Children do not stop talking to a parent for no reason. They may stop because of something they think you or their other parent did, or because of something within them. If you are experiencing unbearable pain at being shut out by your kids, it is likely they are hurting, too. Whatever the reason for the estrangement, there are things you can do to try to change the situation. Make sure that you have a support system for yourself while you are riding these rough waters.
Pay Attention to How You Respond to Your Children
In their classic book “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk,” Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish recommend that we learn to acknowledge and respect our children’s feelings even if their feelings make no sense to us. Therefore, the first step in renewing parent-child communication is to pay attention to how you respond to what they do or say: Do you tell them they don’t really mean it that they feel a certain way? Do you ignore what they say when it does not fit in with your needs? Do you get angry at them for being sad, angry or rejecting? Once you are aware of how you respond to your children when they express uncomfortable feelings, you have a clue about how to start changing unhealthy patterns.
Put Your Children’s Needs in the Spotlight
Divorce has added extra stress to your life and regardless of how tired, scared or angry you are because of it, your child is likely to be as scared and angry. As Dr. JoAnne Pedro-Carroll writes in her book, “Putting Children First,” children of all ages, even adult children, yearn for their feelings and needs to be the focus of their parents’ attention. When you are with your children, therefore, pay attention to what they say, even when they only say it with “body language.” Resist the temptation to bring the talk back to your feelings and your needs. Make the conversation about them.
Be Willing to Apologize
If before, during or after the divorce you did anything hurtful toward your children or that they may interpret as hurtful and unfair toward them or the other parent, you need to accept responsibility, apologize and offer to make amends. The most important message that you should be sending to your children -- and your ex-spouse if that is appropriate -- is: What do you need from me in order for me to be able to reopen communication channels with the children?
Be Persistent Without Being Intrusive
You need to find a balance. Continue to try to renew contact with your estranged children, but don't overdo it. Send them small notes, invite them to a meal outside the home or to an event that they like and at the same time be willing to have your overtures rejected. These gestures are best if they are low-key and periodic. However long it may take for your children to be willing to renew their relationship with you, they need to know that you are continuing to gently knock at the door.
With an Master of Science in marital and family therapy, Sheri Oz ran a private clinical practice for almost 30 years. Based on her clinical work, she has published a book and many professional articles and book chapters. She has also traveled extensively around the world and has volunteered in her field in China and South Sudan.
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