For Parents Who Are Estranged From Adult Children

Estranged grandparents can reconcile with adult children

Oliver Rossi / Getty Images

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, 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.

Generational Differences

The causes of conflict with adult children can vary widely. Sometimes adult children find fault in the way they were reared. They may not realize that they probably grew up when 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 almost all of the twentieth century, good 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 some people would consider abusive today passed for good old-fashioned parenting not that long ago.

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

Other Issues

Adult children sometimes hold on to resentments over their parents' broken marriage, often blaming one partner or another.

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.

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.

Don't Be Defensive

It might be possible for parents to justify some of their past actions; however, becoming defensive is counterproductive. If parents prove that what they did was right or acceptable, then it follows that the other parties were wrong in their reactions, and proving someone wrong 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. Here are some phrases that should work:

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

Don't Make an Emotional Appeal

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

Do 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 out or an outing. If the overture is rejected, the parents should 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.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  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. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger; 2011.