Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Daughter Conflicted About Reconnecting with Estranged Parents

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My first problem is that my parents and I have been estranged for the past 7 years. Being estranged from them hurts me every moment of every day and I miss them. One of the most tragic things is that I had always been close with my parents, especially my mom. They are good people.

My parents started to find issues with my husband and his family and had what I consider to be a very irrational fear of being pushed aside or forgotten. It made no sense to me. My husband is a wonderful man. His family is so kind too.

Basically, there is no concrete thing to complain about, yet it seemed like no matter what, they would always find something wrong and never really wanted to let him in. My parents were jealous of my in-laws too and always felt like they were trying to be replaced by them. (Which is ridiculous). It went on and on. I was trying to hold on to my relationship with my parents but it kept getting worse. 

I want to try to start having a relationship with them again – and they are open to this and have reached out through the years – but how do you do that when the very issues that drew us apart may still be there? Also, I know that they harbor much anger towards me because I have hurt them by cutting myself out of their life and by not allowing them to be part of their grandchildren’s life.

We have had conversations in the past and I had written letters but I never felt that they understood their part in the demise of our relationship. They would blame me or my husband or his parents. Just once I want them to understand and admit that their behavior was wrong. And one final thing is that I have two other siblings and they were the total opposite when it came to their spouses and families: they are positive and supportive to them.

The second part of this problem is how this has affected my relationship with my husband. My husband and I have been married just under 10 years and we are happy and he has been the best, most loving husband and father. However, this issue I have with my parents has caused me great stress and sadness and it has been a source of tension in our marriage. It is really the only thing we are divided about and I hate that.

The problem with me trying to reconcile with my parents is that my husband does not trust them and he feels that they may do something irrational that could cause us harm. It is sad because I know how good they are, but they have made some very bad choices and now I am in this impossible position.

My husband feels that it is best if my parents know nothing about us. As a result, I have had more children that my parents officially do not know about and I feel completely evil for that.

I was wondering if you have any advice on how I can start to open some communication with my parents, but also do it in a way that my husband would feel safe?

I think the best advice I can offer you is to work out a plan for trying to reconnect with your parents that is totally and fully acceptable to your husband. Make this, first and foremost, about your husband, not about your parents – that means taking actions only if they are in your husband’s comfort zone.

I am emphatic about this because you describe your husband as a most loving and wonderful husband and father. Further, you say that the only major source of stress and tension in your marriage stems from your hurt and emotional turmoil regarding your seven-year estrangement from your parents.

Your husband is the anchor in your life and he deserves prime consideration in anything you do that involves your parents. By your own admission, from early in your husband’s relationship with your parents, they have acted in ways that made your husband feel rejected by them – reasons that did not make sense to you, perhaps around jealousy and/or fear of your husband “replacing” them – all of which is very ambiguous.

In additional detail that space precludes me from including here, you say your parents were not open and welcoming to your husband’s family, and even sought out people who knew them to try to “get dirt” on them.

Throughout all this, your husband has stuck by you.

At this point your husband may be so worn out emotionally that he doesn’t want your parents to play any role in your lives; or he may feel he doesn’t want any involvement with them, but he is comfortable with you spending time alone with them; or he may be agreeable to spending some time with them.

It seems important to you that your parents own what you call their bad behavior in all of this. Seven years later, if an apology has not been offered yet, I doubt your parents are going to give you the apology you seek. In fact, they may think you owe them an apology!

The Need for Professional Guidance

To my main point about what might be acceptable to your husband in terms of you contemplating having your parents back in your life: This is a conversation that I can envision a trained objective third-party, such as a family therapist or psychologist, helping you and your husband to have.

In summary, my advice is that you work with a professional to:

  • Help you sort out your ambivalent, unresolved, and guilt-ridden feelings toward your parents.
  • Facilitate conversations and agreements between you and your husband regarding a possible role for your parents in your just life or in both yours and your husband’s life.
  • Help you and your husband agree to relationships, if any, that your parents might have with your children. They are grandparents your children have never met!

And, to repeat: make sure your husband is on board with whatever future actions you take with regard to reaching out to and trying to reconnect with your parents.

If you follow my advice, I think you might find the emotional relief you need to focus unencumbered on your husband and children without the constant distraction of your conflicted relationship with your parents looming over you and your household.

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
E-mail queries to [email protected].

Karen L. Rancourt’s most recent book is,
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen, Volume II: Savvy Advice to Soothe Parent-Grandparent Conflicts.

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