In this episode of Hey, Boomer!, host Wendy Green dives into the sensitive topic of family estrangement and explores the hidden wounds that can tear families apart. With the help of esteemed guest Dr. Joshua Coleman, author of “Rules of Estrangement,” they discuss the rise of estrangement, changes in family dynamics, and the possibility of healing broken relationships. This episode offers support and guidance for those experiencing estrangement or those seeking to understand and empathize with loved ones going through this difficult situation.
Dr. Joshua Coleman is a renowned psychologist and leading expert on family estrangement. He is the author of several books, including “Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties & How to Heal the Conflict,” which has resonated with many estranged parents seeking guidance and understanding. Dr. Coleman’s research and therapeutic work address the deep emotional impact of estrangement on families and offer insights into navigating the path toward reconciliation.
1. Estrangement is a silent hurt: Estrangement within families often goes unspoken, causing pain and isolation for those experiencing it. This episode shines a light on this issue and provides a safe space to discuss and heal from family estrangement.
2. The importance of empathy and understanding: Dr. Coleman emphasizes the significance of empathy and understanding when working to repair estranged relationships. Taking responsibility for past mistakes and truly listening to the concerns and feelings of the estranged family member plays a crucial role in the healing process.
3. The evolving dynamics of family: The societal and cultural shifts in recent generations have led to new expectations within parent-child relationships. Understanding the changes in dynamics and the desire for personal fulfillment and mental health is essential in bridging the gap between generations.
4. The challenge for estranged parents: Estranged parents may struggle with feelings of defensiveness and questioning their parenting abilities when accused of emotional abuse or neglect. Dr. Coleman provides insights on how to approach these accusations with empathy and initiate meaningful conversations.
5. Respect boundaries and let the line go cold, if needed: Respecting boundaries and giving space to the estranged family member is crucial in the healing process. The episode discusses the concept of “letting the line go cold” as a strategy to prompt reflection and respect while navigating attempts at reconciliation.
Join Wendy Green and Dr. Joshua Coleman as they explore the complexities of family estrangement and provide valuable insights and support for those seeking healing in their own strained relationships.
Contact Dr. Coleman: www.drjoshuacoleman.com
Email me with questions or comments at email@example.com
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Wendy Green [00:00:31]:
Well, hello, and welcome to Hey Boomer. My name is Wendy Greene, and I am your host for Hey Boomer. And continuing with our focus on the family that we've been talking about for this whole month, Today, we are going to be talking about the wound of estrangement and how it impacts us and affects us. And this is such an important episode because it's a silent, hurt that most of us don't talk about. But Maybe some of you know someone who is feeling like they're breaking away or their kids are breaking away from them and they really Don't know what to do? Point them to this episode. If you can text them right now, they can join us live, or you can share the link later, to the podcast because they're gonna learn so much in this episode. We're gonna talk about things like why estrangement is on the rise And what has changed in families since we were kids? Right? It's a different world now as you all are aware. And and is it possible to heal some of these breaks? And what are some of the cultural influences? And and a really interesting question, Do therapists that our children may be going to help or hurt in our efforts to restore relationships? So my guest today is doctor Joshua Coleman, and he's the author of the book Rules of Estrangement, Why Adult Children Cut Ties and how to heal the conflict.
Wendy Green [00:02:10]:
Doctor Coleman's personal experience with estrangement and subsequent reconciliation Adds authenticity to his perspective. I'm going to introduce you to him in a moment. But before I do, I wanted to tell you about 2 incredible opportunities for you to become actively involved in the Hey Boomer experience and the Hey Boomer community. 1st, have you joined the Hey Boomer private Facebook group? It's where we get together and we share ideas and we share quotes, and we share challenges. Right now, we're doing a decluttering challenge in that group. And if you'd like to join the group where, You know, people in our age group are are going through a lot of the same changes and questions and rediscovery that you are going through. Just, go to facebook.com/groups/heyboomer and ask to join, and I'd be happy to let you in. And the second thing I wanted to invite you to is the boomer banter.
Wendy Green [00:03:18]:
So that is a place where we come together as a group, and it's online. It's virtual, and there's, about 25 of us in a room, and I always have a topic, and then we dig into that topic in breakout rooms. We're building community, and we're building friendships. And the the banter that I have going now, it meets on the 3rd Tuesday of every month at six 30 in the evening EST. That one is closed because we have reached the maximum number of people that allow us to have Those intimate conversations and those connections with the people in the group. So I've decided to open a second one. I'm calling it banter 2, and it's gonna meet on the 3rd Tuesday of the month Also but that will be a noontime meeting, EST. So, you know, depending on where you are, we have people from all over the country that have joined in the banter, and they really love it.
Wendy Green [00:04:21]:
They're getting so much out of it. So, go to buy me a coffee dot com / heyboomer 0413. It's a membership group, so it's very limited in who can be part of it, but I would love to Have you help us start this new banter too? So it's buy me a coffee.com/heyboomer0413. Alright. So let me introduce you to doctor Joshua Coleman. Hello. Thank you for joining us.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:04:56]:
Thanks for having me.
Wendy Green [00:04:57]:
I'm so I'm really I'm looking forward to this. It's an important episode. Let me just do a brief Bio of you. Doctor Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area, And he's a senior fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families. He currently writes the dear doctor column from Maria Shriver's Sunday paper And as written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, MarketWatch, The Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and many more, He's given talks to the faculties at Harvard, the Weill Cornell department of psychiatry, Ohio State, and other academic institutions, And he's a frequent guest on many talk shows and podcasts. Doctor Coleman is the author of numerous articles and 4 books, And the book we're gonna be talking or I pulled this episode from today is The Rules of Estrangement. And, there's boy, it's packed. So Thanks for being here, doctor Coleman.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:06:00]:
Glad to be here.
Wendy Green [00:06:02]:
Yeah. I wanted to start with Your story. You know? Like, your you you mentioned in your book the estrangement you had from your daughter and how you healed it. So if you would Start filling us in with that.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:06:16]:
Sherry, I was married and divorced in my twenties and have an adult daughter who I'm very close to. But, Sadly, there was a period of time in her early twenties where she had cut off contact with me for several years, in large part as a result of my Remarrying, having children with my current wife, my 2nd wife, and feeling in many ways displaced and kind of unseen and, Like, the children from my current marriage had a much better quality of life and quality of parenting than she had gotten, which was which was true. But also feeling like I hadn't really addressed her feelings in a very empathic responsibility taking way. It took me a long time to kind of Come to that, and the advice I got from therapists at the time, was wrong headed in the same way that it often is with therapists today, you know, Encouraging me to be more assertive and reminder of all I've done for her and tell her how wrong she was and all those things which just drove her away even Further. So it really wasn't until I started just taking responsibility and being empathic. I'm really finding the curl of not the bushlet of truth in her Complaints that she began to turn more towards me, and, you know, we began to heal our relationship. So as a result of that, I wrote my first book on the topic in 2000 then 7 when parents hurt. And as a result of that, got a wide following of estranged parents.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:07:42]:
In front of that, developed a webinar series that I've been doing for the past 12 years or so. Is that right? 2007. I get my mask. I know. Right? Probably not. Thanks. For a while. And, I've also written numerous academic articles on the topic and as a result of all that with my most recent book, The Rules of Estangement.
Wendy Green [00:08:06]:
Well, there's so much in there, and I appreciate you being willing to share your story because that's hard to talk about That pain and I think it's hard you know, we we were actually talking about this before it came on. It's hard as the parent to To accept that responsibility that maybe I did something wrong. I mean, I did my best. I was a good parent. You know? Like, Right. Why are they so upset?
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:08:33]:
Yeah. Right. Particularly, if you were a better parent than your own parents were. I mean, I don't particularly consider that that I was, but I think it's particularly hard for those parents who've been raising children in the past few decades who were heroic by almost any other Generational standards and then hearing their children say, oh, you emotionally abused me, you traumatized me, you neglected me, and It's human nature, particularly as a parent, to wanna defend yourself and prove them wrong and tell them all the ways that you were a great parent, but it doesn't really get you Anywhere. By the time your child is saying that, they want a very different kind of conversation with you. And so it's much better for parents to see it, From the perspective that the child is bringing to you something that's really important to them, and, and, hopefully, it's a way to actually have a deeper, more fulfilling relationship with you. I mean, one of the things I talk a lot about in the book is the cultural changes that have happened in the past past century, And the biggest one is that it's no longer a matter of honor by mother and my father in terms of who we choose to be close to in terms of family. It's much more based on the is this relationship make me feel is it in line with my ideals, my happiness, my identity, my self esteem, my mental health? And if not, then I don't really wanna have that person in my life.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:09:52]:
So the moral framework has changed, where the moral framework used to be that you should have a relationship with your parents and honor them and give them respect and, duty. That's all changed. It's much more now a focus on, is this relationship in line With my ideals is what we've evolved, what the British sociologist refers to as pure relationships, so purely constituted on the basis of whether or not the relationship is in line with with our ideals. So what that has meant is that it has Really compromise parents' ability to influence their children from the position of guilt or obligation or duty It has to be much more on the child's terms, which are much more predicated on a far more psychological egalitarian mental health framework.
Wendy Green [00:10:38]:
There's so much to what you just said. Okay. So if If you don't know why your child is so angry with you, how do you even start that conversation to find out What they're upset about so that you can start to try to make amends.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:10:59]:
Yeah. No. It's a good question. What I Commonly tell parents to do, which is not always easy for them to do if their child is, you know, cut them off, is to start by saying, I know you wouldn't do this unless you felt like it was the healthiest thing for you to do. Because from the adult child's perspective, that's how they think, and that's how they feel about it. So doing that puts you in alliance with their perspective and their goals, and it also makes them feel less defensive. Makes sense.
Wendy Green [00:11:27]:
So say that say that again. Start by saying,
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:11:30]:
I feel you know I know you wouldn't have cut off contact with me unless you felt like it was the healthiest thing for you to do.
Wendy Green [00:11:36]:
For you to do. So you're not necessarily saying I was wrong. You're just saying, I understand that you feel this is good for you.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:11:44]:
Yeah. But you still have to go on to say it's clear that I have significant blind spots that I don't have a deeper understanding of why You need to do this, and I want to know. And if you're open to writing me or telling me more about your thoughts or feelings, I promise to listen to it from the perspective of just Listening and learning and not in any way to defending myself. Or if you'd prefer to do it with a family therapist, I'd be I would welcome that as well. So it's all up here.
Wendy Green [00:12:12]:
Yeah. I mean, family therapy seems to be like, if you've gotten to that point, Although you do talk about some of the therapy that adult children are getting that may not be helping.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:12:25]:
Well right. Yeah. No. I think I think therapists are a big problem today. And, you know, I think it's probably because Therapists don't have a lot of training in estrangement. I think too many therapists are too quick to draw conclusions about, a traumatic childhood that really wasn't traumatic. And I think it has to do with what, the Israeli sociologist Eva Lou says when she says, Today, our lives are plotted backwards. What's a dysfunctional family? It's a family where your needs weren't met.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:12:56]:
How do you know that your needs weren't met? By looking at your present condition. So the wisdom in that is that so many adult children are showing up to therapy with problems with self esteem, confidence, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, Relationship failure, and they're being invited to look back upon their childhood as the cause of that. Now sometimes that is the cause of it. You know? Traumas are a real thing. There have been parents who've who've abused their children, who've molested them, who've neglected them, who were truly emotionally abusive, But not all parents who are being accused of that today are, were in fact that way, and so it's it's a faulty Set of conclusions and attributions of causality that so many therapists are making today, and it ends up, Causing a lot of a lot of estrangements because I commonly see letters from adult children. I'm working with the parents. I know that they're not narcissists or borderlines or sociopaths. They're saying, well, my therapist says that, you know, you did this and that, and that proves that you're a narcissist, and, therefore, you know, I'm not gonna go into therapy with you because narcissist can't Change, and that's a really hard, pragmatic way there.
Wendy Green [00:14:03]:
Yeah. I mean, I remember when I was divorced and, You know, my my parents are the typical, you know, let me be involved and fix everything for you and make you feel guilty that you did This and all of that. And so my therapist suggested that I invite my dad into a meeting with us, And it was really hard for him. You know? He said he felt like he had been thrown into this pool of ice cold water, you know, with the stuff I was Saying to him.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:14:37]:
Wendy Green [00:14:38]:
But the therapist at least made that suggestion. Let's bring him in. Let's talk to him. Right? That's great. And And my dad and I are are you know, we were very close until he passed.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:14:50]:
Wendy Green [00:14:51]:
But but therapists today are are not doing that? They're not suggesting let's talk to the parents too?
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:14:58]:
Well, certainly, some are, but a significant percentage aren't doing it. And and and when they do conduct family therapy, they're not really prepping the parent. I mean, when I when I'm gonna work with a parent and an adult child, I prep both of And I say to the parent, look. This isn't marriage therapy. This isn't where you each get where you're gonna get to say your piece and what you want out of the relationship and your adult child's gonna say What they want. This is more like you're divorced and your partner is willing to give you another chance, but it's gonna be on their terms. Those are that's what you're walking into. So if I'm gonna protect anybody's perspective in the therapy, it's gonna be your child's Perspective, because, you know, they're they're gonna be worried I'm gonna side with you, a, and b, they're, you know, the strain is working for them.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:15:46]:
For them, it's allied with perspectives and ideals of autonomy and independence to protecting their mental health. They've got support from a larger culture, their own therapist. You know, there's a lot of upsides to the adult child for a strange rep. There's no upside for the parent. For the parent, it's all it's all grief. It's all sorrow. It's all guilt. It's all regret.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:16:03]:
It's all social isolation. It's all shame. So there's this enormous disparity in who has the power. So therapists have to have to walk in with their eyes open about that And tell the parent that, and I also will tell the adult child that as well. I'll say, look. The goal here, is for you to talk about what your complaints are about your parent. We need to help your parent take responsibility and show empathy, towards towards you. Be open to your ideals about boundaries and limit setting, etcetera.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:16:32]:
And, you know, I'll say at the beginning of the therapy that people need to to talk to each other respectfully, so it's not like I'm just gonna let the adult child come in there and just blast the bear up, in the way that I might have earlier before I really became, you know, more focused on this this topic. So both sides are prepared, and I just don't think a family therapy session can be Can be successful unless therapists have that that orientation of this huge disparity and who has the power.
Wendy Green [00:17:03]:
So you mentioned shame, and and that is a big reason you call this the silent epidemic, And the numbers are going up as you say. So how how what's the trajectory? Like, a parent It suddenly is feeling estranged from their child. Do they talk to friends about it first? Should they try and Guilt their child into coming back? Do they go to therapy first? Do they find, like, your website? I mean, what what do you find as the way? Because they're So ashamed and hurt. They don't really wanna talk about it.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:17:40]:
Right. Well, I think parents do a number of different Things you know, I have a a webinar coming up. Actually, tomorrow night, it's free. I don't know if it for people who are listening in live called the 5 most common mistakes of estranged parents. And I wrote it, first of all, the mistakes that I made and virtually every other estranged parent makes. And that is once an estrangement starts to get Triggered, there you you make a bunch of mistakes just kind of out of your basic survival's, instincts. So the first one, is The notion of fairness versus being sort of strategic, you know, because from the parent's perspective, it isn't fair what the adult child is doing to them. They just feel very wounded and misunderstood, But they have to be more mindful and thoughtful about what they're going to communicate.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:18:25]:
2nd common mistake is to use guilt, You know, because guilt doesn't really work anymore. I've I've thought for the longest time, I'm I'm Jewish about writing an article called The Last Jewish Mother Because you know in our generation, wendy, our mother's good guilt trip buses up as an expression of affection, you know, because I well, you know, my mother might Teasingly she wasn't she wasn't a super guilt trippy person, but she might occasionally tease me and go okay mr. Fancy psychologist in san francisco Yeah. Is it good to call your mother now?
Wendy Green [00:18:59]:
Yes. Yes. I do know that Jewish guilt. Yes.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:19:05]:
So, you know, and, you know, there's Italian guilt. There's probably guilt. Right?
Wendy Green [00:19:08]:
There's Catholic guilt.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:19:10]:
There's all every. We have a whole lot of, but but we probably Adopted it to an art form more than anything. So but that that's been taken out of parents' hands. That's now that's considered coercive. That's manipulated, emotionally abusive. It's not in line with the child's ideals about that they get to set the terms of the Relationship. So that's guilt mistake number 2. Should I shall I go on and feed Yeah.
Wendy Green [00:19:35]:
Yeah. Please. This is great. Oh, before you do, though, let me say They can find this webinar on your website. Right? Doctordoshua coleman.com.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:19:44]:
Right. Right. Right.
Wendy Green [00:19:45]:
Okay. So they can find the webinar there.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:19:47]:
Yeah. Yeah. And it's free for for at least the next few days. It'll be free. So the third common mistake is returning fire with fire, which I think fathers, in particularly, are inclined to do. You know, it's kinda like, you know, how are you, ungrateful Brad? After all this, everything I did for you and put you through college and Helped you buy a house and paying for your kid's privacy I mean, whatever. Right? You know, you, you know, you want me to apologize to you? You can apologize to me. So that's returning fire with fire.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:20:15]:
That does absolutely no good. 4th common mistake is not seeing that Estrangement reconciliation is a marathon, not a sprint. By the time there's been a, an estrangement, it's not gonna probably Probably can't just move 1 or 2 things on the table and expect it to just happen overnight. The 5th common mistake is not saying that it may not be about you, a certain percentage of estrangements are more about the adult child finding their own voice, feeling separate, developing their own identity, and they may not be able to do it with you kind of psychologically in the room. One of the problems that's happened, I think, in the past 3 or 4 decades, particularly with Cell phones and and parents becoming much more anxious and intrusive and surveilling is that our children in some ways have gotten too much of us, and they still can get too much of You know, when when I moved out to San Francisco from Dayton, Ohio when I was 21, I mean, you know, I probably didn't call my parents from the road. Maybe I called them after I Got here, and it took me, like, a week to get out, or maybe I called them a week after that. You know, maybe I sent an occasional letter, but it was much easier to become your own person In a more organic way, you know, it's as your parent kind of constantly circling and, people
Wendy Green [00:21:27]:
Well, now they track them on their phone.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:21:29]:
Well, they right. Exactly. Right. They do. Parents feel much more wounded if they don't get a text right, you know, right away. So all of that has really kind of made things much more Crowded. I mean, there's a you know, the good news is that it provides opportunities for much more closeness and involvement and picture sharing and the like, but it also provides the opportunities for much more Intrusion and enmeshment in ways that isn't necessarily in the best interest of either parent or adult child.
Wendy Green [00:21:55]:
Yeah. It's gonna be interesting to See, you know, my children have like a my the oldest is in college now. Right? And they've been that Hell helicopter parenting and tracking and all. It's gonna be interesting to see as these kids start to move out and try to develop their own personalities If they struggle with some of that too.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:22:16]:
True. Yeah. Yeah. Best look forward to, Wendy.
Wendy Green [00:22:21]:
Something to look forward Do thank you. You're welcome. Yeah. So so learning to be a parent of adult children, it it can be difficult. And I know that, You know, I've watched my relationship with my kids shift over time, especially once they got married. And I love their spouses. Like, I know that's a big problem too.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:22:41]:
Candy here for sure.
Wendy Green [00:22:43]:
Yeah. But you still you know? And as I would self justify, Defy, you know, it's like, okay. It's normal. They should be more talking to their spouse than talking to me. Oh, but they always To me. Right. So how much of our expectations of what we want the relationship To be becomes a problem.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:23:08]:
Yeah. It definitely can become a problem, when children get married. In in my Survey of 1600 estranged parents they did to the University of Wisconsin, I found that something like 70% the estrangements happened after the child had gotten married. So Wow. Yeah. So it just you know, it's a matter of bringing somebody new in, the parents, decreasing role of importance in just the way that you're describing. And a lot of parents, you know, mismanage that for obvious reasons, you know, where our First of all, our expectations of closeness for our adult children are much higher than they were and say our parents generated higher. Yes.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:23:45]:
Yes. We're kind of children to be, like, our best friends in our past didn't really particularly I mean, I was very close to my parents. I was very blessed with having parents that I probably would have chosen as friends, but I don't think it was their expectation, You know, that we would be besties or something, but but our generation really has grown up feeling like that, and that's continued with younger generation of the parents as as well. So, again, it's nice work if you can get it. But if it isn't really in line with your child's ideals, then that can be a problem. Because then If you're complaining about it, then then your child may push away even more because then it's kind of like, well, you're making me feel guilty. You're not accepting my ideals about how much Closest I want, you're making me feel like I'm a bad son or a bad daughter to not be as available as you want me to be, and all of those things can really hurt the relationship with the parent, and that can if poorly applied or misapplied, lead to an eventual estrangement. Mean, what's the biggest word that I see in every single letter from an estranged adult child? You need to respect my boundaries.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:24:45]:
Boundaries, the biggest word, and It's probably because of what we're talking about right now, that we have become much more enmeshed with our adult children. I mean, our generation, fathers in particular, if they made Any mistakes was that they weren't involved enough, and mothers were involved. My mother, I don't know about yours, but she played bridge, she played mahjong with her girlfriends. You know, my parents had They went on the weekends and called date nights, but they had regular weekend, you know, time. They had close friends. But our generation, you know, we were much more just Put it all into our children, and then we generally That's right.
Wendy Green [00:25:19]:
Has That's right.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:25:20]:
Has done that. And so the family environment has just become much more enmeshed, and some adult children just Aren't aren't strange because they just got too much of the parent. You know? They don't have a way to feel separate. So
Wendy Green [00:25:31]:
Well, I do remember When I was living in Nashville, I had this I learned this concept called your family of choice Right. Which I thought was lovely. You know? My friends, they care about me. They're I wouldn't choose some of the people that are in my family, but, you know, but
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:25:49]:
Wendy Green [00:25:50]:
They're my family. And and in my generation, the way I was raised, you still maintain a relationship. Right? They're my family.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:25:59]:
Wendy Green [00:26:00]:
And I guess what we're seeing now and what you're saying is that children and and our children, Gen x The millennials, they are more likely to say, this is about me and my happiness and my well-being and, you know, being too close to you is making that difficult. So Yeah. I'm choosing not to. Is that what you're saying?
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:26:24]:
I am. Yeah. That that, happiness, and in particular, preservation of mental health is also the new Moral order. If somebody, in some ways, you view them from a younger generation's perspective as being, in some ways, harmful to your mental health, then Not only can you cut them out of your life, but you should cut them out of your life. In some ways, that's being an act of existential courage, whereas in our generation, it's like first of all, we didn't expect to be besties without with our parents. They didn't expect to be besties, with us, and we sort of assumed that a certain amount of conflict Was normal and expectable, and we didn't feel like we had to kind of like everything that they did. I mean, what so many estranged parents to me say to me today is, like, I would you know, my parents were Crappy in many ways, but I still would have never dreamed of cutting them off, you know, whereas parents today are getting cut off for things which are far less Severe than than they might have been in, in earlier generations, but it's probably because there's such a emphasis in preoccupation on Happiness and mental health and self growth and self development. And there's this idea that if anybody interferes with that, then not only can you cut them off, but somehow you You should cut them off, which I think is highly problematic.
Wendy Green [00:27:37]:
Yeah. So so 2 questions. You're not downplaying the fact that there is a mental health crisis among our teams,
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:27:44]:
are Yes. Yeah.
Wendy Green [00:27:45]:
Yeah. And and then the other question is what if, as Myrna asks here, what about the mental health of the parent? You know, what is the child's responsibility to be more empathetic towards the parent?
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:27:58]:
Well, I wish that there was a greater responsibility, but I just don't think that I think that there should be a responsibility from the part on the adult child to be much more mindful of how they're impacting The the parent are cutting them off. I mean, the parents in my practice who've been cut off, you know, they're miserable. They're they're hardworking. They're depressed. They're anxious. They're Enraged. They're you know, they feel guilty. They feel ashamed.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:28:24]:
They feel socially isolated. They feel like they can't talk about it with anybody. And I don't really like how our culture has made it seem like, you know, that's somehow a worthwhile cost of the adult child pursuing their mental health. Now, You know, that said, obviously, you know, I can't support reconciliation if a parent isn't willing to do some of the basics towards Repair respecting the adult child's limits. The parent feels like they can demand a relationship with the the adult child, I also feel like they can continue to, you know, be humiliating of them or shaming or rejecting or critical or hostile to them or abusive, well, then it's hard for me to support reconciliation under those circumstances. But if a parent is willing to do You know, to make repairs, to take responsibility, to take, to show empathy and compassion towards the adult child, to find the kernel if not the bristle of truth in the child's complaints, then then I wish more adult children would would take that olive branch. But a lot of them aren't despite the parents' good efforts, because I have because they're I see them every day in my practice.
Wendy Green [00:29:29]:
So what are the steps a parent should take to try and build that bridge?
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:29:34]:
Yeah. Well, the first is to my favorite thing I think most effective thing is to write a letter of amends. I think, typically, over Email is best because it's just more informal. And in the letter of amends, you know, you try to address the kernel of truth in the child's complaints. Now part of what's challenging for parents is the way that labels like emotional abuse, harm, neglect, and trauma have transformed over the past 3 or 4 Decades. This is based on the research of Nick Haslam, an Australian psychologist. So things that are now considered that way, and our generation would not have been considered that way. So so many parents said, what emotional abuse? What are you talking about? Traumatizing.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:30:13]:
You had a freaking arm and killed to have your childhood. But that's not gonna get your parent anywhere. You know, a lot of parents feel like, oh, man, you wanna set no. I had an emotionally abusive childhood. I had an emotionally abusive childhood. This was a freaking walk in the park. Give me a break. But as you can imagine, that's not gonna get the adult child to open up the door.
Wendy Green [00:30:33]:
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:30:34]:
No. So instead, the parent has to show empathy and take responsibility. So in the amends letter, I do recommend the parents start the way that I was saying earlier, which is I know you wouldn't have cut off Contact unless it was the healthiest thing for you to do. If there are things that they recognize were problematic, Then they should address those in a very straightforward way. You know, I know the divorce was hard on you, or I know that I can be critical even if you don't feel like you're critical all the time, You know, and that was difficult for you and that impacted you perhaps much more than I realized. You know, phrases like emotionally abusive or Collect or any of those things, you start to find a way to address that. So so what I encourage parents to say is something like, It's clear that I have blind spots that I didn't know that that was emotionally abusive to you, but I'm glad that you let me know. I would like love to learn more about that.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:31:29]:
If you have other memories about that that you wanna talk over with me or do therapy around, I'm happy to. Or if there are things you'd like me to be working on in my own therapy, again, therapy, therapy, therapy because that is the culture of the younger Generations. So those are the main things that that are, in the in the amended letters, But no explanation, no defending. Can say, well, I was a single mother. Well, your, you know, your mother plays I
Wendy Green [00:31:56]:
did the best I knew how to do.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:31:58]:
I I could. Exactly. I mean, it's true, but it's just not for the letter. It's what I call the distinction between self dialogue and the dialogue with your parents. You can tell yourself, yeah. Well, you were a difficult kid. Yeah. Well, your well, your wife doesn't like me, so she poisoned you against me.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:32:12]:
Or, yeah, I'm your, you know, your mother hated me or your father hated me and that ruined our relationship shit, or you got mental you're mentally ill kid. I mean, there's all kinds of things you can say to yourself. You just don't say them to your child. Your child is just Purely, empathy and love and compassion and responsibility. So yeah. No. It's just
Wendy Green [00:32:30]:
That's gotta be really hard to do, and I don't know that I could do that without the help of a therapist because, like you said, you know, you're wounded already.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:32:40]:
Wendy Green [00:32:40]:
And now you're saying, You know, I I didn't know. I didn't mean you don't even say I didn't mean to hurt you.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:32:49]:
Right. You don't. I mean, it's pretty. You don't even say that. Right?
Wendy Green [00:32:53]:
You don't even say wow. That's tough.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:32:56]:
It's a tall it's a tall order, and, you know, a lot of parents will write me and they're mad, and well, they should be apologizing to me, and you're making parents do all the work. I'm like, yeah. I I get it, but you're not gonna have a relationship with your kid otherwise. They've already decided it's better for them to not have you under their wife. So I can rail against them all you want, but it's not gonna get your kid back in your life.
Wendy Green [00:33:16]:
And I wanna talk about grandparenting, you know, because that's The generation that's listening today. Yeah. You know, I I mean, I read all the books. I thought I was a good parent, you know, and, I mean, even simple stuff. Right? We put our babies down on their tummies, And then it was like, no. No. Put their babies down on their backs. You know?
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:33:39]:
Wendy Green [00:33:40]:
So so much has changed in the way you parent today That I find that even my kids will say to me sometimes, and these are teenagers now, mom, you probably don't wanna say it like that.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:33:57]:
Thanks, kid. You don't joke
Wendy Green [00:34:00]:
with these grandkids. You know? Don't me how to be.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:34:03]:
Right. Exactly. Yeah.
Wendy Green [00:34:05]:
But, that's that's got I mean, is there anything a grand Parent can do if they've been cut off from the grandchildren?
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:34:15]:
Well, it's you know, the reality is is that grandchildren are often a casualty collateral damage of the stranger with the adult child. I mean, tragically, you know, very dedicated, loving grandparents, even by the child's own admission, can be the adult child's admission can be they're a common casualty, estrangement, often justified by, well, if it's not good for me, it's not good for my children, which I think Crap, but, it is a common kind of a thing that's that's that's said. So now, I mean, again, you know, know, a lot of parents feel like, well, okay. Well, you don't wanna have them in your in your life, but how about me having contact with my grandchildren? And it's very rare that that the adult child We'll go along with that. So it has to be healed through the relationship, with the adult child rather than with the Grandchild. But, I mean, I do encourage parents, unless they're having gifts sent back, to continue to try to stay connected to the grandchildren through gifts or, You know, if they'll if texting is allowed, then, certainly, that, but, often, that gets cut off too.
Wendy Green [00:35:18]:
That's gotta be heartbreaking. Yeah.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:35:21]:
Wendy Green [00:35:21]:
What about situations where, you know, you have the 2 parents and the adult child Has decided I'm I'm cutting off one of them, but I'll talk to the other one.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:35:32]:
Wendy Green [00:35:33]:
Oh, that puts that other parent right in the middle.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:35:37]:
Yeah. Yeah. No. It's a common it's not the most common thing to happen, but it's common enough. And what I tell parents in that situation is to often feel like they have to be united front, understandably so, but it's usually a mistake from a reconciliation perspective. It's far better for, the estranged the non estranged parent well, let me back up. It's better for the estranged parent to give permission for the non parent to stay in connection because the fewer degrees of separation, the better. That parent can kind of hear more about what the complaints are.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:36:14]:
If if they don't go along with it, then they'll assume that the estranged parent is manipulating that person towards not being in contact with the estranged adult child. So but what I commonly tell the non estranged parent to say is something like, look. Your Your mother or your father isn't supported by continuing to see you. You know, they are in a lot of pain about not having you In their life, they are willing, assuming they are, to do their own therapy or to do family therapy. And I think that's kind of you know, in any family relationship, gold standard, if the person's willing to take responsibility, be self reflective, and engage in therapy, then, you know, it's something that I hope that you We'll be willing to do, if not now, then at some other point. And if there's room to say it, to say, you know, you You know, whatever your parents' other parents' flaws were, they also contributed a lot to your life in the following, you know, in in these waves. But
Wendy Green [00:37:16]:
So so so you're saying for the parent that's still communicating, they can make some of those excuses. Your parent was There for you. He went to karate with you. He paid for your college. Whatever. You can say that as the parent that's Still in communication?
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:37:33]:
You can say it once or twice a year. Okay. Yeah. You can't you can't be there to defend the other parent, or you'll you'll lose The adult, you'll become the 2nd estranged parent. It's just something you can periodically say, just as a position of advocacy. But the parent who's estranged may want you to be in that kind of a position permanently. You know, well, you need to tell them that I'm, you know, in a lot of pain, and this is hard on me, and they should do family therapy and, you know, that it just doesn't doesn't work. So, so but I find that to be the most effective way to to manage that.
Wendy Green [00:38:10]:
But I like that suggestion to say, You know, your parent is in support of me talking to you. Right. And and they are hurting, and they hope that this can be resolved, but at least we're still talking.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:38:23]:
Right. Exactly. Yeah.
Wendy Green [00:38:25]:
Yeah. I like that. That's that's a good one. So do you think estrangements run-in families? Like, is it
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:38:34]:
There's some evidence for that. The research that I've done, there's there, if the parent was estranged from their own parents, there's a bigger chance that they'll be, estranged themselves, and it could be a matter of role modeling. It could be the intergenerational nature of trauma. So, but there there is a bigger chance of that.
Wendy Green [00:38:57]:
Yeah. So how how are the numbers showing that this is becoming a a silent epidemic as you say?
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:39:05]:
Well, today, 1 out of 4 fathers is estranged from this
Wendy Green [00:39:08]:
time. Out of 4?
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:39:10]:
Wendy Green [00:39:11]:
Of the Fathers, and those are mostly fathers in the boomer generation?
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:39:16]:
Yeah. Boomers and Gen x. Yeah. And, particularly from daughters, the father father daughter relationship is the most most vulnerable. On the mother side, Depending on which study you read, it's somewhere between 6% and 12% of mothers are estranged. So we don't really have a good Records in terms of it's a relatively new area of research. So, but it's clear to every psychologist I ever talked to about you know, and just look at how much it's in the media. It's on the media all the time when I wrote my 1st book on the topic in 2007.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:39:53]:
When I was in the media, I was on the Today Show and a number of other interviews. But now it's like I mean, there's probably a Data doesn't go by that there's not some new article or interview or broadcast about itself. It's I think it's Yeah. Having a really serious problem.
Wendy Green [00:40:11]:
So, here's another question. If you've written a letter and your child won't respond, Or what is it? Do you write another letter? What do you do then?
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:40:23]:
Yeah. Well, what I recommend is you write the letter According to my guidelines because it's not they're not easy letters to write. I have an on that I have a webinar on how to write amends, Because it is really complicated, and I talk about it in the book as well.
Wendy Green [00:40:38]:
You do. Yeah. Yeah. Some of the examples in the book, I just read them, and I was hurting just reading them. You know, that'd be hard to do.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:40:45]:
Really hard to do. So so I recommend writing a really good letter and then waiting 6 to 8 weeks. You get no response. I'm writing a follow-up letter that just says, hey. Just checking in. Wanted to see if you had a chance to read my letter. I'm sure there are things In it that I left out, that would have been good to have concluded, but I mostly wanted to just see if there was a way to get a conversation started with you. Again, I'm open to any feedback if you you have and promise to listen to it from the perspective of learning and not any way to Defend myself, love mom, dad, etcetera.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:41:18]:
Now depending on the child, for some adult children, I might Still reach out, you know, maybe once a month or something chatty, neutral, non relationship oriented just to kind of keep the line Open even if the child isn't responding. But for others, particularly those who seem more hostile, in that case, if you get nothing back after 2nd, then I would let the line go cold, meaning I wouldn't do I do it for at least a year, which is hard for parents to do, mothers in particular. And the reason for that is that there's a number of reasons why that can work. One is that your child may feel like You're respecting their limits more even if you don't agree with them. Second of all, they may respect you more kind of like, well, you're not just still continuing to throw good energy after bad. 3rd is that it causes them to it invites for self reflection. So the parent has it written for 6 months, and they're used to write every other week or something. And the adult child has to say to themselves, oh, it's my my parent isn't hasn't written me.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:42:21]:
Oh, that's right. I haven't written them, or I told them I didn't wanna be in contact, so it invites a more of an internal self reflective process that doesn't happen if the parent is continuing circle overhead. 4th, the that saying, how can I miss you if you never go away is also true in families? Sometimes if the parent just does kind of disappear for a while, then the adult child has more time and space to miss them and to think about them. 5, it the 5th reason is that, you know, it's what I call lose your parent, find yourself. For some adult children, they just need to have the parent completely out of their mind In order to sort of feel like they're coming back to the parent, not because of guilt, but out of their own volition. So there's a bunch of different reasons why just letting the line go completely cold for a year or so works. That was Wow. Hard for parents to do.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:43:08]:
As I said, mothers in particular, but sometimes the best thing to do.
Wendy Green [00:43:13]:
Yeah. Well, this is not an easy topic, doctor Coleman, and, you know, what you have shared with us has really been helpful. Requires so much empathy, self reflection on our own parts, and I think knowing our why. Like, why do you want This relationship, you know, and what are you willing to do to make that happen?
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:43:36]:
Right. Exactly. And not getting fairness, unfairness of it. Just sort of accepting it. The rule The rules have changed, and these are the new rules that you either either can play or not play, but but there's not a third option.
Wendy Green [00:43:49]:
Yeah. Well, if you wanna reach out to doctor Coleman and and see some of the webinars, and he's got Trainings, and he's got all kinds of resources on his website. It's wwwdr for doctor doctor joshuacolemandot com. So that's drjoshuacoleman.com. So go check that out. Before I let you go, I love sharing what I hear from my listeners, so I I really appreciate that you guys go and take the time to make comments on Spotify or Apple. And so, we just want to let you know I on one of the episodes with doctor Bernstein, one about long, healthy, fulfilling life, a listener said it was a great show. And on the episode about brain health with doctor Crystal Culler, A listener said she'd loved it.
Wendy Green [00:44:45]:
There was so much useful information, so keep those comments coming. They they help me know that I'm, hitting the right Information that y'all are interested in. Okay. So don't miss the opportunity to become part of the second Boomer banter. Go and join the membership at buy me a coffee.com/heyboomer 0413. We will be Starting that on the 3rd Tuesday of October. Our topic for that will be role models, so that, should be an interesting conversation. And then go and join our Facebook group.
Wendy Green [00:45:24]:
Just that doesn't cost you anything. That's just fun place to be. So it's facebook.com/groups slash hey, boomer. And who are we talking to next week? We're gonna do 1 more week on family, and my guest next week is Kim Best, and she's gonna be talking to us about those end of life conversations, which Can be difficult conversations, but they also don't have to be difficult conversations if you handle them in a loving and compassionate way, and we're gonna talk about how you can create the legacy that you want to have left behind. So Kim is an RN. She spent a lot of time working in the ER and the ICU, working with hospice. So I think that this is gonna be a very helpful conversation and another very important conversation. And I always like to leave you with the belief that we can all live with curiosity, live with relevance, and live with courage, And remember that you are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.
Wendy Green [00:46:35]:
My name is Wendy Green. Thank you, doctor Coleman.
Dr. Joshua Coleman [00:46:38]:
Thanks for having me.
Wendy Green [00:46:39]:
And this has been Hey Boomer.