Grown Children Still Fighting

Dear Annie,

AnnieZirkel time running out.jpg

My daughter and son (48 and 56 respectively) do not get along. She refuses to be in his presence, won't enter his house if he's there, nor will she ask him to her house. He is the same towards her.


For years we have tried to think through the personal histories that have harassed them in many ways, including their interpersonal problems. I've tried, to discuss some of this with each of them, with little apparent success. My parenting part in their woes I have apologized for, but I can't go back in history and change things. They say they don't blame my single parenting, but that may or may not be true.

I love them both and this falling out is breaking my heart. Any advice?
- Still My Children

Dear Still My Children,

I wish I had a magic wand answer for you. Even when children are young and fight, parents can feel like they have little power to make them 'get along'. Building bonds that last a life time is challenging. And while it's natural to feel guilt, you are right in that you can't go back and change it. Your children have to make their own choices moving forward. Making peace with the fact that you did the best you could is your journey.

Given that their personal and interpersonal histories were not more positive it's tricky. Though time can heal physical wounds, emotional wounds don't play by the same rules. Time either helps ease tensions or allows unresolved resentments to establish a frosty status quo.

Luckily, as long as the falling out was not due to a truly unforgivable act, there is hope. What is needed is a change of heart. And there are several ways that that can be achieved.

Forces of Fate. Someone gets married or has a child, someone connected to both siblings gets seriously ill or dies. At these times, people have an opportunity to rethink which grudges are important to hold on to and which ones they are willing to let go of. Sometimes, fate hands one party such a blow that the other person buries the hatchet as an act of kindness.

Growth and Wisdom. As we get older we can sometimes admit our own contributions to conflict, learn forgiveness of others, and find a deeper appreciation for family and the ties that bind. This kind of growth can trigger a change in attitude and interaction style that indicates a desire for a new chapter. It can even prompt a more active response - such as a heart-to-heart conversation or a deeply felt letter.

Third Party Intervention. Sometimes people need a bridge. Having an outside person working either directly or indirectly to mediate can help begin to repair the bond. The advantage of a credible third party is that they can validate each side and work to negotiate a softening. Of course it doesn't always work, and there is some risk of being seen as taking sides so this is a challenging role to play. But someone who is respected, who is willing to risk it, who has good personal boundaries and the ability to be both empathetic and challenging can be valuable. A trusted parent, relative or friend, or even a professional may be the right person.

You can always ask, as a favor to you, that they at least try to be bigger than they are right now. Maybe even take a risk to appreciate the other's strengths instead of just focusing on their weaknesses. It may be worth it to remind them of any of the better history that they share, moments they survived together, and the importance of family and forgiveness. (Of course modeling that with your own forgiveness may show the way.) I don't know if your children can manage it right now, but it may be worth a try.

I hope that gives you some clarity, ideas and maybe a little hope. I'm sending wishes for a change of heart and a new direction for your family so that you can enjoy the years to come together.

Please take care, Annie

Annie Zirkel, LPC is a relationship consultant in Ann Arbor, Mi. You can find her at Submit your relationship question to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Creative Commons License photo credit: le vent le cri