Not long ago at a conference, a woman I was sitting with was saying how happy she is to have no contact with her children. The next day, another woman was describing what a relief it was to no longer communicate with her mother. These comments are not unusual. In fact, according to Dr. Josh Coleman, author of When Parents Hurt, the phenomenon of complete dissolution of relating is increasingly common. As a psychotherapist he has counseled people on both sides, but acknowledges that regardless of what side you are on, the termination of the parent-child bond is a seminal one and more difficult than many anticipate.
Many therapists agree that our earliest parental conflicts and betrayals are the seeds of our adult relationship issues. At the very least, they are an energetic body that filters, and even predicts, the kinds of emotional challenges that we face throughout our lives. I have spent most of my adult life distancing and trying to come closer to some of the most challenging relationships with my original family, so I understand fully the real need to leave those past relationships behind. At the same time, as a mother of four kids who are my most favorite people in the world, it is heartbreaking for me to imagine them terminating our relationship for any reason.
The space between my childhood relationships and my parenting relationships was grounded in years of releasing the judgments and betrayals in my past, as well as learning how to listen and pay attention to the minor injuries that happen in the course of daily relating. The only rule that was never broken in our home was walking away angry from an argument. Even silly childhood arguments stew and form into ways of relating that can last for the life of the relationship. Paying attention and healing the small hurts that happen in the course of daily relating goes a long way in building relationships with lasting power.
Yet for many of us, all the injuries that have remained unhealed and all the apologies that remain unspoken coalesce into one of the greatest challenges of the year as we come together with family. The hurt at the holidays is all the more poignant because we all crave the sense of belonging and acceptance that holiday times espouse. For most of us there is no simple apology that would suffice; nothing less than radical forgiveness is in order. Sometimes when I bring up this idea with clients they react indignantly- these people don’t deserve pardon. What most people miss about forgiveness is that it is an act we perform to free ourselves. Letting go of past injury is the key to freedom in the here and now.
But how do we let go? What is the magic secret that frees us to be more of ourselves? We drop the story line by dropping it. We become more interested in how things are in the here and now. We learn to move closer to reality as it is in the moment. We see how other people are in the moment and feel compassion for the ways that some of our relatives are stuck in the past, in some past version of who we are. This is the work of a heroic life. And it is ok if you can only stand in the space of the hero for a few hours at a time, but it might be just enough to get you through the holiday meal with your true self intact. Even if you can’t witness the healing around you, know that the act of bringing the present moment into any interaction sends out ripples of love, changing the fabric of relationships with people you might not even know. Besides that, befriending reality and letting go of the rest offers us the most precious gift of all- it hands us the best version of ourselves.
Warmest wishes from all of us at Good Clean Love for a loving holiday.