How do people recover from a broken relationship? Or I should say a "break" in the relationship. This means basically that someone in the relationship has decided to walk away totally and completely. In families when the ties that bind us together as a family are shredded and on the ground what is the one left holding the pieces to do? In my practice, I have worked with grandparents who are estranged from their grown children and their grandchildren. The intense pain of loss, confusion and anger at times is unbearable for them.
In the cases I have worked with these parents have no shortage of issues but in general have been loving and devoted parents. In our culture today, it is very easy to cut parents out of ones lives because the value on family and community has lessened so greatly that the need to tolerate certain negative behaviors by our parents and as grandparents has become obsolete. Generations ago, grandparents were just naturally apart of children's lives and ones family was tightly connected to the larger community as well. Today, there may have been a divorce, a move across country, or a disagreement that has made a relationship seem impossible to navigate.
We don't have solid numbers on estrangements in families because often family members are ashamed to discuss these issues openly and honestly. It is not only in families where there is serious abuse or drug and alcohol issues but what seems to be happening more often is that a once seemingly close relationship has deteriorated over built-up resentments or other conflicts such as issues over money or a parents divorce or remarriage.
For many parents who are estranged from their older adult children it can feel like they are living in a nightmare. It is important to be patient with yourself and your child. You must also remember that you each have different experiences of the same incident or issues. Even if you as a parent believe you were doing something out of love and concern doesn't mean it was experienced by your child that way.
I find that clients have given up too soon on the relationship and really don't know what to do or say to start the reconciliation. I tell them this may take time and we have no guarantees how your outreach to them will be received but I believe the effort of trying to reconnect is key to the healing of the individual left holding the shredded pieces. The person who is making the effort to reconnect at least is able to feel they have tried with love and dignity to be in their child's life. If no effort is made I believe it leads to a further deepening depression.
I advise my clients to:
Even in the face of rejection leaving messages of love and availability to have a relationship is key to breaking down the wall of anger and disconnect that the adult child is feeling. It is important if there has been disagreements and hurt feelings that the parent be generous in taking responsibility for their past mistakes. I often remind my clients this is not about being "right" or "winning" it is about spending time and connecting with your child. Keeping the goal in sight is key in dealing with all the pain and sadness that comes with total estrangement. The goal is reconnection. The repair of a relationship will take patience and fortitude and many loving and forgiving conversations between both people. I have heard the overwhelming joy in the voice of my client when she and her son were able to come to define a new relationship and her patience and commitment to that end was inspiring.