How to find rest in your relationship with your own parents

by | Jul 1, 2018 | Personal growth

As I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, we started to talk about our parents.
We talked about the challenge of facing our reality. This desire to have a good, loving relationship with our parents. And how, in some situations, this is nearly impossible. How can it be possible to honor father and mother, walk in peace and freedom, if this crucial relationship with our own parents isn’t what we wished it to be? How can we be a good example to our children, if the relationship is challenging?

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In this post I would like to share with you what I’ve learned concerning that matter. Even though there are many different layers to consider, I’ll try to resume it to five points. Of course there is much more to it, but I hope to be able to give you an idea of how I’ve grown into freedom in that subject.
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  •  Face your reality
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    For some this is a really hard point.
    First of all because a child that is hurt in its integrity will not be able to say “I‘m hurt by what you’ve done to me”. Most children rather assume that they are wrong. That they are not lovable. Therefore, they will rather lose their self-esteem and take the feeling of guilt on themselves than have the capacity to clearly see, where the parents did wrong them.
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    Secondly, facing reality can seam unbearable. If you ask them about their childhood, they will defend, minimize and explain what happened. They will take the blame on themselves. This because it is too hard for them to face the probability that their parents simply did love only themselves. They fear that the truth will be: You are not lovable. And this is unbearable.

We often repeat patterns and life-choices our parents made, if we don’t recognize them.

  • The understanding of reality comes in layers
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    Even for those who did rebel against the way their parents acted, there are layers of reality that are completely hidden from them. We often repeat patterns and live-choices our parents made, if we don’t recognize them.
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    Remember Alexis?
    Well. Every woman in her family had chosen the same kind of man as far as she could track it back. Her mother and grandmother did. She did. That kind of man that was not available emotionally. Neither supportive nor caring. A good man. But spreading a depressive mood in their home all their lives. Alexis only recently faced the reality of such a life … when she faced the reality of her own marriage.
    This, when she relized that she had been trying to be this supportive, caring, loving woman to help her husband get through life… just like her mother had showed her as an example all her live.
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    One can compare that journey of facing reality to an onion. Layers of understanding are being peeled off, step by step. That way you won’t be overwhelmed (even if it sometimes feels that way) by having the whole revelation at once. And in the presence of God, in His powerful peace, you can find peace, comfort, love and help to confront reality. Some life situations (like the one of Alexis when she met this other man) or other important events (like giving birth, moving away from home, having a child that forces you to confront something through its behavior) force you to dig into that subject.

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The choice to forgive is crucial. However, forgiveness is not made by suppressing what you’ve gone through. It is not about excusing the abuser. It’s not about explaining the trauma. It is about facing those things, and coming with precisely this hatred to the cross, vulnerable, painful, strong and raw as these feelings are.

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  • Forgiveness is a choice – and a process

Often there is a pressure to forgive, especially among Christians. “You need to forgive” you’ll hear all around you. “I need to forgive”… you’ll think yourself.
True. But, at the same time, what do you do with all these feelings of hatred? Anger? Deep pain?
By experience I can tell you that those feelings are not “bad”. They should not be suppressed by the belief, that one simply needs to forgive.
Confronting the inner reality of what other people’s actions and words did to you will inevitably bring up such feelings. And feelings alone are not bad. It’s far more important, what you’ll do with them.
Ok, so you have feelings of hatred towards your parents? Do not go and kill them. That would be wrong.

Dr. Caroline Leaf explains in her book “The perfect you”: “By not forgiving, we are staying entangled in someone’s life, and everything they say or do is as real as though they were still in our lives hurting us. By forgiving, we disentangle ourselves from the toxic situation we have experienced, protect our spirits and re-create a healthy entanglement where we are no longer affected by that person’s bad choices. We cannot control the events and circumstances of life, since everyone is free to make their own choices, even if they negatively impact us. We can, however, control our reactions to the events and circumstances of life through the choices we make.
(Dr. Caroline leaf, The perfect you, in the end of the 5th chapter, subchapter “entanglement”.)

The choice to forgive is crucial. However, forgiveness is not made by suppressing what you’ve gone through. It is not about excusing the abuser. It’s not about explaining the trauma. It is about facing those things, and coming with precisely this hatred to the cross, vulnerable, painful, strong and raw as these feelings are.
This is true forgiveness. And as a friend of mine explains in that article: Forgiveness for him, was a school to be in. A process to go.

The thing is, you cannot hold up the banner of victim and victory at the same time.

  • Take responsibility for your life  
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  • As I cited Caroline Leaf above “We cannot control the events and circumstances of life, since everyone is free to make their own choices, even if they negatively impact us. We can, however, control our reactions to the events and circumstances of life through the choices we make”.
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    Children are victims. They can’t defend themselves. They will believe that the treatment they get is because they are at fault.For a long time, I lived as a victim, even when I was a young adult. I felt as though everyone would do better in life than I did. I was constantly looking for help, while presenting myself as that helpless victim.
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  • The thing is, you cannot hold up the banner of victim and victory at the same time.
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    Today I still have struggles. I face situations that are challenging. I have fears and insecurities. However, by standing up, by giving what I have, by learning to walk out what I am, I experience a freedom and a compassion, a love for those around me, like I never would have thought possible. I can tell you, it’s a good place to be. But it always starts with a choice. It always is a process.
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You cannot help anyone solve a problem they don’t see.

  • Don’t try to change them – but stand up for your integrity
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  • I was the kind of child that challenged my parents’ way of doing things.
    I questioned their choices, the way they did things.
    Things my four siblings saw as “normal”, I refused to accept.
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  • I remember the day my siblings wanted to write a poster for my mother on mother’s day to tell her how amazing she was. I refused. I told them: “I won’t. I don’t experience her as a “mother”. I believe being a mother is very different.”
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  • I also remember the day my dad told us on Christmas eve, in a sensory moment around the Christmas tree (most of us were already teenagers or young adults): “My children, I am so proud of you. You’ve all become such good persons”.
    I told him, filled with frustration: “Well, it’s certainly not because of you…”
    With those words I broke the whole sensory moment and my sister wrote me afterward:
    “You know, we love you, but please don’t make it so hard for us to do so.”
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    You see, I tried to stand up for my integrity. I didn’t want to play a game. I wanted to be “real”. I wanted to share with them who I really was and what I saw.
    However, I wasn’t able to express myself in a good diplomatic, detached and unemotional way.I longed for parents who see what I saw. who understand what I wanted to say.And I tried hard, but the only result was that I was the “black sheep”, the “scapegoat” of the family.The thing is; no physical distance, no trying to have an honest talk will help it. Not even that moment when I asked them for forgiveness (they didn’t believe that I had changed). Trying to be a good girl when I visited them, by helping in the household or by cleaning off the dinner table, didn’t make me free, either. I still did have a very difficult relationship with them. A relationship where I didn’t have the freedom to stand up for who I am and what I believe.

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    You cannot help anyone solve a problem they don’t see.

    Today I have a very good relationship with them.

    Very good means no more fights. No more hurtful behavior and words. No more blame. No more painful memories. No more tears of not having this loving relationship of a mother/father in my life.

    At the same time, there is no intimate relationship either. I can’t share my heart with them. There are many things they don’t know about me and my life.

    However… I went through the process of facing reality. The reality of the way their words and attitudes hurt me. It came in layers. First, the big things. The way I felt rejected. The way I felt they did care only for themselves. Then, the things I realized we were missing, like family vacations. We didn’t have any even once.
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    Today, I don’t expect them to be what they can’t be.
    I’ve been able to let go of the expectation to have parents who love me and know me, who love me deeply for who I am.

    I’ve been able to separate myself from their way of dealing with life. From their expectations which I couldn’t fulfill. From the ways of how they defined me. I’ve come to accept the weight of their own story, to accept where they’re at in life and to honor them in all that. I’ve learned to honor them as my parents, as the ones who conceived me.

    Lately, I talked with my father about his childhood. He told me: “You know; my mother was the best mother I could ever have. She was so devoted; she gave everything for me”.
    Well, I know this was not really the case. But I didn’t say anything, just a nod. That is his story. That is where’s he’s at in his life.
    Then he said: “You too, you had the best mother you could have. She too, was really devoted, loving and caring. “
    Well… here he came into my life, my experience, my reality.
    In the past I would have reacted hurt and emotional, based on my frustration and memories from the past. But this day, I could stay relaxed. I was free inside from those emotional reactions.
    Therefore, I calmly said: “Well, I like it that you honoring your wife in such a way. But you know, it was me who experienced her as a mother. You have been her husband. You can talk about your experience with your own mother. And I won’t try to change the way you see it. But you can’t define my reality of my mother.
    He was very irritated, asking me in an alarming tone: “So you are saying your mother wasn’t a good mother?”
    “Well,” I said, “I only know that If I would have gotten married as young as she did, coming from a family like she did, I wouldn’t have done it better. Therefore, I understand and respect her way, her story. However, I surely want to be a different mother than she was.” My father left it at that.

    But even if he would have gotten angry, I needed to stand up for my integrity. I was able to accept his way of seeing his personal story – even knowing that I don’t see it that way. But I accepted his reality, where he was standing in life. At the same time, I stood up for my integrity, my history, my experience in that matter, in an honoring but true way.

Going through the process has made me free. Again, it was a process of many years. Soon, I will be forty years old, and I started this process in my teenage years.

But it has all been worth it. Every tear, every hardship has been worth it. Today, I am reaping the fruits of overcoming.

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