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Why Are So Many Young People Cutting Off Their Parents, 5 Steps to Reconnect

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.

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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.

Researchers at Texas Christian University, Creighton University, the College of Charleston, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln conducted a 2015 study on family estrangement. 898 estranged parents and adult children were interviewed about their estrangement.​1​

The study found significant differences between parents’ and adult children’s explanations for what led to the estrangement. Overall, parents’ reasons for estrangement tended to focus more on situational factors outside the parent-child relationship. Adult children’s reasons centered more on the parents’ enduring personality issues or behaviors.

People now better understand what a healthy childhood should look like and are more tuned to caring for their mental health. This greater awareness helps adult children decide whether staying close to family benefits or harms their well-being.

Here are five reasons for estrangement from the perspective of an adult child.

  1. Toxic parents (22.4%): There are many ways to define toxic behavior, but generally, it refers to parents’ internal character traits such as hurtfulness, anger, cruelty, perpetual disrespect, family conflict, and narcissism. 
  2. Critical parents (14.8%): Adult children felt judged, unloved, or unaccepted, often due to differing values, such as religious beliefs​2​ and gender identity​3​. These parents also never praise their children for their accomplishments. The children are constantly being criticized and compared to others.
  3. Abusive parents (13.9%): Children could not leave their abusive parents in childhood and suffered silently. The moment they became adults and had options, they left the abusive family and never looked back. While most people would not question a child’s decision to sever ties with a parent who physically or sexually abuses, there’s often less understanding for those who have experienced emotional abuse or neglect. Children with authoritarian or narcissistic parents frequently endure emotional abuse, yet these parents tend to refuse to acknowledge such behavior. Emotionally abusive parents often struggle to comprehend why their children choose to estrange themselves.
  4. Unaccepting parents (10.2%): Parental non-acceptance of relationships with spouses, dating partners, in-laws, stepparents, or other significant individuals outside the family of origin was reported by 10% of adult children as a reason for estrangement.
  5. Biased parents (7.7%): Favoritism, where parents were perceived to clearly prefer one child over others.

Here are 5 most common reasons for estrangement from a parent’s perspective:

  1. Objectionable relationships (28.6%): Issues with relationships involving spouses, dating partners, in-laws, stepparents, or other individuals outside the family of origin.
  2. Divorce/alienation (13.2%): Challenges and impacts associated with divorce and remarriage.
  3. Toxic parents (8.3%): Continuous situations involving hurtfulness, anger, cruelty, or perpetual disrespect.
  4. Child entitlement (7.5%): Perceived ungrateful or unappreciative behavior from the child.
  5. Unknown (6.1%): Parents who could not give a reason or did not know why the estrangement occurred.

What are family estrangement causes?

According to the 2015 Journal of Family Communication research, researchers identified three causes for family estrangement: intrafamily, interfamily, or intrapersonal issues. These categories can be categorized into 14 themes.​1​

ThemeDescriptionParents (%)Children (%)
Toxic behavior*Hurtful, critical, controlling, or narcissistic behavior8.3%22.4%
Abuse*Emotional, psychological, sexual, or physical abuse; parent failed to protect the child from abuse.2.9%13.9%
Conflict, favoritismThe presence or perception of sibling jealousy, favoritism, or other forms of conflict.5.3%7.7%
Drug or alcohol abuseSubstance abuse involving drugs and/or excessive alcohol, impaired judgment.1.6%3.4%
Divorce/AlienationChallenges and impacts associated with divorce and remarriage.13.2%2.3%
DeceptionLying or manipulative2.4%2.0%
Entitlement*Child acting superior, entitled, unappreciative7.5%1.7%
Objectionable relationships*Disapproval of child’s friends, partners, spouses, in-laws, stepparents28.6%10.2%
Geographical distancePhysical distance between parent and child0.9%0.3%
Unaccepted*A child’s feelings of being judged, unloved, or unaccepted frequently stem from differing values.5.7%14.8%
Self-centeredness*Selfishness, lack of concern for others3.5%6..8%
Mental healthPsychological issues, disorders3.7%3.4%
OthersOther reasons5.7%4.8%
Don’t know*Unsure of reason for estrangement6.1%0.9%
* Indicate that the frequency of parents and children reporting this category/theme significantly differed.

Why are adult children so ungrateful?

It’s painful when an adult child cuts off contact, leaving parents feeling hurt and confused. After years of nurturing them, abandoning parents can seem incredibly ungrateful or that they are selfish adult children. But family estrangement is complex – it’s rarely caused by ingratitude alone.

However, from your child’s perspective, things might look different. They could argue that they never chose to be born; that’s a decision parents make. In their view, it’s not about gratitude but about how they were treated and their need to protect their mental health. Choosing to cut ties, then, becomes less about being ungrateful and more about self-care.

Rather than judge them for making bad decisions, the healthiest response is to reflect humbly. We could examine our past words and actions – not to beat ourselves up, but to understand. Where we have room to grow as parents, we can apologize and improve. Demands and scorekeeping only drive adult children further away. We may still disagree with their decision, but we must accept the limits of our understanding.

How to Reconcile a Relationship with an Adult Child

First, determine if you want to repair the relationship. Attempting to reconcile with an estranged adult child can be challenging but worthwhile if done thoughtfully. If you find that your adult child remains toxic and disrespectful despite your efforts to establish clear boundaries, and you prefer to maintain this separation, then it may be time to bid farewell to the estranged relationship and move forward. However, here are five steps if your goal is reconciliation and mending the relationship.

  1. Ask them and listen: Ask your child directly and gently if you are unsure why they distance themselves from you. Listen carefully without interrupting or trying to explain your side of the story. Your side of the story doesn’t matter at this point.
  2. See from their perspective: Reconciliation requires seeing from your child’s perspective, not your own. Stepping over and seeing things from their side is the only way forward. Reflect deeply on the relationship and your possible contributions to the rift with humility and letting go of judgments or assumptions.
  3. Take responsibility: You might disagree with how your child perceives the situation, reasoning, or experience it. It does not change 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. You must apologize. This isn’t easy. However, if you genuinely want to save the relationship, you must do so.
  4. Do not make excuses: Many estranged parents struggle with this step despite completing the previous ones. They try to explain their side from their 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.
  5. Get family therapy and make changes: Make a pact at this point to find a family therapist, and the entire family will attend therapy together. Despite feeling fine after making amends, people tend to fall back into old habits. It is pointless to apologize and then keep doing the same thing. You and your child must show mutual care and respect to maintain the parent-child relationship. A counselor or therapist can assist you in analyzing the family dynamics to achieve that. 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 challenging to amend the next 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 counseling.


  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.
    Gilligan M, Suitor JJ, Pillemer K. Estrangement Between Mothers and Adult Children: The Role of Norms and Values. J of Marriage and Family. Published online May 14, 2015:908-920. doi:10.1111/jomf.12207
  3. 3.
    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


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *