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Estranged parents are becoming an epidemic in this culture.

One in four report having an estrangement with one family member. If you are one among the many, you may feel lost and unsure of what to do.

You hurt so badly some days you can barely breathe. Furthermore, you don’t feel you deserve this kind of treatment.

I lurk on many FB groups with estranged parents and read your words of anger, disappointment, and hurt. The loss is great.

I see post after post asking “why.”

I don’t comment in these groups and tell you “why” because I am the enemy. Maybe I am not your enemy per se, but I am the adult child who walked away.

Now that I have reconciled with my parents, I want to help you understand “why” and clear up some confusion on a few issues.

In this post, I will provide helpful tips for estranged parents. These tips may clarify why your adult child walked away, what may be operating in your life, and, more importantly, how to fix an estranged relationship.

IMPORTANT: Please read the entire post before you make judgments. You may not like some of my points, but you need to hear the truth. I had a “come to Jesus” as my child almost walked away, too. 

RELATED: How To Fix An Estranged Relationship with Family [Video]

Estranged Parents’ Stories

Often, when I talk to estranged parents, they tell me about their stories and how their estrangement is different from mine; therefore, what I say won’t help them.

Perhaps I don’t quite understand their circumstances. That is true. I don’t understand your situation. 

But, I want to say here and now that I have never seen two estrangements alike because they all have nuances unique to their families.

Fortunately, a few common denominators may help you understand your estrangement. So, don’t dismiss my suggestions because my story doesn’t match yours.

Instead, please read this with a humble heart and a mindset that you may learn something from this post, even acknowledge a blind spot. 

What Are the Causes of Family Problems According to Estranged Parents?

After some research, I found that estranged parents mostly believe the causes of their family rift or break are divorce, mental illness, addictions, their child’s spouse, or their child’s sense of entitlement.

The last and most shocking reason estranged parents believe they have a family break is, well, they don’t know.

I found this true in my family estrangement and thought it was baffling until years later when I pieced together both sides. (Yes, I repeated some of the same behaviors as a parent. That’s why I understand your side, too. )

Let’s discuss three issues related to estranged parents in more detail so you can understand the depths of these problems.

  •  Mental Illness

The one thing I found the most interesting in FB groups of estranged parents was that parents continually blamed mental illnesses as part of the problem. It’s like it’s a given that all estranged children have mental problems and don’t know how to function outside of their parent’s realm.

Yet most estranged adult children function with jobs, friendships, and families, just not a relationship with their parents.

In reality, what I have found to be true is plenty of estranged adult children who are angry and pushed to react in extreme behaviors to get autonomy and peace.

So, please stop saying all estranged adult children are mentally ill. Some may have anxiety, fear, negative traits, and struggle with conflict, but that doesn’t make all of them mentally ill.

More importantly, many estranged adult children just don’t have the tools or mental/physical energy to manage their dysfunctional families. That’s one of the main reasons they give up and walk away.

  • Entitlement

Estranged parents blame entitlement as a reason for a family break. But I would say the entitlement issue goes both ways; it’s multigenerational.

Many parents are shocked that they have lost access to their adult children (and grandchildren) and feel they deserve better and are entitled to a relationship after “all they have done for them.” (I get this.)

While the parent may feel everything is fine, the adult child obviously does not. They have limited your access for a reason. You may disagree with or dislike it, but they clearly don’t feel you earned the right to be involved in their life.

Estranged parents may not realize that a healthy adult relationship requires two collaborators, who share power equally, must come together with honesty, humility, good communication, forgiveness, and a willingness to change.

The Power Struggle Is Real

Instead of seeking equal collaboration, many estranged parents think they still have the balance of power in the relationship. They push and demand that their adult children meet certain expectations.

In a healthy family, expecting family help or attending family events is not unreasonable, but when simmering resentments exist, all bets are off. Years of ignoring or not validating these resentments can fester into a war.

To prove a point, an adult child will use extreme measures to jolt everyone back into reality (yes, there is a problem) by leaving. This power play tips the control back into their hands, and taking the grandchildren with them is an exclamation point.

It is a way for adult children to try to get some equilibrium after all the years they have not been heard.

When this happens, parents are forced to let go—maybe forever—all because of poor communication, lack of validation, unforgiveness, and the lack of changes.

In reality, no one is entitled to a relationship (family or not). Adult relationships are earned with mutual respect and humility.

Please listen to The Entitlement Cure with Dr. John Townsend . It will help you understand the dynamics with your adult child in more detail. And don’t forward it to your adult child!

  • Don’t Know What Happened

Another factor I have found across the board is that estranged parents reported being unsure of the reason for their family rift or break significantly more often than adult children, even though most adult children state they have repeatedly told why they were upset.

Hear me now: It was not one thing. More than likely, it was a mound of unresolved, simmering resentments (unforgiveness) over the years that can no longer be articulated because too much has happened in your dysfunctional family. 

A big blow-up may have caused the break, but the proverbial “straw probably broke the camel’s back.”

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Get your FREE “DO NOT FEAR” SCRIPTURE CARDS PDF to help you believe the truth about God.

Why Do Adult Children Estrange From Their Parents?

Studies have shown that estranged adult children often cite reasons such as emotional, physical, spiritual, mental, or sexual abuse during childhood, addictions, threats, control, neglect, lack of support, or differences in values. 

Let’s examine some of the issues more in-depth so you can better understand what is possibly happening in your family system.

  • Generational Differences

One of the main reasons adult children estrange from their parents is abuse. I know you are probably thinking you were not abusive, but the definition has changed to include way more than we realize as counseling has become more mainstream.

So, what is abuse?

ChatGPT says abuse is a pattern of behavior that is used to gain or maintain power and control over another person. It can take many forms and can manifest spiritually, mentally, economically, physically, verbally, emotionally, and sexually.

Lysa Terkeust says in a conversation with counselor Jim Cress:

Lysa: “Leveraging your power to do harm to others. And it can almost become a systemic issue, right?” Joel: “That’s absolutely right.” Lysa: “Because it can be modeled and passed down, and it becomes something that is absolutely toxic.”

Leveraging power has existed since the beginning of time. In the past, we have learned to live with family members and excused it as “Aunt Mary just trying to help and means well” because the family had to work and stay together to make ends meet.

This generation is different.

Empowerment 

In this generation, adult children have been empowered to walk away because they are more autonomous and don’t feel they need their family to survive.

However, sometimes, adult children go too far, thinking everyone is abusive and toxic, and run from difficult people with negative traits who are actually not toxic. There is a big difference between difficult people and toxic people.

Toxic behavior is characterized by these attributes: domination, confusion, control, fear, and intimidation, all of which culminate in chaos. You feel unsafe and question who you are as a person when around them.

The Bible states that those who love God practice humility, patience, gentleness, and kindness (Col 3:12,14). They display the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Toxic people, however, are wired for anger, lying, rage, malice, and deceit (Col 3:8-9).

Toxic people DO NOT respect boundaries, will be angry when you set them, and will continue to run over you when you set them. Difficult people are ignorant of what is appropriate. They are usually selfish but will try to adhere to boundaries once they are set.

Sometimes, you just need a good set of boundaries to empower family members to clear up the chaos with difficult people, not an all-out estrangement.

RELATED: How to Set Boundaries with Family Members the Right Way

Generational differences in what is expected

There is clearly a disparity in what is expected between the generations.

In the case of estrangement, I have found that parents are fixed on duty and meeting expectations. They want to be respected for their position and not challenged because they certainly weren’t allowed to question their parents.

In contrast, this generation questions almost everything. They cry out for honesty and freedom from behaviors that seem normal to their parents. In the same breath, they create their own normal, which may not be healthy either. Hello!

Perhaps adult children have swung too far over to the other side in defiance, canceling anyone who does not subscribe to their way of thinking. This is, after all, the “cancel” culture.

Functional families find a way to balance expectations. They talk about past hurts, make room for differing opinions, set boundaries, make amends, and find a way to move forward with mutual respect.

  • Control

Control, as mentioned, can be seen as idolatry, representing a form of self-worship (James 4:1-10). When individuals rely solely on their own judgment to determine what they believe is best, they often find it challenging to place their trust in and worship the all-knowing God who is truly in control (Genesis 3).

Control is sneaky because it doesn’t seem wrong, but it can be one of the most destructive things in a relationship. Most estrangements have one thing in common: control

It usually starts in the younger years and continues into adulthood. Parents do everything for their kids, yet don’t understand where they went wrong.

They are often blind to the fact that they may have unintentionally defaulted to parenting out of fear by using manipulation and control that may have turned into enmeshment.

Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.”

Parenting out of fear turns into control

Fearful parents tend to hover over their kids (helicopter or lawnmower parents) and control situations and people around them to protect their kids from conflict or suffering. They want them always to be happy.

Parents can also manipulate and control their children because they fear what others will say if their children mess up. I find this pervasive in Christian communities as we tend to be fearful of Satan’s tactics more than God’s power. Disentangling faith and fear is not easy. This has been part of my personal journey.

Fear-based parenting can stunt children’s emotions, behaviors, and development so much that their kids are afraid of failure, can’t deal with conflict, and have lots of anxiety because they have not been allowed to step out in faith.

Eventually, it can turn into enabling and codependency (I am not okay if you are not okay thinking)—in other words, enmeshment. Seemingly wonderful parents don’t know how to step back and let go, even if it means watching their child suffer to learn.

In turn, the parents may continue to control into adulthood by pushing a specific job, parenting style, spending, friends, religion, health, where they live, sexual choices, etc., because they want to look good and continue to protect their child from harm.

When parents don’t get their way, they act angrily or even punish adult children to reestablish control.

Fearful parents have not learned to hand their adult children over to a good God and trust Him with their lives.

Psalm 9:10 says, “Those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.”

Punishment (control) from estranged parents

Punishment (another form of control) can be used against the adult child when expectations are not met satisfactorily. These consequences are meant to keep the adult child in line.

Examples: withdrawing emotionally, not helping, rude comments, criticism, uneven gifts between adult children, talking about them to family and friends, and disowning*.

Consequences may have worked when your child was young but will not work now. Punishing them will drive them further away and add to the mound of simmering resentments. Don’t do it! Set boundaries instead. See below.

*I don’t recommend disowning. If the money would be harmful to the estranged adult child, i.e., drug or alcohol abuse, gambling addiction, etc., find another way to help the family line. Revenge is a horrible reason to disown your child.

Controlling how to love

Adult children want to choose how and when they love their parents instead of being pushed and controlled to meet often ambiguous expectations to show gratitude.

While common courtesy and respect are always important, holidays, attendance at family functions, gifts, favors, etc, are negotiable.

Controlled love is not love. If your adult child really wants to be with you, they will make a way to see you and help you because they love you, and it’s the right thing to do.

Deal with marriage conflict and family hurts

Are you dealing with marriage or family issues? Purchase your ebook or paperback on Amazon or buy Marriage Interrupted or Estranged at your favorite digital store.

How to Fix an Estrangement?

An estrangement is like a divorce. It is not God’s best plan for the family, but it happens.

If you want to know how to fix an estrangement or heal a family rift, check out this video with Dr. Townsend, the co-author of Boundaries. These powerful tips will teach you what to say to an estranged family member.

While these tips are wonderful, they do not guarantee that your estranged child will return. Both sides must come together and be willing to make peace.

If you can’t watch the video now, here is an overview showing how to fix an estrangement:

1. Communicate with the estranged adult child by text, phone, email, or whatever has worked in the past. Tell him your relationship isn’t where you want it to be. You want to make things right. Ask for a meeting. You want to hear the hurts you caused entirely.

There will be no interruptions, explanations, or defense—only questions to explain the hurt further. You want to hear and understand all the feelings.

2. Before you meet, pray. Ask God to allow you to listen, not react, and explain. Approach your family member in a spirit of humility, love, and honor.

3. At the meeting, write down every offense your family member has against you. Ask for details if needed.

4. Go home. Think and pray about all your family members have shared with you. (This is one of the best steps when learning how to fix a family estrangement.)

5. If agreed upon, meet a second time. This meeting is about making amends where you feel you failed. Specifically, name what you did, own it, and apologize.

Tell how you are going to change and stay changed and what you have already done in the past to change. This is not the time to explain, defend, point fingers, or lose your temper!

6.  Humbly ask for another chance to have a relationship. (This is how to fix an estranged relationship!)

7.  If this request is granted, do your part to change. Keep the boundaries you both set in place. There will be a day for you to explain your part, but it is not now. Once trust is established, you may be able to have a deeper conversation.

Listen to the full interview with Dr. Townsend and Jim Daly (Focus on the Family) on how to fix a broken relationship.

If you have questions, the video gives greater detail. Here is the link to part two.

Pin it for later!

Parents of estranged adult children; multi-generational family on the beach.

What to Do When You Are Estranged From Your Child?

If you are estranged parents, you can do multiple things even when you don’t have contact with your adult child or grandchildren. You are not powerless.

These tips for estranged parents are incredibly helpful while waiting.

  • Pray-start praying for your estranged adult child. Ask God to intervene on your behalf and to show you where YOU have gone wrong. Repent and change unhealthy behaviors (Heb. 4:16).
  • Fast-withhold food, social media, sugar, or something important, and replace it with prayer. Fasting breaks generational strongholds, so don’t discount this practice (Mark 9:29, Matt. 17:14-21).

*Prayer and fasting broke my family’s estrangement. I prayed and fasted on Monday and Tuesday, and my father called that Friday after seven years. It’s an amazing story!

  • Focus on other relationships-work on the relationships you do have. Communicate and share power equally. Stop controlling.
  • Live-get out of bed and live! Create a good life and be grateful for what you do have.
  • Forgive-forgive your adult child. They are hurting just as much as you are hurting (Matt. 6:14-15).
  • Volunteer-give back to others. This will help you to keep your thoughts off of your pain and not fall into self-pity.
  • Work on yourself – go to counseling, get plugged into a good church, grow as a person, listen, and change unhealthy behaviors that have manifested as idols.
  • Respect boundaries-respect the boundaries your adult child has set. In the meantime, do not send messages through other people or turn family against them.
  • Trust God-trust God with your adult child. This may be hard to do at first, but it is what the Bible says to do. Rewire your brain with scriptures about trusting God. (Put them on notecards and read them daily.)
  • Let go-do everything you can on your side of the issue. Ask those in your community-maybe your other kids- if you have a blind spot. Listen. Let go when every stone has been unturned.

Listen to Dr. Cloud’s How to Remain Functional in the Midst of Unresolvable Conflict. This will help you gain a good perspective on how to deal with your estranged adult child. 

RELATED: How to Stop Self-Pity: 7 Ways to Be a Fearless Christian

How to Set Healthy Boundaries

First of all, are boundaries biblical? Yes! God set boundaries in creation, the garden of Eden, the Levitical laws, and the Ten Commandments. Jesus set boundaries with the Pharisees, with Satan, and he even said to shake the dust off of their feet when people rejected His words.

Adult children and parents don’t realize that a relationship can remain intact by setting healthy boundaries, even though some problems may be unresolvable. Healthy boundaries communicate what you can and can not do and will and will not tolerate.

Boundaries are perimeters you set around yourself rather than suggesting what your adult child should and should not do; they differ from revenge in that they are not an impulsive response when feeling wronged.

If you have a family rift, not break, these examples of healthy boundaries may help you regain a good relationship with your adult child before it is too late: 

  • Give advice only when solicited. (I know, this is hard!)
  • Speak positive and encouraging words. Never criticize your adult child, their spouse, or your grandkids. Your job is to cheer and encourage!
  • Establish communication guidelines, such as no calls after 9 pm.
  • Use “I” statements when addressing conflict.
  • Money and help are gifts, not forms of control. If borrowing money, make a contract agreeable to both sides.
  • Respect each other mentally, physically, emotionally, verbally, spiritually. This includes personal space and time, including avoiding unannounced visits.
  • Each person gets to decide how and when they will show their love.
  • Refrain from control, punishment, or threats such as disowning. Find a way to help the family line if your adult child is an addict.
  • Be flexible with family time. Make it easy for the kids to come on a day that is good for them.

You may be thinking, “What about them?” This is where you need to change your thinking. You can only control what you do when setting boundaries. You are no longer trying to control your adult child’s behavior, make them accountable, or get revenge.

Your job is to completely release them to God.

If you continue violating their boundaries by controlling them, it further confirms why they left in the first place.

RELATED: How to Set Boundaries with Family Members the Right Way

Forgive Your Adult Child For Leaving

God requires us to forgive those who hurt us. There are no exceptions or loopholes. Believe me, I have looked! My Achilles heel has been unforgiveness. I almost lost my colon due to ruminating. I could not forgive. 

Start by acknowledging your feelings and asking God what you must do to sweep your side of the street. 

Forgiveness does not mean excusing hurtful behavior; it’s about letting go and allowing God to work in your situation. Choose to do it daily, even if you don’t feel it. Then, work it out in small steps because healing takes time.

My estrangement took a full seven years, so it was slow. 

Lastly, be patient with yourself and the process. Celebrate the small steps you take towards mending your heart and possibly the relationship. Forgiveness is more for you than for the other person.

Remember, the enemy is not your family member. The enemy is Satan! Plan accordingly.

RELATED: Supercharge Your Life When You Forgive Those Who Hurt You

 Were these tips helpful? What suggestions do you have for estranged parents? Comment below!

Deal with marriage conflict

Is Your Marriage Struggling? Do You Want to Change Your Spouse?

Get Marriage Interrupted: How to Deal with Unexpected Conflict as a Couple and Stay in Love on Amazon or any digital platform. This book has humorous and impactful insights for anyone experiencing marriage conflict.

Included is biblical advice to help couples develop new behaviors and strengthen their marriage with healthy boundaries. With over 30 years of marriage experience, there are practical tips to overcome old behavior patterns learned in childhood and rekindle a marriage relationship rooted in God’s love.

family estrangement

Got Family Problems? There is Help and Hope For Estranged Parents

Are you an estranged parent or an adult child who has left the family? Do you feel shame, anger, or rejection? Check out my book Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart on Amazon or at your favorite digital store. 

This book not only talks about my seven-year estrangement (and reconciliation) from my Christian family but also gives solid tips to help you with your family problems. Break free from your pain. Allow God to heal you no matter what has happened in your family of origin. There is hope when your family falls apart.

A farm scene with a farmhouse upside down sitting on a grass field with a lake in the background. Creating Family Memories Book

Get Creating Family Memories. This book will help you manage your family so you have more time to be intentional with your kids. It includes a schedule, too. You can get it at your favorite digital bookstore.

Join the group Christian Family Living on Facebook

Continue the conversation on Facebook and join the Christian Family Living group. This group is for parents of estranged adult children or estranged children. We also discuss parenting, marriage, faith, family, and culture.

Being a Christian is hard! Let’s do it together. Most of all, a sense of humor is required. Got memes? Bring it on!

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Author

Julie is a wife, mom, teacher, author, and blogger. She writes about Christian family living, marriage, parenting with a touch of humor.

2 Comments

  1. Barbara Pickens Reply

    Found this offensive on many levels as a parent of an estranged daughter. No perfect parents, not even our adult children although they think they are. I did everything I could to keep the peace when she blew up out of the blue and disowned us. I agreed with every evil thing she said about me, I agreed to go with her to counseling which she would not let me. She said I needed counseling so I went twice. After the counselor read her rants she said she could see she had problems and after the 2nd visit she said it was up to me if I wanted to come back it looked like to her I had done all I could do. She did get not me for agreeing with my daughter on the evil things she said. I send my daughter a b’day card and she told me to never send her anything again. She blocked us from everything. She turn our 2 granddaughters against who we had doted on. The week before this all happened we had a wonderful day together. She had attacked me verbally at different times over the years but I always forgave her. In the better times I tried to get her to talk to me but she would say?”,”awe, that is past, let it go.” Now she says I would never talk to her. She is our youngest. She was my baby, I loved her so much. So, your post does not fit all and not as easy to fix as you say when she will not co operate. After 3 years I am making a different life for us and letting her go. Her dad had 43 cancer treatments last year and her sister let her know, she said not her problem. First time she has ever turned on him. We won’t allow the abuse anymore. I love and miss her and the good times I have forgiven and we pray for her everyday. If she ever apologizes and wants to come back she will be welcome just like we welcomed her brother back after 23 years. He has bern back 3 years, we talk or text everyday and see each once a month. Of course we made mistakes but not enough to warrant this treatment. Please don’t put everyone in the same barrel. I would like to read your opinion on what the estranged adult children should do to help fix the problem. Should not just fall on the parents.

    • Hi Barbera, first of all, I am so sorry for all you have been through with your daughter. This is a difficult issue. I don’t believe I said this was an easy fix, because it is not. It took 7 years for my family to come back together. I’m not your enemy here. (Satan is!) I am trying to make you think. It is going to take time, prayer and fasting to break the strongholds in your family. While you may find it offensive, I would go back and read my post again and answer this question, “Why is my daughter angry?” See if anything I said reminds you of what she has said. Most of the time, control is one of the reasons among other things. Replay her words and write them down. Not the accusations but the core issue. As an adult, have you had good boundaries? Have you given unsolicited advice multiple times, used control to get her to do things? Do you punish which is different than boundaries. Did you resolve past hurts when she was growing up?
      Estrangements are dysfunctional family systems on red alert. There is dysfunction going on in your family. What part do you play in the family system? Are there addictions? When she asked for a change, was it something you could do? Did you do it? If you go back and read my post I tell you to work on yourself. You can’t change your daughter. I would highly suggest you get into a counselor and address the issues. It’s going to take way more than 2 times to start unraveling the pieces. Remember, I said it is like a bowl of spaghetti. One thing I suggest is for you to ask your community- your kids probably best-to be honest with you about what they think could be the problem. And don’t punish them for being honest. Definitely good that you are setting boundaries with her now. You need to. I love that you forgive her and want her back. And that you have let her go for now.It sounds like you are making a life without her. It is important not to stay in self-pity. But if she comes back and you don’t address the family system, everyone will fall back into their place like “normal.” You have to be the one to change so the family system changes. When you do things differently, everyone else has to behave differently. And yes, the next post is what estranged children need to do. In any case, blaming does not help you because again, you can only work on you.I pray you will find peace in the process.

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