“But He’s Your Dad!” Grieving A Parent—While They’re Still Alive

February 24, 2023

Understanding the reasons we may grieve parents who are still alive and how to heal from childhood trauma.

Just because someone is related to you doesn’t mean they deserve a place in your life. Grieving your relationship with a living relative can be misunderstood by others, but it’s important to remember that it deserves healing all the same.

If you were deeply hurt by a parent, or if a parent figure wasn’t there for you in the way that you needed them to be, you’ve experienced a significant loss: The loss of a pivotal role in your life that should have been filled.

It can be extra tough to recognize that we’re grieving a parent who is still alive—mainly because they’re still alive. But also because the way that we’re parented sets the stage for how we understand human relationships. Even if our relationship with a parent was dysfunctional or unhealthy, it may feel “normal” because it’s all we’ve ever known.

If you think you might be grieving a parent even though there was no death, this post will bring you some clarity. We’ll talk about the reasons you might feel loss in your relationship with your parent and how you can let go of societal and personal expectations that hold you back from full grief recovery.

Reasons You May Be Grieving a Still-Living Parent

Every relationship between two people is 100% unique. And while only you can really understand what it’s like to be in your relationship with your parent, there are a few common parent/child situations that can lead to feelings of loss. Here are just a few that might resonate with you:

  • A parent who rejected you in some way
  • A parent who never showed you their emotions or was uncomfortable with your emotions parent who didn’t stick up for you when you needed help or allowed you to be abused parent who abused you physically, sexually, emotionally, or psychologically
  • A parent who pushed you too hard to succeed
  • A parent who expected you to be the caretaker for their emotions
  • A parent whose behavior was unpredictable and kept you on edge

“But they’re your parent!”

You’ve probably heard this before from a well-meaning friend or from your parent themself. The “But he’s your dad” or “But she’s your mom” point of view argues that anyone who is a parent, relative, or blood relation gets a pass for their behavior with you—no matter what.

You can accept a person unconditionally without accepting negative treatment from them. And contrary to societal beliefs, you don’t have to keep a family member in your life if the relationship doesn’t make your life better.

Finding the right distance from toxic family members

The trauma of loss is cumulative. That’s what makes it hard to heal if you’re still going through heartbreaking experiences with this person on a regular basis. Making space between you and a parent can be tough, but it can give you the room you need to heal your grief.

There are some terms for taking space from a toxic relationship: “low contact” and “no contact.” “Low contact” and “no contact” are similar, as they both involve disengaging from the unhealthy relationship to prevent further damage.

“No contact” is just what it sounds like—cutting off all communication with a person. “Low contact” can look exactly how you need it to. Whether that’s committing to only seeing this person at family events or blocking certain methods of communication, like a phone number or email address.

You also don’t have to cut a relationship out of your life in order to heal from it. It takes a lot of hard work, but you can find healing in your heart that makes the relationship better simply because you have healed. However much space you need, and as much time it takes, you have a right to grieve a relative. Even if they are living, and even if they are your parent.

Healing Your Parent Wound

If you struggling with grief over a parent who is still alive, you are not alone. We see you, we know you’re hurting, and want to offer you a safe place to share your story and feel supported in your healing journey. Contact us today to set up a free discovery call and spend some time with us – we’re here for you. 


Sharon Brubaker is a certified Life Coach and credentialed Grief Specialist who, along with her team, teaches women who are grieving how to process their thoughts and emotions. To learn more about navigating grief within the family, listen to the full podcast episode here or download my free e-Book, The Griever’s Guide, which equips you with the tools to live life after grief; because no griever should have to navigate a broken heart on their own. 

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