Estranged Relationships

There is a little talked about, silent epidemic that is growing among families-parental estrangement from adult children. No matter the reasons or how it initially happened one thing is clear, it is the child’s reality and nothing you can do or say will convince them otherwise. Dr. Joshua Coleman has done much work on the topic and regularly conducts workshops for parents. Dr. Joshua Coleman is Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families and is a psychologist with a private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on 20/20, Good Morning America, America Online Coaches, PBS Life Part 2, and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television.(

As a parent experiencing the same challenges, I know all too well the difficulties, confusion, and painful emotions that come with the journey. As a nurse I am also privileged to the painful stories of both sides. One of the most painful things a parent can experience is the severing of a relationship by a child that wants nothing to do with them. We cannot change the way they feel, but we can change the way we respond to them given the opportunity. Whatever you do, do not try to convince them they are wrong, remember, this is all about feelings and the way they feel is their reality. How they feel is their truth.

At some point in their lives something we did, something happened that hit them so deeply, that staying in the relationship for them, is far more painful than leaving. All we can do is honor their journey, for it is not about us, it is about them. As painful as it is we must give them their space. We can send an occasional message or phone call letting them know we are here if they need us. We can validate how they feel, and most importantly we can accept the decision they have made. This is a dynamic that is born out of grief. Grief is a process and we all grieve differently. Grieving is very personal and has no time limit, nor one “right” way to do it. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross taught us about the fives stage of loss and grief in the 80’s. We all experience the stages differently and can weave in and out of them many times over for many years.

The five stages of grief and loss

The five stages of grief and loss

In the book “When Parents Hurt” by Dr. Colman (William Morrow, 2007) he points out some key issues to remember if you are going through this. “This is not a story of adult children cutting off parents who made egregarious mistakes. It’s about parents who were good parents, who make mistakes that were certainly within normal limits.”  The stigma comes from a culture that makes assumptions and passes the judgment that if there is an estrangement with your child you must have dome something awful to them. Know that you did your best and resist the urge to make this about you.

If you are an estranged parent of an adult child please help add to the growing body of evidence by taking this short 15 question survey.  At the end of the survey is an opportunity to leave your email address if you would like to be notified of the results. All of your info is always confidential and only a summary will be released. To participate, please click on the following link:

Thank you in advance and as always I would love to hear your thoughts. Blessings to you on your journey!






  1. A Foot in Two Canoes follows one mother’s journey in this dark experience. It began just about a year ago. Now, judging from the last post, the light has returned to their relationship.


  2. Well Susan I am a recovering alcoholic(29 years and counting) an adult child of an alcoholic and so forth. I get where you are coming from. There is no better solution in my opinion to the human condition than the Twelve Steps of AA. No matter what ails a person. How can having a Vital Spiritual Experience not help? That is what the 12 Steps deliver, IF suggestions followed. The AA Big Book is the best manual for living I have ever read and as a seeker I have read a TON!

    Anyways another way that might help is writing the person you are having some troubles with.

    Next week on Sunday, my 52 second birthday I am giving the world a gift from me. The Ychallenge123 is a way to connect with loved ones or with folks we are having issues with.

    Hope you will click on the link below Susan, watch, read, ponder. If you decide completing the Ychallenge123 does your Body, Mind and Soul some good, pass it on.

    Many thanks, feedback deeply appreciated. Next Sunday, It’s ON! Lets see CHANGE the world in 45 days!

    Scott Powell ps hope this link works last time I tried putting in a link it posted as a video. If this happens Susan you have my permission to delete my post. Just trying to get the link to you. Just want to get you what I am up to to see if you will support me. Need all the help I can get to connect 1 million people in 45 days. My website not open yet but will be by next Sunday


  3. Janet Camprini says:

    My mother was a bipolar alcoholic. My brothers were so damaged by their childhood that they terminated their relationship with Mom. Neither of them married or had children, nor had any long term relationships with women, including me. Ken, 62, has a history of paranoid schizophrenia and alcoholism, but has been functional since age 37. Paul, 56, has a history of depression and marijuana abuse. Paul moves around a lot and travels. Most of the time I don’t know where he is or how to reach him. He responds to my email about once a year. Neither of them would let me know their address and both had PO Boxes because they were afraid that my Mom would somehow get their addresses from me. I was able to get them to come to Sacramento when Mom was on her death bed on the last day. Since she had the worst of a number of strokes, she was unable to give any of us the apology we so hoped for.
    When she died, Paul did a Buddhist prayer ritual for the dead, with no apparent feeling. Ken nervously couldn’t wait to get on the plane back to San Diego. As always, I took care of everything.
    My husband’s story is very similar. Both of us are the oldest and most functional. Our parents are deceased and Rod has lost 3 of 4 siblings to drugs and alcohol. His remaining sibling is sick, disabled and still drinking. Sad wasted lives.
    My 3 kids are grown and one has had problems, but all are doing well now. 5 grandkids OK so far, but have alcohol/drug abuse/mental health potential on both sides. Praying for their health and future.
    Janet Camprini


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