Family Business Matters 09/14 13:41
Farm Family Ties: Guidelines for When You're Cut Off
Being cut off from a family member is both painful and embarrassing, and
there are few people with whom you can discuss the issue, but there are books
that address the dilemma.
DTN Farm Business Adviser
"Rejection from the person whose opinion and love you care the most about
... makes the certainties of life feel precarious and unraveled." -- Joshua
Family estrangement is a topic I've written about several times during the
years, and for good reason: It's a common experience in rural families and
family businesses. Being cut off from a family member, especially one of your
adult children, is both painful and embarrassing, and there are few people with
whom you can discuss the issue.
Two books published in 2020 offer advice on how to heal estrangement. Karl
Pillemer's "Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them," which I
wrote about in March 2021 (contact me for a copy), is a good primer on the
sources of estrangement and pathways to reconciliation. Here, I add the
perspective of Joshua Coleman through his book, "Rules of Estrangement: Why
Adult Children Cut Ties & How to Heal the Conflict."
Coleman begins by helping us understand some of the historical and cultural
shifts that give rise to the increase in estrangement. For example, he cites
the trend toward individualism, noting that "emphasis on loyalty to the family
unit has been replaced with the pursuit of individual fulfillment." In that
pursuit, individual pain is often seen as having its roots in the family
system, particularly in the parental relationship. "Parents are more important
than ever in the narrative of how young adults understand themselves," Coleman
A related trend is the understanding of what comprises a "good" childhood
and, thus, good parenting. Coleman argues that what today are considered
harmful acts by parents would not have been seen as harmful in prior
generations. Problems or issues in the adult child's life today are at times
traced back to their parents. It doesn't matter whether that causal link is
real to the parents; it's real to the child, and parental cutoff may be the
EMPATHY IS KEY
The ability to identify with the feelings of someone else is of the utmost
"Empathizing with the child's complaint or perceptions, however at odds
these are with your own ... often determines whether they ever see their
children or grandchildren again," Coleman says. The ability to acknowledge your
child's belief that you, as a parent, caused pain in his or her life is central
to moving forward. Understanding and communicating that you caused pain, even
if pain was never your intention, is difficult but necessary to move forward.
Coleman promotes parents "making amends" with their adult children by
writing a letter to them. He argues that doing so shows you care and you are
courageous, and it clarifies how you see your responsibilities in the
relationship. It also shows that two people can see the same events
differently, while helping the child see him -- or herself more clearly as an
adult -- that he or she is in a relationship of equals.
But, many parents find this hard. They feel they may not have done anything
wrong, or if they do feel bad, the letter may make them feel even worse about
themselves. Some parents feel a letter might be used against them or will give
credence to the child's immaturity. Mistakes that parents make when writing a
letter include not going far enough in their admission of causing pain,
sounding defensive or resorting to explaining, or even blaming, instead of
If you have experienced cutoff from your child, you know the agony of
rejection by a person into whom you've poured your life. Recovering from that
experience means giving your child a chance to express why he or she has chosen
estrangement. It means acknowledging your contribution and looking for
opportunities, however slight, to reestablish a pattern of interaction. The two
books mentioned here offer good ideas on how to begin the journey of
Write Lance Woodbury at Family Business Matters, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite
415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email email@example.com.
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