Parent Estrangement-A Hidden Epidemic

by SidewalkPhilosopher

"We can welcome a trial and use it for better understanding. Or, we can become resentful of the trial and turn bitter. Which way do you handle the trials that cross your path?"

Estrangement from a child is one of the most painful experiences a parent can encounter and, many times, a very lonely walk down a very lonely road.

What is Parent Estrangement?

Parent Estrangement is when, as an adult, a child disowns and estranges themselves from their parents, walking away without explanation and breaking all contact with them. They may do this to one parent or both parents.

Estrangement from a child is one of the most painful experiences a parent can encounter and, many times, a very lonely walk down a very lonely road.

Do you ask why I decided to write on such a controversial subject?

Well, you see, our family is a product of parent estrangement. We know there were problems but the rest of us worked through these problems together. However, our oldest chose to turn their back on us without explanation except that they have issues with a divorce that is twenty-six years old.

We do not assume for a moment that they have no reason for complaint. But we don’t understand why they never told us. Why he chose to just walk away from his family…a blended family he worked very hard, along side the rest of us, to create and nurture.

How does a child, who has grown up knowing your love, dependent on your care, and once so totally a part of your world, simply choose to walk out of your life?

In many cases, there is just no known reason for their estrangement. Many parents thought they, as we did, had a wonderful relationship with their child, suddenly to find themselves locked out without explanation. Of course, there are cases which stem from divorce where one or both parents were in conflict with the child. In these cases, you can understand their turmoil as children.

However, when there are no signs of a lack of understanding during those early years and the estrangement comes once the child reaches adulthood, the parents are left baffled, dismayed by the lack of explanation from the adult child.

Who Gets Hurt?

In many of these cases, the child also cuts themselves off from other siblings, or even extended family members, as well.

This separation can be devastating to the parents, the other siblings and extended family, having lost a key person in their family unit.

Often the parents keep the pain to themselves. When they try to talk to someone about it, they are hit with, “Why don’t you just try to talk to them?” In other words, “What did YOU do?”

These children may have been brought up to be considerate of others, respectful to their parents and family, and generous. They were not treated differently from the other siblings regarding love or consideration of their personal needs.

When two or more children are a product of divorce, one may accept what they cannot change, work through the loss, and then move on into their own lives with greater understanding. Yet, the other will continue to hang onto anger and loss sometimes years after they have established their own identities?

Thirty years down the road, they still, almost lovingly, cling to issues with a divorce. They go on to blame one or both parents, refusing to accept the fact that it is okay to love both parents. The parents did not stop loving them but each other.

However, there are cases where the parents use the children to "get even." One or both parents tell different stories about the cause or effect of the marriage and divorce, totally confusing the adult child, who has no idea what to believe or whom to trust. This causes turmoil both within the child and with their parental relationships.

When communication in the home has been strained or non-existent, reconciliation becomes even more difficult in later years. And sometimes, no matter how much the parent wants to discuss the problem with the adult child, the child either is too angry to allow it or their personality is such that they are unable to voice their feelings.

Understanding Causes Of Parent Estrangement

There are as many reasons for adult children to cut themselves off from their parents as there are grains of sand in the ocean.

Some of the most common issues are divorce, disapproval of a new parental spouse, suddenly being told they are grown and must pay their own way, brain washing from a manipulative parent, friends who are disrespectful of their parents, a controlling or jealous spouse of their own, shame over their parent’s lifestyle, selfish children who have become narcissists, interfering relatives, or religious cults.

Sometimes it is simply that something you said or did was misinterpreted by your child and they refuse to listen to explanation that could easily clear the air.

In fact, many parents feel that their child has become a complete stranger when they used to be very close or even best friends.

When the issue is legitimate, the reasons are

evident to everyone. Anything else should be open for discussion or put aside as unnecessary.

Estrangement can be gradual, taking place over a period of time or sudden after an argument or misunderstanding.

Sometimes the parent sees it coming but often, when the door is shut, they are dismayed, having no idea what they have done to warrant such action from their own child.

What Should The Parent Expect?

There are seven stages parents now go through, as they try to make sense of the situation they find themselves in.

1. Bewilderment … “But we all love each other and our family has been so close.”

2. Sadness … Sometimes this rejection can be worse than death.

3. Guilt … What did I do? What did I say? Should I have explained what I said more clearly? Did they misunderstand what I did?

4. The Fix-It Search … They call, write, meet, seek counseling, and apologize for any and everything.

5. Anger … How could they keep us from our grandchildren? How could they blame us when we tried so hard!

6. Acceptance … Okay, it wasn’t us; it is them. There is nothing we can do. It is up to them now.

7. Reconciliation … You walk on eggshells even after reconciliation because you still don’t know what you did or said wrong and are afraid of doing or saying it again.

Then, there is the issue when other family members are allowed to continue to see the estranged child. You wonder, at first, why they can’t side with you. Later, you wish they could try to get through to the estranged child to help them understand that you don’t deserve their scorn.

And, what about the grandchildren…how do you let them know that they are still loved?

What do you do about your estate or will? Do you cut them out as they have cut you from their lives or do you leave everything as it was before they vacated your life?

The parent questions themselves often, wondering if they should continue to try to contact their child. Christian parents wonder what God must surely think of them and their child. How do they handle the guilt when they know they have done nothing wrong…not wrong enough to warrant this?

"Should I confront them or give them their space, forever, if need be?"

How Damaging Were The Mistakes?

Dr. Joshua Coleman, a noted Psychologist and author, wrote, “This is not a story of adult children cutting off parents who made reprehensible mistakes, but about parents who were good parents, who made mistakes that were certainly within normal limits."


He recommends that the parents take the high road and never give up. In the case of a step parent who truly has tried to parent the child and truly loves the child, they, too, must keep the door open to their heart and be willing to reaccept the child whenever they are ready.


All sides share feelings of betrayal and of disappointment. What makes parents of estranged children so sad is that they carry an overwhelming sense of guilt and frustration. It is a sense of mourning the future.


Reconciliation must first begin with the parents, a tall order indeed. They have to first listen. It may be hard to hear how they may have let their child down, let alone admit to their own shortcomings. For those parents, it is hard to get very far with a reconciliation without honestly acknowledging the way you may have contributed to the difficulties between you and your child.

Even here, there isn’t a cure-all solution. Your child may have a mental illness, or be married to a troubled or possessive spouse. You may have to deal with an ex who wants to perpetuate the conflict due to their own anger, using the child as ammunition.


You have to start trying to understand your child and their feelings, not because you deserve punishment for your mistakes, but as an act of parenting.

The parent must recognize the fact that though they may reasonably believe they did a good job as a parent, their child my also just as reasonably wish they had done something quite different.

In closing, parents, do what you can to understand the situation and make things right. Let respect guide your path, letting go of whatever anger you may feel…difficult, but not impossible. And never give up!

And, children, cut your parents some slack because they won’t be around forever. Consider how you will feel if you have to carry the guilt of their loss and your lack of reconciliation for the rest of your life.

Everyone has to give in, sometimes a little, often a great deal. However, usually the parents more so than the child for, no matter the age, you are forever the parent and they are forever your child.

Works Cited

Dr. Joshua Coleman, Psychologist and author of “When Parents Hurt.”
When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along

In When Parents Hurt, psychologist and parent Joshua Coleman, Ph.D., offers insight, empathy, and perspective to those who have lost the opportunity to be the parent they desper...

$15.99  $6.24
Updated: 05/22/2016, SidewalkPhilosopher
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Comments Are Always Welcome!

SidewalkPhilosopher on 07/22/2016

Mara, thank you for your comment on Parental Estrangement. When I wrote this, I was still trying to justify what happened in our family...several years ago. I have since come to agree with you. We have done ALL we can to solve the problem. However, when they won't talk and turn a deaf ear, you move on. We have four other children who are very much a part of our lives. It is a shame he is missing out on so much family time and experiences that can never be regained but we know we have done our best for him. It is now up to him and him alone. Thanks again!

Mara on 07/22/2016

Interesting until you get to the part about what parents need to do. Nay, nay. When parents have put themselves out there and been consistently rejected, it is time to accept the loss and move on. Parents can then celebrate separation and engage in a new stage of life. When there are other children, focus on the healthy relationships with them. If not, fill the void with meaningful activity that is fulfilling. Decide what is acceptable behavior from the important people in your life and hold to that. IF the estranged child returns, maintain your principles!

Karen Boyd on 06/07/2016

Thank you Your insight was truthful and welcomed

SidewalkPhilosopher on 06/15/2013

You are welcome, Michey...

Michey on 06/15/2013

I learn a lot, this is definitely something to reflect and share. Thanks

SidewalkPhilosopher on 03/30/2013

Thank you, Gardengirl...but I no longer expect that to happen...I only hope that one day the grandchildren will find their way back. :)

Gardengirl on 03/30/2013

Thank you, and I do believe in prayer. Situations like these have no other way of getting healed than thru a higher power. Happy Easter to all. Pray we will not have to see another Easter go by without our children & grandchildren.

SidewalkPhilosopher on 03/30/2013

No, they don't go away quickly but you finally learn to accept, move on and stop looking for ways to fix it. It can only be fixed by the mind set of the child.

Mira on 03/30/2013

This was a moving article. Hard to know how to deal with all the overwhelming feelings that I imagine don't go away too quickly, no matter what.

SidewalkPhilosopher on 03/30/2013

That's exactly it...thank you!

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