Getting along with your parents as an adult, part 4: More on expectations and hurt

Sorry for the late posting today–I’ve got a nasty head cold and fell asleep last night when the kids did. I had the amazing realization this morning that I can actually take cold medicine, though, as I’m not nursing anymore. I’m about to pop some cold meds for the first time since 2001 (Last time I was neither pregnant nor nursing). Woo-hoo!

Anyway, I should have predicted that we’d need 5 days instead of just 4 to deal with this topic. I’m not sure we’re done with the parents part yet and are ready to go to implications for parenting our own kid. At least I’m not. So I’m going to hit some of the topics that came up yesterday. Then tomorrow (a Saturday post!) I’ll put up my thoughts on parenting your own kids. I’ll leave that up all weekend, and post something kind of short and light weight on Monday so we can still chew on it.

Yesterday enu and hedra were saying that they don’t use the word “owe” in terms parents and adult children. While i absolutely see their point, I disagree and definitely use the word “owe” to talk about the relationship in the parent-to-child direction. For me, the bottom line is always going to be that the parent chose (inasmuch as there was an actual choice possible) to have and raise the child. No child ever chooses to be born or who its parents are. Which means there’s automatically a huge imbalance, and that sets up an obligation on the part of the parent to provide certain things for the child. Respect, food, shelter, love, clothes, education, socialization, and cultural values are what I think the absolute basics are.

Now, what you owe your kids when they’re adults completely varies, depending on the culture you’re raised in, but also on how you parented when your kids were younger. There are some families in which kids are expected to leave the house when they’re 18. That may sound harsh to some people. But if the parents in those families taught the children how to financially support themselves so that by the time they were 18 they were able to leave without falling into poverty, then the system completely works. (Some of the most resourceful people I know were lovingly kicked out at 18, but they were also raised to be independent thinkers who land on their feet too often for it to be luck.)

If, however, you do nothing to prep your kids for the world and kick them out at age 18, then IMO you’re not fulfilling your responsibilities as a parent. (remember a few years ago when the media was all over the “boomerang generation” of 20-somethings who were living with their parents? It wasn’t the logistics that bugged people–it was that the adult kids either weren’t technically equipped to live alone or were lacking the drive to separate that bugged people.)

So again with the paradox–the more completely your parents fulfilled their responsibilities when you were young, the less they “owe” you as an adult. Or at least the less difficult personally it is to provide what they owe you.

But, and this is a big but (oh, yeah!), if the parent doesn’t have good emotional reserves when the kids need them, it’s really hard for them to give it to the kids. I’ve experienced this myself over the last few years. There was a time in which the only thing I had going for me was my kids (and this blog) and I could put all my focus on them, but it wasn’t the focus of a healthy person with good self-esteem. It was the pure and complete love of a broken person. And then when I made the move to get out, I just felt so free! It was like everything was technicolor. I was giddy all the time. And I started figuring out all these things about myself, who I am, what I like, what I want from life. And I realized that it would be really easy to lose that intense connection to my kids if I went with the urge to flip myself inside out to start rebuilding my life. But I was so lucky in that I’ve never associated my children with the misery of my life. So I was able to keep that connection while also stretching out to find my new life.

I think women who maybe were ambivalent about having kids in the first place and who had fewer choices than I do and don’t analyze everything that comes down the pike the way my mom trained me to and who felt like the kids were part of the Great Sadness, well, I think it feels to them like a choice between themselves and their kids.

But let’s move on to knowing why the behavior is there and setting boundaries and still being so, so hurt by it. I absolutely love what Sharon Silver said in this comment:

“Dealing with parents, now that you are a parent, may mean that you have to share:

• I am adult and I need my boundaries to be acknowledged and respected.
• I know this may/will hurt you, but I can’t be near you if you choose
to treat my children in a way that is not in alignment with the way I
am raising them.
• I need a break from you while I feel my feelings about this and the
moment I am clear about my feelings I will share them with you.
• My choices and behavior have nothing to do with you, even if it makes you feel like I’m making you wrong in some way.

And if your choice to draw a boundary results in them rejecting you for a while, know this:
• All you’re doing is taking responsibility for your choices, words and actions, it is YOUR life now.
• Realize they are responsible for their choices, words and actions too, even if they don’t know or take that responsibility.
The choices people make speak volumes about them. Their choices are
THEIR statements about a situation and you can’t change it even if you
want to.”

Notice that none of what she said means that it doesn’t hurt you anymore. There’s a big gaping mom-sized wound some of you are carrying around. Or dad-sized wound. I will never be “over” my dad’s illness (lifelong clinical depression that he’s never really been able to get on top of despite oodles of meds) and how that’s affected our relationship. It still makes me cry sometimes, and wish I could fix everything for him and us and myself as a kid and him as a kid and just all of it.

But knowing that you’re giving yourself what your parents owe you by caring enough for yourself (and your kids!) to draw some boundaries, even when the hurt is still there like a rock in your shoe, well, that’s more than many people ever get to. And, it means that you get to spare your kids this same hurt.

Hey–the cold meds are working! But now I’m crying again about my dad. Please keep talking. Am I full of it? Does anyone have a step-by-step plan for moving through the pain? Do you feel lucky to have your parents? (I do.) Why are all the smartest, most sensitive people on the internet commenting on my site? Who needs a brownie right now?

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