Living with Adult Child Estrangement

Parent-child relationships are one of the most long-term and close relationships that people have.  You might be surprised to know that 1 in 4 adults that is currently estranged from their family.   It is quite common but not commonly discussed with friends.   67 Million Americans are estranged and according to researchers, 7% of adult children have severed ties with their mother and 27% with their father. 

Parents and their children tend to disagree on the reasons for estrangement.  The parents tend to focus on the person, blaming the adult child, the child’s spouse, or a sibling for the separation.  Children tend to focus on escaping from negative parental behaviors such as emotional abuse.

The word “estranged” can have a negative connotation. The idea of being separated from the people you love is frightening and lonely. However, estrangement can happen for various reasons that are often out of our control and sometimes the reasons for separating are valid and end up being positive for both parties.

Understanding What Caused Estrangement

The first step towards resolving an estrangement is understanding exactly what happened in the first place. If you understand why you aren’t on speaking terms with a loved one, you can more easily reconcile with them and repair the relationship. Estrangement can happen for various reasons, including: 

Personal Reasons for Estrangement

  • Judgment or making people feel unaccepted
  • Mental Illness
  • Narcissism or Selfishness
  • Personal differences regarding religion or sexual orientation

Family Issues that cause Estrangement

  • Harsh Parenting
  • Divorce
  • Manipulation and Lying
  • Substance Abuse
  • Criminal Activity
  • Anger management
  • Favoritism
  • Physical & Sexual Abuse
  • Inheritance conflict

External Reasons for Estrangement

  • Relationship objections
  • Living far apart
  • Third party influence from a controlling partner

How Long Does Estrangement Last?

According to a UK research study:
Estrangement from fathers (most common) lasts 8 years
Estrangement between brothers lasts 7.5 years on average
Estrangement between sisters lasts 7 years. 
Estrangement between Mothers and their grown children also lasts an average of 5.5 years

Should You Reconnect?

There are occasions when reconnecting with an estranged family member may be harmful rather than beneficial. if you have been estranged from a family member because they were physically, mentally, or emotionally abusive to you, then you might want to work through the estrangement and trauma with a therapist, rather than reconnecting,

One of the estranged parties usually wants to reconnect.  According to research, it is common for people to want to reconcile after an estrangement in order to gain acceptance or  respect as well as an apology or acknowledgement from the relative.  You’ll need to understand the motives and benefits (or costs) of reconnecting.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where is the pressure for connection coming from? 
  • Is it something you want or something that they want?   
  • Is there genuine desire to repair the relationship on both sides? 
  • Have situations or mindsets changed such that healing and reconciliation is possible?  


Your family member cannot force you to rekindle the relationship.  Regardless of their intentions being good, you have to be ready and in the same place emotionally.

Tips for Reconciliation

Before making contact, consider why you want to reconnect with them and what caused the family conflict initially. Reflect on what happened at the outset of your relationship to understand why it failed. When you communicate with your family member, you might prepare for various outcomes. You may ask a loved one to write down what they’d like to say to you to help prepare for your first communication. If you’re hesitant to reach out to reconnect with your family member, you can ask for help from a friend, family member, or a therapist. 

Be gentle with yourself as you have difficult conversations. Your reasons for estrangement are often profoundly emotional. Allow yourself time for difficult conversations.” It takes great courage and bravery to apologize, regardless of the outcome.

Try concentrating on the present and what you want.  It is easy to focus on the past and blame that for your current family relationship problems.  Is the current behavior of your relatives tightly linked with the past or are their other reasons?   Many people find that  they need to stop pressuring the other person to accept their interpretation of the past and instead focus on the future.

Other Tips:

  • Instead of showing up unannounced, send a letter, email, or voicemail beforehand to let people know you’re coming.
  • Prioritize your safety – consider using a third party mediator. Third parties can help facilitate healthy discussions in therapeutic settings.
  • Be prepared for rejection— mentally and emotionally. Remember that not every person involved in a confrontation is willing to reconcile.
  • Prioritize your own issues and work through them.  Before asking another person to make up for what happened, consider what you can do to heal from the events.

Reconnecting without Reconciling

Reconnecting without reconciling can be a healthy choice as well.  Even if you do not forgive and forget you can still try to be empathetic and compassionate as appropriate.  It’s fine if the other person fails to live up to our expectations, as long as we don’t harbor resentment and avoid keeping score.  


Estrangement can be a painful experience, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. The first step towards resolving an estrangement is understanding exactly what happened to cause it in the first place. If you understand why you aren’t on speaking terms with a loved one, you can more easily reconcile with them and repair the relationship.  When there is no easy fix for an estrangement, you need to ask yourself if the relationship is worth saving. If it isn’t, it’s time to move on with your life and build your own family/tribe/community.

Therapy Help in Lakewood CO & Longmont CO

If you are struggling with estrangement know that you are not alone. We’d like to help you explore the situation and heal with counseling.

We invite you to call us at 720-551-4553 for a free 20-minute phone consultation with a therapy specialist.  You can learn more about our Depression Therapy services by clicking this link.

Self Care Impact Counseling envisions a new age of counseling for adolescents, adults, couples & groups that makes a REAL difference with core values of GROWTH | BALANCE | COMPASSION | INNER HARMONY.