"... A time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to discard..." —Ecclesiastes

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Fragmented Families: Patterns of Estrangement and Reconciliation


Key Questions and Answers
These questions and answers convey the point of view and the main ideas that are expressed in Fragmented Families.

What is a family?
A family is any group of persons closely related by blood, marriage or choice, as spouses, parents, sons, daughters, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and in-laws, whether dwelling together or apart, respected or rejected, estranged or reconciled.

How do family estrangements occur?
Conflicts and estrangements may be generated by any type of provocation. Every family's experience is unique, reflecting complex elements. Bitter conflicts may erupt when a promise is not kept, a shameful secret is divulged, expectations are not fulfilled, an inheritance is withheld. A letter from a man seeking forgiveness from his son is "returned to sender" with no reply. An enraged voice screams, "Get out of my house!" or "get out of my life!" Forty years of alienation persists between brother and sister. A rebellious daughter is declared "dead" by her parents. These are only a few of the variations on the theme of estrangement.

What are the characteristics of a fragmented family?
When relatives are alienated, the usual points of contact are disrupted and the lines of communication are tangled or severed. The participants are locked into a permanent state of hot or cold war, unable or unwilling to confront and resolve the issues. Estrangement can occur between persons who live in the same house as well as between those who live a continent apart. The emotional components vary, depending on the individual personalities and the family dynamics in any given situation. The stories in my book will provide vivid illustrations of many of these patterns.

Does the family's cultural heritage and religious affiliation influence the way conflict is generated and expressed?
Cultural traditions and religious values color our behavior and emotions. In every family, the cultural legacy, ethnic heritage, and religious background of its members have an impact on family conflicts and on the provocations for rejection and banishment of family members. I have chosen to focus on the parameters of my own religious affiliation, Judaism. Many of the stories in this book are about Jewish families. While I give special emphasis to the Jewish frame of reference, I hope that my ideas will be relevant to families with other cultural and religious affiliations.

Can a fragmented family be healed?
This is a complex question with multiple layers of meaning. There is no simple "fix," no single answer. Every family is unique, and each person must take into consideration the different facets of his or her particular situation: These include the nature of the estrangement, the readiness of the participants to forgive each other, and their willingness to accept partial solutions. In the stories of real families that appear in Fragmented Families, you will find examples of many diverse efforts to heal an estrangement. Some are more gratifying and more complete than others. It's realistic to point out that the tensions and hostility in a fragmented family can be resolved, but the memory of discord may continue to reverberate for a long time. Family members can learn to transform those memories into constructive behavior by using them to expand their awareness and avoid repeating the past.

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Fragmented Families: Patterns of Estrangement and Reconciliation by Ellen B. Sucov, PhD