Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Caught Between Parents

Looking for the Good News

Helping targeted parents and their adult children reconnect.

Posted Jul 26, 2018

Part of my coaching practice is to work with parents whose alienated children are over 18 years of age. That means that usually there is no legal recourse because the alienated children are now legally adults and outside the purview of the family court system. When the targeted parent has no ongoing contact with his/her adult alienated child, the coaching takes on a very specific focus which involves my hearing the story of the alienation and helping the parent conceptualize the relationship from the child’s point of view.

This culminates in having the targeted parent write a letter to his or her child, which is usually very different than any other letter the parent has written to the child up until then. Sometimes, the letter “works” and produces a positive response in the alienated child, who is willing (in some fashion) to have contact and/or communication with the parent. Of course, that does not always happen and when preparing to mail the letter to the child, I work with the targeted parent to manage his or her expectations.

I usually say that any response is a “good” response in that even an angry response reveals some commitment to the relationship. In these situations, the only outcome I dread is no response at all. But even that is not necessarily a sign that the letter was a failure. The awareness on the part of a child that a rejected parent might not be as bad as previously thought can be a slow and painful process. I do believe that sometimes the letter from the parent helps the child take that first step towards awareness. Sometimes the letter is the last nudge they need to reconnect. We cannot really know what is going on inside someone else’s head.

Yesterday I became aware of a new angle on this letter writing component of my coaching practice. I periodically send out e-mail updates to people on my mailing list. I know that I should upgrade my social marketing skills and send out well-produced newsletters. In the meantime, I simply send out e-mails sharing notable accomplishments and/or upcoming events. In doing so yesterday, a former coaching client, whom I had worked with to write a letter to her adult alienated child, responded to my newsletter with some news of her own. She shared that she has been reconciled with her adult daughter and in fact was regularly babysitting her two grandchildren from whom she had been alienated.

Needless to say, I was delighted to hear the news and let her know how happy I was for her that she was able to reconnect with family and was enjoying the experience. The e-mail from her did give me pause as it shattered an assumption I had been making which was that when I didn’t hear from a coaching client after we wrote the letter, that no progress or breakthroughs had occurred. I had been assuming that no news was bad news and now I realize that sometimes, as the old adage goes, no news is good news.

Usually, the parent writing the letter feels that the process of writing the letter is helpful and healing for them, even if it doesn’t seem to result in an immediate positive affect on the child. I have often found that the targeted parent develops a new and deeper sense of compassion for his/her child and a deeper understanding of how the child’s experience of them makes sense to the child (even if it is based on lies and distortions). I will continue to offer the letter writing process as part of my coaching practice and I look forward to more successes in the future–which I hope that my clients share with me so that I can share with them the wonderful stories of parents and children reuniting.