I Tried Reconnecting with an Estranged Parent. I Realized I Don't Owe them a Relationship
I learned an important life lesson while trying to salvage a parental relationship
If only everyone was lucky enough to have two supportive, present parents in their life from when they were young.
One of my parents – let’s call them Parent 1 – was always there, a usually supportive, continuous, sometimes frustrating presence who always had questions and curiosity about my life. There were typical standard fights and weeks here and there without speaking, but they were ultimately my best friend.
Then there was the other parent, a.k.a. Parent 2. Although I would love to feel like Parent 2 made a genuine effort amid and after the divorce, and there were occasional good moments going for drives or watching television, I don’t feel that way at all, and at one point, I decided I no longer wanted to speak to them. It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision or one I made with little thought. It was the culmination of enough disappointment, pain, and insults that I felt I just couldn’t put myself through that anymore.
Parent 2 would occasionally reach out over the years, but my family left it up to me what I wanted to do. I wholeheartedly knew how I felt: I was perfectly happy with no longer having contact. Sometimes, the family would ask if I changed my mind, but my answer was always the same. There were periods of anger, curiosity, and wondering over the years, but strangely enough, not once did I regret my decision. It was years before Parent 2 and I saw each other again. At that point, during that next meeting, I had honestly hoped for a connection, some type of spark of “I would love to reconnect with them again,” but there was nothing. After a few more meetings of feeling the same, I realized the wounds were just too deep.
Fast forward some years later. This time I decided to reach out thinking that so many years have passed, maybe things have changed. I know I’ve changed, maybe they have, too. A conversation ensued where, at the end, we agreed to meet up. I went into it with an open mind, thinking I still couldn’t possibly feel the same after all these years.
I went into the meeting with anxious curiosity and eventually left annoyed and thinking about how I really wanted some mac and cheese. The conversation wasn’t joyful, nor was it awkward or angry. It didn’t involve reminiscing or hugs, nor was there a tearful reunion. I learned years ago not to long for apologies I’m unlikely to get (from anyone), but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for one during that meeting, or at least sense some type of remorse or regret, but I didn’t get any of that, not even a hint of it. I left realizing why, once again, we went years without talking. I can’t speak for Parent 2, but on my end, there was no love, no desire for another meeting or parental approval, and no anger or hatred. What there was was a bit of disappointment, not just for how the meeting went, but in that I didn’t feel more of a parent-child connection.
I wish things were different for the reason that it would have been nice to have both parents around over the years, even if they were divorced. It wasn’t always easy seeing so many friends be able to talk to and spend time with both parents, whether it was individually or together. However, I can’t force something that’s just not there, and I can’t pretend for the sake of an “I wish” scenario.
So what’s the point of me sharing all that? Over the years, multiple people have tried to push me into a reunion.
“But they’re your parent,” many would say.
I’m sure many children who have chosen to be estranged from one or both parents have heard the same. Guilt trips from others – unintended or otherwise – can be difficult and make you doubt your decision, but sometimes it’s the ones we give ourselves that can be even more painful, confusing, and even destructive. It can be hard being the child of a parent you’re choosing to be estranged from, but it can also be easy to have the guilt about how they’re half the reason you’re here, so don’t you sort of owe it to them to not feel or be that way?
You don’t owe any person any type of relationship – not even a parent – if it makes you unhappy, you genuinely don’t want it, it doesn’t work for you, and/or it’s unhealthy for you.
Parent-child relationships can undoubtedly be complicated, so I’m not saying one way or another what your best option is; every relationship is different.
What I am telling you is that no one knows your feelings better than you. If you feel you want to try reconnecting, then by all means, see what happens as long as you’re comfortable with it. You may be nervous, and you might have to dig up a lot of courage, but if it’s something you really want and you feel safe and happy doing so, then consider going for it. You never know what could happen; it might end up being a great experience with many happy parent-child memories to come.
However, if you’re completely against the idea, don’t let anyone pressure you into a conversation or meeting. Just because someone is your parent doesn’t mean they deserve or should have a place in your life. It’s okay for you not to want to fill that parent position even if your parent is alive to fill it.
If you’re considering reconnecting with your parent, don’t hesitate to take your time deciding until you’re confident about what’s right for you. As for me, I’ve already made my decision, and right now, I’m off to go eat some mac and cheese.