How to talk to children about parents re-entering their lives after being absent for many years

Clinical experience has shown me that although parents are not always directly to blame for estrangement from their children, they are typically the ones who must initiate repairing these relationships.

This can seem like a tall order; getting parents to take the lead is not always an easy task. Most parents feel they have invested a lot in their children and shouldn’t have to go hat-in-hand trying to get their children back into their lives. Plus, it’s hard for many parents to hear how they may have let their children down, let alone admit to those shortcomings. In addition, some adult children keep the door so tightly closed that the parents must face ongoing rejection and even abuse if they try to reach out. Under these conditions, many parents will feel tempted to give up.

For those parents who haven’t given up, know that it’s hard to get far in the parent-child reconciliation process without honestly acknowledging the ways you may have contributed (or continue to contribute) to the difficulties between you and your children.  Acknowledgment isn’t a cure all – you may face problems bigger than both sides. Your children may have mental issues they’re attempting to manage, or perhaps they have troubled or possessive spouses. You may have to deal with your own ex-spouse perpetuating the conflict between you and your children, or your children may attempt to blame you for the way their lives turned out to avoid accepting their own responsibility. What’s more, your own childhood history may have affected your ability to withstand your children’s complaints long enough to cobble together healthy responses to them.

You should start by trying to understand why your children feel the way they do about you – not because you deserve a proportionate punishment for your mistakes (real or perceived), but as an act of parenting and recognition of the changing nature of modern parent-child relations.

Repairing the parent-child relationship

Attend reunification counseling with the children.

If your children are young, they may be frightened and overly emotional, depending on what they witnessed during their parent’s relationship, says clinical psychologist Jancy King in her article ”Reunification Counseling: Re-establishing a Positive Relationship Between Parent and Child,” published on the Toronto Psychological Services website. Older children may have years’ worth of pent-up emotion toward an absent parent, and adult children may need help communicating to the parent with whom they’ve had a disagreement. Reunification counseling can aid in resolving issues between parents and children.

Acknowledge what your mistakes were in the situation.

Your children want to know they have your respect and that you acknowledge your role in a broken relationship, says psychologist Joshua Coleman in his article “How Parents Can Start to Reconcile With Estranged Kids,” on the Greater Good Science Center website.  Blaming others will not help your relationships with your children. Your children will respect you for owning your part in the estrangement.

Do not compete with their other parent for your children’s affection; the other parent may have a healthy relationship with the children. It is in your children’s best interest to have solid relationships with both parents, advises associate professor of social work Edward Kruk in his article, “The Impact of Parental Alienation on Children,” published in Psychology Today. Focus on building your own bonds with your children.  Knowing that you support their relationship with her other parent helps relieve anxiety they may feel about the situation.

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