Not receiving love and attention from their own children is probably one of the most painful things parents can experience.
Grown children who ignore their parents sometimes either aren’t fully aware of the effect they have on their parents or they hold grudges because of unresolved things that happened in the past.
This kind of behavior weakens the parent-child relationship and makes it more difficult over time. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it takes a toll on family relations.
In short, something needs to change for a genuine family relationship to be saved.
We all know that relationships of any kind require a lot of commitment, care, and effort.
As a parent, before you decide to work on this issue, you first need to be sure there really is a problem.
Sometimes your children aren’t actually ignoring you – they just have their own things going on or are experiencing a hectic month or two.
If you find your issue described in some of the following signs, however, it’s time to face the problem:
Signs your child is ignoring you
1. They never call you first
One of the easiest ways you can tell if your child is growing apart from you is by how often they call you. It’s pretty common for children to call their parents, especially once they move away from them.
However, it’s still more usual for parents to call their children.
There’s an interesting statement that’s potentially upsetting, but possibly true: Parents love their children more than the other way around.
Yes, children respect and love their parents but it’s not the same love that parents have for their children.
Some people agree and some disagree with this statement; nevertheless, it’s an interesting perspective to think about.
So, if a child never – or rarely – calls their parents, it’s obvious they don’t actually want or care to do it. Especially if they call only when they need some kind of help.
This type of behavior is not uncommon in an estranged children-parent relationship.
2. You don’t see each other often – if at all
Obviously, one of the most common signs is a lack of time spent together.
If there’s no effort and no contact from their side and you don’t see each other for significant periods of time, it’s clear that something isn’t right.
Yes, they may have their own lives and have their own families, and they may also live somewhere that isn’t so close to you, but still, if you always end up ignored – that’s their choice.
3. You find out about important things from other people or social media
A family is essentially an institution, a community with its own unique ways of dealing with problems and giving support.
That includes sharing and talking about each other’s problems and finding solutions, as well as sharing each other happiness and good news.
The fact that you hear about your own child’s life changes from other people might be upsetting and leave you feeling betrayed or extremely sad.
If your child has made a big life decision without including you, that’s an obvious sign he or she is ignoring you and doesn’t see you as part of their life in that way.
4. They are nowhere to be seen at family get-togethers
Do you regularly call your child over for dinners and family get- togethers only for them to never come?
Do they do it on purpose or are they busy with their own life events and job?
The ugly truth is they’re probably avoiding a situation where they’re going to meet you – or meeting you simply isn’t their priority.
If your children don’t visit you on days like Christmas or Thanksgiving, chances are you have a relationship problem.
It’s possible they’ll find excuses for why they’re not there, but the truth is it’s because they never really wanted to be there or they have a problem with being there.
5. They always contradict you
In a healthy and productive child-parent dynamic, it’s normal for adult children to listen to and respect their parents’ opinion. As a matter of fact, a parent should be the go-to person to ask for advice.
However, if your conversation often ends on an uneasy note and you feel as if your child disrespects you, you have a problem.
Rejecting advice, or even more telling – rebelling against it, is a sign your child has some unresolved issues concerning your relationship.
Reasons your child is ignoring you
The bond between children and parents is naturally very strong. It’s a connection that should last for a lifetime.
Grown children who ignore their parents, however, have their reasons as to why they feel like they’re better off on their own.
People are prone to changes and lots of things can affect the relationship.
1. Resentfulness toward something from the past
Sometimes rejection is a response to rejection.
What needs to be understood is that rejection can be a very subjective thing.
For example, something that, as a parent, you never thought could have negatively influenced your child did exactly that.
It’s not always about big events or actions, sometimes it is about feelings or lack of them.
Do you remember doing something and regretting it as a parent? Think about the times when your child seemed hurt, distant, or had a hard time and you didn’t take any notice.
Were you involved in your kid’s life while they were growing up? Were you supportive of their dreams and ambitions?
A reality of many children-parent relationships is that parents simply don’t have enough time to spend with their kids while they are growing up and that results in a relationship that isn’t quite as fulfilling and close as it should or could be.
Childhood is an extremely important part of life that shapes us as adults. In fact, our childhood experiences stick with us our whole life.
2. You don’t see your child as an adult
As a parent who always had to take care of their child and tell them what to and what not to do, it’s not hard to understand why they may have a problem seeing their child as a fully grown adult.
Unfortunately, it’s a very effective way of upsetting and frustrating that child , and they’re right to feel that way.
Doing things for them or that concern them without permission, not respecting their opinions – all of these things lead to resentment. It’s an obvious sign you don’t trust their decision or see them as responsible adults.
3. Dislike for their spouse
Sometimes we disagree with the choices our loved ones make and that can include their choice of marriage partner.
Despite your personal preferences, the spouse of your child should be respected even if you dislike them.
These situations are not uncommon among families.
However, they shouldn’t interfere with your relationship with your child.
It’s understandable that you need time to get to know and get to love a person who’s practically a stranger or mere acquaintance in your life.
You need to bear in mind that your child chose that person for the right reasons.
For some reason, this particular problem is one of the most frequent ones between grown kids and their parents and a common way parents hurt their children.
That’s why it’s important to put effort into your relationship with your daughter-in-law or son-in-law.
Disrespect toward your child’s spouse will get you nothing but more distance and mutual misunderstanding.
4. Disagreements concerning grandchildren
This is an often overlooked problem that can occur among parents and their grown-up children who also have children.
Everybody knows that grandchildren and grandparents have a special bond and as their grandparents, you are very fond of them and also have some authority over them.
However, your authority shouldn’t clash with the authority of their parents.
Remember that your grandchildren view your kids the same way your kids once saw you. That’s why you shouldn’t propose or do things you wouldn’t have wanted your parents to do for your children.
For example, if their parents strictly forbid something – you should respect their decision regardless of your own opinion on the matter.
Otherwise, you threaten the authority of their parents and make them look foolish, which is a seriously wrong thing to do.
Not only will you hurt your own children, but you will leave a bad example for your grandkids too.
5. There can be only one boss of the house, and that’s you, according to you
It’s normal for the eldest in the house to take on the role of that one person who is in command and who is the most responsible for the whole family, especially in the case of older parents.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s not entirely untrue. As a matter of fact for the most part it was the truth, but as soon as your children became young adults, things changed.
Your children are now adults who don’t want anyone to boss them around and most importantly, they don’t need anyone to boss them around.
They have their own lives, their own tempo, and interests. You’re not their boss and you can’t make decisions for them.
Sometimes, grown children who ignore their parents find that it’s the only way they can take life back into their own hands and feel like they’re in control again.
6. You have either no or too much interest in their personal life
In every relationship, emotional connection and intimacy is what brings people together and keeps them together.
That’s why you should always be interested in how and why your loved ones feel the way they do.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should be noisy or pushy. It means you should consider their perspective and life situation and offer genuine support and compassion.
Many parents don’t know their boundaries when it comes to a relationship with their children.
There’s a stereotype of an overly attached parent who can’t come to terms with the fact that their children are living their own separate lives and don’t have to answer to them.
Do you ever act assertively or pushy? Do you insist on spending time with them when they clearly planned to spend time with someone else – their spouse, for example?
All those things are factors that determine how they view you and how much of their life they want to share with you.
How to repair the bond with grown children
Most parents and children with complicated and distant relationships want some sort of reconciliation.
Reconciliation is possible, but first, you need to self-reflect and think about the things you can change about yourself.
1. Make them feel valued
The truth is every parent sees their child as their child no matter how old they get. You were there when they said their first word and when they had their first heartbreak.
You observed and nurtured them growing up and know their personality well.
In your mind, they have a specific role in the family, but sometimes the way you see that role is attached to their old self.
You need to make space for them to express themselves and establish a role that suits their adult selves.
How does one do that?
It’s all in little, everyday things.
For example, ask for their opinion on certain topics you deeply care about, ask for their advice when it comes to life decisions. Treat them as an equal.
What this shows is that you think their opinion is valuable, that you’re interested in their thought process and judgment.
Furthermore, they will feel accepted and valued – and that’s extremely important when it comes to relationships, health and family matters.
They need to feel respected in the same way you do.
2. Communicate your feelings
It seems that generational clashes and misunderstandings always stem from a lack of understanding that could be resolved with better communication.
Communication is the key – you’ve heard that a million times, and that’s because it’s true and very important.
Just sitting down and talking to your children openly can detect existing issues. That’s one step toward solving them.
There’s no need to make a fuss – just do it, let it be spontaneous.
However, make sure you ask the right questions. The right questions are usually very direct and honest and said respectfully.
For example, you can ask them if they see a certain gap between you and what they think has happened.
Questions shouldn’t contain an accusation or something that sounds like one. They should show your concern and willingness to work on possible issues.
After that, you can tell them your honest feelings. Tell them that you miss and love them openly.
After all, being a good parent isn’t about being perfect all the time but about making room for self-improvement.
3. Respect their time
One segment of life where respect or lack of it is very obvious is valuing another person’s time.
Your children have their own life, their own family, and their own schedules and responsibilities and that should be taken seriously.
If you ask for their help in any way, make sure you thank them for their time or tell them you couldn’t have done it without them.
Sometimes, all we have to do is say the right words at the right time. It’s amazing how big of an impact words can have.
4. Talk to them as friends
As I already mentioned – communication is everything when it comes to relationships.
That’s why it’s important to have quality conversations all the time and not only when things get difficult.
Yes, serious conversations are very important, but small, everyday interactions and conversations are equally important. Through casual conversations, you can learn a lot about a person if you listen carefully.
Don’t assume you know everything about them just because they are your child. Ask them about their job, their children, their plans…
Of course, all of this is only possible if your child is equally engaged in the conversation.
At first, if things are already complicated, they might answer briefly and avoid conversation. One possible solution to this is to ask questions that can’t be answered with simple yes or no.
Ask questions that will require a full sentence and an explanation.
Don’t forget the most important thing of all: Listen to them. Mean it. They will feel it and appreciate it.
5. Understand that they have their own family
Once your children start their own family, the hierarchy is somewhat disturbed, at least for parents. You’re no longer the one who’s responsible and in control.
Sometimes it’s hard to get used to the feeling of not being needed. Many parents have difficulties with that kind of feeling.
However, your feelings shouldn’t interfere with your child’s private life and decisions or they will start pulling away and ignoring you.
Give them space to build their own new life and find a way to be part of it in the best way you can. Sometimes that means just quality time and emotional support.
6. Support them in their decisions
No matter how old we are, we always need support, especially from parents.
Grown children who ignore their parents are still children who will always look up to them in some way.
They will always be concerned about their opinion and approval.
That’s why you need to give them your full support. Have faith and trust their decisions. If things go wrong, be there for them.
7. Remind them of the good times
Life is hectic and it’s easy to forget about all the nice things we’ve experienced in life. As we get older we start feeling nostalgic for our childhood and all the good times we had in the past.
Remind your child about the special time you spent together as a parent and child.
Evoke the feelings of closeness and make them think about your role in their life and how important it really was.
Questions to ask yourself
As we get older, we generally become less flexible when it comes to reconsidering our words and actions.
That’s no surprise since we’ve had a lot of time to confirm our standpoints and it’s common sense to rely on what’s worked for us before.
However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge ourselves from time to time and have honest conversations with ourselves.
Ask yourself these questions and see if you can find issues in your answers that point to potential problems in your standpoints or actions.
1. Do you criticize your child under the disguise of “advice”?
Parenting is hard work and it includes being honest about unhealthy or damaging things (e.g. substance abuse) your kids might be doing.
However, when they’re already grown-ups, they’re responsible for themselves and there’s no need to give advice they haven’t asked for.
It may sound harsh, but it’s true. Criticizing leads directly to estrangement.
On the other hand support and appreciation when your child is doing something good or when they have a difficult time is always welcome and is never wrong.
All in all, we should keep negative stuff to ourselves because they’re most likely already obvious to your child as well, and highlighting will only make them angry or uncomfortable.
2. Do you insist on a form of communication even when there is no need for it?
Maybe you see it as something casual, but they see it as invasive.
The most effective way to solve this problem is to ask your child when the best time to call them is.
Let them decide the time and the method of communication they prefer.
3. Are you mad because they don’t spend enough time with you?
Spending less time together is inevitable once your children become independent, especially after they start their own family.
Instead of making them feel guilty about it, try planning small get-togethers, for example, Sunday lunches or something similar.
4. Do you feel entitled based on the fact you’re their parent?
Being a parent is a very important and consuming role.
Once you become a parent, a big part of your identity is now simply being a parent and once your child is grown it’s hard to ditch the habit.
It’s not unusual for a parent to subconsciously create somewhat high expectations of their adult children and expect them to act a certain way.
It’s almost like they feel deserving of something that in reality doesn’t have to do anything with them.
5. Do you interfere with their private life too much?
Usually, the number one reason your children don’t share everything that happens in their lives with you is the fact that you already interfere in their life too much.
Instead of always giving advice and asking lots of questions let them tell you what they want. Sometimes it might not be enough information for you, but there’s a reason they decided to share only so much.
Unsolicited advice and lack of trust are probably the most triggering things for children.
6. Do you have unhealthy boundaries?
Do you have a problem with saying yes or no?
That could be an issue.
Sometimes children only call you when they need help and that kind of behavior isn’t acceptable because it’s disrespectful.
You can try solving this problem by stating your concerns in a peaceful manner or simply saying no in a situation when you feel like you’re being taken advantage of.
How to cope with estrangement
Sometimes parent-child relationships become complicated and you can’t even fully comprehend why estrangement happened.
It’s obvious that everyone wants functional and normal parent/adult-child relationships, but sometimes things are out of your control.
What should you do when it comes to this?
1. Try not to be pushy
Respect the decision of your estranged child even if you think they’re wrong for not speaking to you. If they’ve asked you not to contact them, don’t try to.
2. Let your guard down and don’t be defensive
In a situation like this, it’s easy to become defensive and try to prove who’s wrong and who’s right. However, that isn’t the wisest way to go about solving this problem.
We’re defensive when we’re hurt. Instead of trying to find what’s wrong about your child’s behavior, try and think about what you can change about yourself instead.
3. Ditch guilt trips
Even if you did something you regret – there’s no point in feeling guilty. That’s how many people spiral into mental illness. It’s better to work on things you can do right instead.
You’re not perfect and your child is not perfect either. You’re here to learn from each other, even if that means parting ways for a while.
4. Don’t ignore your own needs
Even though it’s hard not to think about issues with your children, you should take time for yourself, take care of your needs and work on your self-esteem.
It’s not uncommon for this type of situation to cause mental health issues that need to be taken care of with the help of a psychotherapist or support group.
If you need help, sometimes it’s only a phone call away. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Your well-being is important.
5. Stay positive
Family estrangement usually isn’t something unsolvable.
Sometimes it seems like the end of the world but before we try everything that can help we should try to stay positive about the outcome.
Therapy is one of the ways that can clear up a lot of things when it comes to complicated family relationships such as estranged adult kids/estranged parents, or dealing with a potential narcissist in the family, etc.
The bottom line is: Ask for help when you don’t know what to do and don’t give up.
6. Learn to let go things you can’t control
This doesn’t mean you should give up. This means you’ve chosen no to let your time be consumed with negative thoughts. It’s not always the parent’s fault.
Joshua Coleman, an expert on the topic of parental alienation suggests switching up an approach in his book:
“Rule: “My adult child should be able to balance out whatever mistakes I have made with all of the good that I have done as a parent.”
Counter: “While I wish that my child could see all of the ways that I have been dedicated, I…”
By switching up an approach to this issue, we’re making things easier for ourselves to understand.
Do as much as you can and if it doesn’t work – at least you know you did your best.
It’s not realistic to expect to be able to forget about these issues but at least you’ll find a way to fill your time with other things too.
Sometimes finding our own interest, our own voice, and working on self-improvement is exactly what brings the people we want back into our life.
Sometimes parting ways from someone we deeply care about happens because we’re in need of some self-reflection and major changes in life.
A few things to keep in mind…
1. Why is estrangement still a taboo?
Parental alienation and family estrangement are taboos because of human relations throughout history.
In the past, it was expected a family would stay together because that’s how they had a better chance of surviving in a harsh environment.
That kind of survival is part of the past and people don’t have to stay together for the same reasons anymore.
That naturally leads to an occasional estrangement between family members who disagree with each other.
However, because of the strong societal expectations based on the history of human relations, estrangement is still considered taboo.
2. It’s more common than you think
There’s no reliable research that could show precisely how frequent estrangement is, but it’s more frequent than we’re led to believe because of societal taboos.
The problem is a lot of people aren’t ready to discuss these topics because they’re deeply personal and painful for many people, which is understandable.
3. Estrangement isn’t the only way relationships collapse
Apart from estrangement, one thing that isn’t mentioned enough is family-member marginalization.
What is family-member marginalization?
In short, marginalization is treating a child as the black sheep of the family for various reasons.
How does one become the black sheep of the family? Simply by not sharing similar interests, looks, views, etc.
However, so-called black sheep of the family are not likely to break ties with their family, despite their experience.
Grown children who ignore their parents definitely have strong reasons to do so, at least from their own personal understanding of the situation.
This, of course, depends on their personal experiences and psycho-emotional structure. Nobody gives up on a relationship with the person who raised them without a good reason.
That tells us that there’s so much more behind this decision. Every person is born different and every one of us has different viewpoints and understandings of everything that happens in their life.
That’s also why all of us have different triggers and traumas.
As a parent, sometimes it’s extremely hard to detach yourself from your child and view them simply as a grownup person but it’s inevitable if you really want to understand them better.
It’s important to always keep in mind that commitment, understanding, and effort make a lot of difference.
I’ve mentioned it already, but here’s one more time just to remind you: There’s a big chance your relationship is not doomed and it’s possible to make things better, especially if you’re reading this.
Have patience and a large amount of love that you’re willing to share. Good luck with reconnecting!
“When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along”, Joshua Coleman, 2008.
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