How To Deal With Family Estrangement

Family can often be a sensitive and delicate issue, and feeling ignored by your adult children can take a toll on both your physical and mental health. Similarly, adult children whose older and elderly parents don’t communicate with them can feel a sense of loss and abandonment. 

As a parent, it can be difficult to feel the pain of not feeling loved and appreciated by your children, but other parents face the opposite problem – they realize that they have to cut off contact with certain family members as a means to protect their well-being. 

But it’s not just parents who feel the need to cut contact. A lot of adult children choose to “ignore” their parents because of how their parents have acted towards them. This often includes emotional abuse, disagreements surrounding sexuality or religion, and more. 

How To Deal With Family Estrangement

If you feel like you’re being ignored, or you’ve been cut off from communications with certain family members, then this can affect your mental wellbeing. Many often feel too ashamed to seek help too, so will usually suffer in isolation. 

It can be hard to talk about family estrangement, whether you’re a parent or a child, but the following information in this guide can help you to understand more about why parent/child relationships can break down in adulthood, and how to deal with it. 

All of the content in this article is for informational purposes only, and shouldn’t replace the professional advice and support that licensed therapists, phycologists, and counsellors provide.

Feeling Ignored By Your Adult Children

A lot of seniors tend to suffer from chronic loneliness, and a major factor that contributes to this is feeling ignored by their adult children. However, everyone has their definition of what feeling ignored means to them. 

In a study, which was conducted by CBS News, 1,020 American adults were asked how often grown children should call their parents. Almost a quarter said that grown children should call their parents at least once a day. A further 35% said that once a week was enough, whilst 12% thought that once a month or less was fine. 

This shows that different people have different opinions on how often they should talk to their family members, and your own opinions can be very different from your children’s. For instance, your grown child might think that calling you once or twice a month is fine, but you may feel like they don’t want to talk to you. 

If you feel like you want more contact with certain family members, don’t hesitate to talk to them about it. Chances are your child(ren) might not be aware of how often you would like to talk to them or see them. 

In today’s busy world, it’s so easy for people to get caught up in their own lives – this often leads to people spending less time with their friends and family. This can be a hard reality for parents to accept. 

According to psychologists, parent-child relationships are more important to the parent, but this is a normal part of human psychological development. Because of this, breakdowns in communications with parents and grown children are often felt much more strongly by parents. 

Your child may not realize that their limited contact is affecting you to the extent it is, so you may have to be proactive in telling your child that you want to communicate more regularly. Why not try setting a schedule, pick a day or time which works for both you and your child(ren). 

Setting a routine for calls and visits can help ensure that you receive the regular contact that you’re looking for. It can also help combat any feelings of loneliness, as you know you’re going to have some regular contact with your adult child(ren). 

It’s also important that adult children recognize and listen to their parents when they express feelings about being ignored. After all, chronic loneliness is a major problem amongst the elderly and can lead to many physical and mental health problems. 

Make sure you take some time to reach out to your parents or elderly family members, as this will prevent any serious issues from developing later on. 

What Is Family Estrangement? 

Family estrangement is much more than feeling ignored by a family member, and in a way, the grief of family estrangement can be a lot more painful and complicated than the grief of losing a loved one. When a family member cuts all ties with you, it can often leave you feeling confused, disappointed, frustrated, and even ashamed. 

But what does family estrangement mean? 

The short explanation is that one person in the relationship feels that something about the other person (whether it’s their actions or words) justifies cutting off all contact with that person. So, there is no communication with one another, and if there is any, there’s usually a lot of tension or disagreements. 

Those who choose to cut ties completely with another family member tend to do so with intention and purpose. If someone’s been too busy to keep in touch with you it doesn’t necessarily mean estrangement. 

A study conducted by the Journal of Marriage and Family used certain criteria to determine whether a mother was estranged from their adult child. Here it is: 

  • Neither had contact with one another (either on the phone or in-person) for at least a year or: 
  • The pair had contact less than once a month, and the mother rated the quality of their relationship as a four out of seven 

In recent years, many feel that family bonds are more fragile than ever. In the same study, around 10% of the mothers who participated admitted that they were estranged from at least one of their children at the time of the study. 

A similar study in the Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Science found that more than 40% of surveyed college students (ranging from age 18 to 56) said that they had experienced some form of family estrangement during their life. 

Although family estrangement is a difficult thing to research, as many find it a difficult topic to talk about, it’s a lot more common than people think. It also tends to be adult children who cut off contact, as on average, around 5-6% of parents completely cut off their children. 

This is possibly linked to the psychology behind parent-child relationships. From a parent’s perspective, their relationship with their child is often their strongest bond. But as a child grows up, they typically go on to meet a partner and have children of their own. This causes a shift in their responsibilities, as they often shift primarily to their own nuclear family. 

Why Does Family Estrangement Happen? 

Why do adult children abandon their parents? And why do parents stop talking to children when they reach adulthood? Well, each case is different, you ask anyone why they’re estranged from their families and you’ll most likely get a different answer each time. Like us, our families are unique, and bonds can be broken in different ways. 

What’s surprising, however, is that many people aren’t aware of why a family member has cut off all communications with them. This can have a devastating effect on people who have always had a secure family relationship. 

Another interesting fact, from a survey conducted by the University of Cambridge, is that a significant percentage of parents and children who are estranged isn’t even sure who initiated the estrangement. So, estrangement is not always a clear and simple process. 

However, the survey found that emotional abuse is the most common reason why adult children are estranged from their parents. Some other common reasons included conflict of expectations, neglect, mental health issues, differences in values, or traumatic family events. 

On the other hand, parents who said that they had estranged relationships with their children named divorce as the top reason. For instance, they had little to no contact with their children following divorce or separation. 

Other common reasons as to why parents are estranged from their children include mental health issues, emotional abuse, traumatic family events, mismatched expectations, or issues relating to marriage.

However, there are a lot of different factors that can lead to family estrangement. These include: 

  • Financial stress or reliance
  • Political disagreements 
  • The conflict surrounding disapproval of sexuality or religion 
  • Conflict surrounding careers or relationships 
  • Substance abuse

Societal changes have also been noted as a reason why more and more families experience estrangement. Nowadays, many of us don’t rely on our family members as much as we used to. This is in part to the fact that we are far more mobile than we once were. For instance, it’s much easier to ignore a family member who lives in a different state than a family member who lives in the same town as you. 

In addition, there is a growing argument that seniors believe that there is an increase in the number of entitled adult children who decide to stop talking to their parents for “selfish” reasons. However, many adult children tend to disagree with this statement. 

The counterargument is that older parents don’t seem to realize that their adult children have their own busy lives; whether that’s raising their children, studying at college, or working hard in their careers.  

Let’s look at some of the reasons why adult children and parents become estranged in more detail. 

Parents Often Cut Off Children Because They Object To Their Other Relationships 

Although it’s rare for a parent to cut off their child, a pretty common reason as to why it happens is that the parent objects to another relationship that their child has. Whether it’s a spouse, someone they’re dating, step-parents, or in-laws. 

Often, parents can object to their children’s romantic partnerships due to sexuality, religion, or race. This can put a strain on their relationship with their child, and can often lead to both parties cutting contact with one another. 

Adult Children Cut Off Parents Largely Due To Abuse, Toxic Behavior, And Feeling Unaccepted 

Adult children often have very different reasons as to why they cut off their parents. One of the biggest reasons, however, is abuse.

Abuse occurs in many forms, emotional, physical, sexual. And often, if a child has been abused by their parents in any way, shape, or form, they will decide to cut all forms of communication with them when they reach adulthood. 

This can also be linked with toxic behaviors. Parents that show anger, cruelty, disrespect, or hurtfulness of any kind to their child – no matter the age – can leave their child wanting to excommunicate their parent(s). 

Similarly, children who feel unaccepted or unsupported by their parents in any way may feel the need to remove their parents from their lives. This can include feeling unsupported in their relationships, their life choices (like careers, or choosing not to have children), disability status, mental health issues, and any other important things in their life. 

Consequences Of Family Estrangement 

Consequences Of Family Estrangement 

As a parent, you may feel like you’ve devoted most of your life to raising your family, only to have your children throw it all back in your face when they decide to sever contact with you as an adult.

Family tensions can take a toll, especially on older or elder parents. According to the University of Cambridge study that was mentioned previously, around 90% of people who are estranged from family members find the holidays a particularly difficult time of year. 

Similarly, the survey found that 68% of people who have estranged family relationships feel that they are judged by others. In addition, one-third of parents who are estranged from their children have contemplated suicide. 

Many people who have experienced family estrangement often compare the feeling to experiencing a death in the family. After all, it can feel like you’re mourning the end of a relationship. 

What can add further stress is that estrangement often lacks resolution, which can make the healing process all the more difficult, especially as many people aren’t aware as to why a family member has severed contact. Grief counsellors often refer to this as an “ambiguous loss”, as there doesn’t seem to be a clear reason as to why that person isn’t in your life anymore. 

Another complicating factor for many senior parents is that they often rely on family members for some elements of caregiving. When family relationships are broken, it can make it difficult for an elderly person to arrange the care that they need. 

For people over the age of 70, regular social contact with friends and family members can also help to prevent depression. However, when these relationships are strained it can have a huge impact on mental health. 

How To Cope With Family Estrangement 

As a parent whose child has cut contact with them, you are often left wondering what you did wrong, and thinking that your children hate you. However, one of the biggest steps that you can take is to accept that you can’t control the situation. 

Here are some ways in which you can try and come to terms with the estrangement, and try to build a functional relationship with your child once more. 

Don’t Push Your Child 

You must respect the boundaries that your estranged child has set, even if you don’t think that the situation is very fair. 

If you keep reaching out to them even after they’ve asked you to stop contacting them, this can damage your relationship even further, and the repeated rejection can harm your mental well-being. 

Don’t Judge Your Child 

Often, children sever contact with their parents because they feel like their parents judge every little part of their lives.

Unless your child specifically asks for your opinion, do not comment on their appearance, finances, parenting, sexuality, or any other part of their lives for which they are responsible. 

Not respecting your child’s boundaries can add even more stress to their day-to-day lives. 

Don’t Get Defensive

Although it can be a perfectly normal response to want to defend yourself, this can be an issue if your child is trying to explain to you why they have decided they no longer want to be in contact with you. 

You mustn’t invalidate your child’s feelings by trying to speak out against them. Just remember to listen carefully. 

Don’t Guilt Trip Your Child 

Trying to guilt-trip your adult child by saying things like “do you know how much I’ve sacrificed for you?”, or “you don’t appreciate anything I’ve ever done for you”, can make your child even less likely to want to engage with you. 

Apologize When Needed 

Apologizing doesn’t necessarily mean admitting to whatever you are being accused of, but it can be the first step towards reconciling with your child. Most of the time it helps to just acknowledge that your child is hurting, and apologizing for how you have contributed to their pain is the first step in the right direction. 

It’s also worth remembering that society has changed a lot over the last few decades, and how your child views the world may be completely different from how you did when you were their age. 

Don’t Try To “Buy” Your Child’s Attention 

Around two-thirds of Americans over the age of 50 provide some form of financial support to their child(ren) over the age of 21. However, you shouldn’t use financial support as a way to leverage your adult child. 

Financial support should be given to your child because they genuinely need your support, and you should never use it as a means of making sure your child communicates with you. 

Seek Help When Needed 

It can be pretty difficult to stay positive in this situation, and family estrangement has been known to affect both mental and physical health. 

If you are struggling, do not hesitate to speak to a doctor or counsellor that can help you alleviate any negative feelings. Also, professional help from therapists and psychiatrists can help you gain a fresh perspective on your relationship, which may help with reconciliation. 

Look After Yourself 

Although you have dedicated a lot of your time to your child(ren), you are your person, and it’s important as you age to build a life that doesn’t revolve around your children. You can do this by trying to develop your hobbies and interests that keep you occupied. 

Again, if you notice changes in your mental health, or you have trouble sleeping, don’t hesitate to contact a healthcare professional. 

What To Do If You’re A Grown Adult Being Ignored By Your Parent(s)

We’re raised to believe that it’s our parent’s job to look after us, and raise us, so, when they walk away from us as we reach adulthood, it can feel that the natural order of things has been broken in some way. 

When a parent chooses to ignore you it can provoke a lot of difficult feelings such as isolation, hurt, guilt, anxiousness, sadness, and anger. 

Here are some tips to help you cope with parent estrangement.

Talk To Others 

If a parent decides to stop speaking to you without any explanation, try talking to other people. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a healthcare professional and can be as simple as speaking to your friends, relatives, or even your parents’ caregivers. 

Don’t Feel Ashamed 

As mentioned, family estrangement is more common than you’d think. Just because a parent has decided to cut off communication with you does not mean that you are not loved, or worthy of being loved by others.

Get Support 

Even as an adult difficult relationships with parents can hurt. If you are feeling overwhelmed don’t hesitate to seek help from therapists, counsellors, or psychiatrists. 

It’s also worth speaking to the other people in your lives. 73% of married people who experience family estrangement find it helpful talking to their spouse. 

Deciding Whether Or Not To Cut Off Contact With A Family Member 

As an adult, you are in complete control of your relationships, even if that means cutting off contact with family members who harm your mental and/or physical health. 

Although there are numerous reasons as to why people choose to cut off their family members, it’s not an easy decision – especially when we are conditioned to love our family members regardless of what they say or do. 

Even if you do choose to cut off a family member, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you no longer love them, it just means that it is the course of action that works best for all those involved. 

If you feel like you need to cut off contact with a family member, this can be best done with the help of mental health professional. It’s also worth remembering that this doesn’t have to be a sudden or dramatic split, you can also choose to cut back the amount of contact you have with someone before deciding if you want to cut them off completely. 

One of the most important things to establish is boundaries. Putting boundaries in place means that you should be granted the respect and consideration that you deserve. 

With that being said, if you are being hurt physically or emotionally by someone, you should not be alone with them. If you do need to contact them, do not feel afraid to ask for a mediator to be involved.

Ways To Initiate Estrangement

Ways To Initiate Estrangement

If you need help cutting someone out of your life, here are some actions that may help: 

  • Refuse to accept calls, emails, mail, or in-person visits from the person 
  • Tell the person in writing that you wish for them to no longer contact you (via letter in the mail) 
  • If you are being harassed, abused, or stalked obtain a restraining order
  • Block the person on all social media platforms 
  • Change your will – for instance, the person won’t receive any inheritance from you, or they won’t gain custody of your child(ren) if anything were to happen to you 
  • Be open and honest with other family members 
  • Stay active socially – especially during holidays 

Final Thoughts 

Family can often be a difficult matter to talk about, and can often be one of the biggest sources of stress in our lives. But now that more and more healthcare providers are becoming aware of the impact of family estrangement, there are more and more resources that help people to cope. 

Whether you feel isolated and ignored, or you feel like you need to take the necessary steps to sever contact with a family member there are a lot of places in which you can seek help from. 

Just remember that you need to prioritize your emotional well-being, seek help to help you overcome or cope with the consequences of family estrangement.