How would you feel if your estranged adult child came back into your life today, with a kind and open heart?
What if you could hold a beloved grandchild, or take part in a family gathering, surrounded by smiles?
You might immediately answer, “Well, that’s what I want, obviously.” But that wasn’t the question.
The question was, how would you feel if it happened?
The things we long for are not people. They’re not even things. What we long for are emotional experiences. Longing equals wanting to feel different than we currently do. Usually, better.
Everything we want in life, we want for how it will help us feel.
When we feel anxious, we don’t just want a drink; we want tranquility.
When we feel ashamed, we don’t just want forgiveness; we want acceptance.
When we feel threatened, we don’t just want a court order; we want safety.
The things we reach and strive for, are always in service of an emotional experience. And the more fervently we wish for something, the more this tends to be true.
If you want new clothes, it might mean that the old ones no longer fit, or need to be replaced. But if you long for new clothes, there’s likely an emotion you’re seeking through getting or having new clothes.
Know Your “Why”
If you’re the parent of an estranged adult child, and you want to reconnect with her or him, you might never think to ask yourself why you want to reconnect.
Maybe that seems like a foolish question. The reasons are obvious:
- I miss him so much
- She’s my only child
- I don’t want him to think I don’t love him
- I’m worried she’s not happy
None of the commonly stated reasons above touch on the driving force behind an overpowering desire to reconnect: The parent’s quest to feel better.
This is not to denigrate or minimize parents’ feelings, or their desire to reconcile with their children. It’s natural to want that connection, and there’s no crime in wanting to feel better when you’re hurting.
But asking why you want to reconnect with your estranged adult child — i.e., what feeling you’re seeking from that — could open the door to feeling better right now, today, instead of when your child is ready to reengage.
Emotions of Reconnection
Let’s revisit the question above: How would it feel to enjoy the relationship you want to have, with your adult child(ren) and grandchild(ren)?
When you quiet your mind and imagine getting exactly what you’re looking for, you will connect to one or more emotions.
The possibilities are many. Here are some feeling words to get you started, but they’re not the only ones you might experience from reconnecting:
Relief, acceptance, safety, belonging, peace, calm, connection, approval, visibility, confidence, gratitude…
And those are just a few. Even if reconciliation isn’t imminent, it’s not dangerous to think about it and embrace the emotions that come up. Whenever you feel any emotion, you reconnect with yourself.
Sometimes, connecting with your “why” — the longed-for emotional experience — brings tears. That’s okay; tears aren’t lethal and may be healing as long as you greet them with self-compassion.
On the other side of the tears, the wonderful emotional experience you seek (i.e., feeling better) is waiting for you. It’s been there all along. Your child is neither the only nor the best source, right now, for positive feelings.
Feel Better Now
This is all very theoretical, so here’s an illustration of how you can feel better by connecting with your “why” for reconciliation.
Farah longs to reunite with her estranged adult child, who hasn’t been in contact for over a year. Feeling rejected and miserable, she’s often tearful and lives in a state of incompleteness, with bad days and better days.
Farah is scared to think too hard about how she would feel if her child were back in her life, though she’s not sure why. But she’s got a good friend for support, and recently scheduled an appointment with a local therapist. So she decides to sit down and ponder the question, “How would I feel if my child came back?”
When Farah imagines reconnecting with her child, she pictures the reunion she would love to have, the words and expressions she longs to hear and see, what they would do together and, most of all, how she would feel if all of this came true.
Farah glimpses a sense of relief from the near constant feeling of failure and shame that have dogged her throughout the estrangement. When she pictures a happy reconciliation, Farah feels accepted, appreciated and validated as a good person.
Acceptance, appreciation and validation are Farah’s “why’s.” They describe the emotional experience she longs for. Until now, she thought she had to wait for her child to bestow these on her.
But those feelings are available to her right now; no one else needs to be present, let alone give permission for Farah to feel them. She can experience the validation, appreciation and acceptance she needs, simply by creating a mental image that connects her to those feelings.
Getting in touch with why you want to reconnect with your adult child and/or grandchildren is a simple yet powerful way to access the good feelings you’re seeking — whatever those may be. Everyone is different, but we all want to feel better when we feel bad.
So ask yourself why you want your child in your life. Go underneath the platitudes and get to the emotional experience you’re seeking.
The more intense your desire to reconcile with your estranged adult child(ren), the more effective this exercise may be. If possible, explore it with your therapist or a supportive, trusted friend.
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