Should Parents Present a United Front?

Spouses aren’t always on the same page about what to do when their adult children become estranged.

Should you take responsibility for your child’s decision? Or threaten to cut him out of your will?

Should you apologize for past mistakes that may have contributed to the estrangement? Or stop all communication until she comes around?

When parents can’t agree about an appropriate response, presenting a united front isn’t easy.

Fortunately, it’s not always necessary for parents of adult children to act as a team.

Why Unite?

When your child was a youngster, that was the time to make sure you presented a united front. Small children benefit when parents work together to provide a single set of rules, limits and norms.

But now that your child is an adult, you’re no longer doing “Time for bed”-style parenting. Being the parent of an adult is not about providing guidelines. It’s more about being a loving, accepting and non-demanding presence in the life of another adult.

So although you may have been careful to present a united front throughout your child(ren)’s youth, it’s no longer strictly necessary.

The most common reason parents may still want to stick together is to punish an estranged adult child for what they view as her poor behavior.

These parents want there to be consequences for cutting off family. So both parents stand firm in a united front of disapproval.

But disapproval — especially in the form of refusing to talk to the child — does nothing to solve estrangement. It only deepens and cements the rift.

Apologize Independently

On the other hand, one spouse might insist that the other get onboard with apologizing to the adult child — whether they feel like it or not.

While it’s fine to educate your spouse on the healing power of a good apology, if your spouse isn’t interested then your only choice is to move ahead on your own.

Don’t wait until your other half is ready to apologize as a couple. You could be waiting forever.

There’s nothing wrong with apologizing solo to your children. If you’re worried that your spouse will be left behind if there’s a reconciliation, that’s understandable. But it’s not a problem that’s yours to solve.

Allow your spouse to make up his own mind about how to approach his relationship(s) with his child(ren). And to live with whatever consequences follow from his choices.

If only one of you has been singled out for estrangement and the other is caught in the middle, also see the article on so-called “partial estrangement”: Are You Betraying Your Spouse by Talking to Your Child?

Separation Anxiety

Responding to an adult child’s estrangement independently doesn’t mean you can’t discuss the situation with your spouse. You two are still partners in life, if not in all things. The fact that you’re approaching the problem differently doesn’t have to create a problem between you.

Let your spouse know that you respect his or her decision, and that you hope s/he respects yours as well. If s/he would like help in implementing the same strategy as you, then by all means make yourself available for that.

You and your spouse are not the same person. You don’t have to operate as a unit. Even if your kids have always viewed you that way, you are in fact two separate individuals. Let yourself and your partner have feelings, needs and preferences that don’t necessarily match.

Estrangement is a crucible that many parents find leads to personal growth. If your partnership is tested by the current situation, know that how the two of you handle this can make your bond stronger.

Tolerate the psychological separateness of your partner, just as you’re tolerating your child’s physical separation right now.

Being separate from people we love doesn’t have to mean loss. For some, it can be the beginning of a closer relationship with healthier boundaries.

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