Note: This post contains mentions of rape, substance abuse, and domestic abuse.
Estrangement in any relationship is a complex situation that is so different from person to person — and there's no one-size-fits-all solution. And those complexities are often even more front-and-center when the estrangement is between a parent and child.
Unfortunately, it's also an increasingly common situation. According to research done by Karl Pillemer, a family sociologist and professor of human development at Cornell University, 1 in 4 American adults have become estranged from their families.
So I asked the BuzzFeed Community: If you're someone who is estranged from your parent(s), what happened that caused it? In asking this, the hope is that by providing a platform to share real-life experiences from people who have been through it, we can help further the conversation, provide an outlet, and offer starter resources. (Remembering, of course, that no two situations are the same.) Here are some of the stories people shared.
Note: Some responses have been edited for length or clarity.
1. "I have been estranged from my parents for six years. I had a very traumatic event in my mid-20s where my mom and dad decided to protect the family’s reputation over my health and well-being. This comes after having grown up with a parent who flew into completely uncontrollable rages in both scary private moments and extremely humiliating public scenes. I realized that my family’s betrayal needed to be the last straw.
"I set boundaries with them which included no talking on the phone — I do engage via text— no asking or taking any advice, no asking for the help of any kind, no sharing any significant personal information, and only seeing them for a few hours on major holidays. I attribute my current life and personal success to breaking free. I came to realize that I don’t owe them anything, but I do owe myself the chance to be happy and stable."
2. "I haven't seen or spoken to either of my parents in about two years. They're divorced, so it was two individual decisions — made after decades of abuse. My father is a dangerous hot head who has the emotional intelligence of a 15-year-old.
"My mother is a covert monster who takes joy in ruining people's day and lies at every turn. My mom has not contacted me because she genuinely does not care. She never loved me or my sisters. I'm not sure she can love anyone, but definitely not her kids. We were a consequence, not a choice. Not having them in my life means I can live my life for myself for the first time. I can find out who I am without this toxic cloud hanging over my head, pushing and prodding me whenever they want and without consequence. I do not miss them. How can I miss being treated like shit and then being told to smile about it?"
3. "My parents were super young (17 and 18) when they had me. They divorced when I was 7, and my dad was in the army so we didn't see him very often due to him being stationed elsewhere. Growing up, we'd see him once a year. My mom was no better. She was still young when they divorced, so all she wanted to do was party — which led to neglect of my brother and me.
"She was physically and emotionally abusive, and I never forgave her. She also put her boyfriends before us. As an adult, when I was pregnant with my first child, my mom and I were fighting pretty badly. I just vented, and she still saw no wrong. As a mother, I cannot imagine treating my child like she treated my brother and me. As for my dad, he was absent, and I used to idolize him. (I think it's because those times I did see him, it was a break from my mom.) But he just bought our love with gifts. All he was was an absent parent, and he knows nothing about me and makes zero effort. I'm tired of hearing 'Oh, but they're your parents.' That doesn't give them a pass at treating us like garbage."
4. "I ended my relationship with my mom eight years ago. She was emotionally abusive and a complete narcissist, and after my dad divorced her, she lashed out even more. I feel like I spent all those years trying to make myself the best version possible for her, only to realize that she’s not capable of loving me, and she will never be able to give me the care that I deserve. She’s continued to try to get me to contact her, but I know I never will. I was a completely broken person. When I look back on the person I was, I don’t even know that person anymore.
"Although I’m still piecing my life back together and it’s not an easy process even today, I’ve come a long way thanks to therapy and the support of my friends. And I know that I never need to put myself in that situation again because I can’t be a functional human while enduring that type of behavior from her nonstop. For anyone dealing with an abusive parent: There is life after that, and you can walk away."
5. "I’ve always had a strained relationship with my father — but it wasn’t until I had a daughter of my own that I knew I had to protect her from him and cut off all communication. Over the years of him treating me horribly, I had learned how to protect myself by creating boundaries, but I knew that my newborn child obviously couldn’t do that."
6. "I’m the only child of a single mother who had me super young and very much never wanted kids. She ended up manipulating me and driving me away. I went to boarding school when I was 15, and we stayed close in a very unhealthy and codependent way for a long time. After I got married, my husband pointed out that the way she talked to me was 'different' than his family, and it was honestly the first time I tried to look at it objectively. It’s now been about a year since I cut communications, and I’ve never felt better. She still tries to reach out on holidays or my birthday, but I haven’t felt the need to reply yet. She hurt me. She didn’t do it on purpose, but that doesn’t take it away. I’m not sure I’ll ever talk to her again, but I at least know that’s my own decision."
7. "I stopped talking to my mom when I was 30. I got the most important message from my therapist that I will share with everyone who will listen: If your parents degraded you or said verbally or emotionally abusive things to you, think about when and why they did it. If it only ever happened when no one was around to hear them, if no one was nearby to defend you or protect you, then your parent made the choice to hurt you when you were most vulnerable. Choosing to degrade a child when no one is around to protect them is abuse. As a kid, I couldn’t choose to be abused. But as an adult, I get to choose for myself that this was unacceptable and unforgivable. Choosing to sever all ties with my mom was the best, most transformative, and deeply healing decision I ever made."
8. "My father was abusive to my mother. He never wanted children, but they had me try to save the marriage, which backfired. Throughout most of my life, I tried to impress and connect with him, because I thought that was normal, but it never happened. When he remarried, I was told not to 'corrupt' his new baby.
"Eventually, I got sick of making a pointless effort for a man who never liked me, but I finally cut him out of my life when I legally changed my name. It probably came as a relief to him; his new wife didn't like me either, so now I'm nicely removed from their perfect, boring family. It's been four years, and I couldn't care less about him."
9. "I kept it a secret for roughly 20 years that my stepfather sexually abused me when I was around 11 or 12 years old. When I finally lost the fucks to hide it anymore and told my family, my mother chose not to believe me and called me 'promiscuous' at that age. I hadn't even started having periods at the time, but for sure, I was promiscuous. The decision to cut her off was easy after hearing that."
10. "My mother was never meant to be a mother. She verbalized this many times, and it was also easy to read via her interaction with my siblings and me over the years. As the firstborn, she viewed me as the catalyst for everything that went wrong in her life. She drank heavily, which would often lead to episodes of abuse in every sense, most of which were directed toward and taken out on me. She was also unfaithful to my father on multiple occasions. This carried on all throughout my childhood and teen years. My father stayed with her in an effort to keep our family together. I don’t know that he realized, at the time, just how bad it was. He commuted a couple of hours each way and was the sole provider so worked a lot of overtime, so he was out of the house for most of the day and evening. He finally divorced her when I was 18.
11. "When my father died and I couldn't make the funeral due to an ice storm, I watched the service on a live stream. My own mother did not mention mine, my children, or my grandchildren's names during her speech, all because she was upset that I didn't hate my dad's second wife of 16 years like my other siblings did. Even though we were all grieving, his death caused a major fallout between my siblings and me. I hopped right out of that toxic family, and never looked back. I'm much happier about it now, and my mental health is so much better without the drama."
12. "My sperm donor was in and out of our lives throughout our childhood. He just came and went as he pleased and didn’t even try to maintain a relationship with any of us. He said if we wanted a relationship, we were the ones who were supposed to facilitate it. The night before I was about to move across the country for college, he told me that he didn’t ask to be my dad and didn’t feel that it was fair that he was being forced to help pay for my college. My parents had already come up with an agreement just to make this possible for me. He bailed out and left my mom with the bill.
"I told my mom I didn’t have to go, but she insisted. I spent the whole first semester of college in a new area, by myself, and grappling with the fact that he would do this to me. I cried every day and only stayed for one semester because I felt so guilty that my mom was stuck in this position because of me. I haven’t seen or spoken to him except for one time and that was because he once sent his friend — who was a complete stranger to me — to my job with $100 and the message, 'There’s nine more of those waiting for you if you call him.' I donated it, then called and told him to never contact me again. When people ask why I don’t speak to him, I always tell them that I’m respecting his decisions and don’t want to force him to be a parent."
13. "My father and I had always had a rough relationship. After attempting joint therapy together, I had to stop the sessions as I'd lost almost 20 pounds in eight weeks from the stress of confronting him every week. Both that therapist and my own personal therapist encouraged me to cut ties, but I wasn’t sure that was fair. After a childhood of gaslighting, I thought it would be unfair of me to do that to him. But later that year, my husband and I were trying to get pregnant. The first pregnancy wasn’t viable, but the second was. I didn’t tell many people about what happened — but my dad did find out. He confronted me about not telling him. Raging about how embarrassing it was for him that he was the last to know and about how this made him look.
"Not one mention of me or my husband. No show of concern for us or how we’ve been doing. When I confronted him about it, he said I’d had my chance to talk about it when it happened, but since I didn’t tell him, then he wasn’t interested in talking about it now. That was it. I was done putting up with his narcissism since he couldn’t be bothered to even pretend to care about me. Now that the due date is coming up, he’s been trying to reach out through my husband (but still framing me as the bad guy even to him) and sending cards. As the pattern goes, this is the most work he’s put into our relationship in years now that it’s too late."
14. "My parents finally divorced when I was an adult. My dad was abusive physically and emotionally, so no loss there. With my mom, she didn’t know how to be an independent adult without him, so she clung to me for her emotional needs, and I needed to finally live my life without the control. I met my now-husband, and I needed out, so one day I just walked out of the house, and I’ve never regretted it. I lost the relationship with my two older brothers, but my youngest is the one that hurts. I still keep in touch, but I couldn’t be in the house anymore under all the religious and emotional pressure my mom put me through. She called me a month after and called me names, and that’s when I knew I made the right choice. Both my parents were not invited to my wedding."
15. "I am estranged from my mother. I stopped talking to her about six years ago after many chances. She was a really bad alcoholic when I was younger, so when we were taken from her, I always maintained contact with her, and my brother did not. There were many times she didn’t keep her word. There were many relapses that took place in front of me. The final straw was her relapsing and threatening to become violent with me in front of my child, even after understanding that our relationship would be ending if she drank around me again. After a lot of therapy, I am no longer bitter and angry at her, but I choose to not have her in my life, as I don’t think letting a harmful person back in is the right choice for me right now."
16. "My mom was abusive throughout my childhood, which really strained our relationship when I was a teenager. After my parents divorced, it came to light that my mom was cheating on my dad, had blown thousands of dollars meant to help pay for my siblings to go to college, and she suddenly became a partier at nearly 50. In the last few years, she has turned into a full-blown alcoholic and has gotten several DUIs.
"She actually cut me out of her life because I didn’t say happy Mother’s Day to her — but like I said, she hasn’t been a mother to me in years. It’s kind of a blessing to not have to deal with her late-night drunken texts where she berates me for not forgiving her for years of abuse and 'choosing' my dad over her."
17. "Nine years ago, my parents and siblings essentially threw me under the bus to protect their reputation. They tried to have my child taken from me, made me homeless, and destroyed my life from the inside out...why? I found out about an affair and called them on it. They tried to have me sectioned under the mental health act as a way to make it seem like I had made the whole thing up. They had always treated me vastly different than my siblings, but I finally cut them out, and my son and I have never been happier. My partner knew them before and during all of this, and whenever they come up in conversation, he is really proud that I left them and never looked back."
18. "When my parents were going through their divorce, my dad told me I had to pick a side. I was 21 at the time. I told him no, this was between them and I wasn’t going to pick a side, so he picked for me. He refused to talk to me and told his side of the family horrible lies about myself and my mom. I only found out when my aunt called and told me. Five years down the road, he tried to make amends — but it was too late for me. I realized not having him in my life was so much better. I never realized how stressful it was to be around his toxic behavior. I never regretted my decision, but I did miss having a father figure in my life."
19. "My husband is estranged from his mother. The rest of his family reacted by becoming estranged from him. The closer he and I got to our wedding day, the worse she got. It didn't stop after we got married. She used to tell me I was so kind and everyone loved me and then it turned into her saying I was rude, no one in the family liked me, and I was destroying her family. My husband put his foot down and said if she didn't stop, he was not talking to her anymore. She didn't stop, and he kept his word. It has been years. She is STILL talking badly about me to anyone who will listen and blames me for the whole thing. I ask him periodically if he still wants to be estranged, and he always says yes."
20. "My whole life, my mom was never there for anything. No piano recitals, dance competitions, my graduation, nothing. As an adult, I’ve always had to reach out to her, or I wouldn’t hear from her. I never really thought anything about it, always making the excuse that's just who she is. Five years ago, I started dating my current boyfriend. He talks to his mom on the phone every day. I realized the relationship that I have with my mom is not healthy. I haven’t reached out in almost two years, so we have not spoken in quite some time. I have finally come to peace with that."
21. "I’ve learned within the past year just how much of a narcissist my mother is. I moved home after a bad breakup in 2020, and everything went far downhill. I started dating again, and her response was to charge me rent. I’m diabetic, and I’ll admit, I cheat and have sweets. Her response was 'You’re killing yourself, and you don’t care about me.' The final straw for me was when she kicked me out (a very long story for another time). I spiraled into a terrible depression and missed almost five months of work, eventually quitting my job. After a mental breakdown and a lot of reflection time, I decided to cut communication with her completely. She still to this day bashes me and talks behind my back, but I couldn’t care less because I’m happier than ever."
22. "All my life, my dad was in and out of my life. It affected me badly when I was a kid, especially because when he was around, he was verbally abusive, and I had this never-ending need to always be the best daughter I could be because he never wanted girls; he always wanted boys and was stuck with my sister and me. It was a never-ending cycle of him pushing his way into our lives, saying stuff about how he changed and would be a better father, then turned around and blamed us for something and dipped out of our lives for years.
"The funny thing is he always switched between me and my sister that we made a joke that he could only handle one daughter at a time. When I had my son, he was around for a bit, but then one day, he went off on me for no reason, and my husband was not having it. My husband knew how my dad liked to come in and out of my life and stood up for me and told him to never even bother. I'm now 30 years old and haven't talked to him in about three years, and I feel at peace."
23. "I am not fully estranged from my father, but I did briefly stop talking to him a few years ago and have taken steps to maintain boundaries with him since. Since he and my mother divorced when I was 21, I have seen how selfish he has been with not only her but to me and my siblings. If it's a choice between him or us, he almost always chooses what benefits him, especially when it comes to money. Even seeing how he talks about what he's going to inherit after our elderly family members pass makes me upset. He also took something I said to him in confidence and threw it in my mother's face when they were fighting. Divorce changes people, man. It made his negative qualities so much worse."
24. "My parents died when I was young, so when I was 12, I went to live with my aunt and uncle and cousins because that’s what my mom wanted before she died. The entire time I lived with them, my aunt and uncle made it super clear they never wanted to take me in, even to the point of saying, 'Do you want to go into the system? We could’ve let that happen.' When I moved out finally at 21, the only response I got was my aunt saying to my cousin, 'Do you think we could fit a TV in that room?' They never cared, never tried to care. They just did what they were legally obligated to do."
25. "My mom was a teenage mom. She hasn’t ever really emotionally matured much past that. I thought things were normal, and I didn’t realize the abuse was, in fact, abuse. Everyone got spankings, everyone got yelled at, and moms and daughters were supposed to have strife. It was worse as I got older and I ran far away to college, 3,000 miles away. I tried to continue a relationship and tried to explain my feelings and set healthy boundaries — but she bulldozed through them and weaponized her tears. It wasn’t until I started therapy and got healthier that I realized she was likely a toxic narcissist, and nothing short of cutting contact would give me peace. Yet, she was my MOM, and how could I be so heartless? I had young daughters of my own and would be devastated if they grew up and stopped talking to me.
26. "My mom passed when I was 15. My dad really didn’t know how to handle my autistic older brother and me. He tried his best at first. We went on a few fun vacations. He started dating my stepmom a few years later. He basically prioritized her over us. We never talked about our mom. For years, I tried — to no avail — to have a meaningful relationship with my one remaining parent. It eventually dwindled down to a very superficial relationship. We barely speak and don’t spend a lot of time together. No falling out or anything, my dad just doesn’t seem interested in anything regarding us, and I’m tired of trying. I’m grateful that I have my own little family now. It’s helped fill the void."
27. "I thought I had a good relationship with my in-laws, but one day, I said something meant to be lighthearted, and they started screaming at me that all I did was go there to insult them and that I emotionally and verbally abuse them and my husband. We left in a hurry. By the time we got home, our phones were blowing up with hysterical messages from them saying I was tearing their family apart. We blocked them and deleted everything. My husband barely spoke to them for years, but a few years ago, his dad developed cancer. Now he sees them every six months and talks to them on the phone every few weeks. They haven’t apologized and don’t acknowledge my existence."
28. "I won some money on a game show. A clause in the game show contract said that I wasn't allowed to get into trouble with the police between when I filmed the show and when it aired three months later. My mom was so jealous of my winnings that she tried to get me arrested — for harassment, stalking, and threatening behavior — just so I couldn't get the prize money.
29. "My mother was emotionally abusive toward me and my sisters before she abandoned us. Then, every few years she’d pop up and say she wanted to be in our lives, cause some more trauma, then disappear again. There wasn’t really a certain moment where I decided I was done; she just called, and I didn’t answer because I didn’t have the energy to deal with her that day. I instantly felt lighter when I declined the call. She spent the rest of the week trying to call me, but I never answered, and the longer I went without returning her calls, the better I felt. After several days, she left me this really horrible message, essentially calling me ungrateful. So I blocked her, figuring I’d unblock her when she had some time to cool down. It’s been almost six years; she’s still blocked, and I’ve never regretted it."
The National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline is 1-888-950-6264 (NAMI) and provides information and referral services; GoodTherapy.org is an association of mental health professionals from more than 25 countries who support efforts to reduce harm in therapy.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), which routes the caller to their nearest sexual assault service provider. You can also search your local center here.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger as a result of domestic violence, call 911. For anonymous, confidential help, you can call the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or chat with an advocate via the website.