TODAY   |  April 01, 2013

How to repair parent-adult child relationships

Navigating the parent-child relationship can be difficult, especially once your children become adults. Mother and son Susan and Christopher talk about how their formerly loving relationship became strained, and psychologist Dr. Joshua Coleman offers advice on how to repair it.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we have a new series all about getting clees closer to the people around you, parents and adult kids, calling it "on the brink." susan and her son christopher endured nearly four painful years without any communication. they shared their story in their own words.

>> the relationship changed when christopher was about 18 or 19 years old. his dad and i had very different parenting styles . i tried to set parameters and set rules, and that very much annoyed my son, and at the same time he was trying to exert his independence and find his way, as many young people do, in life, and that caused a lot of friction in our relationship. there was a disagreement on behavior. he and i had a big falling out over it.

>> at this one point in time she wasn't there to help me in the situation that i needed her.

>> that's where the communication totally stopped.

>> i really felt like this is just how normal relationships work, that's what i thought, it was just everyone has this little breakup.

>> it was about three and a half years that he did not speak to me and not having communication with my son or seeing him was probably the most painful thing i have ever experienced.

>> probably a year after we stopped talking to each other, i felt like empty almost.

>> i did make a real point of sending cards and gifts for holidays, with even small notes on them. i sent him a text message, and i will say, to my wonderful surprise, he responded back fairly quickly, and wrote, "i love you. i miss you. i'm so sorry for everything that happened between us ." as you can imagine, that was very emotional.

>> i tried to not be there for her, and that made me feel really bad, and now i feel like it's not an opportune time but a time nonetheless to try and reconcile things.

>> reconnection, like any relationship, rebuilding, it's definitely a work in progress . i don't have any false expectations. i'm very cautious. we're finding our new normal.

>> let's get some advice from joshua coleman, psychologist of

"when parents hurt: compassionate strategies when you and your grown child don't get along." good morning great to have you here.

>> thanks for having me.

>> four years without speaking to one another. how common is it for parents and adult children to have that kind of a rift?

>> it's sadly very common. i work with parents in my practice who have been estrangements for ten years, permanent estrangements. it's a silent epidemic because parents feel ashamed and humiliated and the kids as well they don't want to talk about it either. nobody wants to admit it. it's a huge problem in our culture.

>> what is the root cause ? we saw there a divorce was the catalyst in that situation. do you find that commonly?

>> divorce is the single most common cause i see. there's' number of reasons for that. when parents get divorced the kids may see the pashrents as being winners and losers, somebody got hurt more, highly individualistic culture, divorce can make children see their parents as individuals with relative strengths and weaknesses rather than a family unit. it can open the door for parental alienation where one parent can negatively imfluns the child against the other parent, hate them, feel contemptuous of them, stepchildren who compete with the child for resources so divorce is a common cause of estrangement.

>> the first tip you say for the parent, accept responsibility, take the blame?

>> i wouldn't say take the blame but if your child has been estranged from you there's something wrong there and they're very upset about so you have to start from the perspective of trying to understand and making yourself vulnerable and caring about it. typically in our children's complaints there's a kernel of truth, just like in our relationships, there's a kernel of truth so you want to go to that.

>> don't defend yourself, which is a corollary to the first but you mean don't relive the old fights, try to move forward?

>> yes. it's about your kid, it's not about you. if you defend yourself, you get into the right and wrong it's going to escalate. good principal to remember there are separate realities in every family. could you be a good parent and feel like you did everything right and your kid could feel like you missed something important about them. you were too preoccupied, too focused on your new marriage or partner or other things.

>> you say empathize and understand and don't give up. we have ten seconds but you think parents should keep at it even if there's estrangement that goes on for years.

>> some parents should unless you get restraining orders or kids sending back gifts then i don't think you should.

>> dr. coleman thank you.

>> thanks for having me.

>>> tomorrow how to cope when you become estranged from your siblings.