Reflecting on my article last week related to the distraught son’s email about his failure to seek his late father’s forgiveness, I couldn’t help but think of King David in the Old Testament. In many ways, David was a great king, but in other ways, he failed—and one of his greatest failures was as a father. He ignored his parental responsibilities. He was too busy being King and failed to see his son Absalom’s hatred over his brother Amnon’s lustful, devious and violent nature. Sensing his father’s failure to discipline Amnon for raping his half-sister Tamar, an embittered Absalom turned into an undisciplined, self-centered rebel. In time, Absalom tried to seize his father’s throne but was killed in the subsequent fighting. All David could do was weep with regret: “If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). 

The son also narrated that after the breakup with his father, he stopped attending family gatherings. He also disallowed his children from seeing and playing with their grandfather. “With Papa’s death, that probably won’t happen anymore and it makes me sad.” The son deeply regrets his choices that led to the breakdown. He continues to suffer from grief and remorse. 

For family members who are still tormented as a result of the hostility between parents or parents and their children, or feud among siblings, it is time to commit to reconciliation. As a family member, are you feeling a terrible sense of guilt? If yes, that can be a powerful motivator to change. In my many years of intervention, I have come to a disappointing conclusion that warring family members always choose inaction (the do-nothing option), constantly hoping that in due time, they will end up kissing and making up. That mindset will be proven wrong when a family suddenly dies, and estrangement becomes permanent. 

From a family governance perspective, any reconciliation process between acrimonious family members should be initiated and supported by the family. Instead of ignoring the deep-seated and inflamed relationship, family members should pursue reconciliation with the able assistance of a third-party family business advisor under the auspices of a family-initiated council. The latter can be used as a formal platform where aggrieved family members can raise their concerns. Together with the advisor, it can act as an unbiased, trusted, and objective forum bereft of any interest except to restore civility among family members and repair old wounds. 

“It is important to approach the reconciliation as a “new” relationship, rather than with someone you’ve known for your entire life,” says psychotherapist Alexander Butler. For warring siblings, Butler contends that the connection they are building is fragile. It will ultimately take time, patience, and a commitment to each other to develop in a healthy manner.

How to start the process of reconciliation? I have listed some steps to help family members and family advisors go through this challenging but necessary phase.    

a. Time to reach out to estranged family member(s)

Initiate a conversation. If you talk, you have a higher chance of solving the problem; if you don’t speak, there is less than zero probability of issues being addressed.

b. Show compassion and strive to see things from the family members’ point of view alongside your own

Reconciling with an estranged family member means embracing the present while accepting the past. If you want to establish a fresh, functional relationship, focus on the present and avoid the blame game. 

c. Communicate using the language of reconciliation

Express to the other family member(s) exactly what you want from them moving forward. When conversing with family members, the language and tone you employ can either help or disrupt communication. I encourage you to avoid using language that contains some form of disrespect, sarcasm, or insults, as these actions are not conducive to reducing tension. It is highly recommended that a clear, concise tone with the objective of reconciling parties can minimize confusion, disagreements, and misunderstandings.