Why You Should Stop Trying To Reconcile With Your Estranged Adult Child

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Stop Trying Reconcile Estranged Adult Child

Are you one of those parents, who is trying very hard to reconcile with their estranged adult child, but whatever you do, it just doesn’t seem to work?

One of the most common questions I receive from parents in my practice is whether they should keep trying to reach out or just give up.

In general, I think that parents should try to reach out to an adult child for a significant period of time with letters of amends, empathy, and attempting to address their complaints before they stop trying.

However, sometimes giving up is best for everyone. But when?

Here some good reasons when you should stop:

  • You are being threatened with restraining orders.
  • Your adult child says that they need time apart but will be back in contact.
  • Whenever you do reach out, they’re consistently hostile and threatening.
  • All your letters or gifts to them or to your grandchildren are sent back “return to sender.”

While those conditions may seem obvious, many parents feel like they’re being neglectful or abandoning their child if they stop reaching out.

This may be especially challenging for mothers who are often governed by the following convictions:

  • Put yourself last, especially where your children are concerned, including grown children.
  • Give till it hurts.
  • Worrying about your child is part of being a good mother.

The constant cultural transmission is that if you don’t feel all of those things then you’re somehow behaving selfishly, irresponsibly, and unlovingly. That you’re being unmotherly.

Yet, sometimes the most loving, parental action is to allow the distance that your child says they need. You don’t have to commit to it forever. But if things are so inflamed that you’re getting threatened with restraining orders or your gifts are being sent back, then they’re too inflamed for progress to be made by reaching out. 

And even if those conditions aren’t met, but you’re being ignored year-after-year, then discontinuing to reach out is probably best. I typically recommend at least a year. 

Want to know more about the estranged parent-child dynamic? Read 10 Reasons Why Your Grown Kids Don’t Like You

Here’s why discontinuing to try is not only better for your mental health, it’s  sometimes better for a potential reconciliation:

  1. Your estranged adult child may feel like you’re respecting their wishes more.
  2. They may respect you more for not continuing to set yourself to be rejected by them.
  3. It may invite more self-reflection on their part: “Hmm, my mother hasn’t reached out in seven months. Wonder what’s going on?”
  4. It may cause them to miss you. That old saying, “How can I miss you if you never go away?” is sometimes true in families.
  5. It gives the relationship time and space to allow things to become less inflamed.

It’s not easy to stop trying. But sometimes it’s best for everyone.

Joshua Coleman is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written three books: 

  • When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along (HarperCollins, 2007)
  • The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin’s Press, 2006)
  • The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin’s Press, 2004)

His new book: RULES OF ESTRANGEMENT will be released in Nov 2020


Written by Joshua Coleman

Originally Appeared In Psychology Today

It’s only natural as a parent to want to make amends with their estranged children. But sometimes, you might need to take a step back and give them some time to get over all the issues. Giving space to your estranged adult child is sometimes the best thing you can do for them and also improve the chances of a reconciliation.

If you want to know more about why you should stop trying with your estranged adult child, then check this video out below:

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Why You Should Stop Trying To Reconcile With Your Estranged Adult Child

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  1. Shelly Adams Avatar
    Shelly Adams

    Her entire life my daughter is always kept me at arms length. My mom was always the one that was interrupt step in between and I was always the one that had to apologize to my daughter. Of course grandkids come first so that’s why I always had to apologize whether I was right or whether I was wrong. My mom passed away in 2019 and my daughter and I both said who’s going to fix this if we get into a fight? Well we would have a couple arguments but we could talk him through which I thought wow this is progress. But my youngest daughter who has been pretty well diagnosed as a gas lighter has been doing a lot of manipulative things against me. My oldest daughter is the one that is now alienating me from herself and my granddaughter. Both her and my middle child kept telling me that my youngest daughter needed help and I always agreed but her father would change stories around and protect her but would never take her back to his house. But now tables have turned and I don’t know what she has completely said but I do know that she had to go to court and they tested her before court and she came up positive for methamphetamine. She had apparently told everybody it was me that gave it to her. I knew none of this. Well it went as far as her dad telling her she needed to call her older sister because she works for child protective services and he was concerned for my granddaughter that’s something may happen to her when she’s around me. My youngest did so much more than that but that’s the worst punishment she could have ever done to me and I don’t know what I’ve done to her to deserve all this
    My oldest daughter gave me a call that afternoon and said Mom I’m going to ask you one question and I want the absolute truth. I said well okay, she asked me if I’ve ever smoked it with my daughter and when was the last time I did it. I am in addict but had not smoked anything in over 9 years. I did fall off the wagon when my mom passed away because I didn’t want to feel anything and go through my grief so I could help my girls’ grief. And I admitted that to my daughter and I told her I only did it twice then and I quit and I haven’t touched it since. Well my youngest daughter had also told her that I was high at her daughter’s first birthday. I couldn’t believe that she would have told her something like that even more I cannot believe that my oldest daughter believed it. I have not seen my granddaughter since her first birthday July 31st. I’ve done everything to reach out to my daughter and all it’s done is made her even angrier at me. I have not seen my middle daughter since my birthday in November. My granddaughter’s Christmas presents are still here because I refuse to send them because I remember my mom always having to watch our family walk into my sister’s house and my mom wasn’t allowed and I wasn’t allowed. My sister had made a deal with the devil my youngest daughter’s dad who has always held it against me that I left him. And so my sister and maybe agreement that my youngest daughter could come over as long as I wasn’t there. I always allowed my other two to go to their aunt’s house because they shouldn’t be punished the way I was. I am so hurt that my daughter believes all this. I think about them everyday several times a day. But the loss of my granddaughter and even my daughters is tearing me apart. I just had some pretty bad news medical wise and now I’m terrified that I’m going to be gone before anything is reconciled. My daughter had made a comment that she doesn’t want to feel like she always has to take care of me when she comes to see me. I am disabled and I also have caregivers and I have never asked my daughter for anything so I don’t know what that meant. And she said that I manipulated her her entire life but would never give me any kind of examples. I know you say to walk away after so much but I don’t think I can it’s too hard. Plus I can hear my mom’s voice echoing in my head telling me to fix it. No parent is perfect. But no child is perfect either. And they don’t come with instructions. My mom always said that her children were just practice for when her grandchildren arrive. And that every mistake she made as a parent she will have learned from them so that she doesn’t repeat it with her grandchildren. So I use that quote to my daughter. And she said nothing when I said it. After a couple seconds she said don’t use my grandma against me. I don’t believe I did but I said well you know I’m sorry I said I was just saying that’s what she used to say I wasn’t comparing her to nothing and I wasn’t holding her against you. I could never do that. I guess in a way I could see where she would think that because maybe I had the wrong tone. I have a fiery temper and when I feel I am being pushed into a corner I’m going to come out fighting. Not always with my hands, I’m good with words too. With the comment that she made about feeling like she always has to take care of me I can’t allow myself to tell my girls what’s going on with me. But I do want them in my life I want to get to know my granddaughter and give her memories. I’m already disabled and so these medical problems on top of it has shortened my life expectancy now because my immune system is shot. What do I do? I read so many articles but none help. I can’t walk away for years because I don’t have years anymore. But I also don’t want to die and my girls will be completely feeling guilty because they lost so much time and they can never get it back. I know my girls and they both have big hearts and I understand my daughter would protect her family if what was said was true. I don’t know how I can prove to her that it’s not true I have offered her to show up randomly and test me. She never did. I don’t know what I can do to prove to her that none of this is true and in my heart I know that she already knows that and so I don’t understand why she’s doing this. I have thought of sometimes that I wasn’t the greatest parent but I apologize and even gave the examples of what I’ve done and how I should have fixed it and that I was completely sorry. How do you fix something that apparently has happened so long ago? I can’t it’s not like you can go back in the past and fix it. And if the circumstances that she’s thinking really hurt her why wasn’t it brought up back then when it could have been fixed instead of waiting until she’s an adult and has a child of her own? I have a sister that traded my mom exactly how my daughter is treating me now and my daughter has been spending quite a bit of time with her. The bad thing is my sister and I have never gotten along either. I just have this feeling that my daughter has been talking to my sister a lot and my sisters putting things in her head. What can I do?

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