Parent Hasn’t Seen Sons in Over a Year…Now Wants to Contact Them

Reader’s Question

I have a friend who has not seen his sons for over a year. (They live on the other side of the country.) A year ago he fell into a very deep depression, and pretty much signed out of life. He is now regaining his life back after a horrible struggle, and feels guilt to the level that it has stricken him with fear. He has not contacted his sons for a very long time, and does not know how to. He is very afraid of their response, and the thought of their rejection scares him that he will slip back into the depression, and not come out.

I’m really unsure of what to say and how to help him. Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.

Psychologist’s Reply

Your friend must reestablish contact with his sons. You didn’t mention the age of the sons and that could be very important. The general themes in this situation are:

  1. Open a Channel: He will need to begin a communication with them. He can use any medium he wants. For older children, a card with a few brief words is helpful. The holidays is a great time for opening an channel — sending a Christmas card for example if appropriate. Any holiday, birthday, or special event can be seen as a possible opening.
  2. Expect some uncomfortable feelings. The sons and your friend have a year’s worth of questions, feelings, etc. The open channel may provide them an opportunity for them to reject him…with hostility, the why-didn’t-you-call questions, guilt, etc. While uncomfortable, this is typical. He will need to listen to their reactions…yet have patience and continue.
  3. Use the Grapevine: He can offer information to mutual friends, relatives, contacts, etc. He can provide them information that he may not be ready to provide the sons. Talking with grandparents and explaining the difficult battle with depression or the struggle over the past year can provide a buffer of information that finds its way to the sons as well.
  4. Don’t Charge In: If contact is made, don’t announce that you’re coming to see them for a month. Keep the channel open, share information, and go slow. Remember that they have tons of unanswered questions. He’ll need to make them feel safe.
  5. If they don’t want contact — give them some space. If they are totally rejecting, it just means they were totally hurt. Continue to send special-event cards/notes — even if returned unopened. It tells them that he is willing if and when they are.
  6. Don’t Blow Smoke! Tell them what happened to you. Don’t offer unbelievable excuses like “I’ve been busy” or “I didn’t want to interrupt your life”. It’s fine to let them know that he dropped out of life for a year due to depression. They’ll ask about it if curious and see that’s possible with depression.

Above all, don’t give up. Keep an open channel and use patience. Most wounds can heal with time…physical and emotional…if we use the correct strategy and treatment.

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