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Healing the Rift

Malkie Schulman

Your adult child is not speaking to you. You’re estranged. Alienated. You have no idea how you got here and worse, no idea how to get out. And the pain for both of you is devastating. What causes relationships between parents and children to break down? And more importantly, how can you delicately put the pieces back together?

Monday, September 02, 2013

Malka and her daughter Shifra were close when Shifra was a child. Immediately after her marriage, however, Shifra began to distance herself, rarely visiting and never inviting her parents to her home. 

“I was beyond bereft,” Malka says. “I tried everything — I wrote letters, apologizing for what I thought I might have done wrong. (Shifra would never say.) I said I wanted to go back to our old closeness. Nothing worked. She continued to behave coldly to me. This went on for 15 years!”


Intense Emotions

Aside from the spousal relationship, there is no relationship more intense than that of parent and child. Even when the adult child is old and gray, “Mommy” will always be important to him. Long after “Junior” has left home, his mother will fondly recall his first steps, and even though Yosef HaTzaddik hadn’t seen Yaakov Avinu for years, the image of his father protected him from sin in the house of Potiphar.

The downside of the intense relationship is the strong potential for conflict. As children grow up there’s often a lot of conflict. Once the child matures, the dissension usually subsides. But not always.

In Rivka’s case, the roots of her alienation from her father stemmed from her parents’ divorce when she was five years old. It wasn’t until she was 14 that she stopped visitations with her father, eventually cutting off all contact as a young adult. 

“I did not have the tools to deal with my parents’ divorce,” she explains. “I was insecure and did not want to hurt my mother who was still very angry at my father. When I got married at 24, I did not invite my father and stepmother to my wedding.”

Sometimes, it’s the parents who sever ties with their child. Masha recalls the escalating power struggle that began when her son Eliezer was an adolescent which ultimately led her to reduce her contact with him.

“I would feel like my blood was being sucked out,” Masha shares. “He fought us on everything, even refusing to take his medicine when he had strep. He’d constantly say things like, ‘Why did you send me to this school when I was little?’ ‘Why didn’t you come when I told you to come? You need to take me to my friend now.’”

“As he got older, it got worse,” Masha continues. “He would advise my husband and me how to be mechanech our children. My rav told me to tell him it’s never a child’s place to rebuke his parents. He could daven for us, but we could not continue these kinds of conversations. It came to a point where I felt I had to curtail our contact until he learned what was acceptable to talk about. I said, ‘You can call once a week and say good Shabbos and chitchat for a minute or two, but that’s it.’ It was tough for him. And for me. But for almost two years, our conversations were limited to two minutes a week.” 


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