I’m often asked how long estrangement between parents and their adult children typically lasts.
Although there’s a wide range of answers from a few research studies, there’s nothing that can tell you how long you and your child(ren) will be separated.
The one thing we’re pretty sure of, I’m pleased to tell you, is that most estrangements are temporary.
Rejected parents often take too much responsibility for the length of estrangement between themselves and their child. They believe that if only they do all the right things, and none of the wrong ones, they should be able to bring their child back around.
Your behavior is indeed one of the factors in how long the estrangement lasts. But it’s not the only one. I hope this article leaves you feeling at least a tiny bit less anxious and much more hopeful than before.
Factor 1: You. You get to choose how you respond to your child’s desire for distance. While you’re likely to feel a kaleidoscope of emotions, bouncing from regret to anger to love to despair and a hundred others, you must decide whether you’ll let your feelings dictate your actions.
Some parents ignore no-contact requests because they can’t bring themselves to stop reaching out. In most cases, this is an obstacle to reconciliation, because the child never receives the space or time they asked for. Estrangements may be unnaturally prolonged by the emotional, impulsive actions of parents.
Other parents find the courage to examine the ways in which they’ve contributed to a negative relationship with their child. They approach their child with an open heart, and the child gratefully responds by opening the door.
But it’s also possible to do everything right and not see any movement at all.
And some parents continually fail to meet any of their children’s requests, but the child decides to reconcile anyway.
The reason is because there are other factors besides your behavior that affect the length of estrangement.
Factor 2: Your child. Your child is a growing adult with both an inner and an outer life. His perspective changes as he matures, such as when he gets married or becomes a parent himself. Assume your child is maturing with every experience, learning from the ups and downs of daily life. These can slowly alter his attitudes, desires, and even his values.
Your child’s responsibilities, goals, and other relationships probably take center stage in her life right now. The amount of time and attention she devotes to repairing troubled relations with parents may be extremely limited by her circumstances.
Your child’s general situation, and all that it comprises, is obviously beyond your control. It may even be, I daresay, beyond your comprehension. Since the estrangement looms so large in your mind, it might be impossible to conceive of how differently your child views it. For her, estrangement may be on the back burner of her mind, rather than at the center of her thoughts from day to day.
But don’t despair, because there are still other factors…
Factor 3: Pressure. Your child is subject to social pressure from a society that values and celebrates family. With every holiday that passes, he won’t be allowed to forget those from whom he’s voluntarily cut off. The external pressure to reunite never goes away. It’s not easy to be estranged from your parents; it never becomes comfortable socially.
Research indicates there’s also internal pressure for your child to reconnect. She may feel uncertain, as many adult children do, about the wisdom of prolonged estrangement. She’s navigating life without the benefit of parental support. In many cases, this is a huge loss.
These forces, both external and internal, are constantly in play. And they encourage your child to reconcile with you.
Factor 4: Time. The only constant is change, and the more time goes by, the more change happens. Time heals. The complaints that fueled your child’s cut-off will be less fresh tomorrow. In your child’s mind, the sharpness of whatever the problem was between you will dull as it recedes into the past. The good times you shared will have room to re-emerge in the wake of diminishing pain.
Time is not just a thief; it’s also a healer and a change-maker.
The mellowing of maturity occurs only as time passes. Your child’s perspective and understanding of relationships can potentially grow deeper as she ages. But she can’t age without time.
The combination of factors 2, 3 and 4 can create spontaneous reconnections that feel, in the words of one of our Reconnection Club members, “like a miracle.”
So don’t despair if you don’t know what to do to bring your child back, or if what you’re doing appears to have no effect. There are other factors at play, any of which can bring your child back to you without any effort on your part.
Your job is to be ready for a better relationship the next time around.
To help you with that, I wrote Reconnecting With Your Estranged Adult Child. It’s a book about how to make the most of your considerable influence as a parent.
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