Family and child estrangement is nothing new, but it’s much more prevalent than you might think. In fact, it’s so common that there’s even a TV show based around it. According to the Australian government Institute of Family Studies, one in four children see their parent(s) less than once a year after leaving home. So why does no one talk about it?
Last month, we asked the Over60 community to share their stories, and the dozens of replies only supported what many experts have long suspected – that child estrangement is indeed becoming a “silent epidemic”.
Over60 community member Delys Clark described having her son cut out of her life as “a living death”.
“It is heartbreaking, each and every day. I would never wish the loss on anyone. It is sad when a mother’s love is not strong enough, to bring him and his family back into your life. I live in hope each and every day. I miss not having him in my life, but he is never out of my heart. I love him unconditionally, always.”
Clearly, the issue is a complex one, and it’s unhelpful to blame estrangement on one sole issue, as it doesn’t simply come out of nowhere.
A single event or incident may push the parent or child over the edge, but it’s unlikely to be the only reason behind one person cutting the other out of their life.
Australian social worker and author of Family Estrangement, Kylie Agllias, said the decision to sever ties can come after “years and decades” of relationship struggles. “All the hurt and betrayals, all the things that accumulate, undermine a person’s sense of trust.”
Of course, everyone’s personal situation is different, and you may have no desire to patch up your relationship with your family member. In fact, being separate may even be the best thing for both of you.
But if you do want to reconnect, it’s important to remember that it can be done – just don’t expect it to be easy.
The first step is to reach out to them. You may be desperate to reunite, but they might not be, and if they aren’t, you should respect their wishes. Try to put your negative feelings aside and approach them in a non-confrontational way. Let them know that you still love them and want to reconnect and only have the best of intentions.
Self-reflection is another important step. If they aren’t responding to your attempts to contact them, try and put yourself in their shoes. You may feel like you’ve been wronged but try to see from their perspective how they might be feeling the same.
If they accept and you meet up, both parties need to listen to what the other has to say. You may not like (or agree with) what you’re hearing, but any hopes of reconnecting could be dashed if you jump on the defensive.
Once they’re finished, do the same. Explain how you feel, acknowledge the mistakes you’ve made and apologise – chances are they’ll return the gesture. Don’t try and make them feel guilty for being apart from you for so long – there’s nothing either of you can do to change the past, so it’s no use ruminating.
If your meeting goes well, don’t expect things to go back to how they were pre-estrangement right away. It will take time, and it’s important for both of you to respect one another’s boundaries.
Tell us in the comments below, have you reconnected with an estranged family member? How did you do it.
Article created in partnership with Over60