As we get ready to shower mom with love and appreciation on this upcoming Mother’s Day, the idea of parenthood comes into question. How did your parents do as parents?
Hmm, good question. I’ve wrestled with a few complaints about mom and dad over the years:
- They always have to be right. They don’t even listen to my side of the story; it’s only their way or no way. Don’t they understand they don’t know everything?
- They want me to do everything their way. They won’t let me be my own person and learn my own lessons. Don’t they understand that I’m living my life, not theirs?
- I’ll never measure up. Everything I do is never enough. Instead of congratulations, I get skepticism. Don’t they understand that it doesn’t have to look like they think it should?
- It’s ok for you to do it but if I do the exact same thing, I get a lecture. Why is it wrong for me and not for you? Don’t they understand that nobody respects a hypocrite?
- If I’m content being single, it must mean I’m unhappy and something must be wrong with me. God forbid, I get married later than 20 years old. Don’t they understand that some people choose not to rush into marriage?
- They don’t even know what I do for a living. I’ve never had to repeat myself so often about what I do, for it to go in one ear and out the other. It’s like unless it promises a pension, I don’t have a real job. Don’t they understand this isn’t the 1950s?
You said it, Will; parents just don’t understand.
My household was hardly idyllic, but it was mine. And my dysfunctional family is not without its redeeming qualities. In fact, I’m so grateful for how all 6 of my housemates helped shape who I am today.
Parents, siblings, pets…they were the means by which I discovered me.
The Wonder Years
What is your interpretation of your childhood? If you think it was good, or you think it was bad, you’re right.
Point fingers all you want, but ultimately the result of your upbringing depends on you. Regardless of what really happened, you’re left with one perspective: yours.
Any therapist would have you trace your woes to that very painful moment when you were 3…or whenever. They say that instance triggered in you a psychological shift that you’re experiencing as your reality today.
You could trace it back and fixate on it, or you could choose to reinterpret that very situation differently, see it in a new light, and reap an entirely different life experience.
Whatever you decide, that perspective you carry will affect how you relate to your parents going forward.
How we relate to mom and dad is a product of our resolved—or unresolved—feelings about them. It shows up in how patient we are. How generous we are. How compassionate we are. How forgiving we are.
And the same goes for how they are with us.
Whatever you’re thinking about them, they’re probably thinking it about you.
Like Mother Like Daughter
Here’s something to consider: How are you just like them?
In what areas are you just like your parents? If you’re a mom or a dad, are you raising kids like your parents raised you? Do you discipline like they disciplined? Do you rule with the same iron fist?
Do you always have to be right? Do you want everything done your way? Do you have high expectations for your children?
Parents are our sharpest mirror. The one that gives the clearest reflection.
Their baggage, their beliefs, their behavior. Look familiar? Even slightly?
It’s best not to close your eyes to it, that would not serve you. If anything, look at it. Take a good, hard look at the similarities so you can become aware of how alike you actually are.
From that insight, you can open yourself up to the compassion that’s born as a result.
Your opinion of your parents is what matters—not for their well-being, but for yours. The sooner you forgive them, the sooner you can begin to heal. The sooner you can create the relationship you always wanted.
You can start by letting go of the expectations they’re not measuring up to in your eyes. (Funny how the tables turn.)
Parents shoulder the biggest responsibility of their lives in raising children. They take on the worries, the fears, the dreams and the aspirations of the world all wrapped up in this little being. They’re so terrified they’ll screw us up, they often do.
To this day, they’re still trying to figure it out, doing the best they know how.
The thing with parents is, their love was never contingent on you becoming a success or measuring up to their ideals. Their love was never contingent on you doing everything they said.
So, chances are, they may not show up as your biggest cheerleader or sit in the front row at your show. That behavior may not come naturally to someone who’s only concern is that you’re healthy, happy and loved.
Parents, like anyone, don’t always act according to the love that’s in their heart.
If they’re having trouble expressing that love, why don’t you show them how it’s done.