For Parents Who Are Estranged From Adult Children

Estranged grandparents can reconcile with adult children

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Hard statistics are hard to come by, but many of those working with families say that they've seen an uptick: More young adults than ever are cutting ties with their parents. For grandparents estranged from their adult children, that often means a loss of contact with their grandchildren as well.

The good news is that many adult children say that they would like to have their parents back in their lives. If you are estranged from your adult child, consider steps you could take to forge a renewed relationship.

Understand Causes of Estrangement

The causes of conflict with adult children can vary widely. To reconcile with your child, you will need to be willing to consider their perspective. Sometimes adult children find fault in the way they were reared.

Authoritarian Parenting Style

Perhaps when your children were growing up, authoritarian parenting was still an acceptable approach to child-rearing. Although parenting began to become more permissive following World War II, it took many years for this change to occur, especially in America's heartland.

Through much of the 20th century, many parents used corporal punishment. In fact, they were told that if they did not use corporal punishment, they were bad parents. Even religious leaders encouraged physical punishment. What many would consider abusive today passed for good old-fashioned parenting not that long ago.

Lack of Affection

Similarly, adult children sometimes feel that their parents did not nurture them as they should have. In many families of the past, parents seldom expressed affection verbally or physically. The underlying assumption was that parents demonstrated their love for their children by taking care of them. The unfortunate result was that no one worried much about a child's self-esteem.


Adult children sometimes hold on to resentments over their parents' broken marriage, often blaming one partner or another. In other cases, a child's partner is the divisive factor. The parents may not like or approve of the partner. Their disapproval forces the child to choose between parents and partner.

Another common problem is that adult children feel that their parents don't recognize them as adults with the ability to make their own decisions.

Avoid Defensiveness

Even though It might be possible to justify some of your past actions, becoming defensive is counterproductive. If parents prove that what they did was right or acceptable, then it follows that the other parties (their children) were wrong in their reactions, and proving someone wrong or calling their feelings invalid is not likely to mend any fences.

What adult children say that they crave is for their parents to take responsibility and, in some cases, apologize. State clearly how you feel, if you can do so authentically.

  • I'm sorry.
  • I understand your feelings.
  • I know I made mistakes.
  • I could have been more supportive (helpful, understanding, loving, etc.).

Stay Calm

Parents often want to talk about how much pain the estrangement has caused them. Adult children who have taken the measure of cutting off contact will not be touched by their parents' pain. They are likely to be particularly unmoved by grandparents' grief over not seeing grandchildren.

Continue the Conversation

It may take more than one overture from a parent before a child agrees to work toward a reconciliation, but the overtures shouldn't feel like harassment. All that is required is a simple proposal to get together for a low-stress occasion such as a dinner or an outing. If the overture is rejected, wait a while and try again.

If Reconciliation Fails

If attempts to restore the relationship fail, grandparents are in a real bind. Do they give up any hope of seeing their grandchildren?

Sometimes mediation is an effective next step. If mediation fails, or if the other parties are not willing, some grandparents will consider legal action, but there is a lot that grandparents should know before suing for visitation rights. In addition, if the grandchildren live in an intact family, grandparents are unlikely to win visitation in court.

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2 Sources
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  1. Rittenour C, Kromka S, Pitts S, Thorwart M, Vickers J, Whyte K. Communication surrounding estrangement: Stereotypes, attitudes, and (non)accommodation strategies. Behav Sci (Basel). 2018;8(10):96. doi:10.3390/bs8100096

  2. Bloch JP. The Loveless Family: Getting Past Estrangement and Learning How to Love. Praeger; 2011.