In my last blog I discussed the eight valid reasons to cut ties with family members for our own emotional health. This article addresses what to do with our relationships with others in our family who are still connected to those with whom we cut ties. Making healthy choices for ourselves can be extremely painful. In many situations we may feel betrayed by those who are close to us who decide to stay connected to the family members we have chosen to cut ties with, who have hurt us so deeply. This is such an emotional, challenging and confusing place to be and it requires much forethought, maturity and bigger picture thinking to handle ourselves and others healthfully.
5 Challenging Situations and Solutions
1) An adult parent with adult children choosing to cut ties with their own parent/parents: In this situation, the adult children have had these grandparents in their lives all of their lives. Adult children do have the maturity to make the choice to stay in touch with their grandparents or not. Typically, in this situation the adult children are aware of the reasons their parent cut off their grandparent(s), and some adult children may choose to support their parent or they may try and be amenable to both sides staying out of the conflict. This can feel like a betrayal to the parent by their children if their children would still want that relationship after knowing what harm was done to them at the hands of their parents. However, it is in line with maturity and good parenting to allow adult children to make the choices they need to make. Often our parents make much better grandparents.
2) An adult parent with small children who cuts family ties: Children under the age of 18 are extremely vulnerable to influence. In this situation the parent has the right to protect their children and/or keep them from family members (uncles, aunts or grandparents). Younger children are easy to manipulate and coerce, so, if family members we have cut ties with have been abusive to us it is likely they will abuse and or be manipulative of our children -- in the way of turning them against us. In communicating with our children, we can explain the situation and let them know that at any point that they choose to open up to these family members that they can. If they want to know what happened it is important to be open and honest and then let them have their own experience when they are old enough to choose.
3) Divorce and parent alienation: In a divorce situation where one parent feels betrayed by another it can put the children in a position to align with the parent who didn't want the divorce. This puts the children at odds with the parent who left, who is now seen as "bad." It is important for children to be able to form their own opinions and to be able to have a relationship with the "bad" parent and not have it be seen as a betrayal of us, or as a justification of the "bad" parent's bad behavior by the children. As hard as it is, this is their other parent. Alienating children from their other parent is always wrong. Nevertheless, there are situations, such as affairs, addiction etc. where what the "bad" parent has done, in and of itself, destroys their relationship with their children sometimes for many years, and there is nothing the "good" parent can do to fix the perception the children have of the "bad" parent. The "good" parent needs to always be open to their children reconciling and finding peace in whatever way is healthiest for them with their other parent.
4) Parents cutting ties with siblings: What to do with the cousins. If our children have grown up with and love and adore their cousins, then the problems of the parents shouldn't impact the children. Nor should the adults see their nieces and nephews any differently or treat them differently. This is when gossip needs to stop, the cousins need be allowed to interact and carry on in their relationships and the parental siblings need keep the problems between themselves, not manipulating their kids to hate their cousins for reasons that are between the adults. If these mature boundaries cannot happen, then each parent has the right to explain the problems to their children and to protect them from any gossip, abuse or manipulation and it may cause cousins to separate and take sides.
5) A parent cutting ties with their child: This situation isn't as common as the others but it does happen where children are abusive of their parents to a point where they need and have to be cut off. This does not mean other family members have to cut them off but those other members need to support these children to develop healthier behaviors towards their parents and not collude with their justifications of abuse.
Not one of these situations is easy. Each one has its own set of issues and could be an article in and of itself. The hardest thing for each situation is the feeling of betrayal. It can be very painful to accept that people you love and who love you and know your pain would still want to be connected to someone who had hurt you so deeply. This is where you have the opportunity to grow. Usually if someone has been abusive to you they will eventually do the same to others who are close to them. Sometimes it is about understanding less is more, stepping back and letting the reality of a person come into the light on its own, and then you can be there to support.
Sherapy Advice: Make decisions firmly and live them quietly, allowing others to have their own experience. Trust that the true colors of people always shine through and then be there to support.
Dr. Sherrie Campbell is a veteran psychologist, nationally recognized expert and the author of Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person. Please join her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/sherriecampbellphd