Rabbi Azriel Hauptman
The topic of child estrangement is very painful, both for parents and for children. The parent-child bond is very powerful, and whatever the cause was for the estrangement, it most certainly reflects someone who is in so much pain that they decided to cut off contact with their parents. Whose fault is it? That is a complicated question, and no two situations are alike. Without casting any blame, there are certain steps that parents can take to lay the groundwork for a future reconciliation.
Anger is Counterproductive
It is very natural to feel angry at your child for cutting you out of their life. Your anger might be especially aroused when you are not allowed to see your grandchildren who are victims of a situation that they have no role in. Nevertheless, when your child senses your anger, it will only drive them further away from you. Additionally, when you are angry, your logical brain becomes basically dysfunctional, and any attempt at self-reflection will be stopped in its tracks.
If your child reaches out to you, and wants to explain to you why they felt a need to cut you out of their lives, then just listen. You might completely disagree with your child’s version of their life with you. However, setting the record straight in your eyes will only convince your child that they should cut off ties once again. Bear in mind, that even if their claim is very exaggerated, there is probably a kernel of truth. If your child feels that their voice is being heard, the door to reconciliation has a greater chance of remaining open. Sometimes, being right is not constructive. This situation is one of those times.
Do Not Appeal to Their Emotions
You might have an urge to tell your child that they should reconcile because of all the pain that they are causing you. Although your point has a lot of merit, it is not helpful for an estranged child to hear that from their parent. If they feel that you have been overbearing and abusive (whether this is true or not), playing the emotion card will only make them double down on their decision to maintain their distance.
Treat Your Child as An Adult
All parents struggle when their children transition from childhood to adulthood. At what point do you start treating your children as adults who are entitled to full autonomy in their decision making? Some parents will struggle with this for decades or even for their entire lives. When a child is estranged, it is extremely imperative to treat the child as an adult. Respect their right as an adult to make their own decisions even if you vehemently disagree. When children feel that you respect their boundaries, they are much more likely to remain in contact with you, despite any grievances that they might have about the past.
Embrace Your Mistakes
As human beings, we have a very difficult time admitting any wrongdoing. Sometimes, an estranged child has very legitimate complaints about how they were treated by their parents. There are two sides to every story, and it is not black or white. Nevertheless, if you can identify with your child’s perspective and own up to your contribution to past mistakes, the chances for reconciliation are greatly increased.
Seek Professional Help
There are mental health professionals who have extensive training and experience in strained family relationships and estrangement. Sometimes, you have to go by yourself to learn the skills that you need to develop to mend your relationship with your child, and sometimes it is possible to attend the sessions with your child and start the process of overcoming the rift that has separated you from your child.
Family dynamics are complicated and they encompass years and decades of interactions between multiple members of the family system. When there is a break in the family, it is not going to be easy to repair it. The process can be long and painful. However, if you are determined to have your child back in your life, then no matter how difficult the process is to you, it is most certainly worthwhile.