Dr. Joshua Coleman is Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families and is a psychologist with a private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area.

He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, America Online Coaches, PBS Life Part 2, and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice has appeared in The New York Times, The Times of London, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine and many others.

He has served on the clinical faculties of The University of California at San Francisco, The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology, and the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group.

He is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written four books: The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin’s Press); The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin’s Press); When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along (HarperCollins); and Married with Twins: Life, Love and the Pursuit of Marital Harmony.   His books have been translated into Chinese, Croatian, and Korean, and are also available in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia.


  1. ann hart
    Posted October 13, 2009 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    I read Dr. Coleman’s book When Parents Hurt several years ago to understand my situation with a grown daughter who had rejected our lifelong closeness after I went into alcohol recovery and stayed sober. I realized I was not alone.

    Dr. Coleman suggested I remain hopeful and patient and accept the estrangement. I did so with respect to my daughter, determined to love and respond with her health and stability foremost.

    She has suddenly reconnected, after 7 years, and our family relationship seems to be back on a friendly co-operative track. I don’t know what happened but I am cautiously grateful and minding my manners with her and her family!

    A friend told me recently she had overcome decades of hostility with her ex husband by using the meditation” I love you, I forgive you, I release you to your own greatest good in grace in a perfect way.” This seemed to break the hurtful ties they had from her side and give him room to grow and return to his better actions.

    Let’s keep working on ourselves and give the ones we love the room they need to be. Ann

  2. Cindy
    Posted July 23, 2009 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    I came across these postings for the first time, just looking up different things. I’m dealing with a depression like I’ve never known before;Due to the fact that both of my children, young men 23 and 19 will not speak to me. This began when my oldest moved out at age 18, and then most recently my youngest followed at age 18 last summer.
    I was alwayst there for them in a joint custody arrangement. There father refused to discuss anything with me, since it could lead to the topic on money-and he was withholding as much as possible (hid his true income, would not be reasonable in his financial responsibility/capability with the kids). He and his girlriend were point blank selfish jerks about everything. The kids seemed to develop amnesia in their late teens and become selfish jerks too. I found out that the father and both the boys were abusing pain pills, and my youngest son (who was brilliant and an A 1 student and worker till he moved out) progressed onto heroin. I put my son into a rehab last summer. When he got out, he began talking with his dad and decided to move in with him. His dad went against the measures I was taking, that were directed to me by the rehab professionals (restrictions on driving ect.) After my son moved in with his dad he became extremely hateful and disrespectful towards me, like never before. Now he has cut me off like my other son, who he used to stand in disbeleif on with myself. I feel like I have been used as a taxi, babysitter, and providor for the last 20 years….and now I’m completely alone, in debt and emotionally damaged for good. I just started taking depression medication which is helping me to block out my feelings of despair. Being a Mom was the most important thing to me. I put so much into my children, it was so hard being alone with my ex working against me and belittling me. Everyone said the boys would grow up and understand some day. Instead, it seems they grew up and screwed me over…like their dad and his ice cold materialistic crazy girlfriend.

  3. Donna
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 3:54 am | Permalink

    I have not read or written to this blog for a long time. I am in the same situation as many of you. About two and a half years ago my son and his soon to be wife (We paid for the wedding)pushed us out of their lives. That also then included my now step grandson whom I had babysat for a year while my son and his girlfriend worked. I developed a great relationship with him and we grew to love each other. But somewhere during the school year my soon to be DIL stopped communicating with me and we rarely saw them I was no longer allowed to take her son places, which I had been doing for the year I looked after him. He used to spend time on the weekends with us and called us grandma and grandpa. Then They got engaged, but first had a baby. My real grandson. I was allowed to hold him at the hospital but for 6 months after that neither my husband nor I could touch him. Her mom and her sisters and friends could – but not us. When the baby was 4 months old they got married. I offered to look after the baby during the wedding, but was never given an answer. At the wedding her mom had the baby with instructions not to let me or my husband have him. She never spoke one word to me or my husband during the whole wedding day, even though my husband gave a speech welcoming her to our family. After the wedding we were told not to contact them and to stop coming to our step grandson’s hockey.WE were devistated. Things have gone on like this for two and a half years now. WE might get the odd phone call and maybe even see them the odd time, but they always make all the rules for the get togethers and they always misread something into the situation, thus making the whole relationship worse and worse. My step grandson is now 8 and my grandson will soon be two. He doesn’t know my husband or I at all. He doesn’t know we are his grand parents. WE have never been allowed to babysit either of them for two and a half years, nor will they let us bring them to our house or take them places. WE just get FLt refusal. I have been suffering from depresssion and have even been hospitalizes several times. I see a psychiatrist and a therapist, but the hurt doesnèt go away, and I anticipate that it never will. My husband and I have accepted that our dreams of how things would be with our married son and his family are dead. THeyère done and will never be. But we would like to work out some new kind of a relationship that everyone can live with. But they refuse to talk to us about this and also refuse to discuss the past. My husband is ready to throw in the towel but I canèt seem to do that as a mother. The love willl always be there, and so will the hurt. Also not being able to see and get to know my grandsons is just killing me. I know people say just get on with your own life and be around people who liove you. But I will never be truly happy with this situation in my life. WE do have another son who lives three hours from us who is great, keeps in touch, visits us and invite us up to visit them..He doesnèt understand his brother either. I just donèt know what to do any more. I am so tired of being hurt and depresses. Anyone have any suggestions for me?

  4. Lois
    Posted May 30, 2009 at 3:37 am | Permalink

    May 29, 2009

    I just finished reading Dr. Coleman’s book and when I wasn’t crying I was going Aha!

    My only child, a daughter, is 39 years old. We have had a tenuous relationship since my divorce from her father at the time of her impending teens.

    I had hopes for an improved relationship after she married and had children. However, after the second child, she became pretty much impossible to be around.

    I have not seen or heard from her in about a year. I tried sending my grand daughter a birthday gift and my daughter mailed it back to me unopened.

    It all sent me into a tailspin of depression. This has all happened at a time when I have developed several chronic health issues. I suspect not being the person I was 30 years ago plays into this but I also suspect that her father and his wife have a part to play.

    I don’t know how to just accept that I have lost my only child and grandchildren. My support system is pretty meager.

    I am in counseling and I hope it helps eventually.


  5. Diane
    Posted February 3, 2009 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    I saw part of the interview with Larry Fitzgerald. I was wondering if I heard it right so I am glad to hear that the word estrangement was actually used on TV. I do hope his admission of regret will help someone to have a better relationship with their parents. I read later that is why he has long hair because it reminds him of his mother when he sees himself in a mirror. I heard his dad say he just tells him to remember his mother loved him and not dwell on the estrangement. Isn’t that what we would all want. I hope his story does help someone.

    I have followed many stories on here but have never commented before. Today I need some support. My twin sister has just been diagnosed with colon cancer. In an effort to keep her mind off of her health problems we went to a play this weekend. It felt so good to laugh and have some fun and then the play ended with a song about a quilt. They sang how a family is stitched together with love and nothing can rip it apart. I ended up crying as it finished. I can’t even go to a play without being reminded of the estrangement with my son. And then the next day estrangement is talked about at the Super Bowl. I know there is little chance to reconcile with my son. How do I let him go so these unexpected reminders don’t throw me into a tailspin?

  6. Nancy
    Posted January 29, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    My estrangement is fairly new-my son came to my home town at xmas with his family. They come here every 2 years and stay at his inlaws. He usually sees me with the family at least 1 evening or sometimes 2 evenings the week he is in. this time he never called me and whe i called there all I got was voice mail. I called there twice but he left without contacting me. He is estranged from 2 of his brothers and did not attend his fathers funeral 3 years ago-stating we were not close. I e-mailed him the week after he left here and asked why he did call or visit. he replied he wants to take a break from me and it is nothing I have done or said-it is an accumulation over the years. he ended by saying-just leave me alone. He is 44 and I am 61. Why now? I know I have not always been the best mother in the world-I made decisions that affected the children but never intended to hurt them. We were very poor and I had my oldest son when I was 17-I went on to marry 4 times and had 5 more children. I told him in my e-mail I did not want to lose him and I loved him. Nothing. Is there any hope for me to reconnect with him before I die? What do I need to do? Can anyone help me? Thanks for listening.

  7. April
    Posted December 29, 2008 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    I feel so bad for those that have been rejected by their children. Both me and my husband know the pain of having a son that don’t love us. In spite of all we done and the scrafices we made he has never failed to remind us of what we didn’t do. He is 40 years old now and has children of his own, he has shared with them stories he fabricated. We can accept truth but we can no longer accept fabrications. I used to have fear that he would physically abuse us when we got old, but he no longer comes around so maybe I can put that fear to rest.

  8. Billie cronin
    Posted August 31, 2008 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    My youngest son, 25yrs old has not spoken to me since last April 2007, and my oldest son 32 yrs old holds my grand daughter hostage so I have to tip toe around him or I will not be able to see her.

    My son never married my granddaughters mother. They were only together for 6-8 months before she became pregnant. Story to long to go into but the bottom line is that I am not allowed to speak with the baby’s mother because then my son feels I am being disloyal and the only way I get to see or speak to her is throuhg him. I feel so very powerless. They are in an ugly custody fight and my heart is breaking. I helped bring this little girl up for the 1st 2 years of her life because they stayed at my house when they had no where to live, and then I had her every other weekend when they broke up and he had visitation. Once he got a new girlfried and an apartment i was history. If I am lucky he has her call me when he has her and she always asks if she can come and stay “alot of nights” with me. My son feels she needs to learn that she stays with mommy and she stays with daddy but just visits grandma.

    I am struggling to hold my temper because I do not want to jepordize what connection I do have with her but my patience is running thin and am considering my options i.e. go around him to have a relationship with her or try going through the courts while they are in a custody battle and Emma has been appointed an law gaurdian.

    Has anyone had any expierence they can share around this with me? Since one son doesn’t speak to already I know trying to go around him will result in him not speaking to me either. HELP……

  9. Posted July 30, 2008 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    My 17 year old son and I were at the library when he found Dr. Colemen’s book on hurting parents and handed it to me. His 23 year old sister has refused to speak to me since I left her dad and advised my older two children (who are his adopted children and have children of their own) that their father had been viewing online child pornography. I also learned during that time that he had been fantasizing about having sex with my 23 year old. Now she and her husband work for him (he pays them a total salary of 90,000) and she refuses to have anything to do with me! I cannot fathom how this happened. Every child custody evaluator, mediator, minor’s counsel etc. for the past three years has recommended I get primary custody of our 17 year old son because of my ex-husbands’ sexual addiction. But I am aching for my lost daughter. She rejects me at every turn. She has not seen any of the evidence in this case, but seems to need to believe that I am lying. She has pretty much cut off all ties with my mother and father and sister and brother, presumably because they know the truth about her father. How do I go on from here?

  10. Kathryn
    Posted July 22, 2008 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    This isn’t a reply. I have never made a comment and I don’t exactly know how to do that.

    My daughter is so lovely and so brilliant–she has her PhD, she is a born teacher and won awards for her work before she was out of graduate school. I don’t think she is in any pain. She has such charm and is so delightful and I know she has a substitute family in her graduate adviser and mentor and his family. She really doesn’t need me at all. She lacks for nothing in her life.

    But I am so sad and I miss her so. Really, I have tried to stop grieving and mourning her loss but just can’t seem to. I was an only child and had no family of my own, there was a divorce years ago when my husband came out of the closet, and now I live in a strange city–I have been here just about a year and don’t know anyone to talk to or do things with. She has cut off her father and her brother as well but this is no consolation. How do people go on with their heart aching so?

  11. E.
    Posted July 16, 2008 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    You must forgive yourself and then him. He needs you as much as you need him. Just send a simple note that says I love you and always will…despite whatever I did wrong or whatever we didn’t solve…I love you forever.
    Then leave this alone; know you have told the truth and let it be his turn. Take care of yourself the way you would want him to take care of himself. Watch what happens if you truly do this.

  12. Debra B.
    Posted June 23, 2008 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    I have a problemwith my 33 year old daughter. She was going to visit my 35 year old daughter and bring her 2 young children I babysit for but not bring her husband because he could not get off work. I asked to go but was told no. I was highly insulted as I thought I would be an asset to them by availing myself to babysit while my two daughters could go out on their own in Virginia(we are from New York).She went without me and i brooded for a week. When the following Monday a usual babysiting day came, my 5 yr. old grandaughter told me of an incident in Virginia when he mommy went to get a workout in at my son in law’s gym, the 5 and 3 yr old kids went to the daycare part of that gym inseparate rooms. The 5 year old(girl) told the lady in charge she needed a bathroom. She was ignored. She asked a few more times and gave up very frustrated. She did not have an accident butit infuriated me as Iit never would have happened in the first place if I were there I would have had the kids myself. I also thought it showed lack of judgement onmy daughter’s part to use a facility she nevr had before and trust it was well staffed because they said so. After hearing THIS story, when my daughter came to get her children at the end of that day, I let her have it. I name called, inadequate mothering, selfish, and plenty of outrageous uncontrolled acusations all hurled at my daughter by me in front of her children. She left and I was immediately remorseful, tried to tell her but was refused phone contact. Later, she told my husband she wants no further relationship with me ever. She witheld the children from then on in my babysitting role. This happened in April2008. She told my husband I needed therapy. I sought that out immediately. Therapist sent me to bookstore to pick out my own choice of books on relationships. I got yours on When Parents Hurt. Several sessions later therapist still was not reading your book and I was left giving minibook reports to her. This was not what I called helping me so i switched therapists. The second one told me I was smart enough to know all I had to do was stay away from my daughter. If that were an easy solution I suppose i would not wake up everyday crying and retire everynight crying. I do other things also, i am an artist, I paint. My hands are raw from planting every flower on my half acre property. I do see one friend semi regularly as I have lost contact with the network of friends 5 years ago when I gave up my job to be the full time caretaker of my grandchildren. When I got to the last part of your book I was sunk even deeper for the description of the divorced FATHER was similar to what my SON is going through except the divorce was not his idea. The ex in his situation has moved her boyfriend in with her and myson’s 5 year old boy. All of this unhappiness is tearing me apart, making me feel like a complete parenting failure and I wish I would go to sleep and never wake again. No I am not going to kill myself but I fantasize how nice it would be to just close my eyes and just not ever awake again. Why can’t I overcome this impossibly horrible depression over things that are out of my control? I am and have been moderately depressed for years and am on an antidepressant.

  13. Carrie Baker
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    This is a test—-I have a very similar problem.

  14. Lana
    Posted September 4, 2007 at 1:45 pm | Permalink


    I just noticed your post on this part of the site. Kissing the money off was my choice. He wasn’t nagged by his wife to pay her mother first. Her mother lives with them and so does her cousin. Her brother moved out when he got married. It’s a different culture we’re dealing with. No, the point is that when I asked about the repayment to me, they told me the loans were gifts. It isn’t that they haven’t had other benefits from me either. I paid for their wedding by myself. I bought their baby furniture, diapers & food. I bought my daughter-in-law her jewellery for the wedding. It’s not that I’m rich, it’s that I never had help from my parents, and if I was in a position to help I did.

    The whole thing behind this is that both loans came with promises to repay. That they are now saying they were gifts is an insult. I was NOT mentioning the money, and would have gladly let it go, and kept my disappointment over their integrity a private matter not to be shared with them. But to call me names and insult me by saying “gift” changed the dynamics. They WERE, no doubt, already a gift, but it was an unspoken gift from a mother who never brought it up. That they borrowed from her mother and were promptly repaying her, and name called me when I asked about something to come to me….well…this was insulting. You don’t repay one parent ignoring the other.

  15. Deedee
    Posted July 21, 2007 at 9:44 pm | Permalink


    I don’t know how much money is at stake, but is it worth recovering it only so he can get it when you die? Maybe it’s the principal of the thing and his character you had hoped he had that’s the real loss. Unless you are in dire straights, I’d kiss off the money and keep the grandkids. I’d let my son know if I’m suffering a hardship and ask for help to meet my bills, if it’s that bad for you. If, however, you are financially well off and capable of meeting your needs, couldn’t you see the loan as a gift instead? I imagine that his wife had to nag and cajole him to put her mother before you and he is probably feeling very badly about it.

    Just a thought from an overworked and choked up lady.


  16. Lana Kinzer
    Posted June 24, 2007 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    It breaks my heart so many parents are being estranged by their adult children. My son has now followed his sister’s lead and threatened me with estrangement. I agree that the parent who was rejected by their own parents finds it especially difficult to deal with and recover from being rejected by their children. It is so painful to realize your life is a circle and you’ve returned to the place that brought you the most pain. Being a single mother is even more devastating. All the sacrifices seem to have been for nothing. And there is no understanding that this single mother gave them a far better life than they would have had in an alcoholic, wife-beating home.

    I love my children. I respect the fact they have the right to choose who is in their lives, and those of their children. I made that choice, after all, myself, but for much more serious reasons. After years of crying and begging for reconciliation with my daughter to no avail, I had to tell her I understood, that I would always love her and the children and told her goodbye. It was the only way I could see to release all of us from the pain of the anger. She is bi-polar. Preserving her marriage is paramount for her’s and her children’s safety. It was her marriage or her mother. I had to go, and it took me a long time to understand and accept that.

    My son has now chosen to demean me, disrespect me and assassinate my character. He is angry that I’m asking for repayment of loans made to him that he promised to repay and never mentioned again. He is repaying his mother-in-law. You don’t repay one mother and leave the one who helped you twice first dangling in the wind. At this point, he’s incapable of rationalizing that he is now Number One child and that I am the only parent with financial substance, and that what he is repaying will be returned to him when I die. And so, he has threatened me with cutting the tie.

    I recognize I may lose all my grandkids and both my children and be left with no family. But to be given rules that are so strict and limiting, to be told how to behave, how to speak, how to look….this is a very high price to pay for the illusion of love. Accepting either of my children’s and their spouses disrespect only brings more disrespect and eventually teaches my grandchildren to disrespect me. I had to step out again to stop a cycle just like when I stepped out to stop the cycle of violence for my children.

    I’m not sure if my heart will ever heal. The words they have told me are imbedded, branded. My comfort level is eroded. I never imagined my family would disappear. I thought it would grow. I hope one day, before it’s too late, to see both my children again. But for now? What satisfaction is there for any of us? Just as when I divorced for their sakes, I have to disengage myself from their lives. It’s the only chance we have. I am their mother. Protecting them is my job. If it means protecting them from more anger against me so that they can raise their children without seeing that kind of anger, then it’s far better for me to release them. I’ve borne pain before. This pain won’t leave, but at least I will have the comfort of knowing they and their children are okay.

  17. Barbara Hill
    Posted June 20, 2007 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    I read some of the comments of other parents/children and am feeling so very almost desperate about this subject. My parents were unbelievably physically abusive. I was in therapy and had plastic surgery to fix some of the scars my mother left on my face. I tried and tried to engage in a healing process with them to no avail – they were not ready and so, when I was 50 years old I wrote a letter to them and disengaged myself permanently. They are now dead. My sister is also among the wounded and we are estranged. I believe her to be a borderline personality disorder and cannot engage in healing with her because she rejects the notion that there can be healing. My son is 41 and I had a relationship with him, indeed I raised him as a primary caretaker until he was 14. At that time we had some problems, I was in therapy and sought help from his father in the form of emotional support in working on the relationship with my son but was rebuffed. Without any support from my family and little from my ex husband, I had worked my way through school, was an RN, bought a house learned to drive a car etc. I believe my exhusband was angry at my success. Anyway at that time I was overwhelmed and frustrated that after all I had done, my son was now expressing anger towards me. I was genuinely afraid of his acting out and felt guilt that my parenting was lacking. I voluntarily gave custody (unsolicited – it was my idea) to my ex. Really, I just wanted a “break” for the summer at first but then I gave up custody. My ex said it was all or nothing. My son has been angry about this decision ever since. Our last argument was during a visit when he was a student in Boston when he was 21. I was very angry, furious, I must say during this argument. Now he will not speak to me at all. For 20 years. I do not know how to overcome this. I have repeatedly written, have traveled 800 miles from my current home to his to speak with him, have let him know through other family members that I love him, have done everything I can think of doing. I am 60 and he is 41. I gave him space thinking maybe he would see things differently with time, but he has not. I want to see my grandchildren and I do regret my failures. I am a nursing supervisor and educator, a responsible member of the world with things to give to my family and am so very depressed about this situation. Is there anything I can do at least to connect with my grandchildren? I pray there is help for this. I have never physically abused my son in any way, but I was too easily intimidated by him, then became angry that he tried to push me around in my own home, after all I had been through and pushed him away. He is afraid if my rejection again, I am sure. It was my failure to be loving and understanding, I know now. Is there anything, anything I can or should do?


    Tuesday Sept 8th @ 5:30 PDT/8:30 EST