Photo by Emma Bauso
While The Sad Papaw Books is a splendid reminder of the importance of family and heritage, it also encourages readers to reevaluate and maybe deepen their relationships with family members.
In this busy world, time is increasingly in short supply. Hard to find and harder to keep. Work takes up much of people’s lives, and sometimes, some folks are compelled to push whatever personal appointments they have to the wayside—and almost always, that involves family.
Family, as they say, is the smallest unit of community. It’s the foundation most people fall back into when the times are hard; it’s the most reliable support network people can have.
Whether it’s by blood or affinity, family is critical. Not just as a social safety net, but for an individual’s mental state—community keeps people sane, and family is the first community most people have.
The Sad Papaw Books by Kenny Harmon came about because of a viral meme.
His granddaughter photographed him with a burger half-eaten in his hands. He’d cooked some for his other grandchildren, who did not come.
The internet greatly sympathized with what happened to Mr. Harmon. Everyone’s experienced being stood up or getting ghosted, but when a family member does it—it stings differently.
The photograph prompted several internet users to reach out to their families quickly; some even tried to reconcile with estranged members: people with whom they were sure never to reconnect.
What is Estrangement?
Family estrangement happens when, within a family, relations end between two or more family members. Most estrangements are between parents and their children, though not the only ones.
Estrangement can be intentional, but often it can be because of apathy or inertia. A lot of variables can factor into why alienation occurs, but roughly there are three categories:
- Intrapersonal issues
- The inability of some family members to accept or compromise may lead to friction between members with different personal characteristics (e.g., mental state, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, political views, etc.).
- Intrafamily issues
- Some family members’ behaviors can negatively impact their relationships with other family members, regardless of whether those behaviors are addressed (e.g., physical or emotional abuse, substance abuse, manipulation, toxicity, alienation, etc.)
- Interfamily issues
- Some non-familial factors are barriers to positive relationships with family members (e.g., distance, spouses, finances, etc.)
Estrangement is a very stressful affair, especially for the aggrieved party.
People who deliberately cut off family members will often be stigmatized because of their behavior, whether it is justified or not.
But in many cases, estrangement can be the healthiest solution. Although the family is quite important, what is even more important is breaking free of harmful situations, which families can create because of some of the reasons mentioned above.
Reconciling After Estrangement
Because of the Sad Papaw meme, many people were considering reconnecting with estranged members of their families, which is not unusual.
After the emotional complications of estrangement settle down, some people try to re-engage—but it’s always critical to scrutinize what motivations drive an individual to reach out again.
An aspect one should always be on the lookout for before reconnecting with an estranged family member is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is quite a nebulous term and can manifest in several different ways.
Still, people sometimes associate it with remorse, guilt, or shame—and those are frequently a terrible impetus to go forward and reconcile with estranged family members.
Remember, forgiveness is:
- Acknowledging the reasons for the estrangement.
- Establishing boundaries for future engagement.
- Accepting an apology (if it has been made).
And forgiveness is not:
- Downplaying the hurt that has been caused.
- Ignoring that estrangement occurred.
- Relitigating the problems that caused the separation.
If the desire to reconnect genuinely comes from good intentions and forgiveness is on the table, only then can a person consider how to reconcile.
Here are a few considerations to think of when reaching out to an estranged family member:
- Be ready for all possible outcomes: Disappointment is always a possibility, and sometimes people won’t ever come around to their views. A person should accept that before reaching out.
- Define boundaries in every interaction: Take control of the engagement, do not be swayed by insincerity, and set limits on what should and shouldn’t be discussed.
- Do not rush towards reconciliation: Trust lost will never be regained. Do not harken back to that trust when trying to reconcile because people should build new expectations over time.
- Plan out how to discuss the reconciliation: Emotions can get heated when engaging with an estranged family member, so it is always beneficial to communicate clearly and concisely.