How to Deepen Empathy and Reconnect with Your Estranged Child

If your adult child has stopped communicating, and their love seems to be long gone, don’t lose hope. Tina Gilbertson writes that a key step in healing estrangement occurs when parents bring empathy and compassion to the forefront of this fractured relationship.


Both in my capacity as a therapist and as a regular citizen, I’ve talked with adults who are struggling with the decision to cut ties with their parents, have already done so, or have recently reconciled with a formerly rejected parent. I’ve also followed the research that studies the feelings and motivations of these adult children. By all accounts, these folks take parental estrangement seriously. They feel weighed down by it. It hurts them profoundly to lose connection with a parent, even by their own choice.

Here’s what one estranged child wrote in response to one of my posts:

It is awful when you choose to end a relationship…especially when your parent doesn’t (maybe even can’t) understand what they did wrong. To turn away from them in order to move forward as a healthier person feels absolutely selfish and goes against my instincts to maintain that connection with my mother.

I’ve heard similar expressions of dismay from my clients, friends, and colleagues who reluctantly avoid their parents. Everyone wants to have parents they love, and who love them back, without chronic trouble or pain between them.

It Cuts Both Ways

Most parents don’t get to see the