Mothers & daughters – Is going no-contact the last taboo?

Blood is thicker than water. Isn’t that what is said meaning that family should come first? Or maybe it means that blood shed in battle together forms the strongest bond but that is besides the question of today’s post.

What are our cultural views when a family member chooses to cut contact? What if it is a daughter who ‘abandons’ her mother?

Picture credits click here.

A study by Rittenour, Kromka, and others looked at stereotypes and attitudes toward adult child-parent estrangement. They found that mothers—who claim to be abandoned by ungrateful, impetuous, and difficult adult children, who never informed them of either their complaints or their plans—are more likely to get a fair hearing by our culture, to get sympathy and support when they wage war against the so-called ungrateful adult child, and to be embraced by their communities for their actions [1]. They get the sympathy card.

Every story has three sides, mine, yours and the truth. Culturally we do think about mothers a loving beings, I did at least and hoped that it would become true if I was deserving enough to receive that love. Looking at animals, they know how to ‘mother’ don’t they? It is an instinct. Being a mother in humans is au contraire very much learned behavior. Still the common idea persists that ‘thou shall honor your father and mother’. But what if it doesn’t go the other way around? What if your parents don’t ‘honor’ you as their child?

All women are maternal and nurturing. Mothering is instinctual. Maternal love is always unconditional. Not one of those three statements is true.

Here are four pieces of the puzzle revealed by research that are worth considering when we talk about familial estrangement [1].

  1. There may be an evolutionary reason for the taboo.

Surviving as a hunter in the early days was easier in a tribe than on your own. Therefore forgiveness promoting the proximity of others was more preferable than abandoning someone. This could be a very easy explanation why going no contact is frowned upon. We need other humans to survive.

2. It’s not really rare (and, no, blood isn’t always thicker than water).

Estrangement may sound rather rare in your head but it actually isn’t. A study by Richard Conti (2015) which was conducted with a sample of college and graduate students found that 43.5 % had been estranged at some point and that 26.6 % reported extended estrangement. His study also confirmed that anecdotal evidence makes clear: that estrangement from a parent always involves estrangement from other family members. [1] Another study, conducted by Lucy Blake in Great Britain, found even higher percentages; out of the 807 people interviewed, 455 were estranged from their mothers.

3.Estrangement isn’t the only way adult-child relationships destruct.

In literature we see three separate processes at work: Family-member marginalization, Parent-child alienation and Parent-child estrangement. Where in family-member marginalization one person is the black sheep, it doesn’t always mean that that person would break ties. They are singled out and called maybe non-conformist, rebellious or they might tell some truths other family member don’t like to hear. Parent-child alienation happens in the context of divorce. When one parent makes it difficult to establish or keep a bond between the child and the other parent. The child is influenced to choose a side. This process can pave the way for parent-child estrangement in the future. Where the child doesn’t repair the bond with the alienated parent, the separation may come back and bite the instigating parent in the ass. The third process is today’s topic, parent-child estrangement. Research indicates that estrangement instigated by a parent is conservatively estimated at 12 percent.

4. While estrangement may be cyclical, reconciliation is usually elusive.

Is it a radical decision to go no contact? Yes. Does it happen overnight? No. Daughters usually attempt to manage the relationship first, either by attempting to set boundaries, limiting communication or simply having fewer interactions. This ‘low contact’ works in some cases, especially when there’s geographic distance between the adult child and her family of origin, but not always. Sometimes, the failure of low contact grows into the decision to move into a full-blown estrangement. Other times, a daughter will re-institute contact either because of hopefulness that things can change or some other reason. [1]

A study by Carr, Holman, and others showed the difference between the parent’s perspective and that of the adult child. In a study of 898 of unmatched parents and adult children, the researchers found that there was absolutely no agreement at all about what had caused the estrangement.

While parents tended to focus on their children’s objectionable relationships or sense of entitlement, adult children honed in on toxic treatment or feeling unloved and unaccepted. Interestingly, while the adult children were able to be explicit about why they felt unloved or unsupported and connected those feelings to their parents’ behaviors, the parents showed very little self-reflection.


Notes, references and resources.

[1] Online article in Psychology Today. 4 things we’ve learned about adult child parent estrangement.

19 thoughts on “Mothers & daughters – Is going no-contact the last taboo?

  1. Comedian Trevor Noah talked about a social contract that was broken by white people in the context of racism. I feel like a similar kind of idea applies in this context. In the parent-child social contract, the parent’s side of the deal is to nurture and protect the child. If the parent has repeatedly broken that contract, there is no intact contract left that the adult child can be expected to follow.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Following the analogy you presented, it made me also think about white privilege and the blind spots that can occur to one’s suffering.
      Thanks for the comment, it makes me think!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I have read though I can’t cite the article regarding the truth, their side, and your side, situation. Just as an FYI when it comes to some forms of abuse, that bit of info can be used by the abusers. This is a difficult situation to combat. I wish you the best, as you figure things out. Hugs.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! That part was added by me as I tend to gain inspiration from articles and mix and match them with my own experience.
      I do understand what you mean by saying that that kind of info can be used against people but I’ve chosen to write my experience down. I will admit that I’m not perfect either and that I don’t have a strange memory that holds on to everything, so things will be colored through my lens. Is that a vulnerability, maybe yes but I choose to be honest, which is the only thing I have to hold on to in regards of that part of my life.
      Thank you again for your support, its nice to have you in the community!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting that the parents and adult child perspectives differed entirely. But like you said Kacha, there are generally three sides to the story and each person in the relationship will have different memories and opinions on the reason they became estranged.

    What was shocking was that the parents showed very little self-reflection. I’d be interested to know the age group.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was shocking indeed but also very recognizable. And in a way supportive of my experience. I would guess that the ages can differ quite a lot. On the other hand I’ve also learned that emotional abuse is difficult to spot, for the child and child adult and that many daughters have their ‘aha-moments’ later in life. So I would guess all different ages but possibly more elderly woman.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You’d have thought. But that said, I’ve seen many parents over the years (young ones too) that don’t have the EI, the wherewithal or they just don’t care Kacha.

        I’m glad I don’t have that issue and I can’t understand what it must feel like.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. If your parents are morons or mean people, it doesn’t really make a ton of sense to keep them around, now does it? Unfortunately, most morons and mean people raise morons and mean people.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This was a really helpful post, Kacha! What you said about there being three versions of the truth really made me think. I was actually thinking about something similar and your post really validated what I had thought. Of course, we cannot deny anyone’s experiences, and there are cases when there really is a visible antagonist of sorts, but other times, there really is the major problem of a parent and child duo not being able to communicate their different experiences of the same situation. I think it comes down to open, and willing communication but unfortunately even one tense situation can create a gap, or make an existing one larger.

    It is also unfortunate that parents reflect lesser, and I was wondering if that was mostly because a parent can be so set in their ways-things they’ve perhaps ingrained in themselves since childhood-that they don’t feel the need to second-guess or question their actions and words, whereas children, being newer into this world, have only their parents approval to seek in the starting of their lives, making them constantly question themselves when they don’t get it, which becomes a habit until they themselves close them off to it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a thoughtful and beautiful response Arshia, thank you very much.
      In my experience and feelings it is exactly what you’ve mentioned why some parents aren’t able or are not willing to reflect on one’s actions or words.

      I guess a lot has to do with the culture the child is born into, the larger culture of the community but also the smaller one of the family itself.

      In my family children were to be seen but not heard. My mom has clearly wounds of her own that make it difficult for her to let some of her walls down and be vulnerable by questioning herself.

      By taking it into extremes more harm than good is done sometimes. Although I do understand why reflecting on the past can be hard but adults have their responsibilities. One of them is to better yourself for future generations, to stop a cycle of abuse for instance.

      What I also belief, is what you mentioned, the open communication. I do believe that both parties, adult children as well as their parents want that to become true. And I’m writing on this part a little for today’s post. So you’re really on to something here 🙂

      To achieve an open dialogue the factor of responsibility plays a major role. It is difficult to ‘demand’ that from your parent even as an adult child. For me, the whole things falls flat on that critical point.

      You’ve really mastered the art of commenting here, thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The cycle of abuse was exactly what I was trying to put into words in some way! I read this little saying a while ago that said something along the lines of “people who seek help with their mental health mostly do so because those that raised them didn’t get it, or seek it themselves” and I think that is really true, except that it somehow seems to snowball into something even bigger, the more that it is kept quiet through generations.

        Thank you for opening up this space for all of us to share or thoughts and further conversation on things we usually don’t talk about as freely!

        Liked by 2 people

  6. I hate to say this, but I’m not totally surprised estrangement is so common. There are some amazing mothers out there, but there are also lots of people who are too busy acting out their own issues to provide a secure base for children. It’s hard to be a parent, and even those who try their best make mistakes. But it’s also hard for a child to have a parent who isn’t even trying, to try to find the way to unlock the support they need so that they can meet that expectation to honor their parent, and yet it never happens.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beautifully said, I see you respect both sides of the story.
      Parenting is not easy and when it isn’t a match it can be hard on the children too, like you said.
      I know I tried really really hard to unlock the support or love for a really long time. It is hard to realize that it doesn’t matter in the end.
      But I’m so proud of me to finally open up about it and comments (like yours) do make me feel supported. It means a lot to me. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Well written and thought-provoking. I think estrangement between mothers and daughters is a lot more common than is assumed.
    I find it interesting that where this estrangement exists, there are different stories related to why it has occurred. My guess is few mothers really take the time to look inside to see if they may be at fault in any way at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment and insight 🙂
      I agree with your thoughts on this and from my perspective may I add the broken trust in the relationship. I feel that some wounds are too deep to be healed without a specific intervention. For me that would be necessary besides and added to an introspective move on the part of the mother.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I agree. Some wounds are too deep. And broken trust affects us profoundly. There are times when we have to distance ourselves to survive. It is absolutely crucial that you do what is necessary to recover from some of the damage (hoping to recover from all of the damage, sadly, might be unrealistic). You need to be able to separate and live as healthy and fulfilling life as possible. You are incredibly courageous and are doing the right thing for you.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Those are such sweet and hopeful words, thank you very, very much! ❤
        At last, I try to follow my gut and my hart to live a happy life. Some wounds are healing due to a supportive environment, others will remain but maybe one day they start to fade. Some scars are reminders of a past wound, but they don’t cause us pain anymore.

        Liked by 1 person

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