There is no perfect parent/child relationship. In fact, as we grow older, we may find ourselves increasingly remorseful over decisions we made as a parent, some of which were made with the best of intentions. While these developmental years are critical, what I believe is equally important is the ability to build a relationship with your grown children that is healthy and mutually respectful. Unfortunately, depending on the damage, this may take years. The pain of childhood carried into adulthood is deep and sometimes bitter with the end result that you might be dealing with an adult son or daughter who no longer wants a relationship with you. If you are determined to start the process of reconciliation, it is critical that you maintain an honest, realistic perspective. Only in Hollywood does the relationship get renewed in 120 minutes accompanied by a fanfare of beautiful music. Before you even start this process, get a pen and notebook. It isn't perseverance that will influence your efforts; it is your willingness to answer openly and honestly the following questions:
Do not start this process if you feel that you are unable to answer these questions without causing further damage to your own emotions.
1. What past behaviors do I need to acknowledge? This is not the time to defend or to blame. It is simply a time to reflect on those times in your child's life when you either caused pain, allowed someone else to cause pain, or ignored your child while they were encountering their own pain.
2. What changed me so that I am no longer that person? Unless a person has really had an epiphany and has determined that they need to grow and change as a person, then the effort of reconciliation becomes an exchange of words without depth or impact and this exchange could result in further damage to the parent/child relationship.
3. Do I owe my child an explanation, an apology, or both? Children do not usually have access to all of the circumstances that have impacted their lives and it might be necessary to share some personal information in order for your grown child to understand the "why" of events in their childhood. However, regardless of the history of circumstances you might very well owe your child an apology. If this is the case, make sure that the time and setting are appropriate. Keep your words simple and genuine. Ensure that you keep in place boundaries that guarantee your own physical and emotional safety.
4. What kind of relationship/closure do I need from my child? Sometimes a parent simply wants to "make things right" and does not possess the desire to build a closer relationship with their child. However, sometimes a parent wants to build a foundation upon a newly established relationship. Only you can decide what is right for you.
Regardless of the outcome, the important fact to remember is that you are putting your own life back together as well as trying to help your child to heal. There may be rejection and anger at first and this reality is something that you must accept. True reconciliation can only occur if your child truly desires to rebuild a relationship with you. This could take years, however if you are determined in your course of action to speak to your child about these sensitive issues, stay focused upon your reason for reaching out and understand that the decision alone to build bridges is commendable.