The Importance of Seeing our Parents as People

Remove the metaphorical cape, and let them be human.

Photo by Kamila Maciejewska on Unsplash

I don’t know what it’s like trying to balance parenting with work, stress and other relationships. I’ve never experienced being a parent in pain, who has to smile for the kids. I have been the kid, however, who wonders why mommy is sad or takes it personally when Daddy is in a bad mood. We likely all have been, because it’s something kids don’t always understand.

I’ve been that teenager who holds resentment over perceived parental shortcomings — and is mouthy, standoffish and dismissive as a result. I know what it’s like to become an adult, feel no empathy and show no mercy as it relates to the personal failings of my mother and father. Because, I thought of it from the perspective of how I was affected. This made it inexcusable.

On some level, being damaged by those who are supposed to protect us is unjustifiable. Many of us feel like we didn’t stand a chance in some areas, and that’s not fair. Then, when we consider what we’ve endured, who we could have become and what we could have done had it not been for this under-nurtured or abused aspect of our development, it’s easy to hold our parents accountable and be upset — possibly even warranted.

What we don’t consider is how small we’ve made the margin for error and the unattainable standards we may have set. We don’t grow up seeing our parents as people. They’re not Bob and Joann, they’re mommy and daddy. We think they breathe to serve us as though we are the only thing of significance in their lives. This is why we can’t comprehend why they aren’t showing us any attention or don’t feel like playing. Children operate off of the id, which is based on the pleasure principle — the idea that every wishful impulse should be satisfied immediately. Through our lenses, parents have one job. Us.

We never really learn our parents as people who hurt, have fears, desires, and areas of interest completely unrelated to the role that they play in our lives. Without learning there is no understanding. Sometimes our parents are struggling just to survive. They have their own vices and demons. We don’t know this because we don’t know them.

Our parents have personalities that we don’t often see because they brand themselves as mommy or daddy in our eyes. They behave in front of us the way that they wish to be perceived, as someone good, our provider and comforter. They shield us from moments of weakness and usually want to be our real-life superhero. It would kill them if the mask went away and we realized that they are deeply flawed. So, the sides of them to which we are exposed can be limited.

Parents rarely discuss with us their poor decisions or the unflattering behavior they’ve demonstrated. They aim to display a model example for us to follow, and of which to be proud. Sometimes for our protection, sometimes for theirs. Nonetheless, in a sense, we make them superhuman. This is why we’re shocked and in disbelief when we get older and learn of questionable deeds a parent has done. We don’t know the person who would do such things.

Perhaps, it would be more effective to set an example that is simply true. That’s tough to do, though. Parents know that no matter what else goes on in their lives, regardless of who out in the world believes they are useless, they can come home and look into the eyes of a little boy or girl who thinks they’re worth something. We all need that feeling. I really can’t blame anyone for not wanting to disturb such a sacred space. The irony is, the kid with the noticeably imperfect mother doesn’t love her any less than the one who loves a seemingly flawless mother.

When a parent inevitably falls from that pedestal or fails altogether to reach the apex that we’ve established, it can be difficult to recover. We don’t have anything else to hold on to. Being our mom or dad is the only point of reference we have for them. This brings me back to my mention of viewing a parent’s shortcomings from the perspective of how it affects us. When we only know them inside of this box, that is what happens. We don’t consider what they may have been going through that contributed to their falling.

A great deal of responsibility comes with being a parent and is not to be taken lightly. Children are defenseless. We depend on our parents to meet our needs and prepare us for future phases of life. We then become adults, look back and critique the job that they did. Some get better grades than others. Some offered lackluster effort, while others tried harder and did more. Every circumstance is different and some of us have been subjected to such horrific upbringings that we’ll likely never be able to separate the human from the parent. For the rest of us, it is possible and I can attest to the positive impact that it will have on that relationship.

The thing about the id is that it does not progress with time or experience. It remains selfish in nature and isn’t impacted by reality or logic because it operates within our unconscious mind. So, it’s still there. We just evolve to a point where we can override and not be controlled by it. It is the id that makes determinations about another person, parents included, solely from a self-serving vantage point. If we were to put it in check we’d recognize, although we may not have explicitly witnessed, that parents are people, who happen to have children.

Author of a critically-acclaimed book on women and dating. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1687069786

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