Discussion Topic

Broken Relationships and Mending

Posted on 06/28/10, 11:47 am
Joshua Coleman, a San Francisco psychologist, experienced several years of estrangement with his adult daughter. He says, "Mending the relationship took time and a persistent effort to stay in contact. It also meant listening to my daughter's complaints and accepting responsibility for my mistakes. I tried to really get what her feelings were and tried to make amends and repair," he said. "Over the course of several years, it came back slowly."

Dr. Coleman says many parents are ashamed to admit they've lost contact with their children and parents report that a once close relationship has deteriorated after a conflict over money, a boyfriend or built up resentments about a parents divorce or remarriage.

Often, he said, parents in these situations give up too soon. He advises them to continue weekly letters, email messages or phone calls even when they are rejected, and to be generous in taking responsibility for their mistakes - even if they did not seem like mistakes at the time.

"After all," he went on, "parents and children have very different perspectives. Its possible for a parent to feel like they were doing something out of love," he said, "but it didnt feel like love to that child."

Friends, other family members, support groups and therapists, if necessary, can often help a parent cope with the loss of an estranged child. So can patience: reconciliation usually takes many conversations, not just one.

"When I was going through this, it was a gray cloud, a nightmare," Dr. Coleman said. "Don't just assume if your child is rejecting you that thats the end of the conversation. Parents have to be on a campaign to let the child know that they're in it for the long haul."
Showing 1 - 10 of 80 Replies
  • Reply #1 06/28/10  2:06pm
    Dear Mr Coleman..while I commend you on all you have done to regain your DD and all you have done to help others with this issue and expose it to the world.....the first thought in my head on reading this particular article is "Bite Me!!"
    10 yrs of beating my head on a brick wall..yeah..thats long enough..listening to complaints..hum..make that LIES and apoligizing for them..no thanks!!
    'Sorry I didnt let you smoke all the pot you wanted in my house..I was a bad mommy and shoulda bought it for you oh yes and the coke too..what was I thinking not helping you with that addiction too??
    ..yes everything you wife says is true..if she says we said/did it then it is true and we are so sorry for being normal stable people !!" yip..we are very bad people for not giving you every cent we had...how totally silly of us to offer you a roof over your head for nothing but the power bill and a stable job when it would take you wife a whole hr away from her mommy!
    In it for the long haul?? try these shoes on Doc and see how much longer you can walk in em !!
    Sorry ladies..exposed a nerve or 2 !! haha!
  • Reply #2 06/28/10  5:28pm
    Guess you told him! I do understand where you are coming from because it does take all parties to make an estrangement heal. It can't be just you and your husband it has to be son and DIL all working hard. Maybe one side can work harder but it has to be a mutual agreement to try and patch up what is broken. There are some rifts that a lot longer to heal and then some that may never heal. I regret you fall into these two last categories, then again out of the clear your son might decide to change. More miraculous things have happened. Hugs, C
  • Reply #3 06/28/10  10:27pm
    TL, you said it girl! I think this man has exposed many nerves of moms like us. I think he needs to know we do not see the same view out of the same window. > And it comes from a variety of experiences and valid feelings on this issue. There are many experts on estrangments right here.

    However, I do want to say I did have a good experience with the therapist dh and I went to see today and she seems to speak in the same language you do TL, Ching and many others here. So that is good news so far. But dh is on vacation with me at home this week, and as much as I complain of being alone I had better do what I said I would do 20 min. ago and sign out. I will tell of my experience tomorrow.
  • Reply #4 06/29/10  7:58am
    I read Coleman's book soon after the estrangement began. When I have a problem I read read read about the subject and try to find a way to fix it. That's my coping mechanism. It is very difficult to put his advice into action. To be continually rejected by the person you gave life to is unbearable. I haven't come to the point where I can apologize for something I feel was right. I've heard the expression do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? How bout correct and happy? What does it say about your character to say you were wrong about a situation when you don't feel that way? I made what I consider a stand about myself and my family and got kicked in the teeth for it. I really understand where ES & DIL were coming from on their side of the problem. However, their actions were in their interest only.
    Aware...looking forward to hearing about what you learned yesterday.
  • Reply #5 06/29/10  8:47am
    I think perservance is admirable in improving relationships with ECs. I do think they want to hear we love them and a card can do that. I do know in my case had I not called my ED and asked for her help on a real estate matter and before hanging up telling her I love her, we wouldn't be were we are today. It took a lot of courage to make that call, but someone needed to do it. I also know it may not work the same with ESs because most seem to feel we are unnecessary when they find a mate, and their only sentiment lies with the mate, mothers are disposable and they feel us a hindrance to their relationship with the S.O. Our demans make them uncomfortable and place them in the middle of two women. Often our husbands are caught in the crossfire and they expect a peaceful family without all the emotional fuss. I do believe Dr. Coleman says our kids are worth it and we should keep trying, hard as that is. Some people have been apart from EC for 7 or 8 years and I know by that time I would have given up.

    T/L and Aidansgran, in your case there is an issue of drugs first, and an issue of estrangement second. So you are battling on two fronts and I can see how that could destroy hope and cause battle fatigue. Some grandmothers have gotten in the frey and saved their g/ks from the parents, and that is so admirable, but a long, tough undertaking. I guess most of us would enter that arena if necessary.
  • Reply #6 06/29/10  12:59pm
    I am responding to this post with my recent attempt in "repairing" the relationships with my chldren, because of the topic. This is long, and my situation is unlike others, but hopefully maybe of some help. I know it helps me to write it out.

    So yesterday dh and I went to see a therapist I had talked to last March when youngest es agreed with me that having a mediater would be the best if getting the family together to try and work things out, but I was not willing to do all the work at that time. After this last episode in May when all 4 kids came over (un-invited) and proceeded to "put us in our place", I gave myself a couple of weeks to pull myself back up again and then decided NO MORE! This is going to get settled one way or the other and I will be in charge of the way it will work for ME in acheiving that goal.
    First of all this therapist I had talked to had said some key phrases which made me feel she new the dynamics of family life as changes took place throughout the years. Adjustments along with expectations of each family member, along with new members coming into the family and what that does to the original family. I did understand this concept from past experiential therapy, in that every time a person moves into the family home or leaves, you have a new family and everything changes. So throughout your life you can have several different "family's" where your role changes and adjustments need to be made in order that all members are respected and valued.
    We explained our situation to her, as confusing as it was, and she seemed to catch on quickly that our children did not make the adjustment yet from being our children to being grown adults. They were still under the assumption that we were here to be enjoyed for what we could give and abused for what they were not in agreement with, which is the same as being "adolescents" but older and not under our roof. The relationship shift was not made into the family unit they are now in and we are still being treated like their "parents" instead of a friend who is someone you treat with care a respect. So when we say "they treat their friends better than they do their own parents", their is some truth in that phrase. Dh and I did let go - very willingly, but our children did not. We have (had) respect for them becoming adults and seperate from us, but they are unable to see us any differently, which is the cause of much of the friction right now.

    She said we have three parts of ourselves that make a relationship; our hearts to love with, our brains to think our thoughts and our behavior to act on what we feel. What we do with our negative distructive thoughts in our behavior towards someone through words or action is what makes the relationship. So what we do matters, to those we love in our lives. Our behavior does say what we feel.

    This therapist also experienced some estrangment from brother years back when he did not make the relationship shift into his adult role with his parents,and it reflected also in there relationship together. Her dad gave her permission to not put up with his demands and let him feel what ever he wanted. He said she could not change him, and he was who he was, but she did not have to put up with his behavior. Her dad was also able to sit his son down and let him know that he was a "guest" in his and his step-mothers home when he came over with his family, and no longer someone living under his roof with the same feedom he once enjoyed. He would need to call first to see if they wanted company and other things that infringed on their relationship as husband and wife. Her brother was angry and estranged himself, but eventually did figure out that this was, the way it was, if he wanted a relationship with most of his family. So her dad and she herself made the rules of what worked for them, but respectfully. He is the one who chose not to agree with the dynamics of how the family respected one another.

    In "The stages of the family life cycle" dh and I are at #5- (There are 6 stages and will post later if I can find a full copy)

    Launching children and moving on.
    Task - Accepting a multitude of exits from and entries into the family system.
    Relationship shifts:
    A. Renogotiation of marital system as a dyad.
    B. Development of adult relationships between grown children and their parents.
    C Realignment of relationships to include in-laws and grandchildren.
    D. Dealing with disabilities and death of parents (or grandparents)
    Dh and I are right at A and B.

    This therapist said that there are hurt feeling everywhere in this family but according to our children, ours don't count. And they will not count until the shift is made, by them (with our help), but maybe not for many years, if ever. And with that to move on and leave the past without dredging through the same hurts over and over again. It is not about fixing past hurts, its about having good family relationships in the future and how to go about doing so from this point on. If someone needs to more work on repairing the pain they carry, then that is seperate from what she is here for in helping our family. Her purpose is to move us forward and not continually going backwards to dredge things up.

    So the plan right now is to bring (at her suggestion) our oldest ed and youngest es, who live here in town, in for a family therapy session, and specifically the oldest ed because she is the one child who is adoment about our guilt in the situation with es and dil with gd. The hope is to get the oldest along with the youngest to "see the light" in order to help the others over. She said she will explain to them the same way she expained to us the shift in our role as their "parents" and what our respondibilities are right now in the family and what they are not, any longer. What their role is as our adult children in making the relationships work for EVERYONE, and what is involved in making that happen even when one person in the family chooses to lean in a different direction, and causing unwarrented turmoil for others.
    Dh and I agreed to call ed who lives out of town first, to let her know of our appointment today and what we hope to accomplish, along with asking her brother and sister here to come with us first. So I called her last night, but chose not to go into detail about this thereapist, because what I say can be so twisted and the less said the less ammunition she has to use. It had been over a month sense I last talked with her because I had called her after the last "discussion" to let her know I needed time to think. She was very receptive to this idea and pleased her dad and I were "making an effort to get things resolved". I nicely said "Yes, we want that" while biting my tongue. She asked if her dad was going to call es, who lives over by her to let him know what the plan was right now, because she felt he should. I said I did not know, but maybe I would if he did not. She went on to tell me that after the "discussion" last month her brother told her that he felt good about the "effort" he made in the relationship. Well, I knew at that point to use the expression taught to me years back when dealing with a person who was not really "aware" of what reality was. "OH?" So I used that one expression until we said good-bye. Dh then asked about what she said, and I let him know how she viewed things. He just shook his head in disbelief. He then called ed here in town and she agreed to come into the thereapy session. He will talk to other es here in town later today. As far as calling other es who lives out of town, he just can't go there yet. But why should he? The last time we had words with es he was screaming at us with anger we had never seen in him before, not to mention the following day when going to es home here in town and him, dil and gd showing up, not saying one word to us for a full hour while we were "allowed" to sit and observe gd in front of all our other childen and their spouses!!

    So our take at this point is that our kids think we are going to a thereapist to see how "we" can change our ways and see the light, in order to make our THEM "happy".

    I told dh that I am going to walk through this and at least come out knowing what their thoughts are and the way they think. The rest is up to them and knowing for myself and for us at their parents that we have done what we could in finding a solution to the pain in our family and why its there. But in the end we have to live with ourselves and it may be without any of our children or maybe just some of them. I will not go on living as though we have no life without them. We have no life with them either if not done with respect of ourselves.
    Hope this helps -
  • Reply #7 06/30/10  7:01am
    aware, this is very intereting and helpful insight! So the parents are always the "wrong-doers" in the eyes of AC. That is why they sit back and wait for us to mend the fences or bow to their wonderfulness. In fact, they are immature twits play-acting as adults and poining fingers at us as inferior parents! More and more I think we need space from these children who recently morphed into a monarch butterfly. Of course we must live our life with or without them and hope they don't interfere in our mental health any further. Yes, aware, your revelation helps immensely. Hugs.
  • Reply #8 06/30/10  10:11am
    Very interesting aware! So great you found a therapist that gets it..now to see if your kids can get it!
    My ES would get up part way through saying "this is fing bull !!"..but I do wish you the best of luck in your efforts..keep us posted !!
  • Reply #9 06/30/10  1:25pm
    Dear Kristiem
    I relate to your reply. I'm in a dither, too. My AC has been picking at me for several years since she began seeing her dad again after decades of estrangement; he once molested her. No one cared on either side of the family; incredible lies and hostility our way. We were alone, unprotected through it. I stood up for what was right and also took on the full responsibility of providing. I was baffled by her needling and deeply hurt. Yet, desperate for the health of our relationship, whatever it took .. and for her to be "complete" .. I tried my best to absorb her accusations kindly. Apologized for stuff that I didn't think WAS WRONG. Like when I warned that her former husband's DUI's, leaving scene of accident, porn use, heavy drinking and ignoring her put her young daughter at risk (because it does) .. she seethed and repeatedly demanded a retraction. On the flip side, and with more perspective, I understand she saw me as a kill joy. Subsequently, he suffered a motorcycle accident that left him in a coma and otherwise betrayed her heart. Nevertheless, I'm LEARNING (through the CHURNING) not to express advice unless asked for. I think she pushed me away to find her own strength and personhood. Without realizing it, as a single mom, my presence was too "present." It's time for me now. It feels funky to focus on myself. But little by little, I'm getting the hang of it. I'm beginnning to cheer up. I don't feel it's appropriate for me to continually contact my AC. I think we both need time to clear our heads. But I still carry her in my heart. Just the same. I'm still designing a very special birthday gift for her. I just think sometimes .. space can be a good thing. When it's meant as respectful.
  • Reply #10 06/30/10  6:16pm
    very intresting i hopeit works out for you xx

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