SUMMER-TIME & LIVIN’ WAS EASY
Kristine Grant Marriage & Family Therapist / Relationship Expert and Author: RELATIONSHIFT: The Right Words for What You Really Want to Say ( Amazon)
Now that you’ve rolled up your beach blankets, stashed those umbrellas, and have already returned to the new “back to school” routines of car-pooling the kids; packing healthy lunches; setting alarm clocks; and encouraging new homework routines; I hope you will take a moment to breathe and reflect upon just what value this summer experience held for you and those you love. As every season and every year passes, we can never reclaim it. Most everyone reading this article can reflect upon those years spent with family, friends, or loved ones that only stood out as particularly meaningful, or left a deep imprint.
What would it be like if more creative thought and energy were placed on just that … a desire to spend quality time with those we love? After all, with the ebb and flow of the tides of life, it can be profoundly meaningful to relish those moments and those unforgettable experiences when we felt so connected, at ease, even excited to share unique, real-time events with our family. Whether it be Boogy-Boarding in high tide with your mother; holding your father’s hand while you hiked through Torrey Pines; planting a new garden together; or helping your child build his first sand castle; your time does not have to be elaborate, just relaxed, quality-filled, while being together.
Sadly, the idealistic family get-togethers are not as often experienced since so many families are torn apart through separation or divorce. When the original parents don’t get along, or, worse have no contact with one another whatsoever, their children, to one extent or another, feel the stress of the broken family-bond. There is often a domino effect that can disrupt connections to grandparents, aunts, uncles, or another extended family as well. It is short-sighted and unfortunate when one parent accuses the other of their children. Somehow the original notion of raising the kids with tons of TLC and aiming to be the “best parents ever” gets lost in the emotional pain, the anger, frustration, and defensive or offensive perspective of the parents who have split up and untied their knot. Our children, especially when they are young, experience life at face value. Their family is part of their identity and sense of security. Their neurological processes are not developed enough to make any real meaning as to why their parents no longer love each other, or why Mom and Dad are always angry or are not together. Divorce may be easier to handle when the kids are older. Still, there is usually some degree of grief and loss experienced.
I found it interesting, if not compelling, that over the last week, I spoke with four separate parents, all of whom were dealing with significant anguish regarding their relationships with their grown or nearly grown kids. The first gentleman has an adult son with a physical disability … Sadly, their relationship has been mostly estranged over the last fifteen years. Another father shared that he has not had any contact with his two adult daughters in over ten years and felt quite torn up since he did not walk his one daughter down the aisle or witness her recent wedding; yet a mother lamented that she has not spoken with her son nor seen her grandchildren in nearly two years. And one other mother was feeling quite stressed as she tried to encourage her annoyed teenage son to spend more time with his father.
While the common thread is that each of these sad situations happened to involve divorced parents and their grown or nearly grown offspring. I have to ask, “Does it have to be this way?” Taking a stalk of the matter, might it be wise to maintain those more positive connections with the ‘former spouse’ including wholesome family time despite the separation or divorce from the other parent? Of course, I am not suggesting maintaining a positive rapport with a previous spouse or partner who is emotionally unhealthy or toxic. However, for those parents who are both devoted to their children, and truly wish to raise healthy, well-adjusted offspring, (despite their divorce and regardless of any re-marriages), just getting-along can have tremendous payoffs. It is more thoughtful and loving for the disenfranchised parents to consider the “bigger picture” and realize the ultimate impact and value of creating those special memories for your child within the context of their “whole family.” There was once love and affinity that brought the parents together, to begin with. And, while disappointments or “falling out of love” happens, do you ever fall out of love with your children?
As we raise our young children, they learn just how to connect, draw boundaries emotionally, and problem solves from their primary teachers — Mom and Dad. If the parents do not enjoy a healthy rapport, if there is any subterfuge, manipulation, or disrespect between the parents, the kids can easily pick up the ball and run with their type of manipulative patterns, including blame, oppositional defiance, or passive-aggressive control. Therefore, it certainly makes sense to create and maintain more positive regard between the parents themselves. When there are issues with the kids, if the parents maintain a “united front” and let go of false agendas or presumptions regarding maintaining their children’s loyalty and affection through unilaterally caving into their demands etc., then the whole family thrives. And, the children grow up knowing that while idealistic, intact family relations were not exactly in place … at the heart of their family — the bond of love and cherished family connections was never abandoned.
I specialize in ghost-writing Inspired Heart Letters for individuals who struggle with moving past their ego and communicating from the heart. While I am asked to write letters for any type of relationship concern including co-parenting after divorce, one of my most popular letter requests sadly, is for family estrangement issues. I have helped parents, siblings, and other loved ones to reunite through a compelling letter when there has been a separation or rift that has continued for months, years, and even decades! When the connection is lost, and there is no one reaching out to mend the relationship, tragically so many people find themselves cut-off from their loved one when misunderstandings or false beliefs are really at play.
There will be moments when celebrations for all types of life passages occur such as birthdays, graduations; weddings showers; the birth of grandchildren; and even funerals. Preferably, those meaningful events are shared within a cohesive family connection or when both parents can amicably get along and openly support their children during these special times. Showing up in good cheer, despite their past disappointments or regrets for a marriage that was not everlasting is a noble and loving gesture. Celebrating your family together, in peace and joy, is a wonderful gift for everyone. One day, your kids will be grown and looking through old family photos, video clips, and letters or special occasion cards shared. Consider this… What types of family memories and what sort of family legacy will be reflected upon? What will they cherish?