Families can be complicated and sometimes, rifts can happen in our closest relationships. Relationships we have with our parents often come with many complicated emotions and perspectives due to how close these relationships can feel. For some people, it often comes to a point where the relationship with one or both parents has a significant impact on their mental health, sometimes leading to a period of disconnect and disassociation. These times can be challenging, but if you are in a place where it feels healthy and safe to repair a turbulent relationship with a parent, there are ways to make that happen.
In this episode of the Modern Intimacy podcast, Dr. Kate Balestrieri and Yolanda Renteria discuss the challenges of adult child-parent relationships, how those relationships can be repaired, and how to protect yourself in the process.
Should You Fix a Broken Relationship with Your Parents?
The decision whether or not it’s a beneficial decision to repair a relationship with parents is not an easy one to make and often comes with a lot of careful thought. Blowouts or even simple arguments with our parents can feel incredibly destabilizing. Feelings of hurt, betrayal, and confusion can ensue when the people who raised you cause you harm. The decision to repair or not repair might help when you think of some considerations.
First, what has repair tended to look like in the past for your family? For some, the answer might be “it hasn’t look like anything because we’ve never repaired.” For others, it might bring up memories of escalation of additional tension and arguments. Start by thinking about the role of repair (or the lack of repair) in your family dynamic to give you a sense of what conflict has looked like in the past. This can provide a likely blueprint of what kind of resistance or defenses might come up.
When you think about the ways in which your family has or hasn’t repaired in the past, what potential triggers might arise for everyone? For example, if a parent has a short temper and lashes out during heated conversations, how can a safer environment be created around conversations to best ensure everyone remains calm and grounded? To be clear, you are not responsible for your parents’ reaction to conflict, but perhaps the family can work together to establish a safe setting before the conversation begins.
What boundaries might you establish before reconnecting with your parents? It can be helpful to plan these out ahead of time as thoughts can be easily forgotten during high stress conversations. You might decide to write your boundaries down on paper or on a notes app on your phone, just in case you lose your place in the conversation. Once you have your boundaries, what are the consequences of those boundaries being dismissed or downplayed? Can those consequences be communicated to your parents during conversation?
How to Fix a Broken Relationship with Your Parents
Decide if the relationship is worth saving
Before putting in the emotionally challenging work of repairing a broken relationship, have a heart to heart with yourself about the potential short term and long term impacts. The decision to save a relationship that has caused you pain in not an easy feat and one that cane take a long time. If you feel confident and sure that both you and your parents are willing and able to put in the work, make sure you have support around you in the form of loved ones, therapist, etc.
Spend quality time together
It can be hard to genuinely repair by forcing everyone to be in each other’s company. Being intentional with how you and your parents spend time together can help ensure a safe and promising environment for growth. For example, if going to your parents’ house feels threatening due to being in their domain, perhaps you can suggest meeting for lunch or going for a walk together in nature.
Work to rebuild trust
Rebuilding trust once trust has been broken can be one of the hardest parts of fixing a broken relationship. When someone who loved and is supposed to protect you fails to do so, it can feel incredibly painful. It’s your choice and your choice alone if you want to forgive your parents for any harmful behaviors they’ve inflicted on you. If forgiving does not feel accessible, don’t force yourself to forgive and rebuild if you’re not ready.
Find appropriate time to talk openly and honestly
Preparing for a potentially confrontational conversation and be anxiety inducing. Working towards developing healthy communication can certainly strengthen your relationship with your parents, but it can take some time to get there. When you have conversations about repairing the relationship with your parents, make sure you’re in a place that is safe and where you have access to leaving, if needed. You can have a say in where and when these conversations happen.