For clinicians to be helpful, they need to familiarize themselves with the trauma suffered by the parents.

The following is derived from 120 interactions with parents of estranged adult children, either phone conversations or internet chats or forums. Regardless of the differences in specific circumstances, the stages of the trauma and the issues parents struggled with appear to be common and are outlined below.

Stages parents go through:

  1. -complete bewilderment: he/she can’t mean it! We have a nice family.

  2. -sadness: my heart is shattered; rejection is worse than death.

  3. - guilt: I should not have said…, I should not have done…; I should have said…,  should have done

the fix-it search: let’s call;  email; meet; see a therapist; read books; look on-line; apologize for whatever.

anger: how can he/she do this to us? Not allow us to see our grandchildren!

acceptance: it’s not us, it’s them; we did not do anything; we tried everything to fix this. There is nothing more we can do.

reconciliation: rather it is a semi-reconciliation since the adult child does not explain nor apologize; we do not know what we did wrong, maybe it will happen again; walking on eggshells.

Recurring issues parents deal with:

-  birthdays: to send a card? A gift? Will it make things worse?

holidays: how to get through them knowing the family is incomplete.

whom to tell? People who talk about their children and grandchildren? Friends? Co-workers? How to respond to people who think the parents have not tried hard enough?

other family members who continue to see the child: why can’t they side with the parents?

grandchildren: how to let them know they are still loved? How sad when a new grandchild is born and the grandparents hear about the newborn indirectly.

will: to leave it as it was before the estrangement or to take the child out? Does that make it impossible for the siblings to ever reconcile?

the web: is it better to look at the child’s Facebook / MySpace page and find info? Or will it hurt more to find out about major events in that child’s life because they were not shared directly? 


Being the parent of an estranged adult child is like  being on a traumatic journey with valleys of despair and hills of hopes.