Reconciliation is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

emerging into lightIf you prefer listening to reading, don’t miss Reconnection Club Episode 55: Reconciliation Is a Marathon

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It’s always a thrill when I get email from parents who’ve succeeded in reuniting with their formerly estranged adult children. In their stories I hear self-awareness, stamina and courage, and I’m so filled with happiness for them and their families, I could pop!

While congratulations are always in order when communication is re-established, it’s important to recognize that achieving contact doesn’t mean it’s time to relax the efforts you’ve been making.

Once you’re back in touch, you’re in the honeymoon phase of reconciliation. It could last minutes, hours or months, but it’s rarely permanent.

Even though you and your child will undoubtedly both be pleased to reunite, any troublesome dynamics that contributed to the breach will almost certainly reappear at some point.

You don’t have to walk on eggshells for the rest of your life, but you will need to carry the following tools with you, and keep them close at hand, especially in the beginning.

1. Seek First to Understand

When trouble arises between you and your child again — and assume that it will — put aside “The Facts” of the situation and focus on trying to understand where your child is coming from.

It takes mindful effort to be a curious, caring, non-judgmental listener, especially with family. Start practicing today on friends, coworkers and strangers to get a handle on what it feels like to drop all expectation, and simply try to understand another.

Consistently offering this kind of compassionate listening will make you popular with your child, and probably everyone else around you.

Need a catchy reminder? “When in doubt, hear them out.”

2. Apologize Like a Pro

As you may know, I see apologizing as a relationship tool, not a shaming exercise for people in the wrong. It’s for anyone who wants to repair a bond that’s in distress. Word on the street is that a good apology, restated in a heart-felt manner as often as necessary, can work miracles.

Remember to seek compassion and empathy from your spouse or partner, peers or your own parents so your emotional-needs bucket stays full and you can apologize from a magnanimous place.

You deserve to be heard, understood and validated every bit as much as your child does. In fact, you might love to hear an apology yourself. But if you’re looking to get that from an adult child who’s upset with you, unfortunately you’re barking up the wrong tree. Know where to go for comfort and kindness, and use those resources liberally.

3. Expect to Be Tested

In the wake of your reunion, your adult child might not yet be sure of your intentions. “Will things really be different this time?,” he or she wants to know.

There’s one way to find out, and that is to test you. Testing isn’t a critical or manipulative act; it’s a human one. We humans like certainty, especially in important relationships.

We need to know whom we can count on, whom we can trust, who likes us for us, who’s got our back, etc.

If you’ve changed how you relate to your child, s/he will almost certainly test that change, consciously or not.

If your child starts behaving in ways that trigger you (e.g., blowing hot and cold), remember that testing is natural. Try not to take it personally, and do your best to respond calmly and consistently as The Parent.

Once it’s clear that the positive changes in your relationship are permanent, testing will decrease and eventually stop. Be patient, as it could take a while.

Keep these three tips in mind — Listen, find reasons to apologize, and respond calmly to testing — whenever you have contact with your child.

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