5 Common Reasons An Adult Child May Become Estranged From Their Parent, According To Experts

Parental alienation is more common than you think.

Adult child estranged from father Prostock-studio | Shutterstock

Once you have safely escaped an unhealthy environment, you don't want to go back to it. Once you have found your self-confidence, self-worth, and self-love, you won't let it be destroyed again. Touch a hot stove, get burned, and you won't want to touch it again.

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Here are 5 common reasons an adult child may become estranged from their parent, according to YourTango experts:

1. They've recognized the impact of their parent's bad influence

One common reason an adult child may become estranged from their parent is the realization that the relationship they desire is unattainable. As children, we often seek our parents' love, respect, and pride. Yet, as we mature, reality sets in. We may find that our efforts are futile, leading to feelings of hopelessness and unworthiness. 


The falsely quoted adage "blood is thicker than water" might compel us to maintain these connections. After all, our parents provided shelter, food, and the necessities for our development. However, as some of us become parents ourselves, we recognize that it's possible to support and comfort a child, despite personal stresses and mental health challenges.

This contrast highlights the insufficiency of what we once accepted and the negative impact it has on all our relationships. Eventually, this might lead us to sever ties. At first, this separation feels unnatural and harsh, but over time, it allows for personal healing and growth.


Erika Jordan, Dating Coach/ NLP Practitioner

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2. They have become their own person

Another reason for adult child/parental estrangement may be more temporary. Part of the child's task as an adult is to separate emotionally from the parents. Adult children have their views on life, their ways of doing things, their own choices in career, life partners, styles of childrearing, et cetera.

This can be a difficult transition for parents. If parents try to impose their views beliefs and opinions on adult children, those adult children can become alienated and frustrated and will cut back on spending time with parents. The distancing creates hurt and alienation in all parties involved.


When parents accept adult children's ways of doing things, these kinds of breaches can be healed.

Aline Zoldbrod Ph.D., psychologist, relationship therapist

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3. They're done with the overcritical interference

Overly critical parents can push away their grown-up children. When they say negative things, interfere in their adult child's life, give advice that wasn't asked for, put down their accomplishments or relationships, or make them feel anxious or unsure about themselves, their children might distance themselves from the negativity. If this behavior keeps up, the children might stop visiting or talking to their parents altogether. Some parents don't seem to remember that their kids are grown-ups and deserve to be treated with the same respect the parents give to other adults.


Dr. Gloria Brame, PhD, Therapist

Upset parents are estranged from their adult child Pormezz via Shutterstock

4. They have newfound self-respect

In more traditional societies, there are certain things you just don’t do. Number one, with a bullet, is walking away from family — especially permanently. It’s not just verboten. It’s seen as a failure on your part.


The United States was the same way up until recently. We changed. As our society started to question the status quo, we stopped buying into collectivism in favor of individualism.

In other words, we started to put our needs first. We, as a society, have started to work towards asking, "Do the people in my life nurture me, or do they harm me?"

People started to realize that there’s a certain point where relationships stop being worth keeping, even if they are brothers, sisters, or parents. We began to (rightfully) ask why we’re expected to make nice to people who treat us poorly.

Ossiana Tepfenhart, writer

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5. They can't maintain a false identity to please their parents

I hadn’t realized choosing to maintain ties with my mother meant stepping over my own needs for years. It had rendered opaque the fundamental impact my childhood was still having on my daily experience. In pursuit of peace, I expended great energy on the effort of a relationship with a former abuser who still deeply, actively triggered me. Diverting that energy from self-care had left little space between my past and present.

Masking caused him to become estranged from his parent Roman Samborskyi via Shutterstock

As long as I stitched myself to the identity of a dutiful daughter, I could not detach enough to determine what I was carrying around as a result of that identity and all that clung to it. I couldn’t even discern that there was anything to see.


I realized many of the ways I navigate the world as an adult survivor of acute, sustained childhood abuse are common manifestations of Complex PTSD. My newfound ability to identify these issues has created a broad clearing in which I can address and ease them.

Heather Hanslin, writer, trauma researcher, and certified ADR Divorce Coach

Self-protection and preserving the hard-won benefits of healing from past wounds are the primary motivations behind an adult child becoming estranged from a parent or parents. When the parent refuses to acknowledge the harm of the past and doesn't work to heal from the other side of the past wound, the adult child who has begun their healing journey will often find it necessary to their well-being to maintain a position of no contact with the parent.


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Will Curtis is a writer and editor for YourTango. He's been featured on the Good Men Project and taught English abroad for ten years.