Every story has two sides.
On one side, spoiled, ungrateful adult children cut off their parents without warning or reason.
On the other side, terrible parents abuse their adult children since childhood and they cannot endure it anymore.
Who is right?
Adult children estrange their parents for a wide variety of reasons.
The right or wrong on each side depends on your viewpoint and goal.
If your goal is to understand the injustice done to you by your child, look at this from your perspective to consider why it was their fault and why cutting you off is their loss.
But if your goal is to reconcile, you must see things from your child’s perspective even if you do not agree with them.
This is something that no one from outside of your relationship can judge for you.
Why so many young people are cutting off their parents
The perception exists that more young adults are distancing themselves from their parents.
While it’s easy to assume this is happening because old-fashioned family values are fading away, there’s more to the story.
Nowadays, people better understand what a healthy childhood should look like.
They’re also more tuned in to the importance of taking care of their own mental health.
This greater awareness helps them decide whether staying close to family is beneficial or harmful to their well-being.
If you’re a parent who wants to reconcile with their estranged child, here are some reasons from their perspective to help you understand their situation.
A 2015 study found that toxic parent was the most reported cause of estrangement by the majority of adult children.
A toxic mother or father is often the source of family dysfunction. It can cause ruptures in family relationships.
There are many different ways to define toxic behavior, but generally, it refers to parents’ internal character traits such as defensiveness, anger issues, hostility, family conflict, self-centeredness, narcissism, and disrespect to their children and/or spouses1.
Although most people would not question a child’s decision to sever ties with a parent who physically or sexually abused the child, they tend to show less empathy towards those who have suffered emotional abuse.
Yet emotional abuse is among the most common reasons for estrangement2.
Some children suffer emotional abuse or emotional neglect in childhood silently while they are young and helpless.
The children could not leave their abusive parents.
The moment they become adults and have options, they leave the abusive family and don’t look back.
Children of authoritarian parents or narcissistic parents tend to fall into this category.
It is rare for these parents to acknowledge or admit that they have abused their children emotionally.
As a result, they have a hard time understanding why their children abandon them.
Some parents, such as strict parents, are very critical of their children.
They never praise their children for their accomplishments.
Their children are constantly being criticized and compared to others.
Many grown children report feeling unsupported and unaccepted as another primary reason for the issue of estrangement1.
Different values, beliefs, and choices
Families with differences in values and beliefs are significantly more likely to be estranged.
Religious beliefs3, gender identity4, and sexual orientation are examples of these values.
Children and parents can drift apart as a result of these differences.
How to Reconcile a Relationship with an Adult Child
Estranged parents can reconcile with their children by following these steps.
Ask them and listen
Ask your child directly and gently if you are unsure why they distant themselves from you.
Listen carefully without interrupting or trying to explain your side of the story.
Your side of the story doesn’t really matter at this point.
See from their perspective
Reconciliation requires seeing from your child’s perspective, not your own.
It’s unfair, isn’t it?
But you cannot reconcile by trying to make your child understand your perspective because it is like convincing an ex-girlfriend why she was wrong to leave you, so she’ll come back to you.
It won’t work that way.
Stepping over and seeing things from their side is the only way forward.
You might not agree with how your child perceives the situation, their reasoning, or how they experience it.
It does not change the fact that you made them feel that way, whether or not it was intentional.
The only way to repair the parent-child relationship is to accept responsibility for the hurt you caused.
In other words, you must apologize.
This isn’t easy. However, if you truly want to save the relationship, you must do so.
Do not make excuses
Many estranged parents struggle with this step, despite completing the previous ones.
They try to explain their side from their own point of view.
Somehow, they try to justify their bad decisions to their children.
They are making excuses.
By doing that, they are not taking full responsibility for their actions.
There is little chance of a successful repair.
Therefore, do not try to disguise your apology.
Making amends is your goal, not being right.
Get family therapy and make changes
Make a pact at this point to find a family therapist and the entire family attends therapy together.
Despite feeling fine right after making amends, people tend to fall back into old habits.
It is pointless to apologize and then keep doing the same thing.
You must change your behavior if you wish to maintain the parent-child relationship.
A counselor or therapist can assist you in analyzing the family dynamics and getting there.
Without understanding why you did what you did, you are likely to repeat the mistake and ruin the relationship again.
It would be even more difficult to amend this time around.
If there’s anything you want to convey to your child from your perspective, therapy is the best place to do so.
Families with mental health issues, such as narcissistic personality disorder or drug abuse, will also benefit from therapy.
- 1.Carr K, Holman A, Abetz J, Kellas JK, Vagnoni E. Giving Voice to the Silence of Family Estrangement: Comparing Reasons of Estranged Parents and Adult Children in a Nonmatched Sample. Journal of Family Communication. Published online April 2, 2015:130-140. doi:10.1080/15267431.2015.1013106
- 2.Blake L, Bland B, Golombok S. Hidden Voices: Family Estrangement in Adulthood. Centre for Family Research at University of Cambridge; 2015.
- 3.Gilligan M, Suitor JJ, Pillemer K. Estrangement Between Mothers and Adult Children: The Role of Norms and Values. Fam Relat. Published online May 14, 2015:908-920. doi:10.1111/jomf.12207
- 4.Kurdek LA, Schmitt JP. Perceived Emotional Support from Family and Friends in Members of Homosexual, Married, and Heterosexual Cohabiting Couples. Journal of Homosexuality. Published online December 16, 1987:57-68. doi:10.1300/j082v14n03_04