Repairing after estrangement and avoiding round two

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD suggests ways parents can reconnect with estranged adult children
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Repairing after estrangement and avoiding round two

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A lot of the parents that I work with haven’t talked to their adult child for years, sometimes 10 years as much as that. They want to know, “What can I possibly do to get my child back?” And sometimes there are a lot of things that they can do. I’ve worked with many, many parents who are back in contact with their adult child having done the right thing. The main thing is you don’t want to do the wrong thing. You don’t want to criticize; you don’t want to blame; you don’t want to criticize the other parent if there was a divorce; you don’t want to try and remind them of what a great parent you were. You want to reach out to them, be empathic, try to find the kernel of truth. In general, most parents know why they’re estranged and so you want to write a letter about that, what I call in my book, “An amends letter,” where you talk about all the ways that you think that they’ve talked about that were upsetting to them; you want to address those things. You want to be empathic about that and apologize to them for that. But some parents have a hard time with it. They feel like, ‘Well why should I have to apologize to them? They were my kid; I did the best that I could.” And, in fact, you probably really did do the best that you could; it’s just that it wasn’t enough to repair your relationship with your child. Many of the parents that I work with are able to heal the estrangement with their child by continuing to reach out, by being interested, by being loving, by being dedicated. Now the only case where I tell parents not to do that, and this happens tragically, is that some parents are sent restraining orders, they have the police called on them, everything that they send to the kid gets sent back. In that case, I don’t think that you should do that. I think you should let the line go cold for a while, create a vacuum. Hopefully your child will mature enough or change enough to want to have contact with you. Maybe in a year or so you reach back out.
ALL PARENTS, Parenting, Family Life

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD suggests ways parents can reconnect with estranged adult children

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Expert Bio

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Joshua Coleman, PhD

Author & Psychologist

Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization composed of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. He has lectured at Harvard University and The University of California at Berkeley and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine, the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, PBS, AARP,  America Online Coaches,  and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice appears often in The New York Times, The Times of London, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun and many others.

He has served on the clinical faculties of The University of California at San Francisco, The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology, and the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written four books:  When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along (HarperCollins) The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin's Press); The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin's Press); and Married with Twins: Life, Love and the Pursuit of Marital Harmony. His books have been translated into Chinese, Croatian, and Korean, and are also available in the U.K., Canada, and Australia. He is formerly a contributing editor to Twins Magazine.

 Dr. Coleman is a sought-after public speaker on topics related to the family. He is also co-editor, along with historian Stephanie Coontz of the yearly online volume, Unconventional Wisdom: News You Can Use, a compendium of noteworthy research on the contemporary family, gender, sexuality, poverty, and work-family issues.  He runs a popular webinar series for estranged parents and a free newsletter for parents, The Coleman Report.

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