Estrangement: The Stretch It Takes
BY EMILY MORGAN
What are we to do when we are blocked from having a relationship with our grands by their parents–our own children? Emily explores this hard topic with a social researcher and author, an estranged grandparent who helps others manage, and a Millennial dad who shut down his relationship with his mother for the good of his family.
THE GRAND LIFE: GRANDPARENTING OUR GRANDS
But doesn’t it seem like more? We speak of “canceling” the people we are in a relationship with when something is said or done that we consider objectionable or offensive. At lunch with a friend recently, I nodded in agreement when she said of a recent Facebook breakup, “I would never say the things I say on Facebook if I was talking to her face to face.” It’s true. We are much more likely to unfriend people on social media, if they don’t agree with us, than if they were standing in front of us. Sadly, unfriending people is becoming all too common. There’s an attitude of “I’m done with you,” that seems both pervasive and hurtful. And often leads to great regret.
My guest Dr. Pillemer, in his book Fault Lines, says that one of the major barriers to reconnection is the urge to align two different views of the past…to reach a common understanding of what has happened. If you can’t come to an agreement with an estranged family member about the past, the odds of having a present or future together are pretty low.
“…should we throw away a relationship because we cannot agree on something we hold dear but the other does not?”
While his book is about estrangement, fractured families with difficult pasts, I’m talking about the present culture, and I see so many of us willing to forgo friendships because we can’t align our points of view over what’s happening in our country. So, as Dr. Pillemer also points out, in order to reconcile, we first have to accept that our points of view might never align.
That is hard to do. That is a stretch… a painful one. But the reality is, we do not have to believe the same thing to be friends. We might not even have any shared values but instead a very long shared past. We might just have to agree to disagree, like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson or Justice Scalia and Ginsburg. We might even have to set boundaries where we agree not to talk about what we disagree about. But the point is, should we throw away a relationship because we cannot agree on something we hold dear but the other does not? Is it possible for us to put ourselves in the shoes of the other and see something for a moment from their point of view?
I know this is tender for many of us. We are hurting and hoping that somehow or another we will experience a peaceful world — not one that is constantly plunging us into conflict and possible estrangement. But I would suggest that the same things that work to reconcile a fractured family can help to heal a fractured world. Things like civility, respect, mercy, forgiveness…not just from or for the people we agree with, but from and for the ones we don’t.
One passage from the book Fault Lines sums up how I feel about any kind of reconciliation. This quote is referring to a severed relationship that eventually was made whole. Quote: “It may take many years, but a point was reached when the past mattered less than the present and future did.”
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We are grandparents. We have a past, which for many of us was the biggest and busiest part of our life story. As parents, we had the authority and the power to lead and nurture our families in the direction we chose. But we cannot live in our past. We need to make the present and the future the most important thing, for our children and our children’s children. If that isn’t a good reason to flex and stretch, then I’m not sure what is.
© 2020 Emily Morgan
RESOURCES ON ESTRANGEMENT
Alienated Grandparents Anonymous, a resource for support groups and related insights mentioned by Dr. Pat Hanson (2nd guest)
Books on estrangement mentioned or written by this episode’s guests:
Invisible Grandparenting: Leave a Legacy of Love Whether You Can Be There or Not by Dr. Pat Hanson (2nd guest)
Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them by Dr. Karl Pillemer (3rd guest)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR/PODCASTER – EMILY MORGAN & HER HUSBAND, MICHAEL.
Hello, I’m Emily Morgan, and my husband, Michael, and I are now in our third season of The Grand Life Podcast – a podcast about all things grandparenting. We believed it was time for grandparents to have a stronger voice and a place to tell their stories. The Grand Life has become that place for many of you!
We are parents to four adult children and grandparents to nine grandchildren…so far. We never know when an announcement will be made. Sometimes we’re surprised to find out, and sometimes I guess it before I’m told. Either way, we’re always delighted! Life is grand, and we love exploring ways to grow as grandparents and connect to those who are in the thick of it with us.
Every other week, our podcast tackles subjects about grandparenting – everything from being in the delivery room when our grand is born to how we can avoid making mistakes when using social media about our grand.