Experts Reveal The Most Common Reasons Why Adult Children And Parents Become Estranged

Increasing emotional distance between parent and child is painful on both sides, but there are complex reasons why it happens.

Daughter estranged from parents SHVETS production, Joerg Siegert via Canva

Family can feel like strangers when adult children distance themselves from one or both of their parents. The process of adult child/parental estrangement is often wrought with emotional turmoil on both sides of the growing gap.

Being cut out can make parent seriously question their self worth, while the adult child might be in the middle of a difficult healing journey. In some situations, the estrangement began long in the past and can likely become a permanent condition if the past is not dealt with in the present.


There is also a chance this estrangement could be a temporary sign of positive personal growth for the adult child.

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We asked our family and relationships experts at YourTango to help explain why adult children become estranged from their parents.


Here are three common reasons for adult child/parental estrangement according to YourTango experts:

1. Broken trust and emotional protection

Adult child and parental estrangement is a heart-wrenching topic that delves into the core of human relationships.

At its foundation, estrangement often stems from painful memories and unhealed wounds. This can arise from past trauma or abuse, where the child, now an adult, seeks to protect themselves from further emotional pain. Trust, once broken, especially during formative years, can be challenging to rebuild.

— Clare Waismann, M-RAS/ SUDCC II Founder of Waismann Method and Domus Retreat

2. Healing from abuse and neglect

One of the most common reasons for adult child/parental estrangement, not surprisingly, is the adult child's growing awareness of childhood physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and neglect.


Most of us protect ourselves by believing our childhood was normal. It is painful to identify as a victim, and it is devastating to realize the people who were supposed to have loved and cared for us actually did not.

In the process of growing up, often through psychotherapy, people may realize the negative experiences in childhood have made them afraid to trust and love others, and this stems from old experiences in their family of origin. In the process of healing and moving forward, some people choose to not maintain relationships with their parents.

Aline Zoldbrod Ph.D., psychologist, relationship therapist, certified sex therapist

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3. Becoming 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 own views on life, their own 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 own views and 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, certified sex therapist

Adult child/parental estrangement is definitely not a good time for anyone. Both sides feel the pain of the emotional and physical distancing.

For parents, the struggle can be surprising and confusing at best. The adult child has already been challenged emotionally in ways that helped lead them away from their parents, often in order for the adult child to protect themselves either from past trauma or from future control.


If you are an estranged parent, take some time to self-reflect on your role in the problem.

If you are an adult child who has chosen to distance yourself from your parents, we see you.

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Will Curtis is an associate editor for YourTango.