On the way home: Healing the rift in family conflicts

While mending their bond, some families experience a difficult yet fulfilling process.

“We all felt estranged. We all had feelings that we couldn’t express to each other. Everything was just a big mess,” Apollo* (II, AB-PSM) reminisces about his family’s conflict. Slammed doors, unsaid words, and quietly shed tears are part and parcel of the worst familial rifts, often burdening conflicted members to carry the heaviest of hearts in deafening silence.

Conflict among the family is inevitable. But in spite of it, many, including Apollo, have found ways to pick up the pieces after the most arduous of fights. The road to reconciliation is not an easy one, but the painstaking process of reaching out and reforging bonds to rebuild a family is—after years of hurt—refreshingly kinder.

Not seeing eye to eye

Many believe the old saying that blood is thicker than water, but even an unbreakable familial bond is not exempted from contention and hostility. Apollo laments how financial difficulties, together with smaller misunderstandings with his parents and sister, made their relationship turbulent. “It really felt like no one understood each other, and that no one was able to understand each other. We [basically] drifted apart,” he describes.

As a Filipino-American, women’s home and lifestyle magazine editor Shanon Maglente experienced similar financial plagues. “My mom shared stories about [giving] her first full paychecks to her mom…and [my father] moving to Manila [at 16] to make money and [to] help pay for his siblings’ education,” she points out.

The indebtedness she felt toward her parents and siblings nearly thwarted her independence. “When I teased the idea of moving out of my [parents’ home], they discouraged me with laughs and [reminded me] of the financial challenges it [takes] to move out,” she recounts. After plans of living with her boyfriend surfaced, Shanon and her father did not speak for quite some time, “It was difficult for my parents to hear that their youngest child wanted space, and that she was growing up.”

Additionally, Shanon pinpoints how some crumbling familial ties can bleed into relationships outside the home. Trapped between her desire for boundaries from her parents and her sense of obligation toward them, Shanon recalls internally harboring ill feelings. “I think it’s very difficult, maybe impossible, to fully love or care for someone when you have lingering resentment in your heart,” she notes.

A work in progress

These rifts are definitely a painful experience for all parties involved. But some decide to come to terms and work through their differences.

Shanon’s family didn’t have a formal reconciliation as her family prefers to avoid confrontation. “[My dad] still wouldn’t talk to me until after I moved out,” she expounds. “He [eventually] talked to me like things were normal again.” While she disapproves of glossing over the rift, she notes that her family is a work in progress—learning how to healthily apologize and to approach conflict properly.

Time apart from her family also filled Shanon with newfound compassion for her family’s presence and purpose in her life. Looking at it from a broader perspective, “I think Filipino culture finds the family unit so significant because we’re all [what] each other has.” She heralds that the individual differences of her family members run unparalleled to the time they share as a whole. “I appreciate their cooking a hundred times more, and no matter how [hard] I try, my food won’t taste the same as theirs,” she jokes.

Meanwhile, Apollo’s family is actively working toward a proper reconciliation. His sister encouraged him to make amends with their father, whom he felt the most estranged from. It was a turning point for him, where making adult choices suddenly trumped over their differences. “I’m not getting any younger,” he opines, “And having this negative mindset, bringing this pain into adulthood, will interfere [with] how I function as an adult.” While impossible to fulfill overnight, acknowledging one’s faults and communicating with everyone affected can slowly rebuild stronger bridges.

Similarly to Shanon, he realizes that time with his family is finite, “One year added to their [parents’] age is another wrinkle on their head…and another year off of whatever time they have left.” In the end, he believes that patching things up is key in building the family back together. “What’s the first thing that you will hear [from a] crying child? ‘Papa, mama, ate, kuya,’” he expounds, noting how the family is intuitively a child’s first place of comfort.

What heals all wounds

To remake what was once broken is a delicate affair. Apollo advocates for listening with an open heart, noting it as the first step toward reforging broken familial bonds. “If you’re going to say something, say something. But once you’re done, you’re going to listen,” he illustrates, citing that careful understanding helped him and his family.

In a similar vein, Shanon holds that putting oneself in another’s shoes is also key. For children, she gently reminds, “Be nice to your parents when you leave the nest. It’s a drastic change and loss for them, too.” But when a child is seeking independence, parents should recognize the importance of the growth milestone for their child. There needs to be a two-way effort to acknowledge the new setup.

Understandably, not all families would want to take this route; Apollo warns that one shouldn’t force forgiveness. “It takes time; it might take longer than you need or shorter than you expected,” he cautions. “If you’re not ready to forgive, then leave them that space so that they can reflect on their own.”

For those who wish to tread it, the path to reconciliation is indeed a difficult one. But with enough time, understanding, and unrelenting love, even most of the widest rifts can be closed. After all, “No matter how much you hate them or love them, they will be the first ones to welcome us back,” Apollo ends.

*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms

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