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Understanding and Reconciling with Your Estranged Child

Written by: Janet Fluker, M.Ed., M.S.
Understanding and Reconciling with Your Estranged Child

How to reconcile

Often a parent feels they were cut off by a child without fully understanding the cause of the conflict. While communication is key in resolving discord, it’s hard when your child has blocked all your calls and disappeared into oblivion. On average, estrangements do not last forever. If you are hoping to end estrangement, don’t pile anger on anger. This is unproductive. Keep your emotions in check.

  • Reach out to your child and let them know you are there to support them. A handwritten letter or brief voicemail is best.
  • If communication opens, listen without defending yourself.
  • Don’t beg or plead for reconciliation.
  • Listen with compassion.
  • Acknowledge your contribution to the problem and apologize.
  • If you are cut off by your child, seek therapy and support.

Past experiences and present values

Although research is limited, most break-ups between a parent and a grown-up child tend to be initiated by the child, says Joshua Coleman, psychologist and author of The Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict. One of the most common reasons for this is past or present abuse by the parent, whether emotional, verbal, physical or sexual. Divorce is another frequent influence, with consequences ranging from the adult child “taking sides”, to new people coming into the family such as stepsiblings or stepparents, which can fuel divisions over both “financial and emotional resources”.

Clashes in values – as experienced by Scott and his parents – are also increasingly thought to play a role. A study published in October by Coleman and the University of Wisconsin, US, showed value-based disagreements were mentioned by more than one in three mothers of estranged children. Pillemer’s recent research has also highlighted value differences as a “major factor” in estrangements, with conflicts resulting from “issues such as same sex-preference, religious differences or adopting alternative lifestyles”.

Both experts believe at least part of the context for this is increased political and cultural polarisation in recent years. In the US, an Ipsos poll reported a rise in family rifts after the 2016 election, while research by academics at Stanford University in 2012 suggested a larger proportion of parents could be unhappy if their children married someone who supported a rival political party, which was far less true a decade earlier. A recent UK study found that one in 10 people had fallen out with a relative over Brexit. “These studies highlight the way that identity has become a far greater determinant of whom we choose to keep close or to let go,” says Coleman.

If you are struggling with estrangement from your child and seeking support to heal the conflict, The Summit is here to help. Reach out to us today for professional guidance and strategies to rebuild your relationship with your child. Together, we can navigate the challenges and work towards reconciliation.