According to several recent publications approximately one-third of all families are struggling with some type of estrangement. There are several reasons an estrangement may occur within a family, including when (1) there is significant abuse/neglect by a parent; (2) relatives disapprove of someone’s choice in a bride or groom, or the dynamic with in-laws becomes problematic as time progresses; (3) a couple gets divorced and maybe relatives sympathize more with the other spouse; (4) there is conflict over money, especially an inheritance; (5) someone fails to live up to the family’s expectations or (6) there is firm disapproval of a person’s lifestyle choices. Fault Lines, by Dr. Karl Pillemer is a fantastic book that I recently read, which does an excellent job of providing examples of each such scenario, as well as tips for coping with and/or overcoming this difficult situation.
As a family lawyer for over two decades, I have been privy to many stories of family rifts, and I have also witnessed the ripple effect that they tend to have over generations. Sadly, we have experienced this situation many times within my own family, and as a result I have come to accept that sometimes despite our best efforts, some relationships simply cannot be repaired. Unfortunately, we rarely talk about these painful issues and many often just don’t understand what could lead someone to completely sever ties– a dilemma that is poignantly portrayed in the recent movie The Banshees of Inisherin.
The truth is it only takes one person to opt out of a relationship and often the full extent of the collateral damage is left unknown for years. Within my own family, my mother was estranged from her father as a child, and this has always haunted her. I was estranged from my father, and it took me years in therapy to work through the trust and abandonment issues that resulted from that experience. The lingering issues that I have with both my parents have undoubtedly impacted my own relationship with my son, and we may never fully comprehend the full extent of how these rifts have been absorbed by my extended family. The undeniable reality, however, is that at this point no amount of repair work will ever fully heal the wounds that have cut deep into the fabric of our lives.
When you can’t count on your own family, it begs the question: who can you rely on? For those of us that have had to weather major storms within our family, the truth is we will carry that emotional baggage for life. As a result, true trust is hard-earned and can easily be lost. But if you want to mend a fractured family, make sure you proceed with caution (and professional help). Be clear about the motivations for pursing a repair attempt and setting realistic expectations for yourself. Go at a pace that works for you and establish clear boundaries upfront to protect yourself.
Ultimately, most family ties will face challenges or complications at one point or another. To achieve a sustained peace within our family units we need to be willing to adapt to changes while embracing the power of forgiveness. These may not always be easy skills to employ, but the alternative can be soul-crushing and dark. Realizing this, let light, beauty and grace enter your heart by choosing love.
By Regina A. DeMeo