Estranged from children
Finding a way to mend your relationship.
BY: Eleanor Yap
It is actually common to see children drift away from their parents and barely keep in touch or sometimes never. Though it is sad to see that a child one has borne is no longer close as once was, you shouldn’t give up on trying if you want to mend the relationship.
Some history involved
Lai Yen Hoon, senior social worker, TOUCH Cluster Support (Kallang) and TOUCH Senior Group Home, explained more about this phenomenon: “There are many reasons why seniors may have estranged relationships with their children. These could be due to differing treatment among children by the parents in the same family; strict parenting styles even till late teens; children who were difficult to manage when they were young tend to make parents feel like a failure and will not like the child as much or vice versa; death in the family; and money and housing issues.”
She added that depending on the extent of the estranged relationship, there may be cases where both parties have not seen or spoken with each other for more than 10 years, but this is generally uncommon. Yen Hoon brought up a case of an 80-year-old called Mr Tan, who has a strained relationship with one of his children. Since young, father and son were not close as Mr Tan focused on being a sole breadwinner and neglected his role as a father and his wife took care of the children. Hence, there was no close bond between father and son.
On top of that, Mr Tan was also a man of few words and hardly communicated with his wife and children. He would also cane the children whenever they misbehaved, further straining their tense relationship. Yen Hoon added: “This son probably grew up thinking his father never loved him. Their relationship deteriorated further after his son ‘cheated’ him of a large sum of money that his son claimed was for investment purpose.”
Added Dr Cecilia Soong, head of the counselling programme at the School of Human Development & Social Services (SUSS), “I honestly don’t think people just get estranged suddenly – there is usually some history to it. It could be attachment issues in parenting – resulting in lack of love for one’s children or even neglect. Hence, when the children grow up, they just move away from their parents.” She added that in families, where there are social pathologies like mental illness, drug abuse and incarceration, children growing up in such families might find it difficult or challenging to bond with their parents, thus they may become estranged when they become adults.
There are often two kinds of ways parents and children become estranged. It can be in the form of “distancing” which Dr Soong shared that this could be a reluctance to meet up, perhaps occasionally at festive events and done in perfunctory ways. Then there is the “cutting off” case which is more permanent. “The cutting off case would mean no physical contact at all. In both cases, the emotional ties are severed, with the cutting off case totally so,” she added.
Let’s come together
So how can things be mended, or can they? Yen Hoon said, “Generally, with our Asian values of respecting our elders, it is rare for seniors to take the initiative to mend these relationships. If they wish to, some may ask family members, close relatives or family friends to pass the message and/or set up a casual meet-up. Family relationships, the most basic of all forms of relationships, is still treasured in our Asian society and seniors would want to mend it before they pass on.”
But what if both parties don’t see a need to mend it, should they then give up on the possibility of reconciliation? She advised: “Assuming a situation where both parties have their reasons for not wanting to mend the relationship, we can only propose to mend it after working through with at least one of the parties by helping him or her see and understand the whole picture and where the other person’s viewpoint comes from. This is from Stephen Covey (author of books like “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”) – seek to understand.”
SUSS’ Dr Soong shared five tips for seniors, which might aid in their reconciliation process:
1) Be intentional – This shows genuineness in wanting to reconcile.
2) Show concern and interest – Ask about your children’s lives, ask about their work, hobbies, families (especially their children) and other pet subjects.
3) Be involved and contribute – As actions speak louder than words, for example, see if there are grandparenting opportunities, or some other ways you could render help.
4) Express in writing or audio-recording – This could be quite emotional. You could begin with gratitude – showing thankfulness for your children, highlighting happy experiences in their growing-up years and savouring the positive emotions.
5) Truly reconcile – Seek forgiveness, if this is culturally-appropriate, as this is a powerful strategy to restore relationships. This could be conveyed using point 4.
Advised Yen Hoon, “As part of helping seniors to lead fulfilling lives, it may be helpful to start talking to healthy seniors about any unresolved conflicts and find out if they have any ‘last wishes’ to reconcile with family members or even, friends.”
After all, isn’t it better to reconcile now as they are your family? As much as we might want to “trade” some family members in, they are still our family and a reconciliation may be a consideration rather than leaving this world with things unresolved.