How to Heal a Rift with Your Adult Child

Family feuds are heartbreaking—don't let pride fuel the problem

by Erica Manfred • Next Avenue
Photograph: Shutterstock.com

For a full year in my 20s, I did not speak to my mother. She was controlling, overbearing and hypercritical, and she had a nasty habit of shooting zingers at me and then insisting she didn’t mean anything by them. At 19, I moved to New York City from our New Jersey suburb to escape her, but every time she called or visited, we’d slip into the same old battles.
 
One day I'd finally had enough and stopped calling or returning her calls. I was her only child, and the rift devastated her. She phoned regularly and tried to see me, but I was adamant about needing my own space without her in it. My father, whom she dominated as well, made it his business to stay away from me.
 
I’m softhearted by nature, so I eventually relented, and my mom and I reverted to our usual tense relationship—but with one difference. I let her know that some of her behavior, such as constantly criticizing my weight, wasn’t acceptable and that if she didn’t stop it, I’d disconnect again. She knew I meant it and actually managed to change some of her more egregious behaviors.
 
After my father died following a long illness, my relationship with my mother improved immensely. She’d had to take care of him and had always been very unhappy in her marriage. With him gone, I believe, she was able to lighten up for the last 15 years of her life, during which time we became very close and actually had a lot of fun together, creating memories for which I am profoundly grateful. 

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