By Sheri McGregor
A father recently wrote to me about an article he’d seen at AARP. Here’s a link to it: “Avoid Mistakes That Could Make Your Kids Hate You.”
Are parents’ mistakes, worthy of hate?
Parents’ mistakes? Let’s turn that around.
Thousands of parents blamed by adult children for all their problems write to me. Among those, many have been called upon in drastic situations. A son or daughter makes a mess of things repeatedly and needs money or other help. The parent may help … and then try to tell the adult something to the effect of, “Look, you’ve got to wise up. . . .” In other words, the parents give advice.
As time goes on, the parent may see the adult son or daughter not learning anything from their mistakes, maybe not even trying to learn. Parents can begin to feel used. They may tell the “child” that the Bank of Mom & Dad is closing. Parents have their own bills or may be living on a fixed income or have a nest egg that needs to last their remaining years. It is often at that point that the child cuts them off.
Which makes me think of the abuse that sometimes happens. Parents can be isolated. A parent may not be physically well, is disabled, or perhaps a widow or widower. The isolation makes them vulnerable to a son or daughter who knows what buttons to push. I have heard from many parents who say that they put up with abuse, financial, verbal, or even physical, because their child is their only family left in the world.
Parents blamed by adult children
I hear from people almost daily who say, “My grown daughter blames me for everything wrong in her life.” Or, “My adult son says I caused all of his problems.” These children are often in their 30s or 40s or beyond, and remember with detail every “wrong” the parent has ever done. Sometimes the memories are completely different than that of the parent or even siblings and other family members. And many times, the “wrongs” are miniscule.
Twice in the last week, mothers shared that their daughters say all their issues derive from the fact they weren’t breastfed. One of these two moms was a single parent. It was a different world back then. Working mothers were not provided with understanding and a place to pump breast milk (as is the norm now). The other mom was encouraged to bottle feed by her doctor, as were many mothers in the 1960s. Yes. I said 1960s. . . . The daughter doing the blaming is 54. Maybe it’s time she did a little self-reflection rather than blaming the mother who worked two jobs to care for her.
Parents blamed by adult children, recognize the good you did.
It’s wise to recognize our own mistakes as parents, but it’s also wise for adult “children” to consider a parent’s point of view. One of my sons recently traveled to a very cold climate. Before he left, I said, “Do you have a warm enough jacket?” He made a funny face, and then we both laughed like crazy! It was funny, and I added, “I guess you’re old enough to figure that one out.” It’s a mom thing, but is it reason to abandon me. No. How about hate me? No. And he knows that (thank goodness).
The father who wrote to me about the AARP article said that one of the reasons he was successful in his overall life was that he had learned to recognize problems quickly and work to fix them before they were upon him. When he sees his young adult daughter ignoring problems until she’s forced to deal with them, it causes him stress. His words, “The anxiety kills me.” So, he tries to offer her advice. She resents that advice. But is that reason to hate him or cut him off?
How about a rule?
The article mentions a parent forwarding emails, and not understanding that the son or daughter is already inundated. I know that feeling. A much older relative often sent me a batch of forwards daily. This individual wasn’t computer savvy, didn’t type well, and worried about his privacy on the internet, so I never received a regular note. Was it a reason to hate? No.
No, no, no. It was an opportunity for me to be understanding. And creative.
Perhaps an adult son or daughter can create a “rule” in their email account. That way all the forwarded emails go to a certain box, don’t clog the general folder, and everyone is happy. A considerate son or daughter who recognizes their parents’ motivation to communicate and stay in touch (which is what is behind the forwarded emails) might do well to check the special folder now and again and make a comment in reply. What does it hurt to let parents know they’re appreciated for their good intentions? Beats hating.
Okay to hate?
This is getting long, so let me close with what I see as the main problem with the article this father shared: It covertly makes the point that it is okay to hate your parents. From the title (“Avoid Mistakes That Could Make Your Kids Hate You”) on, the warning is that if parents make these mistakes, their children will hate them. HATE them. I see far too much of this in our society these days. Kind, caring parents who aren’t all that horrible yet are considered “toxic,” and worthy of hate.
Lift the veil. See the good you did.
To the father who wrote to me, I want to offer my empathy. When one of my five grown children became estranged, I mined every memory with a fine-toothed comb, wondering what I did wrong. Parents are very good at taking on the perspective of their adult child(ren), which has been demonstrated in research related to estrangement. The same research, however, shows that the children who reject parents are not.
In time, I hope all of the caring parents who are nevertheless rejected by adult children will not only see their own mistakes and even magnify them, but also recognize all the good they did.
When you can look past the veil of estrangement that clouds your memories and steers you toward any mistakes, you might even realize that the good you did as a parent far outweighs the bad. There’s an exercise in Done With The Crying that can help.
Hugs to all the hurting parents,
Abusive adult children affect parents’ self-image
Beyond the shadow of estrangement
Freedom for a new era (parents rejected by adult children)
Estranged adult children: Why do they make contact now?