The Parent You Wanted vs. The Parent You Have

A recent conversation with someone reminded me how many people struggle to have an authentic relationship with their parent or parents. Do you have the parent you wanted? or Do you have expectations that were never fulfilled? It seems that hurt feelings and heat of the moment rants can carry forward and in this case is placing a burden on everyone who is close to the situation.

As I progressed through our talk I remembered my own struggle to let go of the parent I wanted and see that parent I had. It was a road traveled with the help of a good therapist early in my adult life; after I had left home. I was out there beginning a new chapter but what I was reading was the same book I had read a thousand times over. I felt cheated, I did not want a relationship with my parent and I carried a lot of anger.

I wore the memories like a badge depicting survival. I cried out the questions that started with “Why?” or “Why not?” I combed through every piece of evidence that my parent wasn’t right until I exhausted myself. I gained small victories in the beginning just by voicing my feelings but over time I came to realize the depth of my pain and anguish was harming me. I was leaving the door open for more of the same to come my way and I was just plain tired.

There came a point when words of wisdom were imparted that allowed me to see another side. I could spend my life pining for the parent I wanted growing up or I could let go, forgive and see the parent that stands before me now. From that point onward I made a concerted effort to recognize the person behind that “parent” title and practice forgiveness and compassion. I came to see that my parents did the best they could…they really did. Each came with a set of upbringing and circumstances of their own that they needed to navigate and as such we were all growing up together.

The questions became “How long am I willing to carry all of this?”“Do I really want to spend my life looking backwards rehashing where I came from instead of where I’m going?”— “Is there anything that my parent could say that would erase it all?”— The answers came back NO, NO and NO, I’m not willing to carry this all of my life! In that moment I was freer than I had ever been. I saw my parent in a whole new light. I began a relationship that lasts to this day with an understanding this person grew and so did I.

We don’t get to pick our parents and we all have an image of what we believe they should be. Relationships in general  are like that… full of unrealized dreams and wonderful surprises. We have a choice to forgive, we have an opportunity to learn and we have chance to move forward. We can see them as works in progress and grant them ability to live their life accordingly. We can set boundaries and recognize our own triggers and we can choose to engage or walk away. We can set aside the preconceived notion that they could have been anything than what they were/are.

At some point, most parents deserve a pass. Only those that have been severely neglectful may not receive that courtesy. I believe it is important to talk to someone outside the family to gain clarity on your feelings and then I think there comes a time when one needs trust their own judgement.

The truest of connections can only come through invitation and what I discovered was the invite didn’t need to be extended to the other person but more importantly to myself.

“I invite you to be free and to know that you make the call as to whether this hurt will continue to travel down your life path. I invite you to note that your parent is as flawed as you are. I invite you to accept that your parent is having experiences that are just as meaningful to their evolution as yours are to you.  I invite you to be at peace.”


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