Often we come across posts by other people exclaiming “My dad/mum is my best friend and angel who I can totally trust and confide in!”
However, not all of us are so lucky to have a close relationship with either or both parents.
Some of us have estranged and disappointing relationships – a father who never really fulfilled their responsibility; a dad who constantly put us down; a mum who only speaks to you when she had something nasty to say about you; a parent who spent more time and attention with their lovers than us… the possibilities are endless.
Whether the harm inflicted upon you is emotional or physical, it always takes a long time to heal. Parents are our first friends in life after all.
Furthermore, since birth, as a child, you are psychologically conditioned to want to be close to your parents and win their approval. It is an instinct we are all born with for successful physical, social and emotional development. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Adolescence has shown that poor quality of parent and child relationships in adolescence is often associated with poor adult psychosocial adjustment.
Dealing with such a relationship can be emotionally painful and difficult. This is especially so in Asian cultures where parents are always seen as always right, always knowing the best and totally perfect. In such a situation when a child expresses his disappointment with his parents, he is often judged as unfilial.
However, the truth is parents are merely human beings – flawed in many ways. Some of them are just incapable of giving and will never be.
Here are some suggestions I have on how you can deal with an estranged relationship with your parents
1. Stop blaming yourself and resenting your parents
The first thing you have to do is to stop blaming yourself. It is not your fault this happened to you. You were just a kid. Don’t blame yourself for what your mother or father did or didn’t do.
Besides self-pity, another common emotion felt in such a scenario would be anger and resentment.
The truth is no one is entitled to good parents. Yes, it is something that many people have but it doesn’t mean that everyone should have one. In other words, it is a privilege and not a right.
Don’t fall for the propaganda perpetuated by the rest of the world about how every child deserves a wonderful parent. The world isn’t a fairytale. Take it as winning a lucky draw, others have things that you don’t. Similarly, you also have things that others don’t.
Resenting your parent ultimately only hurts you. So, learn to let it go.
If they live with you and continue to do things that hurt you every day, distance yourself from them. Try to get financially stable so that you can get a place of your own. Living with her is a daily, even hourly, reminder of all that you missed. It’s not healthy for either of you.
In the meantime, be polite and appreciative for what your father or mother can give you (a roof over your head and paying for your school fees is better than nothing).
Stop shaming her and disappointing yourself with requests and demands for an emotional involvement she can’t provide. You’ll both be happier. Which brings me to my second point…
2. Stop relying on them for your emotional needs
Just like you don’t go to a dry well for a drink, you shouldn’t rely on a parent incapable of love and affection for emotional fulfillment.
Many children in such situations believe that if they could change themselves or figure out what were the right steps to take, their parents will automatically love them. Ultimately, they are in denial and refuse to accept that the father or mother who they depend on really isn’t interested. These children hold on to the hope and keep going back and going back and going back to their parent, hoping that this time it will be different. However, it always ends in hurt an disappointment.
Learn to rely on other things in life for emotional fulfillment and love. There are so many things out there besides family. There are friends or even material things. Many people think that relying on material things for happiness isn’t good as they are temporal. However, based on experience, I know that human beings are much more inconsistent.
3. Check your expectations
Sometimes it is worth evaluating yourself. Are your expectations too high?
In Singapore’s context, our grandparents always ask if we have eaten because they are born in a time where food is scarce. Our parent’s generation has a huge focus on prosperity and education because that was the focus of our country when they were growing up.
Our generation is preoccupied with deeper things and self-actualization because that was the focus of the developed country we grew up in. Different generations perceive the world differently.
It is really stupid when some people have unrealistic expectations that their parents must be intellectually curious or good conversationalists. Like cooking for you, fetching you everywhere like a little emperor isn’t enough. Not everyone can carry an emotionally deep or intellectual conversation with you or values things like that.
4. Check yourself to see if you’ve picked up destructive habits and attitudes
Another way you can evaluate yourself is to really think about some of the bad behaviors you may have learned from your parents.
Home dynamics establish a baseline for kids, defining what is normal.
Lots of fighting? That becomes normal.
Shifting out of the house whenever there is a fight? That becomes normal.
Arguments that are abusive (physically or emotionally)? Also normal.
Passive aggressive behaviour to manipulate people? Also normal.
As a result, people who experienced rocky relationships with their parents had more romantic problems later in life. This is proven by researchers from the University of Alberta found that low-quality parent–adolescent relationship is associated with reduced success in an intimate relationship.
In contrast, those whose parental relationships fostered high self-esteem had more successful romantic relationships as well.
What should one do then? Researchers advise that it’s important for people to identify past negative behavior patterns and avoid replicating them in their current and future relationships.
It can take a lot of time and effort to identify and change such destructive behaviors because it is always hard to unlearn something you grew up with. I would advise speaking to good adults and also reading as much as you can about psychology and parenting.
Many people think that theories by social scientists are not good advice because they are not practical. However I see things this way – if you build a rocket by science, it will work. If you build a tall building based on science, it will work too. Similarly if you approach human beings based on what you’ve learnt from scientific literature, this is bound to work as well.
5. Build your own community and support network
One of the most damaging ideas we give each other in society is that DNA family are the deepest type of bonds. The truth is it is always better to teach each other to love those who love us back.
Your “family” is only as small as you make it. You need to look for older friends who can give you the support, advice, and even love, that your mother or father isn’t able to give you. Learn to be flexible and expand your notion of family so you can bring more people into the embrace of your own family. This community can come from church, high school friends, clubs/hobby groups etc.
If you really want a happy family, instead of working on the existing one and being hurt over and over again, you can look forward to creating a beautiful family of your own. Work hard, earn money, look for the right person who grew up in a healthy and secure home and start your own family some day. Be sure never to repeat the same mistakes as your own parent did.
I hope this post made you feel less alone and to view things from a different perspective. The bottom line is this: A negative relationship with your parents will only come to define you if you let it. It is difficult but don’t let the past determine your present, and your future.
As mature adults, we have control over how we want to react and perceive things. This gives us the power to set the course of our lives.