Dear Neil: My mother and I have never been close. I had to fend for myself as I was growing up and never got care and comfort from her on an emotional level. She has the beginning of dementia, as well as physical problems. She requires a lot of watching over and supervision, and I find myself putting more and more effort into her need for ever-increasing care. I can’t say “She took such good care of me when I was little that I can now repay her.” In fact, I greatly resent all that is required of me today. I can’t stand to be in her presence or speak with her on the phone. It’s all about her. It’s always been about her, and my hate for her is eating me up. Can you offer any advise?
Resentful in Boulder
Dear Resentful: There are several things you can do to make peace with your parents. Thoroughly explore the following questions, or ask your mother some of these questions if you can:
- What traumas did your mom and dad experience in their childhood?
- Was there sexual abuse, abandonment, betrayal, alcoholism or severe physical or emotional punishment in either of your parent’s childhoods?
- Did your mom and dad feel loved, valued and respected as children?
- How prepared were your parents to raise a family? Did they have good relationship skills? Did they know how to understand or resolve differences? Had they grown up themselves?
- What patterns from their childhoods did they repeat in parenting you?
- Ask your mother what she would have done differently as a mom if she had it to do all over again. What mistakes does she feel she made?
- Write down what you’d like to say to your parents about your childhood. Include in your writing the painful things that happened to you while growing up, the way you felt at those times, and how those experiences have impacted your self-esteem, your trust of others, your intimate relationships, your parenting skills and your life. Include the resentment you feel and why; what you’ve been wanting from them all these years; how well you feel your needs and emotions were tended to; whether you felt liked and loved and whether you were shamed or your self-esteem was attacked.
- What would you like your parents to say to you in response? Pretend for a moment that you are your mother/father. Write a letter to yourself—from them to you—and say what you would like for them to say to you.
We have the notion that our parents were born as adults. Frequently, people believe their parents were in charge of themselves when they had children, that they knew what they were doing, and that they acted the ways they did toward their children intentionally.
We don’t know it when we’re young, but our parent’s neglectfulness, abusiveness, lack of affection and love isn’t about us. It’s about them not knowing how to tend to their own wounded emotions, not knowing how to love and nurture effectively and their lack of effective skills and lack of self-esteem.
Letting go of the past and the resentment you feel for your parents is not primarily for them, but for you—for your moment-to-moment aliveness and for your ability to love and to be loved.