With Mother’s Day having just passed, I thought this was an ideal time to re-share one of my most viral posts of 2016: What to do when your adult child will not speak to you.
Why does this matter and to whom? Well, dear readers, you may be completely unaware that hundreds of thousands of mothers are living with the pain of having adult children sever all ties. The reason you’re unaware is because these mothers feel ashamed and embarrassed and therefore, they remain silent.
Adult child and parent estrangement
A few days ago, I got out of our warm and comfy bed early in the morning. I made coffee and jumped back into bed with my ultimate concierge, grabbed my laptop (as I always do) and clicked on my email.
I saw messages from a few of my early-riser girlfriends, my grandson Joe, studying in Beijing, China, and… a new website.
The first few words of this email captured my attention, so I clicked through to the website. The title of the first story was, “What To Do When Your Grown Up Kids Won’t Talk to You.” Under that was another story on the same subject, “Why Some Grown Kids Cut Off Their Parents.”
I continued to read, the story began, “In the painful days after my husband’s death, I crafted a eulogy that concluded with a thought from the ‘Book of Laughter and Forgetting,’ by Milan Kundera. The key sentence in her eulogy: Love is a constant interrogation.”
I immediately connected with the writer’s story about losing her husband because I too have lived through the tragedy of watching my children lose their father and facing widowhood.
My second husband, Shelly, is also a widower, and thus he has children who lost a mother.
In addition to losing a parent, our children have had to deal with the joy and conflict that comes about when Mom or Dad remarries. Life changes for adult children the second time around. The older children move through the experience of blending two families, and yet, sadly, families are never completely whole again after one parent dies.
My curious mind urged me to read on, and I was shocked with my findings. I knew I wanted to share this situation, even though we are in the middle of the holiday season. I wanted sorrowful mothers living through the ordeal of being “cut off” by their adult children to know they are not alone. Mothers should know there is an epidemic of silence in thousands of child-parent relationships.
To me, deliberate loss of touch with a mother leaves me horrified. If only every adult child could understand what a gut-wrenching experience this is for their mother. I feel a child who does this is unkind, selfish and lacking all aspects of empathy. Of course, if there is psychological, sexual or physical abuse from a parent, the adult child has the right to disengage.
A mother questions, “Did I fail? I taught my children the importance of compassion, empathy, respect and the art of communication? Why do some adult children cut off their mother? Why can other children with similar struggles stay connected through thick and thin?”
Two schools of thought on adult child and parent estrangement
This is my belief on the subject: I believe that no matter what happens, your mother is your mother. The Ten Commandments state to honor thy father and thy mother. As a daughter, I had many stormy days with my mom, but I would never think to cut her off completely. I would fight, but I would never take flight! And, right or wrong, I was the one who apologized, not my mother. Period.
The other school of thought I discovered from learned psychologists and psychiatrists: Adult children take flight because they feel a sense of relief. Why? They lack the ability to address and resolve problems and conflict with their mother; it is too much for them to handle.
Isn’t that awful?
I question if they really take flight because I don’t believe they can. They have resolved nothing and have to be feeling stressed. They want to feel disconnected, but will never be free of their mother.
What can a mother do when an adult child will not speak to her
1. Love and stay connected with other members in your family. Show your grands and other children that you will never “take flight.”
2. Talk to a therapist or join one of the many support groups that are available.
3. Remain true to yourself and don’t let anger rule. Don’t cut off your adult child, but instead send birthday cards or a small sentimental gift. Stay in touch with their children, your grandchildren. This will bring you comfort.
4. Hopefully their door will open and when it does, bite your tongue and listen with an open mind and heart. It may be very hard, but don’t get caught up in your feelings. Be empathetic and set an example.
5. Until this day happens, live a full life. You did not leave your child.
In an article by Elizabeth Vagnoni, a mother estranged from her two sons, wrote: “76% of adult children say that being estranged has affected their well-being, even though it appears to have been their choice.”
I would think it would be 100% because you cannot escape the mother-child bond. That is why a mother should hang in there.
It is hard to write my musings today because this is such a complicated topic. I want to leave you with a few messages: If your child reaches out to you, establish a shared set of future guidelines.
If your child does not reach out to you, don’t close the door. Consider texting them and saying, “Let’s find common ground to resolve our conflicts. I love you. I miss you. I need you. Let’s talk.” Do not expect a response, but instead know that you opened the door and hopefully one day they will walk through it.
Lastly, do not demean yourself and never feel ashamed. You are not the only one experiencing adult child and parent estrangement. Many professional doctors say our generation of parents spared the rod and spoiled the child. They may be 100% correct.
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Hi, Are you struggling with your picture on just this post or on all your posts? We are not having a problem on our end but we will check the picture. If you are having a problem on all the posts it is your internet. Warmly, Honey
This is a very complex problem and growing.. I haven’t seen my adult daughters who refuse to let me see my grandchildren as well. It has been six years. A vital part of my heart is in sorrow and pain and I see no intervention in sight. They refuse any type of communication and have blocked me from everything in their life. I was close to my first daughter’s children and miss them terribly. I identify with your post today and thank you for the story of the red string., I never take it off. My prayers are with you and your precious mother. Shalom,dear Honey
I am so glad I heard from you. I received your gift and keep it in a special place. I lost your address so I could not write you a thank you note. Children in many families have no respect like we did for our parents. Many no longer honor their father and mother. You are, unfortunately, not alone. I read the stats. This serious situation is in epidemic proportions. This is about your daughters, not about you. Live your life. I was happy to send you a red string.Never take it off. It will fall off on its own. My last one lasted over one year. Warmly, Honey
I’m not sure if this comment will reach you because I’m technically challenged and after divorce and more than 10 years of estrangement from my 34 year old son, 32 year old daughter and 3 grandchildren, I’ve become mentally and physically heartbroken. I feel dead but still wake up to this horrible pain every day. All I do is think pray and cry over them. I keep hoping it will end soon and cant believe I’ve lived through it this long. I’ve seen every website and read every book including the bible. I look for new websites to read every day and write letters and texts till my mind is overwhelmed and I give up. They have me totally blocked from reaching them and I cant find out their address. My sister is the toxic 3rd party invader of my life and family. I never knew how bad she envied and hated me. She wanted my life and I loved and helped her all our lives together. She didnt have kids or a family so she silently eased her way in when I was at my weakest during my divorce. My life consists of taking care of my 82 year old mom with dementia and I had my 21 year old son at 40 years old. He lives with me after being taken from me in the divorce. We are trying to get back the last 10 years we lost but he’s sad that I’m not the same as I was then. It hurts him that I’m depressed over his brother and sister and thinks he’s not enough for me. I do feel feel like a failure as a mom, wife daughter and sister even though I know better. So much more to my life and not all negative but when I think of the beautiful memories of being a Christian stay at home mom with all the blessings of a home and family, it doesn’t help. I feel bad for all the moms on this site and pray the best for all of you. I hope yall are loving yourselves and being strong. Dont let yourselves get this far down because it makes it that much harder to get back up. I’ll continue to pray for all moms, our children and grandchildren to be together again soon. Thanks for sharing your stories as they helped me a lot. Jody
Your story is heartbreaking. This is not about your motherhood. This is caused by disrespectful and unkind adult children who probably are blaming you for their unhappiness. You must stop blaming yourself for the sake of your son and your own well-being.What did you do wrong? Nothing. You did your best.There is not a book written on how to be a perfect mother. I know the hurt and dismay of your children’s actions will not end. But, you have a choice to make. I suggest you use all your mental strength and change your attitude. Being depressed will not bring them back. It will only hurt you and your son. Give him all the love you have in your heart. He needs you. you need him. Warmly, Honey
Yes, it’s difficult ; especially since it’s my only child who was diagnosed with manic depression in his teens. ( He is 30 years of age now) I raised him as a single parent since he was 2 years of age. His father would pop up for a few weeks and then disappear for years. He only needed a place to stay between girlfriends, I wasn’t the perfect parent but I tried to encourage him to live a better life. Tried to become a role model by completing college in order for us to live in a better neighborhood. I even purchased a home which I was very proud of. But, he was never happy and blamed me for his decisions and behaviors- even on social media which I found to be immature and demeaning because so had a reputation to maintain within my colleagues. He knew this and was done maliciously. But still I reached out to him. I would provide him with money but later cut this off because I suspected it was used to maintain his girlfriend’s drug habits. This made me to be the bad person and he estranged himself one more time. It’s been a year now. For the most part I’m actually ok. I see a therapist and the fact that I stopped giving him money ( for reasons mentioned) has stopped the guilt I had . For some strange reason , this all returned the self confidence and pain I had because of all that happened. Him deciding to cut all ties is really a sign of immaturity on his end. He has three years of college but decided to quit school and live a life I did not want for him. It’s sad but I now understand it was his poor decision , not my fault. He will regret the decisions he has made for himself. I worked hard for him to have something better. It was thrown to the side. Again, it’s sad. I do agree that there will be moments , like holidays that you will miss your love one and wonder how they are doing, but you have to take care of you. Look for distractions during the holidays. Enjoy them with your other family members. Let them know it’s a delicate topic for you and will only bring pain , so be respectful and allow you to enjoy the moments with them. Because , they are family too. Another alternative would be to go out with friends etc. I’ve even prepared before any holiday by preparing a special meal for myself, bingeing on Netflix etc and staying away from videos related to the specific holiday celebrated. Believe me this works more than you may think. It’s taking care of yourself and not allowing negativity destroy your day or being. Estrangement is like a death. The problem is that it is a “ death” of a being who is still alive and disowning you. So ask yourself “ Will I allow this to destroy me or will I go on with my life.” Because, just like I told my son when he would speak angrily about his father “ I understand how you feel, but while you are angry and acting out- he is going on with his life. You are only hurting yourself. So, stop hating him and yourself and take care of you. “ Well, now my son and I are estranged and it’s time to use this philosophy for myself. Love yourself. If your love one comes back- celebrate. But do not destroy yourself with pain and guilt. Bottom line, you are the parent who loved and took care of your child. They should respect this.
You have realized the importance of accepting what you cannot change. You have learned that the situation is about your son’s actions and not yours. Most importantly, I noticed after all your pain you wrote, “If your loved one comes back, celebrate.” Yes, you have learned and I respect you for your wisdom. This problem is universal.And, I do agree,children should honor and respect their parents. Warmly, Honey
My husband is estranged from his mother. It is very painful for the adult child as well. She left our family for another man. It broke my husband’s heart when she left his step dad for this man and 36 years earlier left his bio father when he was only 4 or 5 years old. We tried really hard to heal with her, but she kept lying about things. My husband couldn’t take the lies anymore. Whenever we heard from her it was the same thing and it was killing him. He was all broken up remembering when she left his bio father and now it was happening again to his step dad who raised him. Before the estrangement and we were trying to heal our family she came and visited us. It ended with her walking out on us in the middle of the night after my husband and she were talking about things. He confronted one of her lies and she left. They haven’t seen each other since that night. It’s been 2 years now. She last spoke with me on the phone for my birthday a year ago. I pleaded with her to talk to her son, but not to wait for his birthday and rehash on that day. She didn’t. She texted him the day before and he didn’t want to deal with all of it on his birthday. A few days later he learned from a family friend she had gotten married to the man she left his dad for 4 months earlier. He was devastated. We got a letter from her a month later telling us of her marriage. My husband couldn’t respond. He was devastated. Our daughter was due to get married a few months later and our family was in turmoil of her coming to the wedding and bringing her new husband. Because my daughter was so worried about everyone being upset, I had to write my mother in law a letter and ask her not to come. I didn’t want to do that, but I had to for my daughter, husband, and father in law’s sake. I feel so horrible and wish every day that things were not in this state. I love my mother in law. I miss her. But I am also so baffled by her behavior. She was never like this before. Always a loving giving mother. Then one day she met another man and left her family. But from her perspective we were the ones who abandoned her. I am completely heartbroken by this situation. I write this to give another perspective about the parent adult child estrangement thing. Whenever I search on the internet it’s the kids who leave the parent, but not in our situation. I’m so sorry for each broken family that I have read about on the internet. I pray God will bring healing and reconciliation in each family. I think about my mother in law all the time. My own mother died in 2012 and I miss her so much. I just can’t understand anyone throwing a family member away. My poor husband is so confused. He feels tremendous guilt and anger. He loves his mother deeply, but he doesn’t trust her. He loves the LORD Jesus and desires to live as His follower. He forgives his mother, but doesn’t feel safe letting her in. I hope this reply will be helpful to someone out there. Actually I truly hope it reaches my mother in law and softens her heart with understanding for her son. We love her so much and wish everyday that things were not as they are. May God bless each of you.
Julie, I answered you on http://www.honeygood.com my web site. It will be up on Thursday in my Thursday Advice Column, Dear Honey…
Hope I helped. Warmly, Honey
All situations are different. My daughter married a narcissistic man child knowing what he was and knowing we were less than thrilled. She is now divorced officially for 2 months. We sent her a letter asking her if she will ever speak to us again, no response as of yet. Invited her for the holidays aa well. Most children who cut off their parents are immature and selfish. I will not wait until I am on my death bed begging to see her. She decided to do this, I will not give in to her tantrum and stubbornness. Anger is what has made me strong and kept me from going down a dark path that I have been down before because of her. We have no one to mediate for us, my brother I thought was but ended up I found out he doesn’t care. My husband and I have been estranged from our daughter for 6 years. It was because of her husband she cut us off, we don’t know what the problem is now that he is gone.
Yes, all situations are different except one: Honor thy father and thy mother. Give her time, especially since it appears you had a nice relationship before her marriage.Two months is a short time to heal from a divorce; aside from the fact that deep down she is acknowledging her parents were right. Send her little notes. “Just want you to know I am thinking about you.” I love you. Mom. Maybe send a special sentimental I love you gift the following month. And, don’t mention you were right about her husband. She knows. If she does not come around, it is her problem not yours and accept what is and live your life to the fullest. Hope this helps. Warmly, Honey
“Your mother is your mother?” That is a dangerous statement. When your children become adults, you need to treat them as equal. When there is inequality in a relationship that leads to abuse. Many mothers miss this point not realizing that they are denying the son or daughter from becoming a real person. Your motherly care is just sending the wrong message. that “I am your mother I always know what is best for you”. Not true. They are adults and they dont need your “wisdom” in order to survive.
I agree with every word you wrote, 100%. I remember when I was a young girl and into marriage my mom and I use to have words because as you mentioned many mothers miss the point.My mother is my role model in many areas but trust me…I am my own person and fought to be. I was not by any means a shrinking violet!! At the end of the day after our argument, even when I was right, I would pick up the phone and call my mother, many times wanting to bite my tongue. Why? Because my mother…is my mother. Warmly, Honey
Our youngest son walked out of our lives two years ago and has blocked all communication from us. I was able to speak to him when I stopped by his home with baked goods. I told him how much that he was loved and missed asking him to come back into our life. He looked at me and asked” what have you learned from this separation?”. I suggested that we go to family counseling or speak with a pastor. He bulked at both. He is combative and argumentative toward me but not his father. He has been this way his entire adult life. His father is not well and I can’t help but think that he doesn’t want to be bothered with giving me a hand with his care. I have read books on child estrangement, listened to lectures and am praying without ceasing. I don’t know where to turn.
Unfortunately Holly, you are going to have to learn to accept what is not in your power to change.We cannot make our children do what they do not want to do. You have tried and tried and he has rebuked you. You can keep trying.You can talk to professionals who can help you put your life first and the problem secondary. You can look for a group who discusses parental abandonment. I know how you feel. Even on my good days my daughter continues to disrupt my life.You have no idea what she has put me through. I only scratched the surface in my story. I ask myself, “Why me?” I will never find justification in her behavior. I no longer consider her my daughter because her cruelty is unforgivable. In my wildest dreams I never dreamed this could exist. So, we share a grief. My suggestion again: concentrate on what gives you joy. This is now about your survival. Warmly, Honey