NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Family Estrangements: Understanding the Barriers to Reconciliation

I've been focusing on family estrangements between parents and adult children lately.  

See my articles:

What Are the Most Common Barriers to Reconciliation Between Parents and Adult Children?
In the current article, I'm focusing on the most common barriers to reconciliation between parents and adult children.

Family Estrangements and Barriers to Reconciliation

These include but are not limited to:
  • Parents Who Believe Their Adult Child "Owes" Them: For most estrangements between parents and adult children this is the #1 barrier to reconciliation. While gratitude is important, when the parents' attitude is that their adult children must now pay them back for what they did, either literally or figuratively, this is can be burdensome for adult children in a way that creates a permanent rift. If there is already an estrangement between the parents and the adult child, the insistence that the parents are owed something can maintain the rift and make it nearly impossible to reconcile.  Common examples include an expectation that the adult child will:
    • Reimburse the parents for money they spent when the child was young
    • Buy them expensive gifts or pay for expensive trips to compensate them for the money they spent on the child when the child was younger
    • Follow in the parents' footsteps with regard to traditions, career, residence, religion, political views, choice of a romantic partner and so on
    • Fulfill a wish or an ideal the parents were unable to fulfill for themselves 
  • Parents or Adult Children Who Believe Any Changes in Their Relationship Should Only Come From the Other Person: Parents who take a rigid stance that any changes to reconcile an estrangement should only come from the adult child can be setting up a formidable barrier to reconciliation. Depending upon the particular situation, both sides might need to make changes or compromises. Parents who cling to the idea that adult children can only "show respect" for them by doing things the parents' way create barriers to reconciliation.  Similarly, adult children should also reflect on any emotionally healthy changes they might need to make to have a healthy relationship with their parents.
Family Estrangements and Barriers to Reconciliation

  • Parents Who Don't Accept Their Adult Child is Now an Adult: Recognizing that your child is now an adult can be emotionally challenging because it means accepting that they have changed and your relationship with your child also needs to change. This means they have more autonomy than when they were younger. You can no longer insist on making decisions for them. You also have to accept that you are older. Similarly, under most circumstances, adult children need to accept they are now adults who can no longer depend on their parents in the same way they did as young children.
  • Parents Who Believe They Have a Right to Interfere in Their Adult Child's Relationship: This is a common barrier to reconciliation. You might not like your adult child's partner, but you don't have the right to interfere in their relationship--even if you feel sure you know what's best. Worse still, if you demand that your child choose between you and their partner, you are creating an emotionally wrenching situation for your child and possibly setting up a permanent estrangement. Similarly, adult children should not interfere in their parents' relationship under most circumstances. (An example of an exception might be if the parent is no longer competent to make decisions for themselves due to health or mental health issues and the other parent or stepparent is engaging in abuse, including financial/elder abuse). See my articles: 
  • Parents or an Adult Child Who Hold Onto Grudges Over Petty Issues: Letting go of past resentment can be difficult. Every situation is different, so there might be situations where whatever transpired on either side was so egregious that it's beyond reconciliation, but this isn't usually the case. Many situations start off with something relatively small and become bigger the longer the parents and adult child argue about it, so it's important for both sides to let go of grudges related to petty disagreements. However, if the estrangement is due to abuse, no matter if it was on the part of the parents or the child, there needs to be an acknowledgement of the abuse, sincere remorse and a commitment to change (see my article: Letting Go of Resentment).
Reconciliation Between Parents and an Adult Child
Estrangements can be difficult to reconcile.

Here are some things you might want to consider:
  • Why You Want to Reconcile: Your attitude and underlying reasons for wanting a reconciliation can make all the difference between a successful reconciliation and a failed attempt at reconciliation. The best reason is that you miss them and you want them back in your life. One of the worst reasons for wanting a reconciliation is that the estrangement causes you shame and embarrassment among friends and relatives. If your concern about how others see you is your primary reason, dig deeper and see whether you can focus on having a healthy relationship between the two of you and not about how you look to others.
  • Be Ready to Listen to What They Have to Say: You might have a lot to say, but listening with an open mind is also important under most circumstances.
  • Reassess an Attitude That Something is Owed to You: Whether you're an adult child or a parent of an adult child, reassess an attitude that the other person owes something to you. 
  • Remember: It's a Process: Reconciling estrangements can take time. If the issues are large, don't expect one or two conversations to resolve everything. Be patient, tactful and kind. 
What If a Reconciliation Isn't Possible?
One or both of you might decide that reconciliation isn't possible.

If you're the one who wants the reconciliation, this can be very painful. But, ultimately, you have to accept this decision and, eventually, after you have grieved, learn to move on to live your best life.

If you're the one who doesn't want reconciliation because you believe it would be too harmful for you--whether you are the parents or the adult child--this decision brings it's own grief and loss that can be overwhelming.

Get Help in Therapy
Whether or not you choose to reconcile is your decision. You shouldn't be coerced or shamed into it. 

Get Help in Therapy

Whether you're the one who is attempting to reconcile or you're the one who has decided against reconciliation, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who can help you through the process.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed psychotherapist who can help you to work through these issues so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.