by Ros Kitson
The relationship we have (or had, if they have passed on) with our parents is the most important and fundamental one we’ll ever have. And I’m going to explain just why this is.
Love them or hate them, they are the people who will have influenced us the most in our life. They are usually the first people we bond with. Or if, for whatever reason, they aren’t, that is also significant. They are the people who teach us about the world. When we are born we have no frame of reference for how to survive on planet earth. We scream when our needs aren’t met and we sleep – that is it. Our parents teach us values and ways of behaving which they believe will stand us in good stead as we get older and have to survive on our own.
They do this with the best of intentions, but inevitably they will project their own stuff on to us. They have to do this – it’s not possible to explain to a 2 year old that there are “different ways of responding according to our personal truth”.
Up until puberty, we tend to lap up our parents’ teachings (unless there was some kind of abuse). Once we hit puberty, we start to find our own individuality and this is where we push against our parents’ rules. This is necessary in order to become our own person, but it is also necessary for parents to hold the boundaries to keep us safe. As with most things, it becomes about finding a balance and renegotiating this throughout the teenage years.
If this period of time goes smoothly (or as smoothly as anything can go when it’s accompanied by buckets of hormones), we come out the other side as an adult and our relationship with our parents will have moved to become a more adult-adult relationship rather then the parent-child relationship or our younger years.
However, often things don’t work out quite like that and we’re left with relationship problems with our parents. As adults, we start to see our parents’ weaknesses – let’s face it, none of us are perfect. We start to identify our own values and realise how much they differ from those of our parents. If we’re still a teenager or only just out of those years, we can believe that we’re right and they are wrong. And this can continue until we resolve it.
The other thing that can happen is that we don’t grow up from the parent-child relationship into the adult-adult relationship. Sometimes this is down to the parents still treating us like a child and other times it’s the child still playing out the same role because they don’t know how to change or it feels unsafe to change. Either way, this will have a massive impact on the way we see ourselves and how we behave in the rest of our life.
Regardless of how we see our relationship with our parents, that relationship will impact the way we relate to other people. Broadly speaking, our relationship with Mum shapes our relationship with women and our relationship with Dad shapes our relationship with men. The most obvious relationships it affects are those with a romantic partner and our children, but it will have an effect on other relationships too.
We tend to look for romantic partners who either have characteristics we liked in our parents or have the opposite characteristics of those we have issue with. Note, I say “have issue” rather than dislike, as often we reject something which is only the symptom of an issue. This is often what we see when young adults go out with “rebel” boyfriends or girlfriends. If they are rebelling against the rules of their parents, a romantic partner who doesn’t seem to live by rules can seem very attractive, even if deep down they like stability and predictability in their lives.
Then when we have children and we have to find a way to parent, out comes the first manual we have experience of – the manual of Mum and Dad. On instinct, we behave the same way unless we’ve consciously made a decision to do something different. The major things will be easy to change because they are the significant ones. It’s the little things we tend to do the same. How often do you hear women say with a groan, “I’m turning into my Mum”. I’m sure men find the same thing with their Dads.
Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing if we’ve resolved any issues in our relationships with Mum and Dad. If we can openly feel the love for our parents and appreciate them for all their good qualities, then turning into a version of them as we get older might not seem such a terrible thing. But if we haven’t resolve the relationships, then this might seem an awful thing.
The good news is that, like everything, our relationships can be healed. Our parents were usually doing their best, even if we feel that the best wasn’t very good. Maybe they were coming from a dysfunctional relationship with their own parents, or were trying to adjust to society’s rules of the time.
By healing the relationships, we free us up to not only have a better relationship with Mum and Dad, but also to have better relationships with others. Our self worth will rise and we will start to attract people on a more equal basis. We will start to be more comfortable with who we are and we will present that to the world, rather than a mask of how we feel we ought to behave.
And finally, we usually out-live our parents, so if you want to have a better relationship with them, start looking at healing it sooner rather than later, because once they have gone, although the relationship can still be healed, you may find you have regrets that you weren’t able to share it with them.Tags: boundaries, communication, emotional challenges, relationships