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Family Business Matters       09/14 13:41

   Farm Family Ties: Guidelines for When You're Cut Off

   Being cut off from a family member is both painful and embarrassing, and 
there are few people with whom you can discuss the issue, but there are books 
that address the dilemma.

Lance Woodbury
DTN Farm Business Adviser

   "Rejection from the person whose opinion and love you care the most about 
... makes the certainties of life feel precarious and unraveled."  -- Joshua 
Coleman, Ph.D.

   Family estrangement is a topic I've written about several times during the 
years, and for good reason: It's a common experience in rural families and 
family businesses. Being cut off from a family member, especially one of your 
adult children, is both painful and embarrassing, and there are few people with 
whom you can discuss the issue.

   Two books published in 2020 offer advice on how to heal estrangement. Karl 
Pillemer's "Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them," which I 
wrote about in March 2021 (contact me for a copy), is a good primer on the 
sources of estrangement and pathways to reconciliation. Here, I add the 
perspective of Joshua Coleman through his book, "Rules of Estrangement: Why 
Adult Children Cut Ties & How to Heal the Conflict."


   Coleman begins by helping us understand some of the historical and cultural 
shifts that give rise to the increase in estrangement. For example, he cites 
the trend toward individualism, noting that "emphasis on loyalty to the family 
unit has been replaced with the pursuit of individual fulfillment." In that 
pursuit, individual pain is often seen as having its roots in the family 
system, particularly in the parental relationship. "Parents are more important 
than ever in the narrative of how young adults understand themselves," Coleman 

   A related trend is the understanding of what comprises a "good" childhood 
and, thus, good parenting. Coleman argues that what today are considered 
harmful acts by parents would not have been seen as harmful in prior 
generations. Problems or issues in the adult child's life today are at times 
traced back to their parents. It doesn't matter whether that causal link is 
real to the parents; it's real to the child, and parental cutoff may be the 


   The ability to identify with the feelings of someone else is of the utmost 

   "Empathizing with the child's complaint or perceptions, however at odds 
these are with your own ... often determines whether they ever see their 
children or grandchildren again," Coleman says. The ability to acknowledge your 
child's belief that you, as a parent, caused pain in his or her life is central 
to moving forward. Understanding and communicating that you caused pain, even 
if pain was never your intention, is difficult but necessary to move forward.


   Coleman promotes parents "making amends" with their adult children by 
writing a letter to them. He argues that doing so shows you care and you are 
courageous, and it clarifies how you see your responsibilities in the 
relationship. It also shows that two people can see the same events 
differently, while helping the child see him -- or herself more clearly as an 
adult -- that he or she is in a relationship of equals.

   But, many parents find this hard. They feel they may not have done anything 
wrong, or if they do feel bad, the letter may make them feel even worse about 
themselves. Some parents feel a letter might be used against them or will give 
credence to the child's immaturity. Mistakes that parents make when writing a 
letter include not going far enough in their admission of causing pain, 
sounding defensive or resorting to explaining, or even blaming, instead of 

   If you have experienced cutoff from your child, you know the agony of 
rejection by a person into whom you've poured your life. Recovering from that 
experience means giving your child a chance to express why he or she has chosen 
estrangement. It means acknowledging your contribution and looking for 
opportunities, however slight, to reestablish a pattern of interaction. The two 
books mentioned here offer good ideas on how to begin the journey of 


   Write Lance Woodbury at Family Business Matters, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 
415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email

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