Asking the parents to honor the relationship of the child with their caregiver, abstaining from criticism of the grandparents or custodial adults with whom the children established a close relationship. Discussing with the parents and accepting as natural the parents’ painful feelings of jealousy, when confronted with this bond. For most parents this is a painful situation, a person that is closer to your child than yourself. At the same time asking them to trust that in their children’s heart there will be “space” for them also, particularly if they respect and act generously towards these important figures, no matter what their shortcomings maybe. The history of their relationship to their mother or father entrusted with this child might be full of painful memories and feelings of being not loved enough or cared for, perhaps feeling unseen by that person or even abused. But maybe because this person is in a different stage of their life, perhaps less stress or pain in their lives, they may have been a better caretaker to this child. Explaining that their child’s loyalty to the caretaker is a sign of what good job they did when they were caring for them, as a baby is able and learns to trust and love in a secure relationship with the parent. When they trusted the child to the caretaker, a most fortunate turn of events happened: the relationship was a good one, which not all children in reunited families enjoyed during the separation, as some ended up neglected or abused, a tragic event for both the parent and the child. Therefore, they, the parents will be loved too, because this child learned how to love well. It will just take some time as the relationship grows in trust and closeness. Which is very related to the next idea in the next paragraph.
As the distortions and unrealistic expectations about the parent-child relationship are removed in both participants, the relationship has to be framed as a new relationship that needs to be built slowly. The image of removing little by little “the bricks on a wall” that separate them seems helpful.The image of removing little by little “the bricks on a wall” that separate them seems helpful, which I discovered not surprisingly it has been used by other therapists as well (Mitrani, et al. 2004). It is helpful, as well, to identify those bricks as their fears and defenses. It usually amazes them to show them the experience from the perspective of the parent, and then from the perspective of the child, as I have done in the workshops with them. They are amazed that both parent and child experience the same feelings and come to the same interpretations of the other person’s behavior, which ends up making them both feel unloved and rejected. They are both so vigilant for any sign of rejection from the other. They both long for a close, loving relationship, while at the same time theyget afraid and confused by their hurt and difficulty trusting the other. In the child it seems to take the form of: “You left me once, how can I trust that as I allow you to get closer you won’t abandon me again?” From the parent’s perspective it looks like “… after all I have done for you: How can you deny me your love?! How dare you think I am not worthy of it after all I have done!” They are both in part right but, they need to enlarge their view by beginning to accept the perspective of the other in a more compassionate way, understanding the larger picture which includes the circumstances for the separation and the pain the child felt, which in my experience most parents do and most children are willing to open their hearts as the interactions become more positive and respectful and growing in empathy of the other.