Estranged Daughter to Mom: 12 Things I Wished You Knew

Find out if you are a Good Daughter!

( Estranged Daughter to Mom: 12 Things I Wished You Knew )


estranged daughter

( If you’d rather listen- go to the end of the post for the audio version)

You’ve cut Mom off…and she doesn’t understand why.

Even worse, she doesn’t seem to understand that her attempts to reach you only push you further away.

No doubt she thinks you are heartless, selfish, or just too sensitive. OR she is convinced that your therapist must have talked you into all this nonsense.

But, more than anything, she hates to be ignored.  It’s like she lives for the fight. So she keeps coming at you even though she can’t see how she’s just making it worse.

What Mom can’t see –

-that this decision is not made lightly- not by a long shot.

-how you’ve tortured yourself, turned yourself inside out to make her understand.

– the number of times you swallowed your anger and tried not to rock the boat—and felt literally sick to your stomach rather than confront her.

-how you bit your tongue as she peppered you with criticism and unwanted advice and disrespected your boundaries over and over.

– the buckets of tears you’ve cried or the middle-of-the-night panic that grips you as you toss and turn, wondering if you’ve done the right thing.

– that this estrangement is a last resort rather than a temper tantrum.

-It’s what you felt you HAD to do to save yourself.

Here’s your dilemma-

You are deathly afraid of losing all the ground you’ve gained and dismantling all the boundaries you’ve spent every last bit of self-esteem constructing.

And if you do- you’ll be destined to go through the pain all over again, like some sick Groundhog’s Day.

You ask yourself-

Should you let her back and (you fear) let her appropriate your life or stay in no contact? While you don’t want to seem heartless or unforgiving,  at the same time, you don’t want to fall for her guilt trips, get sucked back in .. only to realize nothing has changed.

All you know is that you can’t go on like this anymore. You’ve tried about everything you can think of, and the only way you can see an end to the pain or the endless arguments is to get some distance.

You turn the same questions over and over in your mind-

Can estrangement be a healthy choice?

Are you doing harm to yourself if you decide to stay in contact with a personality-disordered mother?

Does your mother have a full-blown personality disorder, narcissism, or borderline, or is she “garden variety” difficult?

All you know is how the relationship makes you FEEL- awful.

What makes it worse…, you aren’t sure how to tell Mom just how she is hurting you and what you need her to do instead!

You can’t seem to find the words.

Most good daughters I know have a deep desire to be fair and will bend over backward to give their mothers every chance to understand where they are coming from.

After all, they genuinely want to have a good relationship with their mothers if that is at all possible and are willing to give them a second and third chance.

If only they had words to express precisely what they meant.

If you can relate, keep reading. I might be able to help you find just the words to express the hard-to-express truths to Mom.


estranged daughter

Why should you listen to me?

I’ve lived this. I had a difficult mother, and I am a mother of two grown daughters. I’ve walked the walk as a daughter and as a mother. 

I have distilled most of the central issues to their essence so you don’t get bogged down in too many words or too few.

I’ve counseled daughters for over 30 years, and if you are anything like my clients, I know what your complaints are and what you wish your mother understood.

I know how much you would like to feel love from your mother or at least not have things go off the rails.

I also know how desperate you have to be to cut her out of your life and what you need to hear from her to let her back in.

In short, There isn’t anything I recommend here that I haven’t done myself- as a mother or a daughter. 

I’ll warn you; however, I’m hardest on Moms. For a read about that –go here. My reasoning goes like this: Mothers have a developmental advantage. There was a power differential when your daughter was small, and there still is.

But now, it’s a new day. Now that you are grown, you get to decide how much access you give to your mother. You are the one in control

Let’s begin with the truth…

Most daughters (even estranged daughters) long for a Mom who loves and supports them.

Even when you are furious, that anger springs from a place of deep longing. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t get so worked up and upset about a relationship gone wrong.

I’ve written the most common complaints I hear from daughters in therapy and online about what gets in the way of communication and reconciliation and, just as importantly, what they wish their mothers would do instead.

To the extent my words help you express what you feel, feel free to borrow and edit as needed.

Do’s and Dont’s for Mothers of Estranged Daughters

1-) Don’t make blanket apologies.

” I’m so sorry for anything I ever did to hurt you”  is next to useless. While you may mean it, that statement has no individual responsibility or accountability. A genuine apology is specific. For example,  “I regret the hurt I caused you when I called you names/mocked you/ intruded upon your privacy by reading your text messages/ flew into an alcoholic rage and embarrassed you in front of your in-laws/ ruined your wedding by making a scene/. You get the picture.

A real apology reflects that you understand and take ownership of the hurt you caused.

Any shortcut is a cop-out.

2) Don’t send your husband, family members, or close friends to plead your case or put pressure on your daughter.

She will feel ganged up on…. because, well, she is ganged up on. You are spending relationship currency you didn’t earn. It is unfair… and both cowardly and bullying.

It will backfire spectacularly.

3)  Don’t shower her with unending declarations of your love or platitudes of how much a mother loves her daughter.

In case you hadn’t noticed, love isn’t what she is feeling from you now. Insisting she feels loved when she feels upset and hurt will only demonstrate your unwillingness to take her seriously, and it will alienate her even further.

Instead, demonstrate your love by your willingness to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and self-examination.

4) Do take responsibility for your own healing and self-care.

If you’ve had a rough childhood and some resulting trauma, take yourself to therapy, AA, Alanon, or for a run. Complain all you need to your peers and fill that journal with the gruesome, gnarly details. – no holds barred.

Log some real-time in therapy. Go when you don’t feel like it. Dig down deep. Don’t plead your case and report back that the therapist thinks you aren’t the problem, or use therapy as a mediation tool.

Go to therapy on your own and own up to the work.

5) Don’t use your terrible childhood, “I had it so much worse,” as an excuse for your current behavior.

All your daughter knows is how you are acting currently. For her, that’s all that matters. For better or worse, you don’t start with chips to cash in just because you endured worse than you are giving your daughter. It doesn’t work that way. She can’t make the past up to you.

Life isn’t fair, and that isn’t her job.

6) Don’t make your daughter your therapist or your sounding board. She can’t be that for you.

Again, this goes back to the power differential. Your daughter can’t challenge you or give you constructive feedback the way a therapist or friend can. She is not your equal and never will be.

It is unfair to put her in the position of a peer or a professional.

7) Do listen to your daughter’s feelings about you without defending yourself.

If she has mustered up the courage to tell you what bothers her about what you have done… listen without defense. Defending yourself immediately negates all the good getting it off her chest has just accomplished. At this point, she needs you to take in what she has to say.

If, at some later time, you want to give her your side of the story, ask her if she could listen to how you experienced the interaction. Short of that, just listen.

8) Don’t follow an apology with a “yes, but you…”

Do make a genuine apology if you feel one is merited. But don’t cast blame on your daughter or play the victim. It won’t bring your estranged daughter back into a relationship with you.

If you disagree, an apology is merited, simply say, I hear you.

9) Don’t comment on your daughter’s weight, hair, sexuality, or romantic relationships.

As an adult, your daughter’s body is her own.   She isn’t your baby doll or a reflection of you. And her sexuality, yep, that’s off-limits- end of story.

One word, momma, boundaries.

Her choice of romantic partners is one way she grows up and differentiates from you. Even if the relationship fails or seems to you that it is on the wrong track…

It is not your place to pass judgment.

10) Do let your daughter’s successes be hers to enjoy and her failures be learning opportunities rather than indictments of her character.

No matter how fiercely you can want to “save” your daughter from making the mistakes you think you can see coming a mile away; the truth is… she may need to run that experiment herself and fail.

But, on the other hand, she may succeed.

Either way, it’s her life and her success to celebrate or her mistake to learn from.

11) Don’t say, “I told you so.”

Life’s lessons are brutal enough without someone gloating with a smirk on their face.

If you want to be close, don’t be that person.

12) Do love her through whatever life throws at her.

Your job is to love her through whatever comes… not bail her out or loan her money… but stand by and listen, believe in her, and trust that she can learn from it all.

If you want to be the person she calls when she gets the promotion AND the person she calls when her boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse dumps her, say, ” I’m here for you. I believe in you. Everything will be all right. ” because it will… eventually, it will.

The little girl in her needs to hear that from her mother.


internalized little girl of an estranged daughter

Because what you say in those moments will stay with her forever, whether or not you are estranged. 

Jobs come and go. Lovers that were once shiny, exciting, and new… fade; even small children grow up and leave. But, even after you are gone, the first words she will hear (inside her own head) when life brings wonderful news ( congratulations, it’s a girl) or deals a heavy blow (the biopsy is cancerous) …. might well be yours.

It will be your legacy. Guard it carefully.


If you are lucky enough to get a second chance with your estranged daughter, you need to go the extra mile.

Just doing what comes naturally isn’t going to cut it. It will only get you cut out.

If I could distill all the advice into one  sentence, it would be this;

You have to want to repair what has gone wrong more than you want to be right.

I am rooting for you and your daughter. Estrangement stops the abuse but leaves an open wound.  Be the heroine in her life, the one who broke the cycle

I know of no better calling.

(If you would rather listen- here’s the audio version of this post)

Do you relate?

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  1. Tara Terminiello

    so how do you deal with the narcissistic daughter?? and why do estranged kids still let you pay off their college loans? because you co signed for them out of love and support for their dreams and their future?

    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Hi Tara,
      While I can’t know your circumstance exactly, I’ll bet many reading your comment feel the same way.

      They have sacrificed and given to their daughters, only to have those very same daughters cut off contact-leaving them, hurt and confused.

      Now, for all, I know, your daughter could be selfish and unforgiving-
      Read on- only if you feel like that may not be the case.

      And for all the mothers out there, whose daughters are not selfish and cruel- I invite them to consider the following very human problem.

      What we intend for people in our lives to feel from us is not always what they feel.

      I see it every day in my psychotherapy practice and have certainly experienced it in my life.

      So (if this fits your particular circumstances), while you may have had love in your heart and felt supportive when you gave your daughter something of financial worth, love wasn’t what she felt from you.

      So, therein lies the rub.

      If you look through the rest of the “rules,” in this article, you will find a litany of ways of relating- that, if followed, could lead you back into a relationship with your daughter.

      On the other end of the spectrum, I find mothers (and fathers), for that matter, who give too much in the material realm and not enough in the relating realm. My suggestion to them is to pull back on the financial support and focus on respectful relating.

      One isn’t a substitute for the other- meaning you can’t purchase love, but spending past your comfort level can make you resentful, which in turn can make you more hostile and controlling in your communications.

      We are all living in changing times, and learning hard lessons.It can be hard to keep up sometimes. I know it is for me.

      Take this suggestion only if it fits your situasion
      – write your daughter and include a copy of this article. You might say something like this, ” I am feeling resentful that I have paid off your college loans and you seem unwilling to communicate with me. I had hoped you would have felt love nas support from me but, sadly I hear from you, that is not what you feel. If I take into account these conditions for relating stated in this article, would you be willing to talk? I am willing to learn about ways I may have (inadvertantly) hurt you and want a relationship with you.”

      Best of luck,

  2. Anna Karolionok

    I think my mom is a covert narcissist. Possibly my dad too, or he is an enabler or manipulated. I think I am the scapegoat in the family. I am concerned my mom is subconsciously or consciously turning my family against me. I am very different from my siblings. Always have been. Just have nothing in common, different values, etc. It’s hard to not wonder “what is wrong with me?” I am a nurse for a living and truly feel empathy for others, apologize when I mess up, etc, so I don’t think I’m narcissistic. Maybe I am? I have my guard up when I am around my mom and my sister (Mom and sister triangulate me for the last 10 years), so what they see is not my best but it’s also not who I am. My dad says I’m a bitch with a high opinion of myself. This is The last thing I’m trying to be. My sister recently cut me out – saying I’m toxic, a dark cloud, manipulative, and treat ppl like shit. I’m not perfect but have never been told these things ever in my life . I have a therapist who is helping. But, What if she is just telling me why I want to hear? My mom has had tumultuous relationships with her parents, her other 2 kids, grand kids, friends. I’m at a loss. I can not believe I am at this point with my family. It is so sad. any thoughts/insight would be helpful.

    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Dearest Anna,

      Although there is a lot I can’t know- I might have an idea or two about how you can begin to untangle this knot of projection and entanglements.

      It’s like when you have a necklace, and there is a big knot you want to untangle. Your instinct is to pull hard on one end and force the tangled piece lose which of course only makes it worse.

      And when in reality, if you gently get space between the strands, then all of a sudden, you can see the central knot, loosen that, and the rest falls into place.

      What do mean?

      At times like these, I’ve found that when the person in the family who feels they are different (aka the scapegoat) takes the time to separate themselves for a time- (not permanently necessarily) but for the moment… they take themselves out of the pressure cooker of being the scapegoat.. they can find out who they are outside of the destructive familial pressures.

      It sounds very likely you have indeed been scapegoated in your family.

      I hear how confusing and hurtful all this is to you. Of course it is.
      At this time, backing away from further family entanglement sounds like a healthy path. Surround yourself with sane supportive friends and discover who you are outside of this sick system.

      The more you work to defend yourself (which is of course natural) the more embroiled you might become.

      The road ahead is a tough one but- there can be much freedom ahead for you if you can resist the urge to stay in the fight and discover who you are without all of the projections.

      Best of luck,
      You can do this,
      I’m cheering you on,

  3. Libby

    Hello, my 31 year old daughter has been estranged for the past year. She has just had our first grand child. She did respond with a pic of the baby, but that is all. I would like to send a card and or flowers, but don’t want to aggravate her. She went through a 3 year period of not talking to us 5 years ago.

    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Hi Libby,

      Here is my advice, and only use it if it seems to fit your situation.

      If you can take to heart everything in this article and demonstrate that you have a new understanding because of it…. My guess is that – your thoughtfulness might mean more to your daughter than sending a card or flowers at this point.

      You could say, “ We are open to learning how we can be better parents to you.” And then listen without defending yourself. ( I know, this is easier said than done but it is essential at this point if you want things to turn around.)

      If she responds positively, I would let her know that you would like to send a card or flowers and ask if that would be welcome. Asking is important.

      Many times, adult children become estranged because it is the only power they feel they have.

      This can include the power to accept or deny gifts. Even if it is not your intention, estranged children can feel like gifts sent are done so to either incur obligation or that sending a gift is ignoring the severity of their feelings.

      It’s like if you broke up with a boyfriend and they sent you flowers. You might feel like your wishes had been ignored or overridden.

      So you’re instinct to wonder about her reaction a gift in the midst of an estrangement… shows you are being sensitive. And if so, you are on the right track.

      Just keep following that track.. putting her feeling at the center of your relationship for the time being, even when they are contrary to what you want to give, say, or advise. Keep going on that track and things might be headed in the right direction.
      Patience and sensitivity are key.
      I am cheering for you!

  4. Marie Low

    Hi Katherine, thank you for writing about this relationship with less mother-blaming rhetoric. I am grateful you are a mother and a daughter, as it adds credibility for me.

    I feel my eldest daughter is semi-estranged. I don’t know. I’m lost. I feel mothers are being held responsible for not knowing we were raised in an invisible patriarchal, colonial system. I feel anger at these systems is being directed by daughters at mothers. I feel mothers are not given grace for being individuals, too. Which is ironic, as it’s what daughters want for themselves. We are not the same as our daughters and we are imperfect.

    I was probably a permissive parent, who tried too damn hard. I am not someone who would have to write any of the apologies you suggested above. Yet I have other apologies that could be written that reflect a daughter’s unique interpretation of a pretty good effort. I am held to an impossible standard by my daughter and society. How do I know if I need to assert myself and my needs more? Am I allowed to have needs in this relationship? It doesn’t seem so. Which is unfair, and just puts me under another system of oppression – the angry, empowered daughter. I truly appreciate your reply to another comment wherein you offer that people don’t always perceive what we intend as we intended it. Doesn’t that mean mothers and daughter need to engage more and hear each other’s perspectives? Why is the daughter’s prioritized? Or the mother’s negated?

    I understand I have ‘power over’ as a mother, but when is the relationship able to be reciprocal? Never? You state “ If, at some later time, you want to give her your side of the story, ask her if she could listen to how you experienced the interaction. Short of that, just listen.” Mothers are human beings and perspectives matter in relationships – there are two realities. When can daughters hold space for their mother’s reality? I’m a mother and a daughter and I navigate all perspectives as best I can. It seems disingenuous and unhelpful to continually validate a daughter’s perspective while simultaneously demeaning the mother’s, and being unable to pass on the wisdom of the difficult nuances of parenting. Daughters can forever call out mothers and we must listen and receive their perspective eternally, whilst subjugating our own? I disagree completely with this. Am I never to be empowered as a mother?


    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Hi Marie Low,

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. I’m fairly certain that not everything about my perspective (or yours for that matter) can be fleshed out with just a single blog post and a response. So, while I ‘m afraid I can’t respond in full to everything you’ve brought up here, perhaps I can clarify my thinking on a few points.

      Keep in mind the post is written for a mother who wants to reconcile with her estranged daughter. So not every mother will want to do that.
      I’m not here to be the arbiter of what is fair, I’m here to speak to the mother who wants to know what she can (if she is willing) to do.

      …when is the relationship able to be reciprocal? Never? You state “ If, at some later time, you want to give her your side of the story, ask her if she could listen to how you experienced the interaction. Short of that, just listen.”

      Again if the relationship has gone off the rails, it takes one person – usually the one wanting to reinstate the relationship… to listen to the other. It doesn’t have to mean that you agree with them. If just means you don’t get defensive in the moment. And yes, at that point, it isn’t reciprocal.

      I don’t expect my relationship with my children to be reciprocal. If they tell me something I do hurts them – it isn’t time for my explanations. I either decide I will change my behavior, or I decide I won’t. I wouldn’t advice anyone to listen to an unending litany of complaints.

      Later on, when things are not charged, I might experience reciprocity. They do delight and surprise me… but it only happens when I don’t demand it.

      That doesn’t mean I don’t have needs. I talk plenty to my husband and best friend. We have plenty of – “oh it’s unfair…. back in my day”… I just don’t ask my kids to be my sounding board.

      It doesn’t mean I don’t have needs. I don’t babysit at the drop of the hat. I don’t loan them money or bail them out of debt. I expect them to act like adults and in return afford them the privacy and respect they have earned as adults in charge of their own lives. That means no giving unsolicited advice or lectures on childrearing unless I’m asked It’s their turn and they aren’t my peers.

      My daughters are not my oppressors but neither do I expect them to be my liberators. In my opinion, it isn’t their job or their role.

      If I am reading you right you feel unfairly blamed and wonder how much you have to take before your perspective is taken into account. That must feel incredibly frustrating. I hear you and empathize with your perspective. I too have felt things are unfair and “if my kids only knew how bad I had it” they would be more appreciative. In my experience, it is one of the losses of aging. Over all taking those losses, and breaking the cycle of oppression feels empowering to me- if even in the moment it can certainly tick me off.



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