You spent decades of your life raising your children. You poured your love, time, effort, and money into giving them the best life you could. Sure, you made mistakes along the way, but you tried your best. You only wanted good things for them.
So why don’t your kids want to talk to you?
Why is your relationship with them cordial at best, totally non-existent at worst? Why do they avoid any real engagement with you, if they are on speaking terms with you at all?
Your children probably know exactly why things are the way they are. They can describe the way you treat them and the things you’ve done that make them want to run the other way. If you can convince them that you are really prepared to listen, they may very well tell you.
You’ll have to be ready for that if you really want to know. It will likely be uncomfortable, galling, and painful. You will probably not agree with everything you hear, but at this stage that’s not really relevant. If you don’t understand your children’s perspective, you won’t get a chance to try and change it.
It is almost always possible to repair the relationship with your adult children. You just need to understand what the problem is to begin with. And to do that, you’ll need to ask.
Reaching Out to Your Estranged Children
If you’re going to try to communicate with your children with whom who you don’t have a good relationship, the best way is by e-mail or even mail. Trying to do this over the phone is going to be hard – emotions can derail the conversation pretty quickly. And don’t try to pull this off by text! Texting is not a good medium for dealing with serious relationship issues. (Believe me, I’ve seen that go sour time and time again.)
Start off by recognizing the obvious: the relationship is not in a good place. And then let them know that this is something you deeply regret. (You may think this is equally obvious, but you’d be surprised how frequently family members don’t realize this about each other.)
Next is one of the harder parts to swallow: accept the responsibility for where things are. It may not be true that it’s your fault. It may not be fair. But at this point, your kids may hardly be listening to you; getting them to agree that they are partly responsible for the situation is simply not a good starting measure. Hopefully that is something you will get to eventually. (The truth is it’s more likely that both you and your children have played a role in the deterioration of the relationship; but for now we’re just focusing on your contribution.)
So you tell them you recognize that you’ve done things wrong. Then let them know you’d like to do better, and ask for their help in accomplishing that. If you knew what you were doing that was so off-putting to them, you probably wouldn’t keep doing it. So ask them what it is. Tell them you really want to know, because you really do want to do things better.
Keep the focus on yourself and your own intentions; don’t pressure them or make them feel obligated to do what you’re asking (that will certainly backfire). Simply make it a request – “I’d really like to know what it is I’ve ben doing that has been hurtful. Would you be willing to help me understand?” An invitation will work far better than a demand.
You will need to convince your children that you really mean business. They likely believe you’ll never change. Perhaps they feel they’ve told you a thousand times what bothers them and you never listened. So be candid and be authentic. Tell them you’ll work to convince them that you mean it – that you really want to change whatever it is that’s the problem. You might also want to suggest family therapy –
There’s no guarantee that they’ll respond well, if at all. But honesty and humility are the best tools you’ve got to try to work at these relationships.
Here’s what a letter might look like.
I hope this letter finds you well. I’d like to open up a difficult topic here. I know our relationship has not been in a good place for years. I really regret that our relationship has gotten to this place and I very much want to do something about it.
I am sure that a significant portion of the fault here is my own, but I’m not entirely sure what exactly I’ve done to create this distance. I’d like to do things better. I wonder if you’d be willing to help me understand what it is I need to do differently. You may think this is crazy, but I mean it. I’d like to do it differently so that this is a relationship you’d want to be a part of. I will do my best to understand your perspective and make the changes needed to make that a reality.
Even if you believe it should be obvious, or that you’ve told me before, I’d like to ask for another chance to get it. I would be grateful if you’d give me that chance. You’re probably skeptical that it would make a difference, and I completely understand that. If you’d be willing to take the risk, I’d like to show you that I’m going to make good on this and try to do things differently, if you can guide me a little bit on what those things should be.
Thanks for reading this far. If you’re interested in giving me a chance, please write back. And, if you would be interested in joining me for a session with a family therapist, I would welcome that opportunity too.
While you can’t control your children’s choices, you can try to create an environment where they’ll want to make the choice to come back.
It may be helpful to consult with a family therapist before you reach out, or to meet with one while you’re going through this process, either with your children or without. (They can even join by Skype if they’re not in town.) Contact us today if you’d like our help with this tricky situation.
Learn more about our family therapy services here.
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Learn more about our family therapy services here.