By Sheri McGregor
Have you ever been sock shopping and seen a multi-pack that was already opened? It’s easy to tell. There’s an obvious bulge, an unsealed flap, or the fold lines don’t quite match. Maybe you’re the one who has taken a pair out to check the size. If so, then you know the items just don’t fit back in as neatly—or at all. That’s how it can be when reconciling with an estranged adult child, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Unable to trust
Parents who are reconciling with an estranged adult child often confide they can’t quite trust their son or daughter. Even when things are going reasonably well, they may be waiting for the other shoe to drop. They have memories of hurt and sadness, and in reconciling with an estranged adult child, remain guarded. This may not be in mind every day, but there’s evidence to haunt them.
Old photos may reveal a bad attitude or a harrowing time. Or there are other more subtle negative effects. For example, another family member’s text arrives with attachments, and the notification might trigger panic: Is she forwarding my estranged son’’s abusive texts? Even a required veterinary appointment for a dog acquired as a puppy just before all hell broke loose, so not socialized well during an especially traumatic period, can bring up memories of all that happened before. Life is complex and estrangement situations are often multi-fanged. That’s why when reconciling with an adult child, even when it’s going well, parents might not fully trust.
Forgiveness helps the one doing the forgiving. However, forgiving doesn’t require forgetting (as I wrote in a previous article). The hurt doesn’t get erased because we forgive. Just as debt may remain for a gambler who changes his ways, even when reconciling with an estranged adult child, there may be consequences. In my opinion, it’s wise to guard your heart, at least to a degree. That’s how you protect yourself.
Recently, one mom, after reconciling with her daughter, said she wished things could go back to the way they were. It’s a wish I hear often, and one I understand. But without a track record of kind behavior, is it wise?
Not the same
Estrangement changes people. Parents who once saw in their children the moon, stars, and a future so bright it was blinding, have had a dose of reality. The curtain is pulled open to reveal truth, and it hurts. When your own child so desecrates the relationship, it’s like pieces of your very heart are ripped away and left for rats to scuttle off with in the dark.
Graphic, I know, but I’m describing what it felt like to me—and what thousands of other parents have said. In the face of such hurt, we’re left with a choice. We can learn, heal, and grow. Or, we can stay the same, let our hearts bleed, and remain open to further gnawing.
At some point, parents recognize that to survive, to enjoy life, to thrive, they must learn, heal, and grow. They can’t always bend, hop back into the package, or fit into the box quite the same—and they shouldn’t. Even in reconciling with an estranged adult child.
I know this goes against the grain of what some teach—to search out and apologize for some tiny grain of truth in the ADULT child’s complaint (microscope needed!), to treat their adult children like toddlers, and always listen and always praise. I hear this from parents who go to psychologists who specialize in estrangement, and I find the advice baffling. Where’s the learning? In fact, where’s the parenting? How is this any different than the toddler in the grocery line screaming for candy?
When indulgence fails, parents recognize the truth. They can’t change another adult. They can take charge of and change themselves. And in doing that, they change their lives.
Parents are people too
In both of my books, you’ll find sensible questions to challenge what reconciliation really means, but the real focus is on you. Portions of the latest, BEYOND Done, help you look at your own history, your family, and culture, and how those may have figured into your outlook and beliefs (or affected the genes). Some say knowledge is power, but it’s what we do with knowledge that makes a difference. You can’t change the past, but you can change your present and future.
Whether you’re currently reconciling with an estranged adult child or only hoping for the future, don’t squish yourself into a box that pinches and flattens you. Just as socks won’t fold neatly back into perfect shapes that scream “brand new!”, parents can’t fit into misshapen or broken molds that hurt them. To learn, heal, and grow includes defining and erecting some boundaries that support well-being, and allow parents to honor their own integrity. That doesn’t mean always getting our way or forever imposing our opinions on others, but it does mean our thoughts and feelings matter. Parents are people too. We count.