Occasionally, I like to recommend some of my favorite books and authors. In my work with parents of young adults, where my focus has been on “failure to launch or transition into adulthood,” several parents have contacted me after their young adult child had cut off all contact with them. Having a child who you know exists but refuses any contact with you can result in unrelenting heartbreak and pain.
One mother with whom I worked had a great relationship with her adult daughter through the time of her daughter’s wedding. However, shortly after the wedding, the daughter and son-in-law announced to both sets of parents that they would no longer have any contact with them. No explanation was given other than that they did not want any influence or intrusion into their lives and, as such, needed to have a complete cutoff. This cutoff has continued for years, and the mother is heartbroken and continues to grieve the loss of a daughter who exists but chooses to have no contact with her. This story is not unusual; however, in many situations, the adult child attributes the cutoff to the current or past behavior of the parent.
My colleague, Joshua Coleman, is the leading expert in helping parents with this problem. He has written a book entitled Rules of Engagement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict. In the past, I have asked Dr. Coleman to write a couple of blogs for me on this subject. If you are suffering from an adult child’s cutoff, I highly recommend Dr. Coleman’s book. Even if you are experiencing conflict and tension in your relationship with your adult child or spouse, this book could help prevent a cutoff. Here are just some of the concerns and questions he addresses in the book :
- When parents feel like they did their best, and the adult child still cuts off the relationship.
- My son or daughter’s therapist has recommended that he or she not have further contact with me because it is toxic or hurtful.
- How divorce and remarriage can lead to alienation and estrangement.
- The contribution of mental illness and substance abuse to estrangement.
- My daughter-in-law has persuaded my son to limit contact with him and the grandchildren.
- Why do siblings sometimes cut off their relationship, and what can parents do about this?
- How can I apologize and make amends for the offenses my adult child believes are at the root of their estrangement? What if I don’t think I did anything wrong?
- How writing letters can lead to reduced estrangement if not reconciliation.
Beyond these concerns and questions, Dr. Coleman identifies five mistakes estranged parents make:
- A parent may believe that reconciliation should be based on principles of fairness.
- Parents try to motivate their adult child through guilt.
- Parents become defensive and return fire with fire.
- Parents assume that reconciliation can be quickly achieved.
- Assume that you are the cause of all the distance and negativity that your child exhibits.
In my writings, I reference how parents suffer self-inflicted wounds by believing they can control and change their young adults and are responsible for their young adult’s behavior. As one participant in a workshop said: the problem with young adults is just that – they are adults. These “adult” children have a lot of power to decide if they want to have a relationship with us and what that relationship will be like. Parents must move from assuming parental status as a source of influence to focusing on expressing unconditional love, concern, empathy, apology, and forgiveness to engage this new generation of young people. In the last chapter of the book, Dr. Coleman offers advice as to how parents can heal the pain of estrangement. You will find in Dr. Coleman’s writings an understanding and helpful voice to cope with estrangement or prevent it. Pick up his book at the bookstore or visit his website.
- A Letter from A Grieving Mother - November 14, 2023
- Book Recommendation: Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict - November 13, 2023
- When a Young Adult’s Transition to Independence is Complicated by Special Needs - October 27, 2023