Menu Close

Tips To Deal With Grown Children Who Ignore Their Parents

Share This Article

All throughout your adult life, you’ve taken care of your children. It can be especially heartbreaking when, in your senior years when you need the most help, your children don’t want to take care of you.

Do grown children ignore their parents often?

Grown children can indeed ignore their parents after they’ve become independent and can rely on themselves. There are various reasons for this estrangement, such as:

  • Not respecting boundaries and interfering
  • Can’t reconcile values
  • Adult children have their own lives, families and responsibilities
  • Physical or emotional abuse 

In this article, we’ll delicately navigate the heartbreaking topic of adult children and parental estrangement.

Whether you’re an adult child who’s not talking to a parent or you’re a parent who eagerly wants an adult child back in your life, this article is for you.

Is It Normal For Adult Children To Ignore Their Parents?

In a perfect world, every parent-child relationship would be easy, effortless, and pleasant, especially once the children are young adults and the parent is a senior. 

By then, everyone has matured to the point where butting heads and antagonistic family dynamics should become more of a thing of the past.

However, you know that we don’t live in a perfect world.

Thus, it does happen quite often for an adult child to ignore their parents. We’ll talk more about possible reasons for this difficult situation in the next section.

As for if it’s normal? Well, that’s harder to say.

As we mentioned, an adult child is fully mature. If they feel like their parents are a source of stress or trauma in their lives, then they might deal with it by severing family ties. 

Maybe it’s not normal, per se, but it happens, nevertheless.  

Why Do Grown Children Ignore Their Parents?

It’s a heart-rending occurrence for a grown child to ignore their parents. Let’s take this section to further explore some common reasons why this situation has unfolded as it has.

Parents Don’t Respect Boundaries

If your adult child is ignoring you, it could be because you have a hard time respecting their boundaries. 

For example, you might still see your adult daughter as a little girl, but you have to remember that she’s now full-grown. 

She doesn’t need you to step in for every little thing. She must learn to make good decisions by herself.

If older parents interfere too often, an adult child could grow sick of the behavior and decide to take a step back from the relationship. 

In the future, wait until your adult child asks for your help, and only then should you get involved. Don’t even offer your assistance for a little while, as it could be taken wrong. 

Parents Interfere In The Adult Child’s Marriage

You might love your child’s spouse very much, but you don’t always love how they behave.

But, the important thing to remember is that a marriage is a private relationship between two adults. 

Each time you interject with your thoughts or try to tell your adult child how they should manage their marriage (or you talk to your daughter-in-law or son-in-law about it), your adult child could (and likely does) perceive you as interfering.

Even though you will see your adult child’s romantic relationship play out before you, avoid the urge to meddle. 

Let your adult child make mistakes in their marriage, as they and their spouse need to learn the consequences of those mistakes so they can avoid the same gaffes in the future.

That won’t happen when you’re always there. 

Parents Always Offer (Unwanted) Opinions 

You still fondly remember the days when your child relied on you for everything, but those days have come to an end.

Again, your child is an adult, so they don’t need your thoughts, guidance, and opinions to shape and influence their private life anymore.

If you find yourself always sharing opinions on their personal life, especially when your adult child doesn’t ask or as it pertains to a sensitive subject, take a step back yourself. 

Begin cutting back on your unwarranted opinion sharing and see if your adult child begins appreciating your relationship a little more. 

A Disagreement About Values

You have to remember that you grew up in a very different time than your adult child did. You two will undoubtedly have different values.

If your adult child has their own child, you might not love the values your adult child is passing on to their offspring. 

As much as it might irritate or upset you, you don’t have the right to say anything about it. Doing so will just worsen the already rocky relationship between you and your adult child. 

Feelings Of Resentment Or Favoritism

Does your adult child have deep-seated resentments that they’ve held onto since they were a child? 

For example, maybe you have other children, and your adult child feels like their sibling was the favorite. 

They’ve spent many years wrestling with these unpleasant feelings.

Now that they’re not beholden to you, they could decide to get away from the source of the pain, which includes you and other family members.  

The Adult Child Is Too Busy 

Sometimes, it’s none of these damaging and upsetting reasons. It could just be that an adult child has too many responsibilities to juggle time for weekly visits or frequent phone calls.

Whether they just got a new job, they earned a promotion, they moved into their first home, or they had a baby, cut your adult child a bit of slack.

Maybe call them and ask if you can do anything to make their lives easier.  

Physical Or Emotional Abuse

Mental health concerns can cause a person to withdraw from loved ones, become angry or irritable, or say hurtful things. Sometimes substance abuse, neglect, and child abuse can also result due to mental illness.

When a child suffers maltreatment, severed communication and parental alienation are often the first things to happen once they are old enough to get out on their own.

Maltreatment also both directly and indirectly contributes to an increase in emotional problems and concerns in the child’s mental health throughout their own life.

“The mental health consequence of child maltreatment could last decades, even among those who had no recorded mental disorders in early adulthood.”

Macpherson, et al, published in The Lancet, Dec. 2021

Adult children with difficult parents can read our article about How To Deal With Abusive Parents here.

In cases where the individual was not the victim of abusive behavior within their family history, the child’s own mental health status can still play a role in family relationships.

If an adult son or daughter are dealing with their own mental health issues, communicating with parents can feel impossible. As a result, the relationship between parent and child begins to deteriorate.

Many young people who suffer from mental illness also feel a great deal of guilt. They may feel like they are a burden to their families or that they are responsible for the estrangement.

This guilt can prevent them from reaching out to their parents and make it difficult to repair an estranged relationship.

How Common Is Parental Estrangement?

Parental estrangement, as with family estrangement, occurs when one or more family members decide to emotionally and/or physically distance themselves. 

In one article, the AARP noted gender differences found in a study they cited on the topic. “The study reported that more daughters than sons initiate breakups. Further, more mothers than fathers are estranged from their adult kids.”

It can be extremely distressing for the person who is cut off as well as to the one who leaves. Both have to deal with the loss of that relationship. 

If the person left behind doesn’t know why the estrangement has occurred, it can be even more of a hurtful situation.

This happened to a friend of mine. She and her husband were traveling between cities in Europe while on a vacation with her adult son and daughter.

Everything seemed fine at the beginning of the train trip, but by the time they reached the next destination a few hours later, neither child would even speak to these parents.

The parents had absolutely no idea what had happened and the grown children refused to talk to them about anything.

The kids actually ended the trip immediately and flew back to the States within a day, leaving a set of very bewildered parents behind.

It took years and several tries on the part of my friends before they were able to mend their relationship with the son (the daughter still won’t speak to them).

Fortunately, parental estrangement is not terribly common.

A 2020 book entitled Fault Lines – Fractured Families and How to Mend Them by Karl Pillemer, Ph.D. states that approximately 27 percent of adults will experience estrangement from family.

The estrangement could have been one that they caused themselves or one that another member of the family initiated, even a parent. 

If you do the math, that means that roughly 70 million United States residents will have at least one family estrangement in their lives. That’s far too many! 

How Long Does Parent/Child Estrangement Usually Last?

You’ve become estranged from a family member. The phone calls stopped, the text messages dried up, and the visits abruptly ended. 

By the time you notice that you’re in the thick of estrangement, changing matters can be difficult. How long will this painful experience last?

A 2015 report from UK organization Stand Alone and the University of Cambridge Centre for Family Research reviewed 800 UK adults who were either somewhat or fully estranged from at least one parent, but possibly two.

Those adults who were estranged from their mothers typically stayed in that state for 5.5 years, whereas the estrangement from their fathers lasted up to 7.9 years. 

This roughly corresponds with the time my friends in the European train story were estranged from their son.

We hate to say it, but the estrangement could be permanent. The chances of the separation lasting the rest of both your lives is likelier if you don’t try to repair the relationship.

How Do You Reconcile With An Estranged Child?

Your adult child has made what you’re sure is a difficult decision to actively remove you from their life. You want nothing more than to mend the relationship, but you have no idea how to begin the reconciliation process.

Here is what we recommend.

Be The One To Reach Out

As we mentioned in the last section, if you wait around for your adult child to change their mind, you could be waiting for a very long time. 

If you want to be the one to fix the relationship, you have to make the first contact. That is, of course, as long as you have not expressly been told NOT to contact your child for some reason.

More about that at the end of this section.*

In his book, Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict, Joshua Coleman, Ph.D. says, “Parents typically have to take leadership because they are often more motivated for a reconciliation to occur.”

If you are going to reach out, try not to wait too long, though. The silence between you and your adult child will be deafening, at first, until both parties begin to get used to it. 

Then, the longer you go without talking, the harder it is to pick up the phone.

You imagine a million different scenarios, none of them good, so you scare yourself out of contacting your adult child, and that chasm between you two grows deeper until so many years have passed, there is no longer a point in making contact.

*If you are considering reaching out after being expressly told not to contact your child, however, Tina Gilbertson, LPC says in an article from PsychologyToday.com, “While you may not be able to speed up reconciliation, you can always slow the process down, and the best way to impede progress is with impulsive, emotional behavior that serves your needs while ignoring those of your child.”

She goes on to point out that, “Contacting an adult who has asked for space is a good way to force them further away from you. It will also prolong the estrangement, since the request for space remains unfulfilled as long as you’re reaching out.”

Keep It Short

You have a variety of communication avenues you can use to get in touch with your adult child. 

You might decide to call them, but don’t necessarily expect that they’ll answer the phone. If so, leave a voicemail, but keep it brief. 

You can also write a letter and drop it off in your adult child’s mailbox or send it to them. An email is okay too if that’s how your adult child likes to communicate.

That said, don’t text them over and over. The last thing your adult child wants is a giant wall of text. 

Apologize

You might not even know what you did, but it’s still worth a genuine apology to gain a better relationship, isn’t it?

If you are aware of what happened but you don’t feel like you need to apologize, ask yourself why that is. Has it helped your family life in any way to not let go of your resentments?

In an argument, no matter what started it, both parties are usually in the wrong. Things get heated and words are exchanged that shouldn’t be. 

Thus, there is very likely something you can apologize for. Don’t let your pride get in the way of maintaining a relationship with your adult child. 

Don’t Defend Or Plead Your Case

Listen, if you staunchly stay on your own side, then you are not going to make any ground with your adult child. 

You two will only end up rehashing the whole argument that put you in this spot in the first place.

If your child feels like you were wrong, then all the justifying and explaining in the world won’t change their minds.

If you want to defend yourself above all else, then that’s a clear sign that now might not be the best time for a reconciliation. 

Don’t Expect Too Much Too Soon

Let’s say that you and your estranged adult child had a nice conversation, and you couldn’t be more grateful for that. 

Express that gratitude and then ask if you two can keep in touch, but don’t expect that things will go back to how they were.

Well, at least not right away, that is. You have to be willing to be patient. Let your child set the pace and follow. 

If you try to push things along too much too soon, you could upset your child and then you’ll end up at square one.

It could be a few weeks or months before you two sit down to Sunday family dinners again or talk on the phone twice a week like you always do. 

As long as you’re making positive progress with each interaction, then you have to trust that you and your adult child will reach that point of normalcy once again. 

Conclusion 

The bottom line is that grown children who ignore their parents are usually doing so for a reason. 

Whether it’s untreated childhood traumas, current grievances, a disagreement over values, or a lack of time, when an adult child makes the choice to become estranged from their parents, it can be incredibly painful for both parties.

If you’re a parent whose child has separated from you, be sure to take it slow. Accept that you were wrong about some things and apologize. Don’t expect things to go back to normal overnight. 

For adult children who are trying to let an estranged parent back in, only do what you’re comfortable with, taking it one day at a time. 

Join our email list for SeniorSafetyAdvice