The Skills You Need for Happier Relationships With Family

This holiday season, many of us gathered with our families, some for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While time with loved ones can be heartwarming, family dynamics can also be complex and challenging. We offer insights around some of these relationship challenges and skills for building stronger relationships in our Science of Happiness course, a free, eight-week online course that explores the roots of a happy, meaningful life.

When we asked students in the conclusion of the course how the journey had impacted them, they shared everything from small habit changes to big life transitions. But one of the themes that kept coming up was how the course enhanced their sense of connection with family.

Family is key to well-being

In an opening discussion in the course, we asked students all around the world what makes them happy. The overwhelming response revealed how important family is for happiness.

Annette, a new student in the course, summarized it this way:

“The things that make me happy are spending time with my family and my dog, seeing my children grow and prosper in adulthood, being able to be independent despite physical limitations.”

Many students identified family relationships as their main focus for improvement through the course. They described many difficulties in these intimate relationships, as well: Juggling work and home life can be challenging, and when we are stressed, we often project our negative emotions on to our loved ones.

For example, Yainak, a student who recently completed the course, reflected:

“When I was terribly busy raising my children and I didn’t have the time to be considerate of others, it was difficult for me to be grateful to others, and I would only complain, wondering why I was the only one having a hard time. I couldn’t even be generous to my husband, who was the closest to me. At that time, when I got together with other housewives, the main topic of conversation was complaining about our husbands.”

Research suggests that family relationships can help us cope with stress, form healthier habits, and enhance self-esteem, leading to higher well-being. So how do we strengthen our family relationships?

Skills for happier family relationships

Each of the course’s eight weeks focuses on a specific theme, and many of these are very relevant to our family relationships.

Forgiveness. Conflict is inevitable, especially in close relationships, and our forgiveness lessons in the course center on forming genuine apologies, as well as activating compassion as we consider forgiving others.

For example, students learn the process of forgiveness based on research by Fred Luskin. Once you acknowledge your feelings and make a commitment to forgive, the steps also include soothing yourself when you feel upset and focusing on your positive goals for the future rather than past hurts.

Student Anna recalls many “family members’ relationships crushed due to unwillingness to forgive,” and emphasizes that “with family members who you care about, it’s OK to be the first one to apologize to the other for the situation you are in without blaming one or the other.” Many students agreed with this observation, acknowledging how the simple action of apologizing first can initially be uncomfortable and difficult—but ultimately worthwhile.

Gratitude. One practice, the Gratitude Letter, was particularly popular in the course. Students wrote letters expressing thanks to people they hadn’t properly thanked, and delivered them in person if possible, creating the space for heartfelt conversation.

Jackie, a new student in the course, shared:

“I wrote the letter to my mom and called her. It was moving and powerful for her, even though I thank her all the time, this delivery was more meaningful as I wrote to her to thank her for the person that she is, for her happy spirit and resilience. She cried, I cried, and this exercise made us both very happy and brought us closer together.”

Student Katie created a habit of doing the Three Good Things practice, taking time to reflect on positive moments from the day as a way to bring attention to the blessings in her life. Her partner joined in for this evening ritual, which has strengthened their bond through a short but impactful moment of appreciation.

“I’ve noticed feeling more rested when we do this,” she said. “We laugh more before we sleep and are spending less time looking at screens.”

Yainak also developed a gratitude practice with her husband. “We are now able to express our gratitude to each other, and I am amazed at how happy we feel when we do so,” she said.

Mindfulness and compassion. Throughout the course, students try a variety of mindfulness and compassion practices that can benefit their relationships with their families.

In the Active Listening practice, students practice giving and observing body-language signals during conversations that help deepen connection and enrich communication—like eye contact, smiles, and nods to show you are paying attention.

The mindfulness practices consist of three varieties: Mindful Breathing, Body Scan Meditation, and Loving-Kindness Meditation. Students are encouraged to integrate these practices into their daily habits, and many students reflected on the calm and clarity they get from practicing mindfulness.

Yainak found herself struggling to take care of everyone as a mother, daughter, and wife; all of the time and energy it took had become a chore, so she didn’t feel truly caring. Ultimately, she found that practicing mindfulness was a way of taking care of herself, so she could better take care of others.

She came to this realization during a Mindful Breathing practice, by “relaxing her mind and taking slow breaths.” After the course, she set a goal of creating “a life that helps those around me by gently approaching my own mind and body, then working on myself and imagining a happy future.”

Do you want to explore the roots of your own happiness and deepen your relationships? Sign up for the course in the new year and join our community of like-minded students striving for happier and more connected lives.

Source: The Skills You Need for Happier Relationships With Family

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Related contents:

The Science of Romantic Love: Distinct Evolutionary, Neural, and Hormonal Characteristics”. International Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities. 7: 1. doi:10.7710/2168-0620.1036Vangelisti, Anita L. (2011).

Interpersonal Processes in Romantic Relationships” (PDF). In Knapp, Mark L.; Daly, John A. (eds.). The SAGE Handbook of Interpersonal Communication. SAGE Publications. pp. 597–631. ISBN 978-1-4129-7474-5. S2CID 15423545.Meier A, Allen G (2009).

“Romantic Relationships from Adolescence to Young Adulthood: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health”. The Sociological Quarterly. 50 (2): 308–335. doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.2009.01142.x. PMC 4201847. PMID 25332511.Sassler S (June 2010).

“Partnering Across the Life Course: Sex, Relationships, and Mate Selection”. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 72 (3): 557–575. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00718.x. PMC 3399251. PMID 22822268.Iantaffi A, Bockting WO (March 2011).

Views from both sides of the bridge? Gender, sexual legitimacy and transgender people’s experiences of relationships”. Culture, Health & Sexuality. 13 (3): 355–70. doi:10.1080/13691058.2010.537770. PMC 3076785. PMID 21229422.

Number of U.S. adults cohabiting with a partner continues to rise, especially among those 50 and older”. Pew Research Center. 2017-04-06. Retrieved 2018-04-04.Blum D (2011-12-28).

Love According to Harry Harlow”. APS Observer. 25 (1).Suomi SJ, van der Horst FC, van der Veer R (December 2008).

Rigorous experiments on monkey love: an account of Harry F. Harlow’s role in the history of attachment theory”. Integrative Psychological & Behavioral Science. 42 (4): 354–69. doi:10.1007/s12124-008-9072-9. PMID 18688688.Kim S, Boldt LJ, Kochanska G (2015).

From parent-child mutuality to security to socialization outcomes: developmental cascade toward positive adaptation in preadolescence”. Attachment & Human Development. 17 (5): 472–91. doi:10.1080/14616734.2015.1072832. PMC 4840872. PMID 26258443.Kochanska G, Kim S (January 2014).

A complex interplay among the parent-child relationship, effortful control, and internalized, rule-compatible conduct in young children: evidence from two studies”. Developmental Psychology. 50 (1): 8–21. doi:10.1037/a0032330. PMC 3750102. PMID 23527491.Marceau K, Ram N, Susman E (September 2015).

Development and Lability in the Parent-Child Relationship During Adolescence: Associations With Pubertal Timing and Tempo”. Journal of Research on Adolescence. 25 (3): 474–489. doi:10.1111/jora.12139. PMC 4550307. PMID 26321856.

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Ignore These Myths About Life Insurance

Photo: BalanceFormCreative (Shutterstock)

Many young, single people assume they don’t need life insurance. Unfortunately, this misconception is difficult to reconcile before it’s too late. After all, life insurance is one of those investments that you can’t exactly buy after you need it, and if you wait too long, it’s going to cost a lot more to get it.

The purpose of life insurance is to provide a safety net so your family or loved ones won’t struggle to pay bills or handle other financial responsibilities after you’re gone—but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to think about it until after you have a family. Here’s what you need to know about that and other myths about life insurance that are best ignored, and what facts to consider instead.

Life insurance only matters after you die

In fact, life insurance is for the living. It’s in the name, and sure, the central reason to get life insurance is to financially protect your loved ones in the event of your death. But many life insurance policies also have living benefits, which allow you to tap into your plan in the event you are diagnosed with a terminal or chronic illness.

Another way you can benefit from your life insurance your plan while you’re still alive is through its cash value. Depending on your plan type, you may be able to build tax-deferred wealth through your policy, with the ability to make withdrawals from or take out loans against the value during your lifetime.

All life insurance is too expensive

Life insurance costs will vary depending on your age, gender, health, and specific policy. Predictably, the younger and healthier you are, the less expensive life insurance will be. For example, a healthy 35-year-old can pay under $28 per month for a term life insurance policy with a $500,000 death benefit payout and a duration of 20 years, according to Policy Genius.

If you’re concerned about costs, Business Insider advises you to start small. Get as much life insurance as you can afford for now, and then reassess when you are able to increase your coverage down the line. For your first plan, term life insurance is one of the most popular and affordable options. It’s a straightforward policy that provides a large assured sum assured for a low premium over an extended term, typically 10 to 30 years.

If you have health issues, consider looking into policies that don’t require medical exams.

You don’t need life insurance if you’re single with no dependents

This might be the most prevalent myth about life insurance: If no one is depending on you, why create a financial security blanket? The reality is that if you have transferable debt, like student loans, you could render your parents or other family members responsible after you’re dead. Life insurance is not just for married couples.

And while many think of life insurance as replacing lost income, even a stay-at-home parent who doesn’t receive a salary should take out life insurance. Although they may not be the traditional “breadwinner,” the cost of replacing childcare or other household duties is worth considering, and preparing for.

You should just stick with your employer’s life insurance

While many company life insurance policies are a low-cost (or even free) perk, they likely aren’t sufficient to meet your financial needs, typically offering around a year of your usual salary. Investopedia explains: “If you have dependents who rely on your income, then you probably need coverage worth at least six times your annual salary…Some experts even recommend getting coverage worth 10 to 12 times your salary.” It’s wise to supplement employer-provided insurance benefits with policies that are tailored to your needs.

The bottom line: Life insurance is not one size fits all

Take advantage of the fact that life insurance is highly customizable. And compared to other forms of insurance, your life insurance needs will change drastically over time. Think about it: Children, marriage, divorce, remarriage, caring for elderly family members, and retirement…and that’s just your thirties. (Kidding.)

Even if you don’t think you need it now, you should start with what you can afford and build coverage as your circumstances change. Nerd Wallet provides a handy table that will help you compare quotes now, and companies like Policy Genius make it easy to shop around for a good rate. But rather than rely solely on online platforms, it’s also worth consulting a real life professional.

By: Meredith Dietz

Source: Ignore These Myths About Life Insurance

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How To Look After Your Relationship When Experiencing Fertility Issues

Why us? A question familiar to the never-ending plaguing thoughts of those struggling with fertility.

Couples will always face – and defeat – an onslaught of battles together. 

When it comes to trying for a family, these will come with intense strains that can push even the most stable of relationships into choppy waters and uncertainty.

And yes, epic fights that make you want to knock on the wall and apologise to the neighbours. Sorry pals, we’re trying for a baby, it’s all cool.

Infertility is arguably biggest test of all when it comes to relationships.

With lives suddenly going from romantic getaways, thrilling sex and fun nights out together, to ovulation monitoring, bird food dieting, scheduled, clinical intercourse and two week waits, things change forever.

What you thought would be an exciting journey together can quickly become something that threatens to bring toxicity into a safe space, one that always felt equipped to face the world.

Tensions and disappointments can lead to arguments and blame. Microaggressions such as implying that the glass of wine they had last month might be a factor in why this month hasn’t been the month, can seep in.

Neglect of things that used to be fun, exciting and loving can breed resentment and sap joy from life. This is not what you expected on that whirlwind first year together.

You thought that when you decided you want a baby, it would be full of rom-com type adventures and excuse to have sex after sex after sex. What could go wrong? Look, it doesn’t have to be this way.

My husband and I are in the middle of a very difficult attempt to have a child. The months have ticked by; and those months became years. There have been times when the pen could pretty much have been hovering over the divorce papers.

The clashes have been monumental, and the emotions have been raw and heartbreaking. But I have learnt a lot, and there are things I wish we had taken into account.

We naively entered this thinking it could only strengthen our relationship. And it can. But making the baby is only half the work; everything that goes with it demands just as much input.

‘Fertility struggles can have a profound effect on a couple’s relationship, with many couples experiencing anxiety and depression throughout their fertility journey,’ Victoria Jeffries, an accredited psychotherapist who specialises in infertility counselling, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Quite often, the shock of the inability to conceive a child as quickly and easily as expected gradually leads to feelings of guilt and sometimes even shame.

‘In my therapy practice, I have noticed that those struggling to conceive are often left experiencing an identity crisis; if I can’t be a parent, who will I be? Along with concerns for years to come; what does the future hold for me without children?’

It will be tough, and there will be days where you just want to punch your partner in the throat, but your relationship isn’t doomed because you have fertility struggles.

Nothing is. So how can you have a better fighting chance of sticking this out (and in) together, through thick and thin?

Knowing the facts together

It’s no secret that our basic high school sex education class did not prepare us for this.

In fact, it actively sought to prevent a baby: ‘Look at a boy and you will have ten babies and your life will be ruined, heathen.’

So, it’s no wonder the expanse of naivety when it comes to producing children, is wide. Like it or lump it, it goes without saying that women will know more about what is happening in their bodies, and some of what is needed, than their male counterparts.

This is where being on the same page matters. You can’t communicate or make plans if you don’t both know the score. There are many things I have learnt, both mentally and biologically; and the same for my husband.

So, get this out of the way. You will need to learn together, you will need to accept that explaining stuff to one another is not patronising, and you will need to suspend any embarrassment if you don’t know basic things.

If you’re going to be at it for every waking moment during a fertile window, checking discharges and depositing samples, there is no time for embarrassment.

It is absolutely imperative that you start this on equal footing and don’t judge one another for not knowing stuff; for a circle of life species that is, at its bare roots, supposedly designed for procreation, it isn’t half complicated to have a baby.

Researching and learning together is a valuable bonding exercise – and also leaves you prepared for the journey ahead.

Support

Ask anyone who is trying to conceive and they’ll tell you: this is not easy. All of those people who routinely quote stats that moving house is the most stressful thing a couple can go through together have clearly never heard of the two-week wait.

There is so much that goes into this; physically and emotionally. And as a couple, we need to be there for one another.

To that end, Victoria can’t emphasise enough the importance of mutual support as couples ride through what are understandably choppy waters.

‘It is important to remember it is perfectly normal to feel stressed, anxious and drained while going through this journey,’ she says.

‘These are valid feelings and are to be expected; it is an incredibly trying process after all.

‘This is why it is critical that you both show compassion to yourselves and each other, and allow yourself to feel what you feel.’

We all deal with disappointment differently. Understand what helps your partner and tell your partner what helps you.

If you are both coming from different places, but neither of you know what that place is, then you are going to fall out. You will be confused over why your partner is acting the way they are and, until they explain where they are at, it will just leave you bewildered and often angry that they aren’t approaching this like you are.

Scheduling regular times to just sit down and reflect, talk about things and get things off your chest – even if it involves a bicker – helps to break things down. When you ‘get’ someone, you validate their feelings, whether they are positive or negative.

And when someone feels validated, they can trust that they can open up again. With all relationships, this is important for survival. This is even more the case when you are on such an intense and emotion filled journey like this.

Humour

My husband and I laugh a lot; him being funny was the first and main attraction I felt. We have a shared dark humour and I swear, this is why we are still standing.

If you approach this with nothing but severity, it’s going to be a long journey packed with fights and resentment. Making a baby is an absolutely ridiculous and often slapstick (slapdick?) process.

I am not saying that you are going to be making quips when your period comes again, or slapping your thigh with laughter when some dodgy tests come back.

But in among it all, you have to laugh before you cry. You will do both, but the former is so vitally important for couples.

Budget

If you are in a relationship and you claim that you never argue about money, then you are a bare-faced liar.

Cashflow is the Achilles heel of so many couples. We have so much to thank the NHS for and, many tests and treatments, including some rounds of IVF, are covered.

But your outgoings when trying for a baby will increase. Annoyingly, eating healthily and nutritionally is more expensive than chicken nuggets and chips. Supplements are not cheap. You need to take things into account.

Before the money stress gets you, get ahead of the game. Modify the monthly budget together to take everything into account so there are no shocks.

If you are someone who didn’t budget before (aka me), then start now. No-one wants those Omega 3 capsules to drive a wedge between you before you even get to the nitty-gritty.

Prepare

There are so many outcomes and stages and together, you need to be as prepared as you can. 

A positive outlook is so important, but you also have to be realistic about the fact that during this, there will be days when you just want the ground to swallow you up.

There will be setbacks and you need to discuss how you will approach them if they come.

This is when you can identify what is going to hit one another the hardest and how you can then support each other.

If you feel your other half in this journey does not have your back in these moments, this is when things can get seriously sour.

Self-care and rewards

It’s going to challenge your mental health more than you think it will. So, things need to be broken up so your whole life as a couple isn’t just conceive, conceive, conceive.

Ensure you take time to just be together, even if nights out, special meals or weekends away are scheduled far in advance.

Make sure you still invest in your hobbies, together and apart. You still need to have conversations that don’t involve the words ‘ovulating’ and ‘well it says on Mumsnet…’.

Don’t beat yourselves or each other up if there is a day or two when you slip from the fertility diet and have a takeaway or a beer.

Count some blessings, but in a certain way. I hate nothing more than someone telling me ‘well at least you have each other’ or ‘it could be worse’, so any blessings are between yourselves, and not with the idea that you should want or deserve a baby less because you have nice things in life.

Nevertheless, it’s still important to enjoy what you have.

Reward yourselves and each other as you go. Acknowledge how hard this is and how many life changes you have adopted. This is hard work, so make sure you tell each other how proud you are.

Romantic gestures, little gifts or cards and most importantly, hugs and ‘I love you’s are imperative tools to keep you going.

Take a break

Have sex that is not just conceiving sex. When that window isn’t open, it doesn’t mean your legs can’t be. It’s amazing how many couples forget that sex has other upsides.

‘Trying for a baby’ sex is vastly different to ‘let’s have sex’ sex. You need to keep the spark alive and enjoy each other sometimes without the pressures that come with having those all important ovulation sessions.

And take a break from it all now and again. It’s exhausting, individually and as a couple. There is no shame in taking a month off and just recuperating and existing, remembering what a human life is outside of this. Taking a break is not failure, it’s a positive move to reflect and get ready to go again. It’s the most important holiday that you will ever have as a couple.

Everyone needs time off from work sometimes. This is work. Take that month’s leave and take it together. Like you wouldn’t check your emails, don’t check your ovulation strips or obsess over your discharge. One month won’t change anything.

Most importantly, even if you have to write it down, remember that the whole reason you want a baby together is that you love each other, and you want to expand your family to share that powerful feeling with someone you will both love unconditionally, together.

If you are torn apart, the whole motive for what has divided you is lost. It’s the easiest thing to forget but the most important thing to remember – as clinical, bizarre and tense as this fertility mission can be, it is first and foremost a process of deep love.

By:

Source: How to look after your relationship when experiencing fertility issues | Metro News

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Want To Raise Successful Kids? Science Says These 5 Habits Matter

Photo: Getty Images

There comes a time in some people’s lives when their aspirations for their children begin to rival or even exceed their aspirations for themselves. It’s happened to me since I’ve become a parent myself. As a result, I’ve been on a years-long mission to collect as much science-based advice as possible regarding how to raise successful kids.

Here are five of the most interesting and useful strategies I’ve found and highlighted recently. The science suggests that if you want to do right by your kids, you should probably do these things.

1. Make them do chores.

Researchers at La Trobe University in Australia recently set out to determine whether children who do chores at home would develop better working memory, inhibition, and other success-predicting behaviors.

They broke chores into three categories: self-care, other care, and pet care. Writing in the peer-reviewed Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, they said their studies showed that kids who did self-care and other-care chores were in fact more likely to exhibit better academic performances and problem-solving skills.

But pet-care chores did nothing either way for the kids’ later development. Why not? Maybe it’s because pet care chores aren’t as strenuous as other chores, or maybe because the kids didn’t really view the kinds of things you have to do to take care of a pet dog (walk it, feed it, etc.) to be work. The bottom line, however? Make your kids do chores. They might not love the idea to start with, but you’ve got science on your side.

2. Teach them to be polite.

This one focuses on three specific words: please, thank you, and you’re welcome. Teaching kids to say “please” when they ask for something can reinforce their tendency to be polite, which makes them more persuasive when they’re older. Teaching them to say “thank you” habitually encourages gratitude, which stimulates happiness and makes stress easier to deal with.

And teaching them to say “you’re welcome” reinforces confidence by emphasizing that the things they do for others are worthy of thanks. (This is especially true when you juxtapose “you’re welcome” with other things people say in response to “thank you,” like “no worries!” or “no problem!”)

3. Work on their emotional intelligence.

Children who develop emotional intelligence also develop “a higher chance of graduating, getting a good job, and just being happy,” according to Rachael Katz and Helen Shwe Hadani, authors of The Emotionally Intelligent Child: Effective Strategies for Parenting Self-Aware, Cooperative, and Well-Balanced Kids.

There are many things you can do to develop emotional intelligence (many more listed here), but at the outset, model your good thinking and use of emotions for them, ask them for their ideas, and try not to judge. Oh, and remember that kids are just that: kids. It’s unfair often to expect them to react and respond to things like adults would (or at least, should!).

4. Steer them toward video games.

Wait, what? Tell them to play video games? Yes, indeed. A new study out of Europe that used a “massive” amount of data determined that kids who spend an above-average amount of time playing them wind up with higher IQs than kids who spend their screen time watching videos or scrolling through social media.

Kids today spent a massive amount of time glued to screens, on average. This study of 5,000 children at least suggests that if they’re going to be using screens that much, the higher the percentage of that time they spend on video games, the better.

5. Help them figure out their passion(s).

This study was fascinating. Researchers in Scandinavia wanted to determine whether passion, grit, or mindset was the most important factor in predicting young people’s success, specifically in an athletic context.

In short, passion turned out to be far more predictive of whether kids were successful; while mindset and grit might have predicted that young people would continue attempting to succeed, it was passion that best predicted whether they actually would. “For people who are the best of the best in their field, passion is absolutely the biggest factor. It’s the essential key to success,” one researcher said.

So, when kids are kids, let them explore different things to determine the ones that they’re truly passionate about. That’s where they’re most likely to become the absolute best in their field. Look, no matter what any of us does as entrepreneurs, chances are our kids will be a very big part of our legacies.

That’s why I’m so drawn into these little hacks, and it’s why I’ve compiled an entire free e-book full of similar tips and tricks: How to Raise Successful Kids (7th Edition).  There’s always another study with another interesting bit of information to consider. I read and share as many as I can, so you don’t have to look for them.

Source: Want to Raise Successful Kids? Science Says These 5 Habits Matter, Bigtime | Inc.com

Related contents:

Ask Amy: I’m concerned that my partner’s parenting approach won’t be good for our baby NJ.com – The Jersey JournalAlicia Silverstone’s Parenting Habit Is Sure To Raise Eyebrows Nicki SwiftHow to Choose a Parenting Book That’s Right for You YES! Magazine

Mom Backed for Insulting Sister’s Parenting: ‘Kids Live With Their Dad’ Newsweek

Childs Farm becomes first B Corp in UK baby and child personal care Retail BulletinFree or reduced cost child care, early education available for Pima County families News 13 KOLD-TV, Arizona

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A man must decide to flee Ukraine to join his family or stay to care for his parentsNPRFamily to receive £400 compensation after Luton care home ‘lost’ late father’s belongingsLuton TodayCare provider failed to tell family full details of woman’s death after fallChristina Hall Goes Nuclear On Ant Anstead’s Parenting Criticisms Amid Custody Drama Nicki Swift

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Family Estrangement: Why Adults are Cutting Off Their Parents

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Polarized politics and a growing awareness of how difficult relationships can impact our mental health are fueling family estrangement, say psychologists. It was a heated Skype conversation about race relations that led Scott to cut off all contact with his parents in 2019. His mother was angry he’d supported a civil rights activist on social media, he says; she said “a lot of really awful racist things”, while his seven-year-old son was in earshot.

“There was very much a parental feeling like ‘you can’t say that in front of my child, that’s not the way we’re going to raise our kids’,” explains the father-of-two, who lives in Northern Europe. Scott says the final straw came when his father tried to defend his mother’s viewpoint in an email, which included a link to a white supremacist video. He was baffled his parents could not comprehend the reality of people being victimized because of their background, especially given his own family history. “‘This is insane – you’re Jewish’, I said. ‘Many people in our family were killed in Auschwitz’.”

It wasn’t the first time Scott had experienced a clash in values with his parents. But it was the last time he chose to see or speak to them. Despite a lack of hard data, there is a growing perception among therapists, psychologists and sociologists that this kind of intentional parent-child ‘break-up’ is on the rise in western countries.

Formally known as ‘estrangement’, experts’ definitions of the concept differ slightly, but the term is broadly used for situations in which someone cuts off all communication with one or more relatives, a situation that continues for the long-term, even if those they’ve sought to split from try to re-establish a connection.

“The declaration of ‘I am done’ with a family member is a powerful and distinct phenomenon,” explains Karl Andrew Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell University, US. “It is different from family feuds, from high-conflict situations and from relationships that are emotionally distant but still include contact.”

The declaration of ‘I am done’ with a family member is a powerful and distinct phenomenon – Karl Andrew Pillemer

After realizing there were few major studies of family estrangement, he carried out a nationwide survey for his 2020 book Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them. The survey showed more than one in four Americans reported being estranged from another relative. Similar research for British estrangement charity Stand Alone suggests the phenomenon affects one in five families in the UK, while academic researchers and therapists in Australia and Canada also say they’re witnessing a “silent epidemic” of family break-ups.

On social media, there’s been a boom in online support groups for adult children who’ve chosen to be estranged, including one Scott is involved in, which has thousands of members. “Our numbers in the group have been rising steadily,” he says. “I think it’s becoming more and more common.”

The fact that estrangement between parents and their adult children seems to be on the rise – or at least is increasingly discussed – seems to be down to a complex web of cultural and psychological factors. And the trend raises plenty of questions about its impact on both individuals and society.

Past experiences and present values

Although research is limited, most break-ups between a parent and a grown-up child tend to be initiated by the child, says Joshua Coleman, psychologist and author of The Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict.

One of the most common reasons for this is past or present abuse by the parent, whether emotional, verbal, physical or sexual. Divorce is another frequent influence, with consequences ranging from the adult child “taking sides”, to new people coming into the family such as step siblings or stepparents, which can fuel divisions over both “financial and emotional resources”.

Clashes in values – as experienced by Scott and his parents – are also increasingly thought to play a role. A study published in October by Coleman and the University of Wisconsin, US, showed value-based disagreements were mentioned by more than one in three mothers of estranged children. Pillemer’s recent research has also highlighted value differences as a “major factor” in estrangements, with conflicts resulting from “issues such as same sex-preference, religious differences or adopting alternative lifestyles”.

Both experts believe at least part of the context for this is increased political and cultural polarization in recent years. In the US, an Ipsos poll reported a rise in family rifts after the 2016 election, while research by academics at Stanford University in 2012 suggested a larger proportion of parents could be unhappy if their children married someone who supported a rival political party, which was far less true a decade earlier. A recent UK study found that one in 10 people had fallen out with a relative over Brexit. “These studies highlight the way that identity has become a far greater determinant of whom we choose to keep close or to let go,” says Coleman.

Family Tree

This story is part of BBC’s Family Tree series, which examines the issues and opportunities parents, children and families face today – and how they’ll shape the world tomorrow. Coverage continues on BBC Future.

Scott says he’s never discussed his voting preferences with his parents. But his decision to cut them off was partly influenced by his and his wife’s heightened awareness of social issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement and MeToo. He says other adult children in his online support group have fallen out due to value-based disagreements connected to the pandemic, from older parents refusing to get vaccinated to rows over conspiracy theories about the source of the virus.

The mental health factor

Experts believe our growing awareness of mental health, and how toxic or abusive family relationships can affect our wellbeing, is also impacting on estrangement.

“While there’s nothing especially modern about family conflict or a desire to feel insulated from it, conceptualizing the estrangement of a family member as an expression of personal growth, as it is commonly done today, is almost certainly new,” says Coleman. “Deciding which people to keep in or out of one’s life has become an important strategy.”

Sam, who’s in her twenties and lives in the UK, says she grew up in a volatile household where both parents were heavy drinkers. She largely stopped speaking to her parents straight after leaving home for university, and says she cut ties for good after witnessing her father verbally abusing her six-year-old cousin at a funeral.

Having therapy helped her recognize her own experiences as “more than just bad parenting” and process their psychological impact. “I came to understand that ‘abuse’ and ‘neglect’ were words that described my childhood. Just because I wasn’t hit didn’t mean I wasn’t harmed.”

She agrees with Coleman it’s “becoming more socially acceptable” to cut ties with family members. “Mental health is more talked about now so it’s easier to say, ‘These people are bad for my mental health’. I think, as well, people are getting more confident at drawing their own boundaries and saying ‘no’ to people.”

The rise of individualism

Coleman argues our increased focus on personal well being has happened in parallel with other wider trends, such as a shift towards a more “individualistic culture”. Many of us are much less reliant on relatives than previous generations.

“Not needing a family member for support or because you plan to inherit the family farm means that who we choose to spend time with is based more on our identities and aspirations for growth than survival or necessity,” he explains. “Today, nothing ties an adult child to a parent beyond that adult child’s desire to have that relationship.”

People are getting more confident at drawing their own boundaries and saying ‘no’ to people – Sam

Increased opportunities to live and work in different cities or even countries from our adult families can also help facilitate a parental break-up, simply by adding physical distance.

“It’s been much easier for me to move around than it would have been probably 20 years ago,” agrees Faizah, who is British with a South Asian background, and has avoided living in the same area as her family since 2014.

She says she cut ties with her parents because of “controlling” behaviours like preventing her from going to job interviews, wanting an influence on her friendships and putting pressure on her to get married straight after her studies. “They didn’t respect my boundaries,” she says. “I just want to have ownership over my own life and make my own choices.”

The impact of estrangement

There are strong positives for many estranged adult children who’ve detached themselves from what they believe are damaging parental relationships. “The research shows that the majority of adult children say it was for the best,” says Coleman.

But while improved mental health and perceived increased freedom are common outcomes of estrangement, Pillemer argues the decision can also create feelings of instability, humiliation and stress.

“The intentional, active severing of personal ties differs from other kinds of loss,” he explains. “In addition, people lose the practical benefits of being part of a family: material support, for example, and the sense of belonging to a stable group of people who know one another well.”

Feelings of loneliness and stigma seem to have been exacerbated for many estranged people during the pandemic. While the ‘Zoom boom’ enabled some families to feel closer and stay in touch more regularly, recent UK research suggests that adults with severed ties felt even more aware of missing out on family life during lockdown. Other studies point to Christmas and religious festivals being especially challenging periods for estranged relatives.

“I have my own family and my partner and my close friends, but nothing replaces those traditions you have with your parents,” agrees Faizah. Now in her thirties, she still finds the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr particularly tricky, even though she’s distanced herself from her parents’ religion. “It’s so tough. It’s so lonely… and I do miss my mum’s cooking.”

Estrangement, though difficult to navigate, may not be permanent as people can successfully reconcile (Credit: Getty Images)

Choosing not to stay in touch with parents can have a knock-on effect on future family bonds and traditions, too. “For me, the biggest regret is my kids growing up without grandparents,” says Scott . “It’s preferable to [my parents] saying – gosh, I don’t know what – to them [but] I feel like my kids are missing out.”

Of course, all of this also has an impact on the parents who have, often unwillingly, been cut out of their children’s – and potentially grandchildren’s – lives. “Most parents are made miserable by it,” says Coleman. As well as losing their own footing in the traditional family unit, they typically “describe profound feelings of loss, shame and regret”.

Scott says his mother recently tried calling him. But he texted her saying he’d only consider re-establishing contact with his children if she recognised her comments had been “horribly racist” and apologised. So far, he says she hasn’t done that. “Even if all those things happened, I would always limit what I tell them about my life and certainly supervise any visits with the kids. Unfortunately, I don’t see any of that happening.”

Attempting to bridge rifts?

With political divisions centre-stage in many nations, as well as increasing individualism in cultures around the world, many experts believe the parent-child ‘break-up’ trend will stick around.

“My prediction is that it’s either going to get worse or stay the same,” says Coleman. “Family relationships are going to be based much more on pursuing happiness and personal growth, and less on emphasising duty, obligation or responsibility.”

Pillemer argues that we shouldn’t rule out attempting to bridge rifts, however, particularly those stemming from opposing politics or values (as opposed to abusive or damaging behaviours).

“If the prior relationship was relatively close (or at least not conflictual), I think there is evidence that many family members can restore the relationship. It does involve, however, agreeing on a ‘demilitarised zone’ in which politics cannot be discussed,” he says.

It’s so tough. It’s so lonely… and I do miss my mum’s cooking – Faizah

For his book, he interviewed over 100 estranged people who had successfully reconciled, and found the process was actually framed by many as “an engine for personal growth”. “It is of course not for everyone, but for a number of people, bridging a rift, even if the relationship was imperfect, was a source of self-esteem and personal pride.”

He argues that both more detailed longitudinal studies and clinical attention are needed to get the topic of estrangement further “out of the shadows and into the clear light of open discussion”. “We need researchers to find better solutions – both for people who want to reconcile, and for help in coping with people in permanent estrangements.”

Scott welcomes the growing interest in adult break-ups. “I think it will help lots of people,” he says. “There is still a big stigma around estrangement. We see these questions in the group a lot: ‘What do you tell people?’ or ‘How do you bring it up when dating?”.

But he’s unlikely to reconcile with his own parents, unless they recognize they’ve been racist. “The whole ‘blood is thicker than water’ – I mean, that’s great if you have a cool family, but if you’re saddled with toxic people, it’s just not doable.”

Scott, Sam and Faizah are all using one name to protect their and their families’ privacy

Image By: Maddy Savage

Source: Family estrangement: Why adults are cutting off their parents – BBC Worklife

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Organic Life Guide  https://jvz8.com/c/202927/366872/
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