When Children "Break Up" with Their Parents

When children break up with their parents, there may be a good reason behind it. However, some children act selfishly. Read on to learn more!
When Children "Break Up" with Their Parents
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

When children “break up” with their parents, the latter don’t always understand why. It’s clear that nobody’s perfect. There are parents who, without a doubt, don’t deserve their children’s love. But there are also children who, for no reason at all, choose to move on, set some distance, and leave a painful silence in a confused and devastated family.

Undoubtedly, this is a complicated issue. Although there still isn’t enough statistical data on the number of families with distanced parents and children, it’s worth pointing out that, in clinical practice, this is one of the most common issues. Being a mother or a father or a son or daughter is hard.

On the other hand, there’s also another factor worth highlighting. In popular literature, it’s common to often find the image of a toxic mother, of authoritarian parents, and dysfunctional families that raise their children to be unhappy. It’s an undeniable reality that no one can hide; it happens frequently right in front of your eyes.

However, an aspect that people don’t talk about much is that there are children who stop getting in touch with their parents overnight. Also, there are adult children that affect their families with their adverse and exhausting behaviors. In some cases, there can be a psychological disorder behind it, but it’s unlikely that 100% of these issues entail such a problem.

“It’s a wise father that know his own child.”

-William Shakespeare-

A family-shaped paper in a sunset.

Why do children “break up” with their parents?

In order to understand why children “break up” with their parents, you must take into account that this kind of situation often depends on the social and cultural context. If you compare the Anglo-Saxon model to the Nipponese one, for example, you’ll see how cultural family values are very different in both cases. Therefore, the context definitely plays a role, but personality and internal dynamics in each home are even more important.

In this regard, studies like the one published in The Journals of Gerontology by Doctors Glenn Deane, Glenna Spitze, and others, point out something very interesting. The reason why children “break up” with their parents isn’t always only due to one factor. There aren’t conclusive predictors because sometimes things such as the child’s partner or sibling relationships come into play.

However, there are two clear and evident facts. The first one is that parent-child distance is due to a complex bond between one another. And the second issue is about the children’s personality or the circumstances they’re living in.

Problematic upbringing and environment

When you think about the reason why children “break up” with their parents, there are the effects of an upbringing characterized by indifference, humiliation, criticism, authoritarianism, or lack of support. Thus, when parents talk to their adult children in order to understand why they’re being distant, they may discover the following reasons:

  • It’s clear to the children that their parents (or at least one of them) didn’t fulfill their role in the family.
  • Traumatic wounds that they carry make reconciliation impossible, so setting some distance helps them heal.
  • There’s a clear difference between their own values and their parents’. This isn’t actually a strong enough reason to cut them out completely. However, when parents don’t respect their children’s lifestyle or ideas, and therefore punish or criticize them, the latter decide to take a more drastic measure.

Children who don’t love their parents; the silence of incomprehension

Some children just choose to stop talking to their parents. That silence can make parents anxious and confused. However, this decision wasn’t made overnight. Often, there’s a long history of problems that make such decision the easiest and usual way out. Let’s analyze the reasoning behind it.

  • Type of personality. Some people with problematic behaviors decide to cut out their parents completely. However, data shows that distance is usually temporary.
  • Psychological problems or addiction. Sometimes, children decide to get away from home or to stop communicating with their parents due to the consumption of certain substances or due to psychological disorders.
  • Holding grudges. Financial instability, problems between siblings, fights and misunderstandings, or lack of support can lead to an inevitable distance between family members.
  • Romantic relationships. This is, without a doubt, another element you must consider. When they start a relationship, they’ll obviously distance themselves from their family a bit. It’s actually more common in codependent relationships where one person controls and isolates the other person in order to take away their emotional support.
A sad bearded man.

What to do when children “break up” with their parents

There are many reasons why children “break up” with their parents. Each reality is unique, and each family has exceptions and particularities. There are even cases where distance is necessary for certain people (especially if being together becomes a traumatic experience).

But something that experts recommend in all cases is communication. If a child needs to establish a certain distance from their own family, they must explain their reasoning behind this decision. It helps find solutions and reach an agreement. Plus, getting professional help might just be what the family needs.

On the other hand, something that experts often say to parents with problematic children is to be patient. In most cases, children get back in touch.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Ermisch, J. (2008). Adult child-parent relationships. In Changing Relationships (pp. 127–145). Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203884591
  • Lawton, L., Silverstein, M., y Bengtson, V. (2006). Afecto, contacto social y distancia geográfica entre hijos adultos y sus padres. Diario del matrimonio y la familia , 56 (1), 57. https://doi.org/10.2307/352701
  • Treas J. , & Gubernskaya Z . ( 2012 ). Farewell to Moms? Maternal contact for seven countries in 1986 and 2001 . Journal of Marriage and Family , 74 , 297 – 311 . doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.00956.x
  • Umberson D . ( 1992 ). Relationships between adult children and their parents: Psychological consequences for both generations . Journal of Marriage and the Family , 54 , 664 – 674 . doi: 10.2307/353252

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.