ArticlePDF Available

Disconnection and Decision-making: Adult Children Explain Their Reasons for Estranging from Parents

Authors:

Abstract

This article reports on a qualitative study of adult children who were estranged from at least one parent. Twenty-six Australian participants reported a total of 40 estrangements. Of these, 23 estrangements were initiated by the participant and 16 were maintained by the participant after being initiated by the parent or occurring after a mutual lessening of contact. Participants reported three core reasons for estrangement: (i) abuse, (ii) poor parenting, and (iii) betrayal. However, estrangement was predominantly situated in long-term perceived or actual disconnection from the parent and family of origin. Most participants had engaged in cycles of estrangement and reunification, using distance to assess the relationship and attend to their own personal development and growth across time. Estrangement was generally triggered by a relatively minor incident or a more serious act of betrayal considered to have been enacted by the parent.
A preview of the PDF is not available
... See Fig. 1 With family-oforigin, children -Motherhood as a turning point for many -Vow to be better mothers than theirs -Ambivalence toward their mothers -Mixed expectations of own mother as a grandmother participants' own decision (e.g., they did not feel a bond with their family or wished to protect themselves from further abuse; Bain & Durbach 2018; Fozard & Gubi, 2020;Hanks & Rosenbaum, 1977;Meyers, 2016). Other participants reported remaining in or returning to the abusive family environment because they longed for connection or felt the need to forgive their abusive parent, even though they had to put up with continued abuse/neglect (Agllias, 2015;Bain & Durbach 2018;Fozard & Gubi, 2020;Laughon et al., 2008;Hanks & Rosenbaum, 1977;Meyers, 2016). Whether or not participants remained in contact with their family-of-origin, several studies reported participants having negative feelings toward their family, such as anger toward their mothers for failing to protect them and feeling as though their family members treated them like outsiders (Agllias, 2015;Bailey & Eisikovits 2015;Buchanan et al., 2015;Flemke, 2009;Schmitz & Tyler, 2015). ...
... Other participants reported remaining in or returning to the abusive family environment because they longed for connection or felt the need to forgive their abusive parent, even though they had to put up with continued abuse/neglect (Agllias, 2015;Bain & Durbach 2018;Fozard & Gubi, 2020;Laughon et al., 2008;Hanks & Rosenbaum, 1977;Meyers, 2016). Whether or not participants remained in contact with their family-of-origin, several studies reported participants having negative feelings toward their family, such as anger toward their mothers for failing to protect them and feeling as though their family members treated them like outsiders (Agllias, 2015;Bailey & Eisikovits 2015;Buchanan et al., 2015;Flemke, 2009;Schmitz & Tyler, 2015). In Flemke (2009) (2004), participants who experienced psychological maltreatment from their mother also avoided others for fear of being revictimized and had difficulty trusting kindness in others. ...
... In the articles that discussed the participants' relationships with their family-of-origin in adulthood, many participants were no longer in contact with their families, which was sometimes a direct result of the CM (e.g., they were abandoned during childhood/adolescence; Agllias, 2015;Chilton et al., 2014;Dekel et al., 2018;Fozard & Gubi, 2020;Schmitz & Tyler, 2015;2016) and was sometimes the their partner (Buchbinder & Goldblatt, 2011;Flemke et al., 2009;Koh et al., 2020;Valdez et al., 2013). ...
Article
Full-text available
Purpose Child maltreatment (CM) is a serious public health problem that can have severe repercussions, including negatively affecting the interpersonal functioning of those impacted. Throughout development, individuals with CM histories have been found to be at greater risk of difficulties in their relationships and having less social support than non-maltreated individuals. CM has also been found to show intergenerational continuity. The current scoping review aimed to synthesize the qualitative literature on the relationship experiences of individuals with nonsexual CM histories, to better understand their relationships with their partners, children, extended family and friends. Understanding these experiences may inform the contexts under which unhealthy social environments are formed, potentially leading to intergenerational continuity of CM. Method PsycINFO, MEDLINE, and Web of Science were searched. Peer-reviewed studies with qualitative results on the relationship experiences of adults with nonsexual CM histories were included. Studies with samples of CSA survivors only were excluded, as well as reviews, books/book chapters, or theses/dissertations, and studies written in a language other than English or French. Results A total of 42 articles were included and explored participants’ experiences in their relationships with their parents, partners, and children, their general relationship functioning, and their social support. Conclusions This literature summarizes the positive and negative adult relationship experiences of individuals with nonsexual CM histories with their immediate family and partners and highlights their lack of social support. Findings underscore the impacts of nonsexual CM on interpersonal functioning in adulthood and are discussed in light of attachment theory.
... Many different factors contribute to estrangement. From adult children's perspective, sexual, physical and/or psychological abuse and/or neglect, poor parenting and betrayal have been identified as contributing to estrangement from a parent (Agllias, 2016;Carr et al., 2015;Linden & Sillence, 2021;Scharp et al., 2015). Rather than an easy choice, adult children who have initiated and maintained estrangement describe having done so as a way to provide relief and space to heal from a difficult relationship (Agllias, 2016). ...
... From adult children's perspective, sexual, physical and/or psychological abuse and/or neglect, poor parenting and betrayal have been identified as contributing to estrangement from a parent (Agllias, 2016;Carr et al., 2015;Linden & Sillence, 2021;Scharp et al., 2015). Rather than an easy choice, adult children who have initiated and maintained estrangement describe having done so as a way to provide relief and space to heal from a difficult relationship (Agllias, 2016). ...
... One important cause of estrangement between parents and children is mental health problems (Agllias, 2016;Scharp et al., 2015;Schoppe-Sullivan et al., 2021). In the present study, participants had a range of helpful experiences; some valued their counsellor's reticence to apply a label to their estranged family member, whereas others appreciated their counsellor, psychotherapist or psychologist's opinions as to whether their estranged family member fitted a specific diagnostic term. ...
Article
Full-text available
Many people experience estrangement from a family member, which is broadly understood to refer to negative relationships that are characterised by little or no contact. However, little is known about how people cope with family estrangement. To address this gap, interviews were conducted with 46 participants who identified as being estranged from a parent/sibling and/or child and having sought therapeutic support for this experience. The participants were recruited from a UK‐based charity that supports individuals experiencing family estrangement. The participants had a range of experiences of therapeutic support, with most (N = 31, 67%) having paid for private therapy. The data were analysed using thematic analysis, and three themes were generated: (1) finding the missing qualities in estranged family relationships: warmth, validation and safety; (2) speaking the unspoken: addressing the causes and consequences of estrangement; and (3) learning relational skills: improving the relationship with oneself and with others. When the causes of estrangement were addressed in the context of a safe therapeutic relationship, participants learned strategies to improve the relationships they had both with themselves and with others. When participants experienced a cold or unresponsive therapeutic relationship, and the causes and consequences of estrangement were not adequately addressed or understood, counselling was experienced as unhelpful. Individuals who seek therapeutic support for family estrangement have specific needs. Training around these needs and the causes and consequences of estrangement could be beneficial to helping professionals and the clients with whom they work.
... Whereas previous research conceptualized the term "estrangement" in different ways, there is considerable overlap in the various definitions (see Blake, 2017;Conti & Ryan, 2013). It is common, for example, to distinguish between physical and emotional estrangement and to assume that estrangement is a choice or decision made by at least one of the involved parties (e.g., Agllias, 2016). Along these lines, Scharp (2019) regards estrangement as a process in which at least one family member voluntarily and intentionally establishes or maintains distance from another because of an on-going negative relationship. ...
... Recently, Scharp and Hall (2019, p. 10) advocated a model of family distancing accounting for the fact that estrangement may evolve and change over time, taking different pathways or trajectories. Predictors of estrangement are therefore likely to be situated in longer-term processes of disconnection and to be embedded in complex family circumstances (Agllias, 2016). ...
... We are particularly interested in assessing the predictive role of siblings' genetic relatedness, which evolutionary theory predicts to affect family relationships (e.g., Pollet, 2007;Tanskanen & Danielsbacka, 2014), accounting for the potentially mediating effect of childhood co-residence (e.g., Tanskanen & Danielsbacka, 2019). Moreover, because family circumstances may change over the life course, we also explicitly acknowledge potential influences of siblings' engagement in "cycles of estrangement and reunification" (Agllias, 2016; also see Dattilio & Nichols, 2011) or of other disruptive family events on sibling estrangement, especially parental separation/divorce or death (e.g., Hank, 2021;Poortman & Voorpostel, 2009; also see Spitze & Trent, 2018). ...
Article
Full-text available
Whereas interest in adult sibling relationships has been growing, we are not aware of any quantitative studies focusing on sibling estrangement (that is, lack of contact or emotional closeness). This gap in the literature seems unfortunate, because estrangement in close family relationships has been suggested to be momentous for family functioning and individuals’ well-being. Drawing on four waves of the German Family Panel (pairfam; n = 5,729), covering a 6-year observation period, we therefore assess respondents’ estrangement from up to four siblings in adulthood, focusing on the predictive role of core structural parameters of sibling dyads (especially genetic relatedness) and disruptive family events (particularly parental separation/divorce or death). Whereas 28% of respondents in our sample experienced at least one episode of estrangement from any sibling, estrangement occurred multiple times in only 14% of sibling dyads. Moreover, results derived from discrete-time event history models indicate (a) that genetic relatedness is the single most important risk factor, albeit strongly mediated by childhood co-residence, and (b) that sibling relations tend to become more “vulnerable” over the life course, when adverse family events accumulate.
... Three of those who had left before they were 18, and four of those who had left a few years later, were unsure whether they had permanently left home or whether they might yet return. Temporary forays into independence are a well-established feature of transitions to adulthood in normative populations, as is conflict between adolescents and parents (Agllias, 2016). One of the issues that make the transition to adulthood more problematic for young people leaving foster care is that once they have left a placement, it may be much harder for them to return: beds may no longer be available in foster homes or residential units, and even if they have not been filled, resources to support a care leaver who tries to return may not be forthcoming (Munro et al., 2012;Stein & Munro, 2008). ...
Book
Full-text available
THIS OPEN ACCESS BOOK CAN BE DOWNLOADED AS A FULL TEXT OR IN INDIVIDUAL CHAPTERS FROM: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-76429-6 It presents unique evidence from the first comprehensive study of the outcomes of open adoption from care in Australia. It contributes to the international debate concerning the advantages and disadvantages of face-to-face post adoption contact with birth families. The chapters assess whether adoption provides a better chance of permanence and more positive outcomes than long-term foster care for abused and neglected children in care who cannot safely return to their birth families. They also explore whether open adoption can avoid some of the detrimental consequences of past policies in which adoption was shrouded in secrecy and children frequently grew up with a conflicted sense of identity. The book will appeal to policy makers, practitioners and students of social policy, social work, the law, psychology and psychiatry. It should also be of interest to adult adoptees and adoptive parents, whose experiences it reflects.
... Three of those who had left before they were 18, and four of those who had left a few years later, were unsure whether they had permanently left home or whether they might yet return. Temporary forays into independence are a well-established feature of transitions to adulthood in normative populations, as is conflict between adolescents and parents (Agllias, 2016). One of the issues that make the transition to adulthood more problematic for young people leaving foster care is that once they have left a placement, it may be much harder for them to return: beds may no longer be available in foster homes or residential units, and even if they have not been filled, resources to support a care leaver who tries to return may not be forthcoming (Munro et al., 2012;Stein & Munro, 2008). ...
Chapter
Full-text available
The children’s early experiences provide a context for assessing subsequent outcomes. Data collected from case files and records presented to the courts show that before separation from birth parents, almost all 210 adoptees had experienced serious and often multiple forms of maltreatment; this was the primary reason for removal. Before entering their adoptive homes, 69% of the adoptees had had four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), 32% had experienced failed reunifications and 48% had had three or more foster placements. Adverse childhood experiences before entry to care, harmful experiences in care and repeated exposure to grief and loss are likely to have contributed to the high prevalence of emotional and behavioural difficulties, displayed by 49% of the adoptees. According to our classification, 57% were at high risk of experiencing adverse outcomes in adulthood.
... Three of those who had left before they were 18, and four of those who had left a few years later, were unsure whether they had permanently left home or whether they might yet return. Temporary forays into independence are a well-established feature of transitions to adulthood in normative populations, as is conflict between adolescents and parents (Agllias, 2016). One of the issues that make the transition to adulthood more problematic for young people leaving foster care is that once they have left a placement, it may be much harder for them to return: beds may no longer be available in foster homes or residential units, and even if they have not been filled, resources to support a care leaver who tries to return may not be forthcoming (Munro et al., 2012;Stein & Munro, 2008). ...
Chapter
Full-text available
This chapter considers how far the Barnardos adoptees achieved legal, residential and emotional permanence after adoption. It draws on minimal follow-up data, available for 124 adoptees (59% of the original cohort); extensive data collected through responses to an online survey concerning 93 adoptees (44% of the cohort) 5–37 years after placement; and interviews focusing on 24 adult adoptees. Ages at follow-up ranged from 5 to 44. All adoptees had achieved legal permanence. Many had achieved residential permanence after numerous placements in care: 34% of those aged 18 or over were still living with their adoptive parents. Twelve (13%) placements had disrupted, but all except eight (9%) adoptees had achieved psychological permanence. Relationships between adoptees and adoptive parents were twice as likely to persist as those between care leavers and foster parents.
Article
The study explores how parents of adult children demonstrate the differentiations of their gender against the background of the shared identity of parents. We approach this problem by analyzing joint in-depth interviews with parents who have just experienced their children moving out. For detailed analysis, we selected sequences of interaction in which interviewees presented some differences or disagreements in talk about the family transformation. We found that when one parent demonstrated the perspective as different from the other parent, gender references became prominent as a resource to achieve particular interactional and relational goals. We observed gender asymmetry in this process, as both parents tended to focus more on the mother's side. Parents regularly discussed the mothers’ preserved or exaggerated care and worry for the children even after they became adults. This contributed to stabilizing gender-related and unequal roles of the parents that served the new family arrangement in the context of transition.
Article
Parenting is a determinant of children’s behaviors and personalities. However, parenting styles differ across societies and among individuals and depend on culture, level of education, and income. This paper examined the impact of parenting styles on child development in Qatar. We used the links among socioeconomic factors, parent—child relationships, and child outcomes in identifying parenting styles. The data were collected using a national survey conducted in 2017. The sample was selected using stratified random sampling. The results showed how differences between maternal and paternal parenting styles and work—family balance influence childrearing and children’s personalities. The findings call for mechanisms aimed at generating foundational policies and awareness programs to encourage parents to adopt positive parenting practices.
Article
Islamic culture values strong family bonds and rupturing family relations is not often an option for family members, leading to estrangement. For Muslim parents, the failed familial repair, compounded with estrangement, may lead to isolation and become an obstacle to seeking therapeutic aid. Teaming a non-pathologizing intervention of narrative therapy (NT) with a bibliotherapy tool, the Qur’an can be explored as a therapeutic support. NT guides individuals to share their dominant problem-saturated narratives as the clinician listens for alternate strength-based narratives. This case study will augment NT to include the Qur’an as a bibliotherapy tool in reconstructing a father’s journey of loss as he seeks resolution and meaning from his daughter’s permanent estrangement. Pairing NT and the Qur’an to reshape the father’s loss narratives aids in externalizing the problem narrative and reconstructing a meaning-making narrative.
Article
Full-text available
This state-of-the-art book examines the effect of social relationships on physical health. It surveys and assesses the research that shows not only that supportive relationships protect us from a multitude of mental health problems but also that the absence of supportive relationships increases the risk of dying from various diseases. Bert N. Uchino discusses the links between social support and mortality from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. He investigates whether social support is more effective for some individuals and within certain cultures. After evaluating existing conceptual models linking social support to health outcomes, he offers his own broader perspective on the issue. And he suggests the implications for intervention and for future research in this area.
Article
Full-text available
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.
Article
Full-text available
This article reports on qualitative research that examined the experiences of 25 Australian participants aged over 60 years who were estranged from at least one adult child. When participants were asked about their perceptions of the cause of the estrangement they described events prior to and at the time of the estrangement, possibly perceived as a form of parental rejection or relational devaluation by the estranged children. Findings suggested a complex interplay of long-term factors that appeared to contribute to an eroded relationship between parents and children, including divorce, third-party alienation, and multiple family stressors. Ultimately participants said that the adult children responded by: (1) choosing what they perceived to be a less rejecting or less dangerous relationship over a relationship with their parent; (2) choosing to stop contact or reduce emotional interactions with their parent; or (3) using estrangement to punish their parent for the perceived rejection.
Article
Full-text available
This qualitative study examined the experiences of 25 parents who were estranged from their adult children in later life. Most participants experienced estrangement as an unanticipated, unchosen, and chronic loss for which they felt ill prepared. Most described a traumatic loss, ambiguous because of its uncertainty and inconclusiveness, and disenfranchised by societal ideologies embedded in constructs of parenting and motherhood as essential, natural, and universal. Many participants said they were subjected to the social stigma associated with tainted or devalued parenthood. In many cases, the gendered stigma accompanying estrangement positioned the female participants precariously for social rejection.
Article
One hundred and five undergraduate or graduate students completed a computer-based survey regarding their recollection of exposure to 20 parental alienation behaviors, current depression, and current self-esteem. Results revealed that 80% of the sample endorsed at least 1 of the 20 parental alienation behaviors, indicating some exposure to parental alienation, with 20% of the sample reporting that 1 parent tried to turn them against the other parent. Participants whose parents divorced or separated before they were 18 years old were much more likely to report exposure to parental alienation strategies than participants whose parents remained married during their childhood. No relationship was found between recalled exposure to parental alienation and current depression or self-esteem.
Article
This chapter presents an overview of the literature from the past 10–15 years that deals with adult–child relationships in the absence of caregiving during crises. It begins with an overview and critique of a few of the recent, popular frameworks for conceptualizing young adult child–parent relationships. Next, the chapter considers some of the processes involved in the transformation of parent–child relationships between adolescence and later adulthood. Current, popular views on mid to later-life parent–child relationships are described next, followed by a final section identifying key challenges for researchers working in this area today. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
On the basis of a qualitative study of 31 grandparents, this article highlights how separation in the middle generation can result in an erosion of trust and quality of paternal grandparent-grandchild relationships. Notwithstanding these changes, grandparents endeavor to support and remain involved in the lives of their grandchildren by, inter alia, compensating for a perceived lack of their sons' parenting skills, affirming their grandchild's position in the paternal kin network, and acting as a mediator between the separated couple to ensure continued contact with grandchildren. The findings suggest that the actions of paternal grandparents can potentially have important future implications not only for the grandparent-grandchild relationship, but also the relationship trajectories of their adult son and child in the post-separation family.
Article
Among the more recent challenges for the family are the increasing divorce rates and the decline in marriages. This article examines the possible consequences of these trends for intergenerational family relationships. How does divorce in the parent generation, and the shift from marriage to unmarried cohabitation among adult children, affect intergenerational solidarity? These questions are explored with data from the Norwegian Life Course, Ageing and Generation Study (NorLAG, n = 5,589, age 40–79). Scandinavian countries have high divorce and cohabitation rates and may therefore be of interest as comparative cases for countries where these events are less institutionalized. The findings suggest, however, that Norway accommodates to the general norm in the sense that divorce among parents is associated with lower solidarity with adult children on most solidarity dimensions. This is more true for fathers than for mothers. There is, on the other hand, no difference in solidarity between married and cohabitating children vis à vis the parent generation. The explanations and implications of these findings are discussed.
Article
This study builds on research addressing intergenerational ambivalence by considering emotional ambivalence toward the wider social network. Men and women ages 13 to 99 (N = 187) completed diagrams of their close and problematic social relationships. Social ties were classified as solely close, solely problematic, or ambivalent, based on network placement (n = 3,392 social contacts). Multilevel models revealed that individuals viewed certain close familial ties (e.g., spouse, son or daughter, parent, sibling) with greater ambivalence than they viewed more distal family ties, friendships, or acquaintances. Participants classified more acquaintances than other relationships as solely problematic. Feeling closer to a social partner was associated with increased ambivalence. Older adults were more likely to classify their relationships as solely close than as ambivalent, in comparison with younger adults. Discussion focuses on tension and closeness in familial and nonfamilial relationships.
Article
This contribution summarizes two papers about transgenerational issues published twenty years ago. The ideas and practices which remain useful and unmodified are distinguished from those which have been changed or discarded over the ensuing decades. The helpfulness of the anthropological concept of sociality in integrating narrative therapy and social construction with transgenerational concepts is also discussed.