This post was originally published on Young Men’s Nation.
In a previous post, I talked about how essential it is that we make peace with our parents. Here’s one way you could actually try doing it:
No matter what you do, It begins with compassion for them, which requires perspective-taking, and ends with reaching out to other adults who can give you what you needed but never got. Try answering these questions for yourself:
The messed up thing with parents is that sometimes they’re weirdly intimidating, even though you spend so much time around them. But you’re not respecting them if you never tell them what you want from them.
1. What are the personality strengths I’m most proud of?
Maybe you’re good at sticking with something until it’s done or you’re good at helping others get along together. Whatever these things are, write them down.
Now think about whether or not you’ve seen one of your parents do any of these things on a regular basis. If so, you probably learned from them. Try thanking them for it. They’d probably appreciate it.
2. What experiences in the past made my parents the way they are?
If you don’t know, try to find out by asking them or asking your relatives who know them. We all have tough experiences that shape how we view the world. It’ll help a lot for you to know what these experiences were for your parents. Maybe your mother’s father told her once that she “wasn’t marriage material” and she’s still carrying that shame around her whole life. Maybe your dad got beat up by bullies when he was in middle school and has never really dealt with the sadness and anger he felt. Who knows? But this is life! Everyone’s got stuff like this inside them. Your parents are no different.
3. Are there frustrating things that they do that I also do too?
The funny thing in life is that many of the things that piss us off about other people’s actions we often do ourselves. Think really carefully about what you do, day-to-day, and you’ll start to notice. It’s kind of crazy.
Anything that annoys you about your parents that you realize you also do at least some of the time? You have no right to get angry at them about this stuff. Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s true. Work on changing or accepting these things in yourself first. As that process starts to happen, you may notice yourself letting go of your frustration toward your parent or parents about these things.
4. In what ways do my parents’ actions come from a place of fear for my safety or fear that I won’t be happy later in life?
Nine times out of ten, this is why they’re being so frustrating. Remember that most of the time they’re the ones cleaning up the mess if you screw up, not you. You might have found it super exciting to climb that huge tree in your backyard or stay out roaming the streets until the sun came up when you were 10, but your parents never would have been able to share in that excitement. The only part of those exciting experiences they would have shared is whatever happened if things went wrong, like you falling and breaking your arm or getting beat up for your wallet in the street at 2:00 am.
As a result of often being able to only share in your experiences when things go wrong, they’ll mostly lean toward a more conservative, safe option for you in their decision-making**.
5. What are things I notice other parents doing for their kids that I wish mine could?
For me it was showing physical and verbal love. That was a tough one to get over, but I did it. Make a list of the essential three to five things you think are absent from your relationship with your parents.
6. Of the things on this list, how many are actually just things I’ve never explicitly asked for?
The messed up thing with parents is that sometimes they’re weirdly intimidating, even though you spend so much time around them. But you’re not respecting them if you never tell them what you want from them. This will at least open a dialogue and prove to yourself that you did everything you can.
For me, it meant spending a brief, awkward phase of my early twenties explicitly saying “I love you” to my parents. It didn’t go too well. My mom told me that I was being dramatic and my dad kinda just looked away and awkwardly hugged me. Oh well. At least I could walk away knowing I tried.
7. What’s left? What other adults can I seek out who might be able to provide these things to me?
You’re almost there. Now it’s your job to have the courage to seek these things out from other adults who could serve as mentors. No truly successful and fulfilled adult got to that place without supportive mentors. It’s essential.
Start with these steps and, if you’re still struggling, stick around. We’ll work it out together.
** I got this idea about parents only sharing in what might go wrong from an amazing essay that I basically re-read once a month called “How To Do What You Love” by Paul Graham. It’s essential reading, even if you only understand half of it the first time you read it. Go print it out right now and set it next to your bed. Read it as soon as possible.