Estranged Parents and Adult Children 1/3

There is a common message in my culture to adult children of estranged parents: Make things right because those parents will die someday, and then it will be too late. This idea rests on several premises. First is the assumption the audience of this message still has living parents. Second is the apparent impossibility of children dying before their parents. The third is the notion any rift is the child’s responsibility to repair. 

You can find examples of this message in books and movies, and in every medical drama ever on television. You can also find it on sites like where the “expert answer” to someone’s query over how to handle an estranged father’s request for contact pushes it heavily. The site official is listed as an attorney and journalist on aging issues, not a therapist, yet felt  qualified to give an answer based on presumed feelings. 

“You have a long and strained history to overcome when you make this hard call. But you will never be sorry that you did it – and would surely regret the opportunity you could miss to get what the shrinks sometimes too glibly call ‘closure’. Make the call to your father about him, not about you… Find out what he might have regretted or lamented the most about your relationship, then find it in your heart to be compassionate and forgive wrongs and imagined wrongs from the past. And resist any temptation to rehash them.

The (aging) expert is fortune telling, claiming to surely know what action the petitioner would regret, despite not knowing what caused the rift. It’s hard to understand what closure can be found in making the reconciliation about the parent, and not “rehashing” old injuries. Nowhere does this elder-centric advice take into consideration the regrets and lamentations of the adult child, or their need for forgiveness. This is a death bed confession, designed to ease the conscience of the parent before they meet their maker. 

This is not about the closure needs of the adult child, and in general ii don’t think the message is. While appeals to future regrets are common components, they are one sided. Where is the advice to aging parents to make things right with their estranged children before they die, or before they need caretaking, or before dementia makes the task impossible? Nowhere to be found. 
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