5 Reasons Why Adult Children Estrange From Their Parents
For most people, it's unimaginable for a grown man or woman to choose to stop all contact with their parents. The people who provided food, clothes, and shelter, attended dance recitals, volunteered at school, or cheered from the bleachers during every Friday night's football game don't deserve to be abandoned in their old age just because they made some parenting mistakes, right?
Dysfunction, especially when combined with abuse, does not end once a child reaches adulthood or because the abuser begins to get old. By then, the abusive parent is well-versed in the tactics needed to make their adult child do what they want, and these behaviors are likely to continue right up until the parents' death, unless someone—usually the abused—makes it stop.
I am one of those adult children who recognized what was happening to me. Sadly, I didn't realize it until the abuse was heaped upon my husband and children as well, but when it became obvious, I demanded that it stop. I tried discussing the matter, only to find myself enmeshed in bitter verbal arguments. I tried using parables and comparisons, pointing out other family dysfunctions and relating them to our own, but that failed, too. I tried many ways to rectify the situation, but every time, I was met with anger and resistance.
I didn't make the choice to "break up" with my parents overnight, and 'm not happy I have no relationship with them. I'm sad my family is broken. I wish it was different, but it isn't.
If my parents had been willing to really listen to what their adult child had to say, to respect and consider it, the outcome would have been entirely different. Yet as I've learned in my journey to understand and heal, I am not alone. Thread after thread of internet discussion forums are filled with the stories of people who've made multiple attempts to repair unhealthy relations and have eventually gone no-contact with the people who raised them.
Alternatively, forums for the parents of estranged children are frequented by those who claim their son or daughter never explained their reasons for walking away. If you are estranged from your adult child, chances are they have told you the reason—you just chose to ignore it. And it's likely that it was one of these top five reasons:
The Top 5 Reasons Adult Children End a Relationship With Their Parents
Why Do People Stop Talking to Their Parents?
1. The Parent Disrespects the Adult Child's Spouse
Like me, many consider their parents' behavior normal until they marry. Looking at your parents from your significant other's perspective can be eye-opening.
Not having grown up under your parents' manipulations, as a new daughter- or son-in-law, your spouse may be unwilling to participate in the dysfunction that feels so natural to you. The parent who has always controlled you also expects to control your spouse, and when this fails to happen, it often results in contention, smear campaigns, and petty complaints designed to either force the new son- or daughter-in-law into compliance or get rid of them entirely via divorce.
Parents must respect their adult children and their spouses, regardless of whether they like them or not, even if you have differing expectations about family roles. You do not get to choose who your children love. Respecting your son/daughter-in-law does not mean condoning or agreeing. Whether you want to admit it or not, you are not nor can you ever be the most important person in your adult child's life at all times. He cares about other people just as much as he cares about you. The sooner you understand that, the better off you'll be.
2. The Parent Refuses to Apologize
Refusing to apologize often goes hand-in-hand with disrespecting the in-laws but sadly, it's a top excuse even standing alone.
I've learned the refusal to apologize is a red flag for narcissistic personality disorder. While few are actual narcissists, having just this trait alone is indicative of an extremely unhealthy mind. It allows one to justify their actions and words and blurs their reality. Time and again, their children will try to make them understand a different perspective but over and over they fail. Many times these children are gaslighted into believing they are at fault and apologize to mend the family.
To paraphrase the late Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Too many adult children realize this applies to the relationship they have with their parents and realize they have to get off the hamster wheel. They've been running on it for years and yet they're still at the exact spot they were as a child.
Parents of adult children must understand things you do or say, regardless of how you think someone should feel, hurt people and when we hurt people, we apologize without justifying. Just a simple "I'm sorry, please forgive me" is enough. Don't justify. As Dr. Phil once said, "'But' means forget everything I just said."
I confronted my mother... She gaslighted me, meaning she told me my perceptions were incorrect... My mother sneered, 'You have a very vivid imagination.'— Misty Kiwak Jacobs, A Word Please.org
3. Overbearing and Undermining Grandparenting
A disordered parent sees their child as an extension of themselves, not as individuals, and grandchildren are but one more extension on the ladder of "me."
Have you ever insisted on participating in naming your grandchildren? Not okay. Have you ever said, "It's okay, Grandma will let you do it" when the parents have said no? Undermining, not okay. Have you ever demanded to have your grandchildren for certain events or visits? You wouldn't do that with anyone else's children; ask, don't demand. If you're told no, respect it.
Also... Stop giving the grandchildren sugar when the parents have a ban. How you did it then wasn't the way they did it before and certainly not the way they do it now. You're not smarter than the pediatrician. Sparing the rod does not always spoil the child. No, it's not okay to encourage your grandchild to love you more than his/her parents. Stop buying your grandchild's love by competing with his parents when it comes to gifts. You're not entitled to "alone time" with your grandchildren and your insistence on such is creepy. Quit taunting your grandchildren with scary stories and insulting "jokes." And last but not least, for the love of all that is good, quit buying the grandchildren pets without the parents permission!
Parents of adult children must learn the difference between parenting and grandparenting. Your days of making a child's decisions, unless they are in your sole care, are over. In this new chapter in your life, you are to be only a source of unconditional love and life guide to your grandchildren but it is a privilege not a right. A grandchild is not your prodigy nor are they your property. Be thankful for the time you are given rather than resentful over what you think you deserve. If you can't, again I suggest therapy.
Parents will always hold their children in their closest circle of relationships. But those children grow up to have children of their own who fill their parents' closest circle, and the oldest generation gets bumped to the outer edges. If this happens, the older generation loses a primary relationship, so you might say that the parent's loss is greater.
4. The Parent Plays Favorites Among Siblings
Early in their childhood, siblings in disordered families are placed in roles of either the scapegoat or golden child. The golden child, or children, will suffer few consequences for misbehavior and is often spoken about favorably by the parents; where the scapegoated children will shoulder the blame for the family's dysfunction and suffer the brunt of the consequences.
Although the roles one plays can be fluid, those who were mostly scapegoats are often the first, and sometimes only ones, to see the disorder of their families and speaking up about it is to challenge the status quo and seldom does this go very well. The true loyalties of the golden child becomes obvious when s/he denies or underplays certain events. Eventually the scapegoat realizes they are alone even among family. Some will continue to try, many will just walk way.
Parents of adult children must get therapy if they have been accused of this. Even if you don't think you do it, talk to a therapist. Seriously, therapy.
5. Ignored Boundaries
Last but not least of the main reasons adult children choose to "break up" with their parents, is the refusal of the parents to respect the boundaries of the adult child/parent relationship. Because disordered minds struggled to understand boundaries, I believe this reason is better explained with examples.
- Asking about your child's finances and/or offering unsolicited financial advice is overstepping.
- Insisting on being present for the birth of a grandchild is wrong. Nobody but the mother-to-be and her birthing staff have the right to be in the room.
- Purchasing undergarments and sex toys is inappropriate. Doing this is crossing more boundaries than I have time to list.
- Stop insisting on spending all holidays with your adult child and behaving badly when they don't. You're an adult, for goodness sake, quit acting like a child.
- Quit demanding "alone time" with your adult child after they have a significant other. Sure, it's nice but as I mentioned with grandchildren, your insistence on such is downright creepy and quite concerning.
- Discussing your marital troubles with your adult child is wrong and crosses so many hill-to-die-on boundaries. Tell it to your best friend - or may I recommend a therapist? Whatever you do, don't discuss it with your child.
- Criticizing clothing choices, hairstyles,, companions, careers, religion or lack thereof, parenting styles, and the likes is crossing boundaries. It is an utter and complete disrespect for their right to choose what they believe is best for themselves.
A majority of boundary crossing is rooted in a parents' inability to believe their child will make the choice they, the parent, believe is in their best interest. If such is your case, ask yourself, "If I was such a great parent, why would my child make a bad choice? Did I not teach him the tools needed to make good decisions?"
If you're immediate response to is to think, "I did teach them to make good decisions but they've made so many bad ones in the past," I beg you to seek therapy. You're inability to accept your role in their repeated bad decisions is having severely adverse effects on your relationship.
Parents of adult children must trust they have raised their child to make good decisions and respect said decisions. If you can't do this, you need to work out why with a therapist. In the meantime, keep your opinions to yourself and stop trying to "save them" or "fix" things. You're only making it worse, I promise you.
They had been maligning me my whole life...not in a way of telling people I was a horrible person...but making it seem as if I was a poor, befuddled soul, a hapless idiot, borderline mentally disturbed, a pathetic loser. None of this was true. It never was. Once I got away and clearly away, my life got so much better. Oh, so much.— Anonymous, r/raisedbynarcissists, Reddit.com
Statistics for Family Estrangements
A British report called "Hidden Voices: Family Estrangement in Adulthood," which describes a survey of over 800 of people who self-identified as having estranged from part or all of their family, offers some relevant statistics and data:
Who is more likely to break ties: males or females? How does gender affect closeness?
It's more common to be estranged from a mother than a father or both parents. Conversely, it's more common for daughters to estrange than sons.
However, when males experience estrangement, it seems to be more final or longer-lasting: the average estrangement from fathers lasts 7.9 years (compared to an average of 5.5 years for mothers), and estrangements from sons average 5.2 years (with 3.8 years for daughters).
Who tends to estrange permanently: males or females?
29% of respondees described a final break with a mother, and 37% reported a final break with a daughter. Conversely, 36% described a final break with a father, and 41% with sons. So sons and fathers are more likely to experience permanent closure than daughters and mothers.
What about intermittent estrangements?
We have some insight into on-again-off-again estrangements, where family members cycle in and out of closeness over the years. 21% said their had been five or more of these cycles with mothers, where 16% experienced them with fathers. So it's more likely for mothers to experience intermittent estrangements over the years.
Who is most likely to cut off contact: parents or children?
The younger generation is usually the one to break ties. Over half of people who estrange from a parent say they were the ones who made the move.
Is there any chance the relationship will be mended?
According to the younger generation, no: More than 70% of respondents said there was no chance they'd resume communications.
According to the parents, yes: Most parents hold out hope that they will reconcile with their child.
In closing, I want to say I am very well aware those listed aren't the only reasons for estrangement nor will my advice apply in all situations. That said, adult children don't just walk away from families that are healthy. It's not to say those families never have their issues, but they talk about them, try to understand one another's perspective, apologize for any hurt they've caused or wrong they've done, and truly move forward, free of any suppressed anger or resentment.
The exact opposite of unhealthy, disordered families. I know. I lived in one for more than 40 years. Contrary to what they believe, I didn't estrange from them to punish them, I did so to protect myself and my children. I realized I had become just like them and I made a conscious choice to change myself and to bring to an end the generations of dysfunction in my family tree.
Sadly, our story doesn't end with happily ever after but I know I made the right decision. I know I'm not alone. Every day I read the stories and/or talk with people around the globe who felt they had no other choice but to walk away. Not a single one of us are happy about it. Relieved it's over, yes but certainly not happy with how or why.
Just as I read the stories of estranged children, I'm often privy to those of the rejected parents. One commonly stated complaint among parents who have no contact with their children is that their child's behavior toward them reminds him/her of how they were treated by his/her parents when they were themselves a child. For those parents. I want you to ask yourself, "If my parent was that way and my child is that way, isn't it just as possible I do sometimes as well?"
Those with a healthy mindset will read this and take it to heart, reconsidering the things they've said and done because they want to repair their relationship with their child and are willing to do whatever is necessary to do so. Unfortunately however, most will read this and be inclined to debate it and resort to writing paragraphs long comments about how horrendous his or her child is to a bunch of internet strangers.
I can't change everyone. I couldn't even change my own parents. Hopefully, however, I'll get someone's attention and sit in motion positive change for another dysfunctional family out there.
© 2017 Kim Bryan