Updated: Jun 13
“My adult child has ghosted me. What should I do?”
Having an adult child who wants no contact with you can be a painful and frustrating experience. You might feel a profound sense of sadness and loss with the absence of your child. You might feel confused as to why they’ve decided to go “no contact” with you. You might feel shame at the state of your familial relationship. You might even have feelings of anger and indignation at this situation or at your child themselves.
You don’t need to cope with these complex emotions on your own. Family estrangement is something that many parents experience and cope with. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the steps you can take to cope with having an estranged adult child, including things like working with a therapist and building new coping skills.
What is Family Estrangement?
Family estrangement is a term that describes when there is a cut-off of communication between two or more family members, typically initiated by one family member and unwanted by the other family member. In the case of having an estranged adult child, typically the adult child is the one who initiates or requests to have no contact with their parent(s).
Family estrangement is a very under-researched topic. Exact prevalence rates are unknown, but one study found that just under half of young adults have experienced estrangement from a family member at some point in their life. Another study found that around 7% of adult children were estranged from their mothers and around 27% from their fathers.
Family estrangement can be a painful, traumatic experience. You may feel a sense of grief at the loss of the relationship with your adult child. It’s not uncommon to have feelings of loneliness and even depression when coping with family estrangement.
Why Has My Adult Child Ghosted Me?
There are many different reasons that your adult child might decide to go “no contact” with you. These reasons tend to fall under one of three categories: issues within the family, issues outside the family, and issues with individuals.
Issues within the family - this includes things like drug or alcohol abuse, family conflict, abuse in childhood, marital conflict, divorce, family rivalry, and rigid/controlling or distant parenting styles.
Issues outside the family - this most often includes influence from or objectionable relationships with people outside the immediate family (e.g., the spouse or in-laws of an adult child).
Issues with individuals - this can include things like mental illness, immaturity, judgemental attitudes, self-centeredness, and differences in values and beliefs.
It might be the case that your adult child has directly shared with you why they’ve chosen to go “no contact” with you. Other times, the reason might not be as clear to you or your adult child may be vague in their reasoning. If that’s the case, consider if some of the reasons above might be present in your specific situation.
How to Cope With An Estranged Adult Child
Experiencing family estrangement is challenging, but there is hope. By taking the steps outlined below, you can begin to build skills and change your situation for the better.
Focus on what’s in your control - As much as you may want to, you cannot control what other people do. You can’t force your adult child to speak to you or return things to “normal” in your relationship. The only person you can control within your relationship is yourself. Focus on what you can do as an individual to cope with the situation, whether through building your coping skills on your own or by working with a therapist.
Consider where you might have caused harm - If your adult child has given you a reason for their estrangement, consider what role you might have played in causing them harm. It can be painful to look back on past circumstances when you wish you had acted differently or thought you were doing right by someone. Turn inward and reflect on your role in this situation. What can you learn from this? Consider what you can change to avoid causing this kind of harm again in the future.
Recognize when it’s not about you - Sometimes family estrangement is about your adult child and their needs, not about you. Family estrangement can occur because your adult child has their own healing work to do, is grappling with drug or alcohol addiction, or just has different values that are important to them. Sometimes your child needs time and space to do the work they need to do before they might be ready to restore a connection with you.
Practice building positive coping skills - One of the best ways to cope with any stressful life experience is to add more skills to your positive coping toolbox. Incorporating things like mindfulness, meditation, exercise, and journaling into your routines can help you cope with the challenging emotions brought on by family estrangement. A therapist can also help you build and practice positive coping skills.
Consider working with a therapist - A family therapist or individual therapist can help you cope with family estrangement. Family estrangement can be a distressing and stigmatizing experience, especially for parents with an estranged adult child. A therapist can help you work through all of the emotions and grief you may feel during this time. Depending on your child’s comfort level, a therapist may also be able to work directly with you and your adult child to begin to repair your relationship. A therapist can also help you work collaboratively with your adult child to set mutually agreeable boundaries and parameters for communication to help re-establish the relationship.
Finding a Therapist For Family Estrangement
You don’t have to cope with the impacts of family estrangement on your own. Working with a family therapist or individual therapist can help you find peace and cope with the loss of your relationship with your adult child.
Our therapists specialize in working within the complexities of family dynamics and helping people across many types of circumstances cope with feelings of grief and abandonment. Contact us to learn more about how you can get started.