This post was originally published on Young Men’s Nation.
If we want the ability to reach for our dreams and get along in harmony with others, it is essential that we come to terms with our parents. This is pretty hard because our parents present a unique contradiction for us. First off, we can’t choose them, unlike all the other people in our lives, like friends and romantic partners. Second, they represent the major force in our lives that controls our freedom, yet we also want their approval.
Many adults never get to this place of peace with their parents, and as a result, live with anger and sadness stuffed deep down, limiting their ability to go for what they want. Don’t let this happen. Don’t wait until you’re 30 or 40 to start accepting your parents. You’ll wish you hadn’t wasted all that energy over the years. Trust me; it took me until I was 30 to realize my mom and dad did the best they could with what they had.
Making peace is simple on the surface, but difficult to pull off. It means fully accepting the difference between what you needed and what you got. The goal is to be able to simultaneously be grateful for our parents’ strengths that protected us and instilled good qualities in us while at the same time being able to fully feel, and then fully let go of, the legitimate frustration and sadness that comes up when we think about the things they could not do for us. It’s all about “holding both.”
First off, think about this: If you were to read all the research done by doctors and psychiatrists over the years on what parents “should” do in order to raise healthy and happy children you’d get a list as long as your arm. But no parent can ever give us more than from shoulder to wrist. Even excellent parents screw up and do things that harm their children. No parent has the perfect mix of personality and skills to match the needs of his or her particular kid. It’s just a fact of life, which is why every adult you know still has issues with his or her parents they’re grappling with. So this means you’re not unique. It’s time to suck it up and deal with reality.
Let’s start with the most basic thing we must honor our parents for: keeping us from dying. The next time you’re pissed off at your mom or dad, remember this. That person you’re hating in that moment literally wiped up the poop that was smeared all over your ass when you were six months old and didn’t know what a toilet was. Your mom and/or dad kept you from running into the street when cars were coming and made sure you didn’t choke on toy pieces that would kill you.
In other words, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, your parents (or parent) are your personal heroes. They quite literally kept you from dying over and over and over from the moment you were born until you could fend for yourself, which anthropological research has shown is roughly age eight. That’s 2,920 days. That’s a long time.
For this reason, no matter how much other crap you think your parent or parents supposedly do wrong to you, you’ve got to honor them for doing the daily “shovel work” of keeping you safe when you couldn’t do it yourself.
Maybe for some of you that’s all they did. Sometimes adults have psychological problems they never learn how to contain, or they have kids when they don’t really want them or when they aren’t prepared for them. Sometimes they aren’t given the resources or the help necessary to do a good job raising kids.
But even if they couldn’t do anything more than keep you from dying, you’ve got to get to a place where you’re okay with that.
I’ve noticed in my life that the more I’ve been able to appreciate my parents for what they did give me while also accepting the things that they could not, the more I can see the other people in my life for who they are and stop being so hard on them. It’s also allowed me to lighten up on myself, which is essential for keeping forward momentum in any project or goal we have in life. It’s a weird, parallel journey that’s happened that I can’t fully explain (although I’m sure psychologists could). If you want full-blown success and happiness, you need to go on this journey too.
Notice that I’m not saying you have to love your parents, or even like them. You never got to choose them, so that makes it real hard to justify loving or liking them if you just don’t “fit” with them. But I bet for most of you your parents did far better than simply keeping you safe. There’s probably quite a lot you can love and like about them if you look hard enough.
Your parents don’t even have to be alive for you to make peace with them, because the process of making peace is entirely about you. And this is why making peace is so hard, because the last place we often have the urge to look is inside ourselves.
Now that you understand the importance of this task, here’s a way to do it.