The role of parents in navigating relationship with estranged children is one not often talked about. Why? Culture! Our culture says the elder is never wrong, right? Wrong!
Let me share a story with you.
AN IMPACTUFL EVENT OF MY LIFE
Everyone was seated around the living room. My heart was pounding and my palms sweating. I wanted to run out and not do this anymore, but I could feel the eyes staring at me.
Some eyes were curious, others were questioning. Yet others seemed to be filled with anger, it made me wonder what I had done so badly to deserve such.
I felt a pit in my stomach and I wanted to puke. Instead, I swallowed. My thoughts started spiralling- “where do I begin?” “should I start with a ‘thank you for your time’?”
“So, we are here! What was it that you wanted to tell us?” I was juggled to reality by that question. Tears filled my eyes and was threatening to choke the life out of me. My legs started to vibrate (this happens when I am under extreme anxiety).
“I wanted to share with you that…………*pause*……I was going to tell you what was happening at home………*sobs*……..Your brother (my dad) was doing hurtful things to me…….*breaks down crying*.
You can tell it was taking a toll on me to share what I had in mind. “I need to go to bed, if you are not going to share what is bothering you so much, let me know”. That was the closest to encouragement I got.
Without hesitation, I swallowed hard and spewed- “your brother (my dad) was molesting me before he died. He did this for three (3) years, and now he is gone, I don’t know how to feel or what to do, but I wanted to share with you all”
There! I said it. And there was silence……..
Over the last three (3) weeks, we have been exploring difficult children-parental relationship. We have looked at why people cut off their parents and how ‘children’ can navigate difficult parental relationships.
Today, we will be looking at what role the parents play. Relationship is a two-way street. Children (adults or underaged) are not the only ones that have a role in making it work.
Back to my story above, it is an open secret that I am estranged from my paternal family and was estranged from my other until her passing. So what I am writing about is a situation that I have not only done research on, but have lived experience in.
Let’s just say the seed of being separated from my paternal family started taking roots in my heart on this day. This day, when I summoned the courage to pour out my soul to my family about the molestation I had suffered in the hands of my father (their son and brother), I needed compassion.
In addition, I needed comfort, I was a scared and without I nor them realizing it was a moment of realization where we really stood with each other. It was years and layers of other issues later I finally made peace with living apart from them.
Over the years, I have reached out to make amend, peace. They are not having it. I have brought in other respected family members- still nothing. I even took my children once and my aunt won’t even as much as look at them.
Do not get me wrong, I have my faults, But I share this to help us see how sometimes as the parents/older adults in the relationship, we can miss it.
They missed it big time. With each attempt to make peace, I would walk away, adding another piece of a previous event that in my mind made sense. But this also validated to me over and over, I was unwanted and unloved, until I finally ‘got the memo’.
For a lot of parents, the truth is you have hurt your children. Their issues with you are not unfounded. You did do something- heck maybe a couple of somethings. And you have knowingly or unknowingly, validated to them they are unloved, unwanted and unwelcomed.
You may have made them feel small, like they don’t matter and won’t amount to much. So of course, no surprise that as soon as they can make that choice, they choose to stay far away from you.
Between the day I had this conversation with my family and when I finally pulled back from them the last person in the family it took about sixteen years (16years).
Some might wonder why I kept trying for so long. It was because of the most impactful part of that night.
Before I wrote Reve-Helaed, I used to think the most impactful part of that night was hearing some members of my family call me liar over what I had shared. But it wasn’t. Nor was it the fight I had with them over this, or the names I was called.
The most impactful part of that night and how it helped me want to make peace was in something my grandfather did. And even though I never realized it, that singular act influenced my decision to keep trying more than anything.
What did he do? He believed and affirmed me! He cried for me, cried with me. And then he apologized to me! He told me he was sorry on his son’s behalf. He gave me hope and told me what others refused to tell me.
I knew that I was seen, heard and loved. He acknowledged my hurt, the impact of the behaviour of the elders in my life and he did not judge me. This right here, made all the difference. But it is also very alien to our culture and beliefs.
Would you apologize to your kids? Would you acknowledge what their issue with you is? For some parents it is a lot simpler than others.
If you are a parent of an adult child, reach out to them. But if your kid still lives under your roof and the relationship is tense, these steps would help you repair the mend.
As the adult/elder, you may need to be the bigger person. Whatever it takes to win back that child. Think about all the years of sacrifice, would you just throw it all away?
10 THINGS PARENTS CAN DO TO WIN BACK THEIR CHILDREN
- Self-reflection: Pay attention to what they complain about and your actions or inactions
- their feelings
- your wrong
- the impact
- Listen without judgement: You may know better, but you do not have to judge what they do not know. Let compassion lead
- Apologize: All those aunties and uncles who left the room, please come back! LOL
- your intent (intent versus impact can differ)
- your heart (desires wishes and hopes for them)
- your support
- your expectations and displeasures
- your consequences
- love- always communicate something loving and consistently so
- Reach out: Do this frequently! If they are estranged, apologize with no defence. Sometimes they just want to see how serious you are. And if they are teens who have left home, one day they will come back to their senses. Your consistent reach out is how they would know they are welcome.
- Let your adult kids be: If you are confident you have laid the right foundation for them at key milestones of their lives, then trust what you laid for them.
- Deal with your own trauma: Many of our parents suffered trauma, but you have not dealt with it. You might continue to impact your child against your will, when you lead from trauma.
- Commit to change and seek help on how to do it– start wit knowing what your child wants from you
- Pray for them: When you build everything else on this foundation, success is sure. Prayer changes the other person- YES! But it changes you as well.
Overall, parents also need to put themselves in their kids’ shoes. Realize that your kids (adult or underage) are humans and that does not make them less than. It does not invalidate their feelings either.
When you yell at your kids, rain insults and/or don’t listen to them, stop and ask yourself- how would you feel if that was you? Would you like it if someone treated you in the same way?
We really need to normalize treating our children respectfully. If you disrespect your adult children, it’s because you are used to disrespecting them when they were kids.
Knowing all of these, how are you going to deal differently?
Undo the culture of silences with us, so many can be aware and learn. Share your stories with us below.