You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker that says, “Insanity is hereditary—you get it from your kids.” Very funny, you think, but sometimes it’s the other way around. Sometimes it seems like parents can drive you nuts as easily as they can drive you to the mall.
But parents also happen to be very important people in your life. The better you understand them, the better your relationship with them will be. And the happier you will be.
Here are a few generalities about parents. Maybe they won’t all apply to your parents, but chances are many of them will.
Most parents don’t want perfect children. Well, actually, parents don’t expect perfect children, because they still aren’t perfect themselves.
“If my parents don’t expect a perfect kid,” you ask, “why are they always on my case? I’m doing a lot better than some kids I know.” Here are a few answers:
Parents sometimes see you as a mirror of themselves. Says one father, “I’m almost terrified when I see one of my own weaknesses in my children. I struggled with procrastination most of my life. I’m doing much better now, but it robbed me of some successes. When I see one of my kids procrastinating, I sometimes overreact. I just wish I knew how to help without nagging and getting angry.”
Your parents often see your strengths and talents better than you do. Chances are, you have positive qualities they wish they had. When you don’t seem to be living up to your potential, parents become frustrated. That’s why they sometimes hound you to take lessons, go out for a team, run for school office, or take tougher classes.
At some time or other, your parents, or people they know, have made mistakes that have caused them unhappiness. Naturally they want you to avoid those mistakes. Trouble is, it’s easy for parents to be so watchful and so concerned that they give you warnings you think are unnecessary. Then you feel nagged or mistrusted.
A mother said, “I don’t really expect my kids to be perfect. I just want them to be perfectly happy by doing the right things. But sometimes I seem to make them unhappy by nagging them to do things that will make them happy.”
Inside of most parents is a teenager. And that teenager is wondering, “Where am I? Where’s my hair? What happened to my figure?”
Seriously, most adults will tell you that the person on the inside is much younger than the person on the outside. It’s the young person inside who’s responsible for the occasional silly behavior at parties, on Halloween, etc. that you find so embarrassing.
Besides feeling young, you and your parents have certain other feelings in common. You know how you can make yourself feel like a worm by comparing yourself to someone you consider smarter or better looking or more popular? Well, parents often do the same thing. They tend to compare themselves to the “ideal parent,” an imaginary Cliff or Claire Huxtable. For example, they see other families who appear to hold perfect home evenings every week, while maybe your folks feel lucky if they can get everybody together for 15 minutes without a major fight breaking out. Talk about feeling inadequate! (And it doesn’t help a lot when you compare them unfavorably to other kids’ parents.)
All parents want to be “good” parents. And when they lose their temper or make a bad decision—or when you do something contrary to what you’ve been taught—they can feel like total failures. It may not be a realistic attitude, but it’s there.
Most parents are guilty of hiding their feelings. “Hiding their feelings?” you ask in amazement. “You call yelling at me hiding their feelings?” Yes, because it’s often the positive feelings that unintentionally get hidden.
We asked parents of teens: “Are there things about your children that you admire?” We were pretty sure the answer would be yes. What amazed us was how quickly every parent said “YES!”
Our next question was, “Do you tell them?” And that’s when we saw the guilty looks. One father said, “I really try to compliment my children, but I’m afraid that most of my compliments are followed by “but … But you could have done this a little better. But next time, why don’t you … ?”
So, in addition to not saying “I love you” enough, many parents admit they are guilty of not praising often enough.
You can understand how this happens by asking yourself if you focus enough on their good points. Are there qualities in your parents that you admire, things you would like to emulate? Have you told them? Do you express appreciation for all of the good things they do routinely? Or do you spend more time wishing your parents were more this or that? More like so-and-so’s parents when it comes to such-and-such. It’s an easy trap to fall into.
Parents don’t know everything. See? Just what you’ve been saying all along. And it’s true. Parents don’t always know why they relate to you the way they do. And they don’t always know what’s going on inside you.
Perhaps when they really think about it, your parents probably do know why they relate to you in certain ways. But all of us—including you—get into habits in our relationships. We treat people in certain ways without even thinking about it. For example, perhaps you were immature or untrustworthy at one time. Now you have truly changed, but your parents continue to treat you the same way out of habit. Don’t give up. Parents can learn to think in new ways. The most effective technique is communication. Talking honestly and openly to them can get them thinking along new lines. You may have to try it several times, but it’s worth it.
One thing parents don’t know is your innermost feelings, fears, and hopes, unless you share them. If you do, it really increases your parents’ ability to help and support you. When you are open with them, they tend to trust you more, too.
There are lots of other truths about parents. It’s worthwhile to discover as many as you can on your own. But don’t worry; when your turn as a parent comes around, you’ll learn the ones you missed earlier. In the meantime, be as patient with your parents as you want them to be with you. They are definitely worth the effort.
Want to Build a Better Relationship?
Here are a few things you can do:
We said it before, we’ll say it again—talk. Help your parents understand you and where you are coming from, how you feel about your relationship, how you react to their concerns, etc. It can do a lot to open the channel of communication in the other direction. It takes effort, but it pays big dividends.
Pray for your parents—really pray for them—not just your routine “bless Mom and Dad” phrase. Pray about your relationship. Ask the Lord to bless them in their responsibilities as parents, in their careers, and in all of the other important parts of their lives. You can bet they pray for your success and happiness, not just that you will be healthy and good.
Speaking of your parents’ lives, stop and take a closer look at them once in a while. What demands do they have on their time and energy and emotions? Is your dad worried about his parents’ health? Is your mom trying to help her sister through a difficult time? Are family finances challenging? Once you learn to see your parents as more than just your parents, once you begin to see them as complex people with many important roles and with many concerns, you’re on the way to real understanding. And you’ll be amazed that with all they have to do and be concerned about, you are the focus of so much of their time, prayer, concern, and love.