Childhood, reparenting, difficult conversations
I was 26 years old when I had my first big argument with my father.
“You are making a big mistake in life, mark my words,” he told me in the heat of an argument about the right age for marriage.
My independent, adult life had just begun. I wanted to explore things beyond having a well-settled job.
But, for my parents, a well-settled job was simply one milestone to get to the other milestone called marriage. I had told them I was not in a hurry to get married and did not believe in checking off a list of items as expected by society to lead my life.
Though I could express this in front of them, I broke down when I returned to bed.
That was one of many instances. I had similar heated discussions over the past 5 years regarding my choices around my career and my decision to not get married.
All of these discussions end up with me curling up on the bed, feeling drained, and having a secret breakdown.
Only one thought used to torment me. The people who love me the most and who I love the most do not get me at all.
In these situations, I become the kid who was scared to cry in front of his father who’d say it was a sign of weakness and I wouldn’t be able to face the world. Sometimes I become the kid who was scared to be angry in front of his mother as she felt disappointed that I was becoming like my father.
I feel this lack of healthy emotional expression has led to feelings of learned helplessness in such situations where I cannot regulate my emotions while dealing with my parents. I think they won’t understand me at all, just like they never understood my emotions when I was a kid.
However, I have begun to realize that they no longer need to do so.
They did their best. They did not know the importance of emotional expression themselves. They must have had their traumas which perhaps they are not even aware of. I can be cognizant of this fact and see them as flawed human beings rather than putting them on the parent pedestal or expecting them to understand everything.
It is unreasonable for me to expect them to validate my choices and emotions. I have to do it myself. This is what is called reparenting.
In the book, Parent Yourself Again, Yong Kang Chan writes,
“The relationship between your inner child and your inner parent resembles your childhood relationship with your parents…….You have to figure out the specific needs of your inner child on your own and customize your parenting style accordingly.”
I have begun to learn about parenting myself by regularly connecting with my inner child, i.e., getting in touch with my emotions and feelings- that were once suppressed. It took a couple of years in therapy to discover the importance of emotional validation and safety, both as a kid and an adult.
I also learned the importance of recognizing my triggers and acknowledging my emotions, just as I’d have wanted my parents to do when I was a kid. I realized I have to learn to stop overidentifying myself as the kid of my parents and become a real ‘responsible’ adult.
Yong Kang Chan explains this overidentification with the roles as the central theme of the parent-child dynamic,
“Most parents can’t quit their role as parents……We are overly identified as their children, and they are overly identified as our parents....The power imbalance you experience externally with your parents is also inside of you.”
This overidentification leads to suffering for both of them.
Parents suffer due to attachment to their role of taking care of the kids even after they turn into adults. It often happens at the expense of their own life, disguised as a selfless sacrifice.
“We have done everything for you, we only want to see you happy,” is a common occurrence by my parents. I am truly grateful for the sentiment but nothing would make me happier than seeing my parents focus on themselves for once. I wish they could realize that beyond a certain age, it is safe for them, even healthy, to let go and stop/minimize worrying about the lives of their adult kids.
On the other hand, I suffer due to the lack of emotional regulation capacity which I tend to blame on my parents. As a result, oftentimes, I become the kid who cannot act like a responsible adult, when it comes to communication with parents or taking care of himself.
It needs to start with me, just like it did for Yong Kang Chan who reflects on his journey with his parents,
“When I became a “real” adult and stopped seeking approval from my parents, I let go of my unrealistic expectations of what they could do for me…. When I accepted that my parents were unable to approve of my career choice, my relationship with them became harmonious. Previously, when I resisted their non-acceptance, I created my own suffering.”
So, I am learning to be the parent I needed when I was a kid. I am finding ways to validate my emotions and feel safe to become a “real” adult. I am learning to stay centered and calm in my conversations with my parents so I can be mature instead of feeling like a helpless kid all over again.
I am spending time at home these days and anticipating another round of similar conversations very soon.
Hopefully, this time I can have healthy conversations with them rooted in mindfulness, awareness, and compassion for them and myself.
Have you ever struggled in the same way?
How do you have difficult conversations with your parents?
Send your suggestions, advice, or prayers this way!! 😀
Until next time,