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Why Adult Children Are Cutting Off Their Parents, 5 Steps to Reconnect

| Why Adult Children Are Cutting Off Their Parents | How to Reconcile a Relationship with an Adult Child |

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, depending on your viewpoint and your goal.

If your goal is to understand the injustice done to you by your child, look at this from your perspective to see why it was their fault and why it is their loss.

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.

old woman weeps

Why Adult Children Are Cutting Off Their Parents

If you want to reconcile, here are some plausible reasons from children’s perspectives.

Parents’ toxicity

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 spouses​1​.

Child Abuse

Even though most people would not question a child’s decision to cut ties with a parent for physical abuse or sexual abuse, emotional abuse is among the most common reasons for estrangement​2​.

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.

Critical parents

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 estrangement​1​.

Different values, beliefs, and choices

Families with differences in values and beliefs are significantly more likely to be estranged.

Religious beliefs​3​, gender identity​4​, 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 not sure why they are distant 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.

Unfair, isn’t it?

But you cannot reconcile by making 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.

Stepping over and seeing things from their side is the only way forward.

Take responsibility

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 parents struggle with this step, despite completing the previous steps.

They try to explain their side from their own point of view. Somehow, they try to justify their bad parenting 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 now, 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.

Also See: How to Recover from Authoritarian Parenting

References

  1. 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. 2.
    Blake L, Bland B, Golombok S. Hidden Voices: Family Estrangement in Adulthood. Centre for Family Research at University of Cambridge; 2015.
  3. 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. 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

About Pamela Li

Pamela Li is a bestselling author. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University).

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