Contact, Timing & Consistency

The keys to successHave you ever wondered how long you should wait before reaching out to your child again?

I’d be surprised if you said No. It’s the number one question I hear from estranged parents, hands down: “How long should I wait before trying again?”

It’s frustrating all around, because I’d love to be able to offer a specific answer that fits for you and everybody else. But alas, there’s no universal answer to that question.

What I can do is offer some general observations about contact, timing, and consistency.

Notes from the Front Lines

Having sat in therapy sessions with people who are actively rejecting their parents, I have some sense of what happens on that side when it comes to contact.

Every piece of correspondence that arrives is treated as potential proof that they’re doing the right thing by keeping their distance.

“This letter is typical of my father,” they might say. “It’s all about him and what he wants.”

Treat every word you send as if it carries the burden of counter-proof. Because it does.

If your correspondence or voicemails consistently disprove any unflattering beliefs they may hold about you, you will have an impact over time. Voicemail is better than email

Remember, everything you do with your child takes time. Let your actions breathe. Don’t overdo it.

Consistency is crucial, and consistency requires time.

Speaking of time…

It passes more slowly for you than it does for them. When you’re the one who wants more contact, it can seem like ages between attempts.

But for the one who wants distance, time flies between contact.

This is why some parents are accused of “harassment.” Their contact attempts are too frequent from their child’s point of view.

This is also why it might feel like it’s taking wayyy too long for your child to come around.

Keep this relativity in mind. When in doubt, err on the side of waiting too long. If you’re wondering if it’s too soon to reach out again, it almost certainly is.

Don’t over-analyze the contact schedule. As long as you’re not overdoing it, the exact number and timing of contact attempts may not make as much difference as you think. What you SAY is the most important thing.

Perfection has never been required — far from it. Your genuine intention to do right by your child matters more than getting it right the first time.

For Best Results, Don’t Expect Any

You may get it right more often than you realize. You can send the best, warmest, loveliest thoughts to them and still get no response. It’s not because there was anything wrong or missing in what you offered.

I’ve seen adult children moved to tears by kind, positive words from their parents, yet they didn’t reply. Instead, they took a “wait and see” approach — not to be cruel, but in an effort to protect themselves from disappointment.

It’s very hard to do this, but try to focus on yourself and the integrity of what you’re doing. Not on what you’re getting back.

Once you understand the needs we all share (see my book, Reconnecting With Your Estranged Adult Child for details), and you do your best to meet them in your child, you’ve done enough. Rest, wait, and eventually repeat.

If your estranged child is under 25 or so, don’t expect the relationship to resume any time soon no matter what you say or do. Your task right now is mainly to tolerate letting your child “forget” about you (just an expression, I promise) while they try their wings out there in the world.

The bottom line: Tolerate the feelings, whatever they are — panic, desperation, anger, frustration, grief. It’s not flashy, but tolerating difficult feelings is a life skill estranged parents can’t afford to do without.

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