As we head into the season filled with celebrations of Mother’s and Father’s Days and graduations, all sorts of feelings might come up. Whether you have a strained relationship with your parent or child, or you’re being reminded of the difficulties of conception, or you’re tired of being asked if and when you’re going to have a baby, this time of year can be challenging, to say the least.
Through the years I’ve had many a conversation with girlfriends about our relationships with our parents. We’ve talked about how we wish our relationships were better. We’ve joked that there should be a Hallmark card section for a “you’re-not-really-that-great-of-a-parent-but-you-did-the-best-that-you-could-so-I-can’t-be-totally-pissed-at-you” type of relationship.
One thing we’re finding helpful is changing the dynamics of the relationships. Speaking for myself, once I put up better boundaries – and stuck with them – things shifted. It’s still strained and not the way I wish the relationship would be. But it’s a cleaner and safer relationship, and that’s progress. This allows me to do my own internal healing from afar, without having the old wounds and buttons poked.
So how do we heal these wounds? There are hundreds of books and blog posts on this topic, written by others who are so much more knowledgeable than I. But I’ll share what I’ve done through the years to help me.
The biggest shift came when I decided to keep the relationship at a high-level overview of my life. I don’t share the deeply personal details, the ones that could be weaponized down the road. They don’t get the intimacies of my life any longer. During our conversations now, I ask questions about their life (of which I am honestly interested) and try to be supportive in whatever way I can be. But when it comes to what I share, that’s on a need-to-know basis, and usually the security clearance just isn’t there.
We also don’t get into politics anymore. For those who know me, I love talking politics and learning about the ins and outs of the US government. I’m also extremely passionate about righting the wrongs of society. But because ¾ of my parents have dramatically different political opinions than I do, I’ve discovered through the years that I unfortunately shouldn’t have those types of discussions with them. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn – and it could be said that I haven’t quite figured it out yet. Save yourself the heartache and frustration and don’t go there with your family unless you know there won’t be negative repercussions afterward.
Talking it out might help. Truth be told, this hasn’t really worked for me, but I’m sure there are others who’ve had great success in mending the parent/child relationships through nonviolent communication. When it comes to my partner or my kids, talking it out is the first action that happens after a disagreement. Not so much with me and my parents. If compassionate communication hasn’t been a part of your family dynamic, it might be met with resistance. A phrase I learned years ago is to just work on keeping your side of the fence clean. Then, when a big bag of dog crap is tossed your way, you know that it doesn’t belong to you.
Another safeguard is keeping folks at a distance when it’s not safe to let them in. This might mean maybe you don’t see them as often, maybe you don’t call as much, or whatever feels best for you. In a perfect world, this wouldn’t be necessary and we’d all be sitting around the campfire, arm in arm, singing songs of love. But if you need to back away for a bit to keep your sanity, just know it’s okay to do that.
Finally, when things get rough, I remind myself that we’re all the walking wounded. My parents went through physical, mental, and emotional abuse from their parents. They’ve come a long way from what they endured, and I am forever grateful they’ve done the work that they have. And, as a parent myself, I vow to continue this line of undoing the wrongs of my ancestors.
As we navigate our families and their strange and possibly strained dynamics, know that I see you and I feel your discomfort and pain. And I’m here for you if you need someone to talk to.