How Does The Death Of A Parent Impact Future Relationships?

Updated April 5, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Parents continue to shape how we think, feel, and act well into our adult lives. The loss of a parent can be devastating, no matter what age the loss takes place. For adults, the loss of a parent can mean the loss of a vital part of their support network. Many adults report major shifts in coping after losing a close parent. In children, the impact of parental loss is typically much higher. While losing a parent as an adult, especially earlier than expected, is a tragic, challenging event, losing a parent as a child can have significant developmental implications.

However, recovery is possible if a parent is lost as a child or as an adult. Adjustment as an adult may take time, but it is typically possible to move on. For a child, moving on will require significant effort from supportive adults, but several frameworks have been developed to help support children efficiently. This article will discuss both cases: parental loss as a child or as an adult.

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Is your parent's death is affecting you too severely?

Losing a parent as an adult

The loss of a parent produces a range of emotions that change based on multiple factors. Age and relationship quality are the most significant factors determining how a person will process their parent's loss. Young adults still rely heavily on their parents for support and guidance. A person in their 20s who loses a parent is likely to have a longer, more difficult grieving process than someone who loses a parent in their 60s. Relationship quality matters as well. Adult children who are close to their parents are significantly more likely to experience a more extensive grieving process.

A person's future relationships could be impacted by losing a parent if that parent was an integral part of their support system. When the support of a close parent is lost, the adult child must restructure their support network. This process can take time and impact the formation of new relationships. The grieving process itself can also put a strain on both new and ongoing relationships.

Grieving the loss of a parent as an adult

Unless the loss of a parent happens in young adulthood, losing a parent follows a typical grieving process. In the beginning, emotions come on intensely and may feel overwhelming. Over the next several days or weeks, the feelings of loss slowly become less apparent. The number of good moments increases gradually, starting with a few hours a day free from grief and eventually moving to several grief-free days in a row.

The time it takes to grieve a parent is different for everybody. If the parent and adult child were not very close, there may only be a short grieving period, or not at all. If the relationship was close, the grieving process typically becomes longer. Grieving as an adult can be further complicated if the person is tasked with making funeral arrangements, handling a will, or other tasks that must be completed when a person passes away.

Grieving takes time and patience; it is a unique process for each person. The most important thing to remember is to take care of yourself first. Life can be demanding and hectic following the loss of a parent, and it is important to include adequate self-care in your routine. It is also important to accept support from others and give yourself extra time to process your grief.

Here are a few other basic tips for grieving:

  • Take a psychological inventory. Think about your parent and ask yourself what you want to keep about your relationship with them. What did you admire? Do you regret not doing something with them before they passed? Is there anything you'd like not to remember about them?
  • Establish a ritual. Visit a place that was special to you and your parent regularly, or assemble a photo album that you can revisit to remember happy memories.
  • Grieve what you never had. Are there things you wish your parent had done for you or given you? Take note of anything you didn't get, and allow yourself to grieve the loss of what you never had.
  • Set appropriate boundaries. If you're empathetic, you may be tempted to prioritize others' grief over your own. Make sure you are setting appropriate boundaries with your time and energy. You need your resources to manage your grief; don't overextend and give too much to others.

Sometimes a normal grieving process can turn into complicated grief. Grief becomes complicated when the grieving process is chronic (the person is not progressing through the process), when the grief is delayed, or when the grief is entirely absent. If grief becomes complicated, it can be difficult to manage. Those who feel their grief is not progressing appropriately would likely benefit from speaking to a mental health professional.


When a child loses a parent

While an adult losing a parent is tragic and painful, most adults can process the grief associated with the loss. Children, however, are not prepared to process the emotions associated with grieving a parent. Those who lose a parent as a child are at high risk for long-term concerns. When a child is not given the support they need, they are more likely to have difficulty trusting others, building new relationships, maintaining self-esteem, and difficulty expressing feelings.

A child's grieving process can be hindered by a lack of appropriate social support, significant discontinuity in their routine, or a failure to provide appropriate and honest information about their parent's death. A child's grieving process can also be disrupted if they are not provided information about chronic illness or precipitating factors of their parent's death.

While poorly-managed support of a child's grief process can have negative outcomes, evidence suggests that negative consequences can be avoided or mitigated if appropriate support is provided. Supporting grief becomes more challenging if the child loses a parent before age 12. However, adequate support still protects from the risks outlined above and other mental health conditions such as depression.

Supporting a child through the loss of a parent

The keys to helping a child through the loss of a parent lie in giving time and energy to the child. A safe, secure presence is required for a child to process their grief appropriately. Ensuring that a child has a set routine and opportunities for emotional expression is the first step to helping them grieve.

Support can come from anyone the child knows and trusts, not just the surviving parent. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends of the deceased parent can all be useful in helping a child feel loved and secure. Here are some additional tips for helping a child process the death of a parent:

  • Use developmentally appropriate language. Young children should be spoken to with age-appropriate language that considers what the child knows about death. Older children and adolescents may need help putting their feelings into words. They should be allowed to ask questions and communicate feelings.
  • Tell them what comes next. Ensure the child knows about upcoming events, such as a funeral, and any immediate changes to their lives. Ensure the child knows what will happen at the funeral, that people will be sad, and that it's ok for them to feel sad too.
  • Offer comfort and reassurance. Children should be allowed to be vulnerable with their feelings and receive comfort, reassurance, and love. Don't worry about coddling the child or reinforcing their grief; they must know they are loved and safe.
  • Give the child a role. Let the child participate by giving them a small, active role, such as choosing some photos for the funeral or doing an art project that honors their deceased parent. Don't force the child to participate in the role, but give them the option to help.
  • Encourage remembrance. Talk to the child about happy memories with their parent, and encourage them to share their own memories. Sharing happy memories helps with grief, but don't force the child to talk about their parent if they don't want to.

Offering adequate support will likely enable a child to have happy, successful future relationships without much extra work. If inadequate support is available, or if the grieving process appears excessively difficult, consider contacting a therapist to help the child process their grief.

Is your parent's death is affecting you too severely?

How online therapy can help

Online therapy is ideal in stressful situations. Visiting with a therapist online brings extra convenience by removing the need to travel to an office; you can visit with a therapist from the comfort of your home. Online therapists can help you or your child process grief using the same evidence-based techniques therapists use in office settings. Although the therapy is delivered through a computer, the methods used are just as effective as if you visited a therapist in-office.


Losing a parent is often a challenge for adults and always a challenge for children. The grief process may be difficult for adults, but it usually resolves with normal support. Children need additional support, structure, and guidance following the loss of a parent. Without additional support through their grief, children become more likely to be depressed, have trouble with relationships, or have trouble with self-esteem in adulthood.

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