We expect a lot from our parents. When we are young, their status can approach superhero levels in our minds. Discovering that they are mere mortals can be disturbing. When you first saw your parents’ raw emotions, their mistakes, and their lives before you were born, it could be somewhat mind-boggling.
The people who gave you life have weaknesses. Sometimes they feel bad about themselves and lack confidence in their abilities. Do you remember the first time you unwittingly said something that brought out one of your parent’s insecure side?
You likely watched in silent horror as your mother or father either erupted or spluttered or gave you the silent treatment for no apparent reason. You likely felt confused and stunned as to why such a simple comment could get such a strong reaction.
The first time I made my mom cry, I was shocked. Shocked because I had no idea she was capable of losing her cool. Shocked because in the moment before her crying, I had actually been feeling quite pleased with myself for being so stubborn. Shocked because I had no idea I possessed the power to make my mom cry.
There is no universal guide to parenting. While I don’t have kids, I do have parents, and I know from observation that it is difficult work. Children are very perceptive: picking up ideas and concepts quickly, learning and growing at breakneck speed. Life presents plenty of adversity without the added responsibility of children.
Some parents struggle to make their children a priority. They feel so overwhelmed by their own problems. They are barely treading water in the “ocean of life.” How are they supposed to help another while they themselves are struggling? A child in such a situation must learn to swim through the “ocean of life” on her own or with any other help she can find.
The only things children really want from their parents are attention and affection. From holding hands while crossing the street to goodnight kisses with a bedtime story, little gestures mean a lot. Children need attention most when overwhelmed with emotion. Feelings like anger, sadness, and intense joy are difficult to keep inside; they demand to be expressed, to pour out so you can feel some relief.
One role of parents is to assist you with channeling your powerful emotions into productive rather than destructive activities. Otherwise, you may always feel at the mercy of your feelings. Another role of parents is to call you out when you do something wrong. If they did call you out, it meant they were paying attention to you. This could be annoying, but also comforting and even self-affirming. If not, they were ignoring you. This could be fun at first because you could do whatever you wanted. But after a while, that gets old.
Children want parents to challenge them. To be the best version of yourself. To grow, even if it is a bit uncomfortable for a while. To hold you accountable for your actions. We want our parents to be protective, but also to prod us gently toward progress. It’s a lot to ask!
All parents are doing the best they can. The best of someone is all you can ask for. As adult children, we still want attention from our parents. We want them to comfort us and to challenge us to do more.
But parents are people, too, with their own lifetime of baggage, uncomfortable memories, and insecurities. It can be easy to look at your parents and think of all the times they failed to meet your expectations. But when you get to know them as human beings with thoughts and emotions, it is much easier to appreciate your parents.