Reconnecting with family

Family relationships can be difficult and not all conflicts can be resolved. But if you are ready to reconcile, these strategies can help
They say family is forever. But what if you’ve had a falling out with a family member? Are there ways to mend broken ties and find peace? In How to Rekindle a Relationship With Estranged Family Members, social worker Amy Morin addresses the topic. Writing for Verywell Family, she outlines research from the University of Cambridge and the non-profit Stand Alone regarding family breaks. Morin says 54% of those surveyed agreed with the statement, “estrangement or relationship breakdown is common in our family.”

If you’re thinking, “My dad never seemed very interested in me.” Or, “My mom won’t talk to me since I came out,” you are truly not alone. Feelings like these can cause painful divides in families.

Estrangement follows certain patterns. It can carry a significant amount of guilt and anxiety about whether or not to reconnect. It may be helpful to know that most estrangement situations are temporary. The longest-lasting break about eight years) is between a father and an adult child. Walkaways between siblings are next-longest. Breaks between moms and their adult kids are most common, and about 5.5 years on average.

If you’re considering whether or not to re-engage, it’s normal to have mixed feelings. “The mere thought of resuming contact might stir up a lot of uncomfortable emotions, though—such as fear, sadness, anger, or hurt,” Morin says.

But the idea of restoring a bond might also make you happy.

Morin suggests first identifying the reasons you want to reconnect. Managing your expectations can prepare you for various outcomes. Keep in mind that asking for resolution may not result in instant harmony.

In The New York Times article, The Causes of Estrangement, and How Families Heal, Paula Span notes that 27% of people in one online survey reported estrangement from the family. Of those, half had been out of contact for at least four years.

For the article, Span interviewed Karl Pillemer, a Cornell University family sociologist. Pillemer authored, Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them. He and his colleagues interviewed hundreds of people who had experienced family estrangement. Pillemer notes that older people (around 76 and up) tend to have a “hang in there no matter what” attitude. For them, cut-off isn’t an option. With boomers and younger adults, there’s a greater willingness to part ways, accept the riff and move on if things aren’t working out.

There are many reasons people stop interacting with family. Difficult childhood histories and divorce are among the common causes. Kids can be more likely to lose contact with one parent or the other. Other reasons? Strained relations with in-laws, arguments about money, disapproval of sexual orientation, and polar political leanings, Pillemer says.

Resolution may not be simple. Letting go of the past helps make reconnecting possible. Accepting that you will never see eye to eye on every issue also helps. Embrace the imperfect, but set boundaries. For example, you are welcome in my home, but let’s start with short visits. And I’d like to see your best efforts to be kind and accepting toward my partner.

Only you can decide if mending a relationship is right for you. In