Growing Up Means Realizing Your Parents Are Flawed

When working with people to help them let go of childhood issues, it is common to get new insight that changes the way we see our parents. We have to incorporate this new information in order to move forward. When that proves challenging, it can be a stumbling block to successful change.

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The Normal Process of Maturation

Children often have an idealized version of their parents. Fairy tales tell us that Daddy keeps us safe and provides for us. Mommy loves and nurtures us. In fact, this is so ingrained that fairy tales paint the "bad" parent as the step-mother because having a "bad" mother is simply too threatening.

Consequently, we may feel that our parents are perfect and the best people in the world. 

When we begin to see evidence that they are flawed, we have to figure out how to deal with this new information. If it's safe to have imperfect parents, we adapt. We learn that it's okay to be human and to love those who aren't perfect.

If it's not safe to have imperfect parents, we cope. Here's what that can look like.

Idolizing the Neglectful Parent

Dad is an alcoholic. When he's drunk, he is loud, threatening, and violent. It's easy to hate him and see him as the cause of all your problems.

Mom is the quiet, long suffering one who does what she can to create peace. It's easy to form an alliance with her and feel that she understands because you may perceive her as dad's victim too.

However, mom's role is to protect you. Her inability to stand up for you and create healthy boundaries makes you the victim of her short-comings as well as dad's. She may not be directly abusive, but neglect is a form of abuse, too!

Idolizing the Critical Parent

A critical parent may make us feel wrong, bad, or guilty about our very existence. If Dad says we aren't getting good enough grades because we aren't applying ourselves, we study harder. 

When we cry and say we're afraid of the dark, he may say we are too big for such things. We feel weak so we learn not to show our feelings. 

If we are on a road trip and say we are hungry or have to use the bathroom, he let's us know how much we are inconveniencing him by making him stop. So, we learn how to be perfect so he isn't uncomfortable.

If you complain about having to take piano lessons, Dad may make you feel guilty for abusing your privilege. Consequently, you feel ungrateful and ashamed.

You sing your Dad's praises to anyone who listens and think that he pushed you to make you better. And when confronted with evidence that Dad was harsh and invalidating, it could be hard to accept because that would take away the fantasy of the perfect childhood. 

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Rejecting the Stable Parent

If you grew up feeling like you were put in the middle of two separated, high conflict parents, you may have felt like you had to take sides. It may be easier to side with the one who gave you conditional love and did things to win your approval.

If the other parent enforced rules and gave you limitations, you may have bought into the manipulation and saw the stable parent as the "bad guy." Now, seeing things more clearly may make it hard to bridge the gap and have a healthy relationship with either one of them.

What Now?

What if this is you? What now?

Accept that nobody is perfect. You aren't either. Realizing we're all flawed can help you to have more realistic expectations. Your parents aren't likely to change at this point.
Practice forgiveness. If you need to forgive your parents for not being what you needed them to be, do that. It won't change the past, but it will allow you to move forward with less baggage.
If your parents were so neglectful or abusive that you didn't learn healthy coping skills or emotional intelligence, learn it now. It's not too late to break the cycle.
Honor your mother and father anyway. This doesn't mean you have to have a relationship with them if the relationship is toxic. It just means that you don't let their behavior as parents ruin your vision of parenthood altogether or give you an excuse to stoop to their level.
If the relationship was toxic, it's okay to leave. The first essential element of life is to survive. If having a relationship with your parents (or anyone else) threatens your physical or emotional survival, choose you.

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