Your Parent, Your Self
As an adult with your own children, you might have parents who continue to be critical of you – complaining, miserable, blaming, and disagreeable. In trying to feel good about yourself, you might still seek their approval and acceptance. Because children learn to be adults by watching the adults around them, a generational legacy of guilt, fear, depression and anger might be passed down to your children, as you find yourself treating them just as you have been treated.
If you feel that you had stellar parents, you are indeed very fortunate and need not read on. If, conversely, you recognize inadequacies in the way that you have been brought up, it might be worthwhile to examine how to move on with confidence.
Granted, in acknowledging that there were mistakes in your own upbringing, it is helpful to have empathy in realizing that if you had gone through the same parenting environment that your parents had experienced when they were children, you might have acted in a similar way. While it is helpful to accept that they had a hard time, and that they didn't hurt you on purpose, the reality is that the way they dealt with their problems might have really hurt you. A relationship that has been based on avoiding unpleasantness, or on the constant effort to get parents to love you, can wear you out, making you tired, irritable, angry and depressed.
Most parents have good intentions, and few intentionally harm their children. Yet many parents make children feel that no matter what they do, it is never good enough. Children become frustrated and feel bad when parental approval seems to appear and disappear without any knowable cause and effect. When children are constantly trying to figure out what to do in order to get a parent's love, the resulting low self-esteem creates life patterns of poor self-confidence and feelings of inadequacy.
Everyone in relationships has the right to feel safe, to be treated respectfully, to be listened to, and to be appreciated and valued. All children have the right to be provided with love, attention, and affection; to be nurtured emotionally; and to be responded to in ways that allow them to develop a sense of self-worth.
You cannot change your parents. Nor is it other people or events that need to change in order for you to be happy. You can direct your own life as an adult and no longer be a victim, by recognizing that you have alternatives about how you approach problems. You need not carry a mental script for your parents that portray the way that they should think, how they should be in your life, or what would make them happy. As the goal in your life becomes "peace of mind", you can let go of the unattainable goals that you might have for changing your parents. People do not change unless they want to, and your parents might not be willing to acknowledge that they might have hurt you. It is never all right for parents to put their own needs and interests first, especially their need to win, to look good, or to feel powerful. Nor is it the role of the parent to be judgmental and blaming, to make their children wrong in order to produce a feeling of parental superiority.
You might try to communicate thoughtfully about these issues, in order to improve the type of relationship that you can have from now on. Keep your eye on the prize, that is, a responsive parent who is loving, supportive and available, who treats you respectfully, and honors your right to be heard. If your parents are willing to acknowledge what happened, take responsibility and show a willingness to make amends, and then a new type of relationship can unfold from now on. It is never too late for that.
If, however, you find that your parent questions your love, your loyalty, your sanity, while telling you that your perceptions are wrong, then you might have to give up, accept that you are not going to get what you need, and move on. You likely cannot fix a parent who becomes angry, denies much of your reality, and tries to monopolize the conversation, all the while projecting blame onto you for your hurtful behavior. Your mother might tell you that she did the best she could, that she had it tough, that she struggled, that she is too old for this, and that she has her own problems. Taking the role of martyr, she might express shock and disbelief at your cruelty. In this case, a decision not to engage in "attack and defend" verbal tactics will serve you well. Removing yourself from this type of dialogue can give be challenging, but you cannot be attacked for something that you didn't say.
It takes courage to face the truth, to give up the limiting beliefs from your childhood, and to move on with dignity and self-awareness. You can avoid repeating your parents' unhealthy behaviors. You can break the generational chain by putting into action behavior that reflects who you are today, rather than echoing your parents' feelings. By reclaiming your adult power and confidence, you can free yourself from guilt, fear and doubt, and become the unique and loving parent that you were meant to be.