Return of the Prodigal – Restoring a Broken Parent/Child Relationship

December 23, 2014


Jenny and her mom, Karen, have not spoken to each other in five years. The reason? Jenny’s decision to marry her longtime boyfriend, Bill. Karen had long disapproved of Bill because of his checkered past, and she made sure her daughter knew it. When Jenny and Bill eloped, the contentious relationship between mother and daughter disintegrated.

Whenever relationships crumble the repercussions can be devastating, and not just for the parties involved. Sometimes, family members who are not part of the squabble may struggle with anger and sadness about a situation out of their control.

Given the toll that broken relationships have on families, it’s clear that reestablishing kinship is in everyone’s best interest. Although it may seem daunting, restoration is indeed possible.

Begin with forgiveness

Everett L. Worthington Jr., a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, devised a five-step program for emotional forgiveness called REACH, with each letter representing one step:

“First you recall the hurt objectively, without blame and self-victimization,” Worthington says. “Then you empathizeby trying to imagine the viewpoint of the person who wronged you. The altruistic part involves getting people to think about a time they were forgiven and how that felt. When it’s time to commit to forgiveness, people usually say, not yet, but when they finally do, they must then hold on to forgiveness.”

Put effort into reconnecting

You have to do more than say that you want to mend a broken relationship., an international news company, explained how parents can revive a shattered relationship with their children. These are steps that children who want to reconnect with their parents can also follow:

“Reach out … any way you can. Perhaps he refuses to take your calls or won’t come visit. That doesn’t mean you can’t still contact him and let him know you want to talk or see him so you can fix what’s wrong. You can write a long handwritten letter if you’d like, but you can also send a quick text message to reach out.”

Don’t expect immediate results

Relationships – particularly those among family members – aren’t likely to disintegrate quickly. So when it’s time to repair them, families shouldn’t expect a speedy resolution. As noted in a California Department of Human Resources paper titled “Family Feud: Repairing Damaged Family Relationships“, “If your family member rejects your request to talk, give him space and try to contact him again from time to time.”

In a 2010 blog post, psychologist Joshua Coleman cited a study in which parents in the U.S. reported “more conflict with their adult children than parents in other countries. The study compared the U.S. with Israel, Spain, Germany and the U.K. and found that the relationship between adult children and their aging parents were the most ‘disharmonious’ in the U.S.”

Although rifts between parents and their adult children may be on the rise, they are not insurmountable. And combating them is certainly worth the effort.

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