Families, communities, and nations are stronger when individuals remember that relationships are more important than winning arguments. Yet, many families have estranged members with parents not speaking to children and siblings fighting against each other.. Recently, adult children have begun to “cancel” their own parents for nothing more than a difference in political affiliations.
Karl Pillemer is the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the College of Human Ecology’s Department of Human Development. His book, “Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them,” was published in September 2020. The book documents the results of a large-scale national survey on the prevalence of estrangement in families. According to James Dean, Pillemer…
…“found that 27% of Americans 18 and older had cut off contact with a family member, most of whom reported that they were upset by such a rift. That translates to at least 67 million people nationally – likely an underestimate, Pillemer said, since some are reluctant to acknowledge the problem.”
“It became clear that estrangement is a very widespread problem that was hiding in plain sight,” said Pillemer, who is also a professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. “I felt it was critically important to bring this problem out of the shadows and into the clear light of open discussion and dialogue.”
Of the more than 1,300 people Pillemer surveyed, 10% reported being estranged from a parent or child, 8% from a sibling and 9% from extended family members including cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, nieces and nephews.
Such relationships are described as “toxic” and consist of family members being cut out of one’s life for one reason or another. Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote that Pillemer’s study looked at families that reconciled.
Pillemer’s study also helpfully looks at those who were able to reconcile. Almost all “abandoned a need for the estranged relative to accept their version of the past and to apologize. They instead focused on the present and future of the relationship, adopting more realistic expectations about the other person rather than trying to change them….”
Indeed, the study finds that “performing a sort of return-on-investment calculation, reconciled family members determined the minimum relationship they could live with to, for example, enable a relationship between grandkids and grandparents.”
This kind of practical approach to family seems rare these days. It involves a certain swallowing of one’s pride, and a sense that maintaining family ties is vital even if those family members are not everything you want them to be. There has to be an acknowledgement that there are things more important than being right. It’s a lesson that comes with age, frankly, and too many of these relationships are cut off before people have reached that level of maturity.
Family members are individuals. As such, they think differently and have different opinions. When problems arise from the different thoughts and opinions, we should follow the counsel of the late President Thomas S. Monson: “Never let a problem to be solved, become more important than a person to be loved.” Families are stronger when individuals give the benefit of the doubt to others, and strong families strengthen communities and nations.