Parents Estranged From Son and Daughter-in-Law

Ask yourself some honest questions about how the whole thing started. No matter how long it's been going on, it must have had a point of origin. Try to trace your way back to that point and reconstruct the sequence of events that led to your daughter-in-law's decision to cut off all ties with you. This is the best place to begin.

Why do we say this? Because it's been our observation that things like this happen for a reason. That reason may have something to do with an offense, whether real or imagined. It could have been your fault. It might be a problem with your daughter-in-law. It may be nothing more than an unfortunate misunderstanding. The important thing is to figure out how you got to where you are today. That will provide you with valuable insight and help you decide what to do next.

Don't be afraid to face the possibility that you have done something, however small or unintentional, to get on your daughter-in-law's bad side. Even well-meaning parents sometimes make mistakes. You could have control issues of your own or other relational problems that need to be addressed with the help of a counselor before the breach can be healed. You're in the best position to know. If you're aware of anything of this nature in the history of your relations with your son and his wife, we'd advise you to send them a short note taking responsibility for your actions and asking their forgiveness. Express your desire to restore the relationship and request that they let you know how they want to proceed. This may not solve the problem, but it's the right thing to do, especially if you want to make a positive change.

Of course, there's room here for other explanations. It's entirely possible that you've done nothing to deserve this kind of treatment. Some people are too easily offended. Others perceive offenses where none exist. Your daughter-in-law may fall into one of these categories, in which case there probably isn't much you can do to change her mind. If it's possible to get a message to your son, you may want to encourage him to see what he can do to address the issue. Perhaps his wife is controlling, domineering, or abusive. Maybe one of the marriage partners has a problem with "leaving and cleaving." We don't know any of this – we're just surmising. But we do think there's a good chance of making some progress if your son is willing to talk things over with his wife and initiate the process of getting into marriage counseling.

If none of this helps – if you reach out in sincere humility and get rejected over and over again – you may simply have to accept the situation as it is and come to terms with the fact that you can't "fix" it. In the meantime, here are three things you can do to preserve peace and sanity on your end and keep your conscience clear:

  1. Honor the boundaries your son and his wife have set, no matter how harsh or unreasonable. If they've asked you not to call, don't call. If you violate these boundaries, you'll only end up validating their negative image of you.

  2. Guard your own heart. It would be easy to fall into depression and anxiety or to beat yourself up and blame yourself for what has happened. Don't fall into that trap. Don't become bitter, and don't believe lies about your own worthiness as a person. Do whatever it takes to stay emotionally healthy and keep yourself psychologically safe in spite of the circumstances.

  3. If the situation allows for it – you know best if it does – send your son and his wife a card with a brief message expressing your love and good-will a couple of times a year, perhaps on birthdays and at Christmas. It's a small thing, but it will let them know that your hearts are still open toward them. Remember Romans 12:21 – "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Look for opportunities to express your love in unobtrusive ways. And remain prayerful.

Focus on the Family has a staff of trained family therapists available to speak with you over the phone. They can refer you to reputable and qualified family counselors working in your area. They'd also be more than happy to discuss your concerns with you person-to-person. Call our Counseling department for a free consultation.


Once a Parent, Always a Parent: How to Love and Support Your Adult Children

How to Really Love Your Adult Child: Building Relationships in a Changing World

Bringing Home the Prodigals

Prodigals and Those Who Love Them: Words of Encouragement for Those Who Wait

Setting Boundaries With Your Adult Children: Six Steps to Hope and Healing for Struggling Parents

Blessing Your Grown Children

Praying God's Word: Breaking Free From Spiritual Strongholds


Peacemaking for Families

How to Get Along With Almost Anyone

Loving Your Adult Child

Relational Wisdom 360

Copyright © 2015, Focus on the Family.