By Bev and Phil Haas
My daughter married into a family with money and has decided that she no longer needs me (or the rest of her family). I’ve tried everything I know to do. We did everything for her as a child, but she won’t even respond to my texts or calls. My heart is broken. Where do I go from here?
One of the most tragic things that parents can go through, other than the death of a child, is for that child to become an adult and distance herself from the rest of the family. This happens more often than most of us realize. The American Journal of Sociology published a report in 2006 that showed at least 1 in 25 people have broken off contact with at least one family member for months or years.
Counselors have noted powerful consequences on parents who are estranged from their adult children. Often there is depression related to loss and shame, along with a strong sense of failure. Most suffer silently because they feel ashamed of their perceived failure. We commend you for reaching out to us.
Why Is This Happening to Us?
There are many reasons why adult children cut off their parents. We’d like you to look at a few possible reasons for your daughter’s estrangement hinted at within your question.
Perhaps the person your daughter married has influenced her to cut off ties to her family. He may be controlling or insecure if the attention is off him. Or she could be ashamed of her family of origin because she is now part of a more lucrative financial lifestyle; materialistic concerns and status may now be more important.
Let’s look at another side. Because of variations in developmental needs and investment in the relationship, parents and adult children may have different perceptions of help versus interference. For example, parents may want more contact or wish to provide more unsolicited advice than their adult children want. It may all be done with the best of intentions, but one study (Fingerman, 1996) found that daughters reported more relationship tension regarding feeling intruded upon than did their mothers.
In your search for answers as to why your daughter has put up a wall, realize that, like Job, you may never find a satisfactory answer for your suffering.
What Can We Do?
Instead of remaining focused on why your daughter has distanced herself from the rest of the family, we encourage you to start taking some baby steps toward surviving this ordeal. Yes, you can survive this, even though you’re wondering how a mother can go from giving birth to providing the best opportunities, love, and support for her child to now accepting estrangement.
Coping with estrangement will be like going through the stages of grief normally associated with death. For parents, it represents a death of a perceived future. We’ve summarized the stages of grief here so you can discern where you are in this process. Working through grief is not something that happens in sequence or swiftly. Allow yourself time to grieve while not getting stuck in any one stage.
• Shock and denial: We had a good family. This can’t be happening.
• Sadness: I’m heartbroken; it feels like she died. I feel like a part of me died.
• Guilt: I should/should not have said/done that.
• Solution-focused: I’ll do whatever it takes to find the answer to this situation—apologize, see a counselor, read books, buy gifts.
• Anger: How can she do this to us after all we did for her?
• Acceptance: It’s not our fault. This is a choice our adult child is making, and I have to respect that choice even though I disagree with it.
Is There Hope?
In the midst of an estrangement, remember that each member of a family has her own point of view that must be respected. While respecting your daughter’s point of view, it is reasonable to communicate your desire to reunite when she feels ready. James gives some solid advice when communicating with your daughter: be “quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19).
We understand that it will be difficult for you to simply back away and wait. Remember the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). It must have hurt the father so deeply for his son to take his inheritance, move to a distant land, and make no effort to contact family back home. But his dad patiently waited, and eventually his son “came to his senses” and reconnected with the family. We pray that some day your daughter reconnects with you as well.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have two grandsons.