Re-engaging with estranged family

OrcaOrca Also known as EspressosaurusWrexRegistered User regular
Advice for re-engaging with estranged family?

I cut my father off somewhere around the start of COVID. He's not narcissistic or anything--I don't think--but he was a stressor in an already stressful situation, so out he went. Like many of our Boomer parents, he's fallen deep into the Fox and AM radio rabbit hole, is very outwardly racist, and perhaps most importantly, seems to be unable to keep things personal instead of going to political at some point.

It's years later now, and while I'm not ready to bring him back into my life in any way, I feel like I should at least be thinking about whether or not to let him back in, and if I do decide to let him back in, how to do so in a way that gives me a chance of restarting the relationship instead of permanently detonating it this time because I haven't done my work.

It won't be the worst thing in the world to never speak to him again, but avoiding him is going to place increasing burdens on my attempts to maintain the connection with his other kids.

Thanks for any advice.


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    V1mV1m Registered User regular
    I take it that there's no indication that the behaviours that made you go no contact have improved at all?

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    PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies drinking coffee in the mountain cabinRegistered User regular
    I'd be inclined toward lots of low-effort low-impact future chances. You might not ever have a meaningful relationship again but you would always have an easy, chill answer for his other kids

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    OrcaOrca Also known as Espressosaurus WrexRegistered User regular
    V1m wrote: »
    I take it that there's no indication that the behaviours that made you go no contact have improved at all?

    He’s getting better about rocking the boat apparently. But the core remains.

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    V1mV1m Registered User regular
    Well the only advice I'd give is that you don't need to and really shouldn't allow things to go right back to the status quo ante and totally rug-sweep years of poor behaviours.

    He's put in a lot of effort towards ruining the relationship; it's absolutely reasonable to require at least a fraction of that effort put into restoring it. If the only thing on offer is "Well he's still going to be just as shitty in exactly the same way, but he'll only rant about gays/libs/minorities/rainbow flags on beer cans/what the fresh fuck is it now? for 40 minutes instead of a full hour every time something sets him off" then yeah nah that'd be a nope from me.

    How about making it clear that a relationship with his child means committing to not venting about whatever he's been told be be angry about this week when you're around? If he starts with the complaints about his "First Amendment rights", which is apparently the go-to right wing argument for forcing people to listen, you can remind him that the First Amendment also gives you the right to choose who you want to peaceably assemble with, so he'd better make with the peaceable if he wants the assemblage.

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    Inquisitor77Inquisitor77 2 x Penny Arcade Fight Club Champion A fixed point in space and timeRegistered User regular
    Setting clear boundaries and calling out when he engages in the problematic behavior is a decent start. You don't have to be a dick about it, either - being calm, clear, and consistent are the most important things.

    "I get upset when you talk about X in a degrading way, and that makes me not want to talk to you. Do you think it's possible for us to avoid that topic or situation?"

    Or if he starts ranting about "the blacks", you can let him finish and then calmly follow up with, "The last few minutes you have been talking about X, and this is the kind of thing that makes me uncomfortable. If it keeps happening then I will feel like I need to step away. In the future, would you prefer that I point out right away when I feel like the conversation is becoming challenging, or would you prefer that I just end the conversation?"

    Another example: "I'm sorry dad, but I think the direction of this conversation is not going to help our relationship, and I would rather we either stop talking about this now or I can hang up and we can try talking again later."

    The main thing is that you don't need to engage in the substance of the argument itself. It's not a rational thing you are going to be able to convince him about (or vice versa, for that matter). And escalating the argument into an emotional one is definitely not going to be constructive. Just focus on the behavior and consistently set boundaries for yourself when it happens. Either he'll get the message and adjust, or you will be able to manage conversations well enough that you can still maintain some kind of relationship.

    I do this all the time with my mother when she starts engaging in conspiracy-theory level diatribes against particular people (e.g., every man my sister has ever had a relationship with is secretly a terrible human being who is only out to steal everything from her, including her mother's silverware). Nowadays it happens rarely, but when it does she immediately realizes it's not going to lead to a good conversation and pretty much drops it right away, because I've consistently given her feedback every single time that it's not a conversation I'm willing to entertain for more than 10 seconds.

    One way to look at it is that you have to give him the chance and time to change, too. And he will only be able to do that if you give him the appropriate feedback whenever it happens, because if he already had the self-awareness not to do it then he wouldn't be doing it in the first place.

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    spool32spool32 Contrary Library Registered User regular
    Boundary setting. Find your lines, and when he crosses them be clear about what the line was, and what you need him to do, and then deliver the consequence. You can wait for the moments too, you don't have to start out by framing your relationship if you don't want to. Begin on ground where you're solid, and prepare for opportunities to draw your lines when they happen.

    Hey dad, how's it going? It's been ages.
    [dad talks]
    [you talk]
    [dad talks politics]
    Dad, I want to have these conversations but I won't talk about politics with you.
    [dad talks politics anyway]
    Hey, I'm gonna cut in here. I'm not going to talk about politics with you, I really don't like doing it, it makes me want to talk to you less. Let's go back to other topic instead, how 'bout those sports teams?
    [dad talks more politics tho]
    Listen I'm gonna get off the phone with you because you aren't stopping this politics talk. I won't talk politics with you and you won't stop, so it's time to let you go. Have a good one, I'll call next week!

    Inquisitor's models are great as well. Key points to remember:

    - don't apologize during your boundary setting statements. Say you're sorry you might have to hang up if that feels right, but don't say you're sorry about your boundary. You're not. Don't try to soften the boundary setting moment even though it'll feel uncomfortable.
    - be reasonable, don't wait until you're angry to cut in. Draw the boundary where you're comfortable and casual, not at the edge of what you can tolerate. You don't have an obligation to put up with any amount of talk you don't like. So don't put up with any of it.
    - boundary setting is hard if you're not used to it. The act can feel dangerous and anxiety inducing. Gut it out, you'll be better longterm for the practice.
    - people who have been manipulated into a state of cognitive dissonance want to draw you into their frame because they need external validation that they're not crazy even while their brains are telling them that something is wrong with their mental model. This is super true for the FOX News right wing right now. The worldview is isolating. Efforts to engage family members who are falling prey to this are important, but validating the frame is not something you should give them.

    In the end, people usually find themselves respecting and liking you more when you set good boundaries and you're kind, firm, and consistent with them. Over time it'll improve your relationship and probably make you feel better about yourself! However some people really fucking hate not being allowed to transgress, and they will continue to push, and that might just be what's up with you and your dad. You'll know when you try. Good luck with it.

    side note: My dad died before we could fix this exact problem. I really regret that most of our last conversations were about political bullshit during COVID. Even though at the time I thought I would be fine never speaking to him, now he's dead, never speaking to him has arrived so I can't try, and I'm not fine. So I encourage you to try, in a healthy way, to establish a structure where you don't have to also do this.

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