How to Rebuild a Relationship with an Estranged Parent

It’s not easy but you can do it

A little over a year ago I stopped talking to my mother. When I was a little girl we had a close relationship and then things changed. She became more abusive and distant as I got older. When I left and joined the Navy I wanted us to sustain a relationship but it was at the expectation that she’d change and be the mom in my fantasies of a perfect mom/daughter relationship.

We had a tumultuous relationship due to many reasons. For one, she was mentally ill and I couldn’t understand mental illness. Two, she was still living with my father who sexually abused so naturally I felt like she chose him over me which in fact, she did for a long time.

We reconnected after her last suicide attempt and kept in touch for years but I realized that it was doing more harm than good for me since she was still living with my father.

It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to her but it was the best thing I could have done for myself to heal and assert my boundaries.

Less than a year later after we stopped speaking my father passed away and we reconnected. I was curious to see how she was coping with his death but had no intention to sustain communication. One thing that surprised me was her demeanor changed significantly. She was much more at peace and easier to talk to in our short exchanges of communication. A part of me decided to keep our lines of communication open and slowly we talked more frequently.

After a few months of keeping in touch I felt like I was open to rebuilding a relationship with her at this new chapter in our lives. I realized she wasn’t going to be the mom I wanted her to be but she also wasn’t the same person in the past. It took an act of forgiveness and acceptance to decide to give our relationship one more chance.

Deciding to build a relationship again with an estranged parent is vulnerable. It takes a lot of little baby steps and reminds me of two people learning how to dance with each other. You might step on each other’s toes in the process as you figure out your boundaries.

If you are rebuilding a relationship with an estranged parent these are a few things to consider:

  • Patience — You both aren’t going to be perfect in this new chapter. Patience is your friend with your family.
  • Compromise— You might have an ideal image of what you want your parent to be and act like in this new chapter. But we can’t be everything for each other so practice some compromise around your expectations. I can’t always expect my mom to get my perspective but we do laugh together now and can create humor out of tough conversations like her new love life as a widow.
  • Humor — Find humor in the serious and not-so-serious talks you have. Comedy can go a long way in healing and connecting.
  • Forgiveness — You might find you get triggered by your parent still and that’s okay. My mom still triggers me but it’s more an opportunity for me to practice forgiveness but also let her know she upset me.
  • Boundaries — Rebuilding a relationship doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat and not assert your boundaries. If something upset you in the conversation voice it from a non-reactive place. I know, easier said than done but you will feel so much more empowered for saying something versus saying nothing.
  • Vulnerability — Part of rebuilding a relationship is getting vulnerable with each other. Can you practice sharing your honest feelings about the past and what you would like moving forward? When my mom and I reconnected, I honestly told her it would take time for me to trust her again with my feelings and to feel safe. Vulnerability asks you to move out of ego and into your heart. Practice talking from your heart and see how this exercise shifts the relationship.

It’s been less than a year since my mom and I reconnected and it’s been a transformational experience. She’s not perfect and neither am I but we are learning how to love each other in this new chapter of our lives. I honestly couldn’t have it any other way.

If I had decided to hold onto my resentments about the past I would have kept the cycle of abuse alive in our generational line and abused her by silently punishing her for all the things she did and couldn’t do. As a mom and parent I would want my son to know and pass on the values of forgiveness, compassion and vulnerability. Parent/child relationships have their ups and downs and no parent or child is perfect. All you can do is practice your core values and know you did your best.

Self-help & mental health writer. Can't do small talk. Mama. Yogi. Coffee lover. Nature explorer. Get my free meditation mini-course here:

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