Parental Estrangement


Parental Estrangement: What to do when your Kids don’t want to talk to you

1) Estrangement as identity

Many adult children cut off their parents because they have no other way to establish their own feelings of autonomy and independence. They haven’t yet mastered how to feel close to their parent and not feel too influenced or overwhelmed by their parents.

2) Listen and Try to understand what happened from your child’s point of view

Here’s a place where you the parent need to show restraint and openness to hear your child.  Rejection is a powerful emotion that can lead to all sorts of defensive behaviours, which can further alienate you from your child. Take a deep breath and work hard on being open to this conversation and try to put your defences on the back burner.

You need to put your ego on hold and really truly listen to what your child has to say to you. You may not fully understand or agree with your child’s point of view. And it’s important for you to say to your child, “I am trying to understand your pain and how you experienced this.”  The pain your child feels or is expressing is real to him or her even if you think it’s foolish or ridiculous. This is your child talking about his or her experience. 

4) Put it in writing

Sometimes a letter works better than a conversation. Words on paper can be read over and over again so your child can absorb your apology.  Take the time to write out a well-thought-out letter or an email.  Write this letter once you are in a calm frame of mind.  Acknowledge their rejection of you, guess and offer suggestions as to the cause of the distance between the two of you, and ask to understand their experience looking for clarification as you are curious about them and what they are feeling. Finish the letter by asking what you can do to make amends or to fix the relationship. Make suggestions you know they will appreciate and that you are willing to.

5) Admit your mistakes

It takes a lot of courage to deal with the emotions and the rupture that’s happened in your family. Especially since you too have been hurt by this estrangement. It takes a lot of courage and determination to admit you’ve made a mistake. Are you modelling positive family behaviours Families need to talk out problems and be honest about their feelings. And you might hear things you don’t want to.

6) Avoid engaging in negative conversations or fights

Should your adult child feel the need to continue the fight, let him or her know that you’re not going to engage in these types of conversations or fight with them. Your child may experience this as you refuse to talk about the problems. Calmly express to your child that you do want to talk and understand their point of view. You will no longer be willing to fight with them. You want to protect your relationship and you do not want to say anything that might further damage the relationship or cause any more pain. Reassure your child you will return to this conversation as it’s important to you and to your child. 

7) Create Healthy Boundaries

State you’re open to having conversations and dialogue with your adult child and you will stop the conversation once it becomes heated, yelling, name calling or abusive 

 8) Do not allow your children to abuse you

Sometimes parents in their desperation to reconnect with their estranged child give in to their child’s demands. It’s ok to say no and your kids do you have to learn how to be disappointed in life. And I mean disappointed and not devastated. It is not your job as a parent to “fix” your child’s life. If you find yourself in an abusive situation, set limits with your child. Refuse to give time, money, or advice until you are treated appropriately and don’t meet with your child alone. As a parent, you need to learn how to say”no”  in order to stop or prevent abuse. If you feel you have difficulty say no to your children or your are being emotionally, physically, or financially abused by your children reach out for help from a therapist or the police. 

9)  Find an intermediary

Sometimes finding an intermediary such as a trusted adult friend, or a trusted adult relative with him your child has a positive relationship can help you reach out to and reconnect with your child. This person needs to be able to offer to be a go between you and your child and they must be able to deal with the conversations without inflaming the dispute. If there is no one who you can ask to help you then seek professional assistance from a family therapist who specializes in estrangement and parental alienation. 

10)  Persevere

Don’t give up too early and don’t overwhelm your child either. You need to understand that not only does your child may need time to cool off or time to mature, you too need time to cool down and time to overcome your anxiety.  Too often parents cannot cope with estrangement from their children and need to reconnect as soon as possible. 

It is normal for teens and young adults to pull away from their parents in order to figure themselves out. Some distance is normal. Always avoiding you or telling you they never want to see you again is not normal. Give yourself and your child time to cool down.

Don’t be too quick to reject your child permanently. Often when we’re hurt we turn to anger, resentment or vengefulness. But these are not how we are truly feeling. Underneath those emotions are our true emotions of unacknowledged sadness, loss and grief.

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