For whatever reason, your relationship with your parents isn’t as healthy as it should be, is it?
No worries, you are not alone. Strange as it sounds, people all over the world do not get along with—and are even estranged from—the very people who gave them life. Since today is The International Day of Families, let’s take a look at what humans like you and me did to make things better between them and their parents.
Please note that all of them had some parental issue(s), and although none of them got a fairy-tale ending, they were able to get along better with their mom and dad. Over to them.
1. Forgive them for their mistakes.
Of course, this is easier said than done, but it’s not impossible. Mother and grandmother Penny Dickerson shares how she did it:
When I was in college, I attended a lecture given by Wayne Dyer, a famous self-help author. Near the end of his speech, he addressed a very common issue. He said, “I doubt most of you were seriously abused. Your parents did what they knew how to do.” I have come to realize this is true. Most parents do love their children, but few are wise. Foolishness is behind almost all bad parenting tactics. Parents also have their own insecurities and hang-ups that they may unconsciously take out on their children.
I am a grandma now and I am still affected somewhat by my parents’ mistakes. Some of the negative thinking patterns are still there, but I am getting better at recognizing and dismissing them. I have worked very hard to forgive them and I feel much more at peace now. I was very passive and easily victimized during my growing-up years. During that time I wanted to believe they knew what they were doing even though I didn’t like it.
When I was in my mid-20’s, I started to feel very angry because I realized that they really had been wrong. I knew I needed to forgive, but it wasn’t easy. Alexander Pope said, “To err is human, but to forgive is divine.” For many years, I wondered if forgiving was beyond human capacity. Because I tried, I found myself becoming less angry and I decided that was progress.
What helped me? I received heavenly inspiration one day to keep a journal to write out my grievances. This helped me sort out my tangled thinking. I also tried very hard to understand my parents. There’s a saying: To understand all is to forgive all. I still don’t understand my parents completely, but I’ve tried. A few years ago I realized that I had not done everything in Matthew 5:44: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you. I realized that I had not prayed for my parents! When I tried it, I was amazed to feel the anger/depression that had been weighing me down leave! I learned that praying for my parents had a healing effect on me!
So, my advice is:
– Desire to forgive
– Keep a journal to vent your grievances
– Try to understand and feel compassion
– Pray for them
2. Even if you don’t talk a lot, let them know about the major events in your life.
Brian Dunlap, VP of an online media company, shares how communication made his relationship with his parents change for the better:
For many years (specifically, from when I left for college and a number of years after that), I did not have a very close relationship with my parents. We rarely spoke, I hardly – if ever – attended family functions or joined everyone else on holidays, I wasn’t in regular contact with them, and the rare occasion we did speak didn’t involve sharing much or talking about much.Quite frankly, this distance wasn’t about my choosing to avoid them or not be open with them. I actually was under the impression that’s simply how it was in my family. We were never a family in which emotions would be shared much, and if I had to assign an overriding theme to interactions I’d say they were quite business-like.
My immediate family includes myself, two brothers, and my parents. Hand-shakes were more common than hugs, discussions were often more matter-of-fact than emotional, and the expectation was, absent some crisis or compelling emergency situation, there was no real need to keep in touch beyond a quick message during the holidays or a quick and simple notification of a big event (“Hey dad… I’m moving across the country. I’ll send you my new address once I have it. Say hi to mom. Talk to ya later.”).
At least…this is how I thought it all was.
Turns out, for many years, I was kind of a dick. One random day, for some random reason, I ended up having a fairly personal and deep conversation with my dad. I can’t remember what it was about or why we got to talking about actual feelings, but I do distinctly remember my father, at one point, mentioning and then going into detail about how my brothers were going through quite a bit and dealing with a host of issues and so could likely relate to me if I reached out to them.
“Holy shit,” I thought. “How the hell does my dad know all that about my brothers?!”
What I remember most about that conversation was the realization my father actually knew a great deal about my brothers’ lives.Turns out, they all spoke! They all shared that stuff! Everyone else in my family actually talked, actually went into depth, and would actually reach out to one another when needed. They’d freely share with one another things I never would have told any of them because I felt it would be none of their business, or just didn’t want to deal with potential awkwardness, judgment or hassle.
But it wasn’t that my family didn’t involve such sharing and communication – it’s that I was distant. My siblings and parents had all openly shared so much for so long, while I forced distance between us. My family wasn’t the business-like family I thought, but instead one in which people would talk frequently, talk about quite a bit, and be quite open with one another.
It was quite a realization, and made me feel like quite the ass. Thankfully, the realization also pushed me to deciding to be more open and engaged with my family, though.
Look – there’s no turning things around overnight. I’m not going to be at every Thanksgiving dinner or spend hours on the phone with mom and dad each night. I’m still the son who tends to live on the opposite side of the country from everyone else, and was the only one who didn’t make the big family reunion this summer (because of work). But I do make it a point to carry out some very simple things to keep our relationship close, and keep my parents involved in my life in a way that keeps them happy, yet doesn’t overwhelm me:
– A phone call once in awhile is not that difficult. It doesn’t even have to be every week. Once a month is more than enough.
– A quick e-mail works. My parents seem to love even short e-mails that let them know about something big going on at work, or what might seem like fairly trivial things. “Just saying hey! Busy as heck this weekend doing some yard work and finally fixing up the back of the house. Hope you guys are well!”. That takes little effort, but they genuinely appreciate the updates.
– Send a damn holiday card. And engage with other family members. Even if I don’t speak to my parents for awhile, they’ll find out if and when I sent a gift off to my nieces and nephews and, in some ways, tend to enjoy hearing about my interactions with other family members so much that it almost counts as interacting with them.
– You don’t need to follow their advice all the time, or reach out to them for a go-ahead on decisions you make, but simply keeping them posted on certain things you’re up to still helps them feel involved. “Hi mom and dad – got a job offer in Florida. Gonna take it! Pretty excited about it!”. The decision’s been made, and sure they’ll want to ask some questions or offer advice. But without committing yourself to doing what they say, you’re still keeping them in the loop.
There are a million ways to communicate, and your parents must be involved with at least a few. Find one that is comfortable for you and use it.
3. Accept them for who they are. Warts and all.
It’s hard to accept anybody as they are, and it’s harder when they are your parents. Cartoonist Dahn Polito reveals how he achieved this borderline impossible feat:
When I was growing up they gave me everything. Food, clothes, anything I asked for I got. Anything I wanted they gave me. I was spoiled, living the good life.
Then I met a boy named Jesse. And he showed me different music, movies I’d never heard of before, he didn’t treat me like other kids did. He became my best friend. My world view began to shift, I started to question myself, my surroundings, a natural exploration for a kid to undergo, some would say *the rebellion stage*
During high school, I began to see my parents in a different light.
Homophobic, a little racist, insensitive toward fat people, emotionally distant, religious but not willing to discuss other possibilities, close minded. Because of my personality, I feared conflict, I wanted to maintain my perfect world, and I felt that if expressed any of my thoughts on being gay, existentialism, religion, etc. then things would get ugly. I was afraid. I even stopped eating food because I was afraid of being fat, afraid of what they and the rest of my family would think of me.
I shut down, and became massively depressed. I quit soccer and track midway through sophomore year of high school. I would come home from school and go to my room and sleep all day until night. Then go back to sleep again.
Nobody in my family said a word.
My parents wanted me to go to college, they wanted me to do this, and do that. I listened, afraid of causing conflict. I was afraid of being myself around them, of having a different opinion. Low self-esteem? Either way, I wasn’t living my own life in the outside world.
I went to college, and the depression streak continued.
Finally, Junior year, I had a major anxiety attack. I came home and told my parents I was having suicidal thoughts, that I was scarred, that I needed to get help. I was swimming in five years worth of pent up rage, fear, confusion, and I didn’t know what to do with it anymore. I went to the hospital, checked myself into a psyche ward, stayed for two days, my parents tried to coax me away from it, saying I didn’t belong there. I believed them, even though they were dead wrong.
I had hit the lowest low of my life, and I realized I had done it to myself, and I needed to change.
Little by little I began to build myself up again. I began to honestly assess what it was that I wanted, what I needed to maintain a healthy life for myself.
I still talk to my parents, and I still love them, and I don’t blame them for anything. Because I realized they are who they are and I have no say in that. But I also realized that they don’t have a say in who I am, unless I let them. I love them, they love me, and I’m closer with my mom than my dad because she, like me, is more sensitive and empathetic ( in her own way). My dad is emotionally distant. I’m still working on myself, and what role my parents will play in my future life, but it’s getting better.
Whoa. Those were some inspiring stories! Makes you realize how amazing it is to have a sane and healthy relationship with your parents, right? However, if they are toxic, it’s probably best to maintain your distance. After all, blood is not always thicker than water.
What kind of relationship do you have with your mom and dad? Let me know in the comments below.