“We live in a culture that assumes if there is an estrangement, the parents must have done something really terrible,” said Dr. Coleman, whose book “When Parents Hurt” (William Morrow, 2007) focuses on estrangement. “But this is not a story of adult children cutting off parents who made egregious mistakes. It’s about parents who were good parents, who made mistakes that were certainly within normal limits.”
Dr. Coleman himself experienced several years of estrangement with his adult daughter, with whom he has reconciled. Mending the relationship took time and a persistent effort by Dr. Coleman to stay in contact. It also meant listening to his daughter’s complaints and accepting responsibility for his mistakes. “I tried to really get what her feelings were and tried to make amends and repair,” he said. “Over the course of several years, it came back slowly.”
Therapists for years have listened to patients blame parents for their problems
This study investigated 898 parents’ and adult children’s reasons for estrangement in light of research on interpersonal attributions and the relational consequences of perspective-taking. Three primary categories emerged: estrangement resulted from intrafamily, interfamily, or intrapersonal issues. Within each category, the frequency of parents’ and children’s reasons for estrangement differed significantly from each other. Parents reported that their primary reason for becoming estranged stemmed from their children’s objectionable relationships or sense of entitlement, whereas adult children most frequently attributed their estrangement to their parents’ toxic behavior or feeling unsupported and unaccepted. Parents also reported that they were unsure of the reason for their estrangement significantly more often than did children. Examining estrangement from the perspective of both parents and adult children offers potential avenues for family reconciliation and future communication research.