“Our daughter hasn’t spoken to us in over twenty years. We don’t expect to hear from her during the holidays.” Parents in counseling lamenting the estrangement of their daughter.
In my private practice, I continue to work with divided families. Members who are estranged and choosing not to speak to each other. The reasons for this are different. Most prominent is the existence of longstanding grudges that members harbor due to some perceived offense or rejection. These can be so entrenched that members refuse to be present at the funeral of the offender or, even worse, take such hostility to their funeral. What a waste of such a short life to spend it poisoned by resentment. In my two practice books on Apology and Forgiveness, I discuss ways parents can let go of guilt and resentment with their young adult children. The lessons in these books clearly apply to other extended family members as well.
A second way that family members are divided is across this country’s political divide over the last four years. Clearly, the divide started earlier than 2016, and arguments surrounding politics have often surfaced as the turkey and stuffing were passed around. But this divide has become more hardened and personal in the last four years, and parents refuse to invite individual extended family members for a holiday dinner or celebration. What message does this send to our young adult children, especially if they are the uninvited guests? The divide has clearly occurred between the generations not just for political reasons but in other areas such as lifestyle, work ethics, sexual orientation, and gender roles. Did you know there are at least seventy-two different gender roles? Google 72 Genders for an education on this.
The third source of division my wife and I have experienced is the question of whether we can visit and have contact with our adult children and grandchildren based upon our COVID-19 risk tolerance and safety precautions. We will not celebrate Christmas with two out of three of our adult children and their grandchildren who have a greater risk tolerance and comfort with somewhat less restrictive precautions in avoiding catching the virus. Because we are in the high-risk category, and the virus is surging in Minnesota, we choose to be quite quarantined. Groceries delivered to the home, or curbside pickup is about as adventurous as we get. We can sense some irritation by those of our extended family who have been less restrictive and one couple who have been more stringent. We share the common feelings of hurt and sadness under irritability and frustration because we can’t be together. Our friends, clients, and everyone across the country can likely resonate with this experience and the surrounding sentiments. It just sucks!
Refuse to be a Victim
We can just whine and complain and blame our way through the holiday season like the proverbial Scrooge or Grinch, or we can enlist the help of our young adults and extended family members and view this crisis as an opportunity. The Chinese word for “crisis” comprises two characters – one for danger and one for opportunity. The “danger” in this crisis is clear to me every day in the clients I see – depression, anxiety, fear, anger, conflict, blame, defiance, disengagement, fatigue, isolation, to name a few. But within our cries of “isn’t this awful,” another voice speaks to virtues such as love, compassion, concern, forgiveness, apology, and celebration.
Life is a choice. How we respond to this pandemic and what we model to our adult children is of our own choosing. A wise philosopher once said that we all live “as if.” We can live as if we are victims of those forces that divide us, or we can celebrate our common DNA and find ways to better understand and make connections across our divisions. It’s not easy to choose to be optimistic, to balance the bad with the good, but the choice to do the opposite is undoubtedly a recipe for depression. It is necessary to embrace our children, young adults, and grandchildren and say no matter what divides us, we are still family. Our young adults are watching us as parents and how we will deal with the divides outlined above. Will we perpetuate these gaps or embrace changes that bridge them?
For more on healing practices, parents can embrace to address the divides with young adult children see my practice books on the topic: