HomeLifeHow to repair strained relationships with your adult children

How to repair strained relationships with your adult children

In the complex tapestry of family dynamics, there are times when the threads of connection between parents and adult children become frayed. If you’re experiencing a lack of communication or a sense of being ignored by your adult offspring, you’re not alone. Many parents across Australia and beyond are grappling with similar feelings of disconnect.

In many cases, rebuilding those bridges is not only possible but can lead to stronger, more meaningful connections. 

Recent studies have shed light on the prevalence of estrangement between parents and adult children, with this phenomenon happening due to various reasons, such as differences in values and beliefs, changing cultural norms and busy lifestyles. No matter the reason, navigating a strained relationship with your adult children can be emotionally taxing, and lead to feelings of loneliness or hurt. 

Understanding the roots of distance

The reasons behind a lack of communication can be complex. For some adult children, establishing boundaries is a necessary step to manage family dysfunction or to assert their independence. Others may simply be overwhelmed by the demands of their own careers, families, and personal lives, viewing the expectation to maintain frequent contact with parents as an additional burden.

Moreover, societal changes have influenced the way families interact. The emphasis on individual happiness and the concept of ‘chosen’ family can lead to a re-evaluation of familial relationships. Respect, as some argue, is earned rather than automatically granted based on familial ties.

According to Joshua Coleman, author of Rules Of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties And How To Heal The Conflict, an increased emphasis on personal autonomy and hyper-independence also leads adult children to establish boundaries with their parents, resulting in an emotional disconnect.

Another factor contributing to the increase in estrangements is the evolving cultural landscape of the world. Today’s young adults are self-aware and prioritise their happiness, viewing constant attention from parents as burdensome and suffocating. Some parents are too critical of their adult children or have unrealistic expectations, which can strain a relationship.

Reframing expectations and building bridges

If you’re feeling sidelined by your adult children, it’s important to take a step back and assess the situation with a clear and open mind. Here are some strategies to help you reconnect with your grown children and foster a healthier relationship.

Reflect and understand

Before taking any action, it’s crucial to reflect on the dynamics that led to the strained relationship. Seek to understand both your perspective and that of your adult children. Sometimes, a deeper comprehension of each other’s feelings can pave the way for reconciliation.

Respect boundaries

Respecting the autonomy of your adult child is crucial, even if it differs from your own preferences. If you tend to be invasive, stop and re-evaluate whether you need to know every detail about your child’s life. 

Adhering to any limits or boundaries set by your adult children is a sign to show them that their opinion is valued in your eyes. This includes understanding their need for space and recognising that constant contact may not be feasible or desired.

Manage your expectations

Take a good look at how things are between you and your adult child. It is important to not be influenced by social media and create fantasies of a ‘perfect family’ in your mind. According to the American Psychological Association, rising parental expectations are linked to an increase in perfectionism among children, leading to the development of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Consider the individual circumstances of your children and initiate a conversation about what is practical and comfortable for both parties.

Encourage communication

If your child is okay with talking, try to reach out to them every now and then, but don’t overdo it. It is important to find the right balance, so you don’t seem too clingy. Being honest and open in your conversations is key to building and fixing relationships with your grown-up kids. Regular talks help bridge any emotional distance and help both of you understand each other better.

Seek professional guidance

If you’re still struggling with your relationship, consider talking to a therapist or counsellor who can help. They can provide tools and strategies to improve communication and resolve underlying issues.

Reconciliation therapy or reunification therapy, is a kind of family therapy that focuses on the family to identify previous conflicts, move forward, and define a new relationship dynamic that is healthy for both parties.

Diversify your support network

Cultivate a fulfilling life beyond your role as a parent. Engage in hobbies, volunteer work, or social groups to build a support system that doesn’t solely rely on your children.

Offer support without expectation

Find ways to be helpful to and support your adult children without expecting anything in return. Simple gestures such as offering to babysit or sending a care package can show your love and support without imposing.

Give it time

Relationships ebb and flow. If you’re going through a rough patch, sometimes the best course of action is to give your child some space. Re-evaluate after some time has passed and approach the situation with a fresh perspective.

Have you ever experienced a sense of being ignored by your adult children? How have you navigated these waters? Share your stories and insights in the comments below. 

Also read: Dear Fiona: How do I reconnect with my son and grandchildren?

Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.


  1. Another important divider of families is divorce. Unwillingness of children [or new step parents] to be in contact with ex-spouses, say at family events or visits, can make children “take sides”. “New” spouses can be very uncomfortable in the presence of “old” spouses [and vice-versa.

  2. This is excellent. It lists all the things that, by trial and error, I have been learning since my eldest had her son over a decade ago when everything went pear shaped. I learnt each lesson seperately constantly questioning my approach. I acknowledge totally that the desire within me to do more and have more is what drives her away. Its hard and it hurts but I also recognise the importance of her being free to seperate from me. We ourselves need accept our roles in their lives are vastly different to what it was when they were growing up. We need to settle for the pride to be had in succeeding in raising children who can stand on their own two feet. And we need to take the plunge and explore who we are when we are not being a parent. That way, we can have both. My daughters and I are not estranged, I will settle for that. It could be worse.

  3. What about the other side of the coin? What if the estrangement is irrevocably broken? I know I am not the only one where that door has closed, permanently, and accept it. May not accept it happily, but realize the lack of stress, and now peace and calm, far outweigh any attempt at reconciliation. You have to live YOUR OWN life, not the life for anyone else. To the age of 50, my life had been in family dynamics turmoil, and I finally got tired of it. I knew if I didn’t make major changes, I was facing a serious breakdown. So I sold my much loved home, left a job I loved, and moved thousands of kms away. Not once, not one single time, did anyone from my family make any attempt to contact me, that was until 13 years later due to a family member forgetting to update their will. Though only left a very small amount, my family tried to block it.
    I am completely happy with my life and have no inclination to alter my status quo. Having a close family relationship is not an automatic path to being happy.

  4. I agree with Suzie Q. Because my ex turned all the (3) children against me, they have totally ignored me for the last 20 years. When I have tried to re-connect, I was totally ignored to the point of not e3ven knowing where they were, if they had married (2 are) or if I had grandchildren.
    One daughter overseas told me, by email, I was never to contact her , herhusband or her 2children. I spoke to her husband, a police officer, who said they were content to have no further contact with me. What do I do to heal this as my health is starting to cause me concern.

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