Parents Just Don’t Understand

I had dinner with a friend this week. Not a close friend, nor one I speak to often, but one I respect very much. Her father died recently, and having experienced that heartache myself, I’ve been checking on her more frequently. Not asking about that specifically, just reaching out to let her know someone’s thinking about her. 

Her conversation that night told me that she’s still in her feelings about it. Not that I expected anything different. After my father passed it took me two years before I could even say the word “dad” and not cry. But I think there’s some guilt there, and my heart hurts for her.

She had a tough cookie for dad. We often joked that my mom and her dad should get together and go bowling, they had so much in common – and we weren’t being complementary. But the guilt I sense, I think it’s misplaced. I know this woman. I know what she did for her father – what she does for her mother – and it wasn’t a little. She was – is – a good daughter. ]I don’t think she feels that way though, and it got me thinking. 

Parents rarely mean their children harm, but they cause quite a bit of it nonetheless. I think we ought to be careful. Children aren’t just children, after all. They’re people. They grow up to be adults with dreams and ideas and habits and preferences. They deserve to live as adults, and not convenient appendages with titles like daughter and son.

I can’t really speak on parenthood; I don’t have children. Well, I could, but I think it would be more valuable if I spoke as a daughter. 

I loved my father, and I regret not spending more time with him. Unfortunately, I realized how kind and funny, what a standup guy he was to me too late. But I don’t fault myself for it because I never mistreated him, and you can’t do better if you don’t know better.

I choose to be grateful that I have many wonderful memories. So, my regrets are not sharp. They’re normal wishes for more time on a clock that simply ran out.

I also love my mother. I have very little desire to spend time with her, however, though I see her almost every single Sunday. Rarely does a day – at the most two – go by when I don’t speak to her. If things follow their natural course, she will, sadly, die before I do. I can’t even begin to imagine the hole, the sadness, that she’ll leave behind. None of this blinds me to her faults. 

So, please, if you’re reading this and you have problematic parents – especially if you’re young – take a page from my book: Do not let your parents control your life. As a dutiful daughter I’ve learned:

  1. Parents are people too. They are flawed. They make mistakes. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your parents are perfect, or, always right. They’re not – always right, nor are they perfect. Perfection does not exist. You aren’t perfect either, and that’s as it should be.
  2. Parents don’t always know what’s best for you. Things change. Technology, for instance, shifts entire industries, and their rise and fall creates societal shifts that we must all deal with. That’s why it’s so important to think for yourself. To evaluate, discuss, try. Do not follow blindly, or, just because your parent tells you to. If you do, you may grow old and resentful. Time will pass you by, and so will opportunity, and you will be left with regret.
  3. Parents can and will hurt you. I’m not talking about physical abuse. That’s not something I have any knowledge of, thankfully. But my parents have hurt me without meaning to. Fortunately, the good far outweighs the bad. Any inadvertent wounds I’ve received I’ve been able to heal, often by using the gifts I was given by the same person who hurt me.

But that last one is real. Parents do hurt their children. For instance, by sheltering children too much, parents teach them fear. It’s very important to know that sometimes it’s good, even advisable, to take a risk: in your career, in moving to a new place, in trying something new. I learned that only after lots of things I should have done and should have tried and places I should have gone had passed me by.

By constantly advising and telling children what to do, parents ruin their self-esteem. Low self-esteem is like a cancer. It affects, and can destroy, so many aspects of one’s life. Low self-esteem – especially for female and minority children – is like being dealt a loser’s hand because the world is already filled with so much ridiculously biased finger pointing and judgment. We don’t need to do that to ourselves. My mom’s very independent and has a lot of pride, and those rather than the low self-esteem I could have developed from constantly being told what to do, are the traits I picked up and kept, thank God.

But my old lady does love to tell me – and everyone – what to do. She’s sharing her experience, which can admittedly be invaluable. There were many times I went the other way and later thought, damn. If I’d only listened…but those moments are fleeting and few because she also taught me to take responsibility for my actions.

However, I don’t think anyone should constantly be told what to do. You really need to figure some things out for yourself. Bumps and bruises, mistakes and missteps, these are learning experiences, not things you should be punished for. 

My mom is also a master manipulator. She’ll have you thinking that not listening to her makes you the worst, stupidest human being ever to draw breath. Um, no. It simply means you prefer to exercise that bit of fluff between your ears that most people call a brain.

Unless you work on yourself and work through any issues you may have, it’s easy to blame your parents for this or that as an adult. That too is a loser’s game. If you have shitty parents, shake it off, and keep it moving. That’s easier said than done sometimes, I know, but isn’t a life well-lived worth the effort?

By the same token, if given the opportunity you should never neglect or be mean to your parents as punishment for their sins. Don’t disrespect them, even if they deserve it. Even the worst parents teach their children something, even if it’s only what not to do.

My parents did – do – their best for me: schools, home, care, everything. I learned my work ethic from my parents, my ability to handle money. I think my mother even passed down a little bit of her style, in that, I have some. But in several very important areas, they also did me a grave disservice.

Sometimes parents don’t understand. That’s not just a song from DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince aka Will Smith pre-action hero status. It’s the truth. But don’t let a death be the reason you learn valuable lessons. Take the steps you need to take, create the boundaries you need to build now. 

Time passes. As I said, things change. That’s why good parents are so important. Good parents prepare their children to ride rough waves. They don’t leave their children behind filled with unfair regret. 

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