This article is a follow-up to Karen Westerberg Reyes’ article, “Coping with Estranged Adult Children,” from the September/October 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.
I don’t know what I expected when my semi-estranged daughter Mia came to visit. It was the first Thanksgiving we would be together since she left home some 30 years ago. These were difficult and tense years during which our relationship eroded to the point of almost non-existence despite my numerous attempts to keep it alive.
I had high hopes for this holiday get-together. At best I fantasized that Mia would tell me she was sorry for being so distant, she would beg my forgiveness, and I would again be reunited with that happy, funny, outgoing person she was during her younger years. We would talk way into the night and determine that the whole thing was a huge misunderstanding. We would laugh and maybe cry a little about the collection of absurd breakdowns of communication, the silly disagreements, and the unintended sleights that took place over the years. We would resolve to never let them occur again.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
What did take place was a slow, almost imperceptible coming to terms with the fact that each of us was still nursing a collection of emotional wounds that we learned (were still learning) to live with, to rationalize, to understand. There was the realization that neither one of us really understood what the exact problems were, and maybe we never would. There was no blaming, no finger pointing, no censure. And, sadly, there was no dramatic reconciliation. What we found was a sort of benign coming to terms with the reality of our blood relation, our inevitable and undeniable connection, and most important, our intact — albeit fractured — love for each other.
We both agreed that it was that love that has held us together all these years: A thin, sometimes fraying connection, but one that had, despite periods of complete estrangement, never completely broke. It was during this coming-to-terms moment that I asked her what she thought of the article I had written about her. Her answer: “Different perspectives, Mom, different perspectives. You’re going to have to accept that I’m never going to be your little girl again.” That statement brought home to me in glaring color my own culpability for many of the problems in this relationship. Maybe a lot of the problems. I owned up to my unrealistic expectations, we talked about them, and I immediately felt the relief of confession and, most important, of Mia’s absolution.
We eventually came to a quiet agreement that we would proceed from here with fresh intentions. Mia would not give me fodder for my guilt about mistakes I might have made raising her. And I would not continue to expect her to resurrect her childhood attitudes. It was less than I wanted but more than I expected.
The first night after Mia flew home I had a dream. I was standing outside of a locked door looking through its window into a room where I could see Mia. She was setting the dinner table. That used to be her responsibility when she lived at home. Apparently she was unaware of my presence even though I was knocking very hard. Still no reaction. I started pounding on the door and screamed her name. I became desperate and more distressed because I didn’t know if she was ignoring me on purpose or if she really didn’t hear me. I didn’t know whether to be angry or concerned. Then, all of a sudden she looked up. She saw me, smiled, and started walking toward me.
Lying there after I woke up, I decided the dream was an apt metaphor for our past relationship. Mia, detached and unresponsive; me fretting and second guessing Mia’s intentions. But the end of the dream captured my hopes for our future relationship: Mia finally hearing me knocking.
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