The question you need to ask when reconnecting with a parent after estrangement

Ending an estrangement is just as big a deal as going no contact in the first place.

Whether something huge has happened that’s made you want to mend fences, or there have been clear signs that someone’s changed for the better, there are plenty of reasons why you might want to reconnect with a parent. But it can still be an absolute minefield to navigate.

Fiona Yassin, family psychotherapist, and, tells that there’s a question you need to ask right off the bat to try and forge a new, healthy path.

‘Once the relationship has had a little time to heal,’ she explains, ‘which will be different for everyone, an important question to ask is “how can we ensure we do not get into the same mess again?”.

‘Quite often the conflict within a family system is circular, so it can help to acknowledge that this is not something that you want to happen or experience again.’

It sounds pretty simple, but don’t get it twisted – you still need to handle these interactions with care.

‘You could say, for example, “I enjoy having you in my life, but I am cautious, and I do not want to end up in this position again,”‘ suggests Fiona, who’s the founder and clinical director of The Wave Clinic. ‘”What can I do to protect our relationship going forward?”

‘This helps the parent to understand that you value and respect them, and the relationship is precious to you. To build healthy communication, it’s important you do not set conditions for the conversation, and you do not ask your parent (or parents) to change.’

If you’re the one reaching out, it’s important to make it clear why you’re doing so, and why you’re telling them the things you’re saying.

And if you’re looking for an apology, make peace with the fact that you may never actually get one.

‘Very little will be achieved if you ask a parent to admit their wrongs or apologise,’ says Fiona. Likewise, using accusatory language such as “you weren’t there for me” or “you weren’t nice to me” comes with a big dose of blame.

‘With that in mind, it’s important to only speak in the first person, which is less guilt-inducing and shows a willingness and openness to work on the relationship.

‘You could say, for example, “I understand that we have both had strong feelings in the past, but I’ve been thinking about how much I miss having you as part of my life”.’

You also need to try your best to manage your expectations, and remember that life isn’t like the movies – in reality, you and your parents may need time and space to process things.

‘Bear in mind that although you may desperately want to reconnect,’ says Fiona, ‘the other party may not, and [you] reaching out may come as a shock and surprise.

‘Prepare for a situation where you do not get the response that you’d hoped for or wanted – lots of people who try and reconnect with a family member can feel an added layer of abandonment and rejection if the parent doesn’t want to rekindle the relationship.

‘Approach this in a soft and gentle way and avoid Hollywood-style [gestures] like surprising the other party at their place of work or at a dinner – this type of reunion may sound fun but in reality it could lead to disappointment.’

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