2. AvatarSunnyside2019

      Kathleen: That is a good outlook. My estranged daughter started all of this estrangement over some ridiculous reason too. She was never abused or mistreated. Sometimes I think these adult children enjoy hurting their parents because their lives are in such chaos and they take it out on the ones who are closest to them. Thank God for my two other grown children and grandchildren.

  8. AvatarChristina W.

    I have read this newsletter since I bought the book and it has helped me a lot with my daughter and our previous estrangement. The reason being that I supported my Grandson ( who she also has a strained relationship with) and not her during an incident in which she was wrong-her language to me was one I could not repeat but I wrote her a letter and said how dissappointed I was and couldnt understand where it all came from. I have to say I was a mess for months but I did go to counselling and this helped me a lot. What I got out of counselling is that this is my life not my daughters and even though I love her and miss her being around me I do communicate-mainly by text. I keep the door open-so to say.
    I continually look at our relationship and now I just get on with or try to! This Christmas day she has not mentioned who she is sharing it with but as we have her brother coming she wont come here as she is at odds with him to. I often wonder where it all went wrong as we were loving and close family for years, of course it upsets me. I love her and am proud of her but it just does not work anymore. I got so sick that my husband called her and said it had to stop, she apologised for the outburst and the names she called me. My husband just does not care like I do and he just ignores everything so sorry for prattling on but this has mad me feel so much better I am wishing you all a safe and healthy Christmas and roll on 2021!

    1. AvatarPoppy

      I do feel your pain and have the same problem but now all 3 plus grandkids are estranged due to their poised behavior.

      15 and 20 years plus 12 months and 3 months. Now all in the same. Luv without their awesome dad and beautiful me .
      I cry everyday but am aware of my mistakes loving and helping them too much but I cannot change them and have now moved do they cannot hurt me anymore.
      My husband is like yours more detached but this year coming I pray for strength and feel sorry for them they are so missing out on sharing a fabulous life with their dad and me plus my grandkids have been punished due to their decision . Presents and cards for 16 yes it’s time to stop ! They have caused enough pain ..

  9. AvatarTherese H.

    I pray for all of your “situations”. It can be so heartbreaking. Although my situation may be a little different, it hurts just the same. I have also read Sheri’s “Done with the Crying” and it was helpful. I must say though, having an estranged child still hurts. It has been 3 years since I have seen my daughter and my two grandaughters, now 6 and 8. She has cut all her siblings out too except for her “birth brother ” and his family. I adopted my husbands two children from his first marriage (birth moms rights…. husbands first wife…were terminated due to drug addiction and abandonment). My daughter was 6 years old and now she is 32 years old. She is my youngest and 6th child. She has reunited with her birthmother and states that I was a horrible mom to her. I wasn’t a horrible mom to her. I recognized as a young child she was severly emotionally impaired as I have worked with special needs children most of my life. I tried my best to get her the help she needed. She will “sort of” talk to her dad. I think this will be the last Christmas we will reach out to her. She doesnt respond and wont let us talk to our granddaughters. It is time for us to stop “hoping” and trying, and go with the flow. I just need to know… when it will stop hurting?

  10. AvatarLeeann S.

    I have an adult son, 31 years old, who is estranged. I had a messy divorce, dad was a drug addict, and he turned my son against me. He won’t speak to me or tell me why. I want to know if he has children. I know I have no rights toward any grandchildren, but can I at least know? Can anyone give me any advice? I know the city he is in, and have bd and ss number.

  11. AvatarToni

    Yes , it is time. Last Christmas I sent gifts to 3 yo and 10 month old. Not this year. Won’t be hurt again.
    They don’t know me or who the gifts are from. They have the mother’s parents as grandparents so I am written out of that script. I will not waste the money or get my hopes up. If I send; I will hope for a response. Now, I don’t hope for anything. Just wishing life keeps going on and that Karma comes ’round!!

    1. AvatarGene

      Toni….I hear you loud and clear. Very similar circumstance for us. It’s been 5 years for our entire family. Out of the blue our son and DIL directed us that they wanted “no contact” from anyone. They even went so far as to block/remove all of us from FB….on Christmas morning, no less…presumably for maximum effect. Thus far all attempts at reestablishing communication have failed. Our DIL still has her father (who she reveres with a cultish devotion) and step-mother in the area who function in a limited degree as grandparents. We don’t bother anymore to send birthday and Christmas cards to the grandkids…I’m sure they all went straight into the trash bin anyway. What kind of a man allows his mother and grandmothers to suffer this degree of heartache and sadness without even providing a reason? We do pray that they all stay safe. When they’re older the grandchildren will look us up. It may be some years away yet but I plan on being here and that’ll be a glorious, beautiful day. Hang in there everyone.

    2. AvatarPam Pam

      Hi Toni. Yes, I’ve found myself in the same boat. I send clothes for my grandkids but never see a lot of them on the kids. If I have a chance to ask my daughter about the clothes, I’m told “we didn’t like them”. We’ve given birthday presents to the 3 year old never to see him play with them. My daughter’s birthday is at the end of December. I always pick a lovely card to send so she knows I still love her in spite of all the ups and downs we’ve been thru. They go unacknowledged. This year, 2020, I’ve chosen not to send a birthday card. I haven’t received one from my daughter since 2016. If I do anything, I’ll send a text message at night, when the special day is almost over, and say just “Happy Birthday”. That’s what I get from her. I tell myself that’s not the way I should act but at this point, that’s what I feel I want to do. As for the holidays, my husband and I have bought and put up a beautiful new tree and put lights outside our house. The tree is truly beautiful and we like to turn off the house lights just so we can enjoy the tree ‘s lights. I always feel sadness creeping in around Christmas time but now I know I must move forward and self talk to say positive things to myself. I was told in 2016 when my first grandchild was born that the holidays were for immediate family only. Guess I was put in my place. My daughter truly doesn’t want me in her life. I deal with my hurt and sadness but I have to pick myself up and move on. I have read Sheri McGregor’s book and it has been a lot of help and support. I urge everyone suffering from a child’s estrangement to get this book. Thinking of everyone who finds themselves in such a situation as I, and wishing a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. Let’s move forward together!

  12. AvatarLeona P.

    My youngest , although they have opted out of face book …so ‘ve I posted this, I have gotten too posts one about alzheimers (I done have ) an one saying , so ethi g to the effect of blah, blah that you (mean I g me)did…etc…I deleted them both…ty, adult child , keeps putting words in my mouth zi haven’t done or daid…

  13. Avatarmimi

    I have been seeing a man for two years. He is married and his wife has late stage alzheimers and has been in a home for 4 years not recognizing him or family members. We met theougha third person in pur area. My children whoare 37 and 41 are intolerant of our friendship and have taken my grandsons out of my life. I havent seen or talked to any of them for over a year. I am heartbroken but have been told bu othera to go on with life and be happy. I don’t know how long this will go on….maybe forever.

    1. AvatarDon'thateyourself

      Hi Mimi

      I really don’t understand how your children can be so mean to cause you so much pain.

      Is it your new partner they don’t like more than the fact you are dating him?

      I am estranged from my son and granddaughter. The reason, his new girlfriend like the last one has serious mental health problems and used to insult me daily and make up lies. I was supposed to accept this with them living in my home. I handled it really badly. I ordered both of them out of my home.

      Why am I telling you this?

      I had to look really deeply at all aspects of what had happened. How, I should have handled it. How, I could have compromised and given consideration that despite the awful presence of this woman for me; for him she was the love of his life.

      What is done is done? You cannot turn the clocks back and neither can they. Understanding why it happened does not stop the pain, but it is essential for your sanity.

      Don’t give up hope, but don’t live solely for it, as well. I have known a close friend and her husband who cut off contact with his parents just as his parents were moving to their remote village to be closer to them.. The reason, a disagreement over the date of the wedding conflicting with the father of the groom’s farm schedule. For that, the poor man was estranged from his son,daughter-in-law and grand-children until he died. I never thought it would happen to me, yet it has happened too, A hard lesson to learn. We are not alone either.

      I, sincerely, hope your children and yourself are reunited now or will be in the future.

    2. Avatarmaybebaby52

      you must be feeling awful, we have similar situation with our daughter and grandchildren. Do you know why your adult children don’t like this friendship you have?
      I just wonder why they have such a strong feeling about it to remove to you from their lives, seems a bit,,,,extreme?

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