Dealing with feelings of family estrangement

Published 9:46 am Monday, April 11, 2022

As many of us know, families are unique. Some remain closely bonded even as parents and children grow older, while others can’t seem to keep that closeness. Frequency of contact or communication can be severely reduced or eliminated. This often results in the grown children ignoring their parents and potentially creating a lot of emotional distress or physical health issues with their parents. Interestingly, this is a problem that cuts both ways, as some parents, for whatever reasons, don’t communicate with their adult children, thereby causing them to suffer feelings of loss and bewilderment.


In some cases, if the relationships between family members have been somewhat challenging or perhaps toxic for decades, the idea of cutting off contact with a family member may be the best course of action to protect one’s own well-being.

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Either way, it’s not easy for people to talk about these issues, and the stress in such situations can take both an emotional and physical toll. Understanding and/or dealing with this issue has far more complexities than one article can cover. Here are a few ideas about improving communications between parents and adult children.


One common complaint among some seniors is that their adult children ignore them, and they feel abandoned and lonely. However, everyone has different criteria for what being ignored really means.   If the adult children live within reasonable physical distance of where the parent(s) live, it’s possible that a busy life of raising a family, holding down a job, taking care of the household, and providing time for a spouse or significant other leaves virtually little or no time to give to visit an aging parent.


It’s also possible that the older parent’s perception of what it means to be ignored may not match the reality of what their adult children believe. As stated above, it may not be possible for the adult children to meet their parent’s expectations during their busy daily lives.  Not understanding that may leave the older parent feeling ignored. 


Of course, everyone has different criteria for what being or feeling ignored means. In a 2016 CBS Poll that asked Americans how often grown children should call their parents, almost 25% said that they should call their parents at least once a day, while 12% thought once a month or less was adequate. Again, your perception may not match the reality of your loved one’s feelings and intentions.


Psychologists say that parent-child relationships are typically more important to the parent, and that is a normal part of human psychological development. But it often can mean that absence is felt more strongly by the parents than by the adult children.


In today’s busy world, it’s easy for people to get caught up in their own lives and as a result, spend less time with other family members. That fact can be hard for aging parents to accept. If one party’s perception does not match the reality of the other’s feelings and intentions, there’s going to be a disconnect. The easiest solution, if you feel like you want more contact with certain family members may be to talk to them about it. 


It’s not surprising that in some cases feelings of isolation or loneliness exist because feelings and desires weren’t communicated.  The solution can be as simple as a visit or a phone call and opening the lines of communications with clearly stated wishes and expectations. That at least allows for a conversation about what may be the best solution for all parties and what may be a compromise of everyone’s expectations.


Ron Kauffman is a Consultant & Expert Speaker on Issues of Aging. He is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease” available as a Kindle book on You may contact him by phone at (828) 696-9799 or by email at: