“Please go away and don’t try to contact us again,” the young adult told her parents, who were outside of her apartment, begging her and her husband to come out and talk with them. These parents were desperate to communicate with their married daughter and had traveled a long distance to visit her only to be told to go away. To this day, the daughter and son-in-law refuse to communicate or provide any explanation for their cutoff of both sets of parents. How heartbreaking this is. Only the death of the daughter could be worse than this rejection. So, what can a parent do?
Apology & Forgiveness
As the Holiday season is upon us, many families will have an empty chair at the dinner table belonging to some absent young adult or relative. Sometimes this absence is by the young adult’s choice, and sometimes the decision is the parents’. There are two “practices” that address these challenges. These are the healing practices of “apology” and “forgiveness” as described in our practice books.
How do these practices apply to the absence of the young adult from the holiday gathering? If the young adult has shunned the parents and refused any connection or communication, the options are limited. We have to start with the assumption that we cannot control the young adult and are not responsible for their actions. However, we can offer an apology for whatever we may have done to alienate the young adult and spouse (if married). If the actions are known, we need to apologize even though the actions may not have been intentional. Good intentions don’t obviate the need to apologize. We routinely apologize if we bump into someone in the check-out line of a store even though we didn’t intend to. Also, an apology cannot contain qualifiers such as “but” or” however,” which negate the apology and blame the other.
Along with a sincere apology, we can ask for forgiveness from the young adult even though we may not have known what we did to contribute to the alienation. All communication should be made with a promise that your love will continue for the young adult no matter what.
The Gift of Forgiveness
Unfortunately, sometimes the empty chair at a holiday meal exists because the parent has cut off all contact with the young adult. Maybe the young adult has been irresponsible, become involved in illicit drug usage or violations of the law, or in many cases, one or both of the parents refuse to invite the young adult because he or she may cause a scene. This rejection or shunning in this case by parents will cause emotional pain for both parties. Parents and children are wired for relationships, and intentional efforts to undermine this damages both parties. Inviting the young adult to a family holiday event is not condoning their behavior. Rather it is reinforcing the message that “no matter what, we still love you.” In such circumstances, can we, as parents, can take the high road for the sake of this message and invite the young adult home? Is there an opportunity to forgive the young adult for certain actions that will open your heart more to them? After all, we know that forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves that sets us free from anger and resentment.
There is a Chinese saying that being angry and resentful against another is like holding a hot coal in one’s hands and thinking about throwing it at them. Who gets burned and suffers in these situations? To understand more about how to forgive both the young adult as well as ourselves, consider obtaining Forgiveness: The Gift We Share with Our Young Adults.
At the very least, if we can’t quite get to forgiveness for the holidays, offer a truce along with the invitation and commitment to not bring up certain subjects that we both agree would be disruptive or contentious. If we aren’t quite ready to give the gifts of apology and forgiveness, at least call a truce on Christmas or other holidays to recognize that no matter what, they are loved and are family.