As my son turns 18 and takes his first steps into adulthood, I find myself constantly going back to the memories of all the beautiful moments spent with him. His birth, smile, first steps, broken teeth, holding me tight as I rocked him to sleep, stories and songs he wanted me to repeat non-stop, watching lionking 100+ times, becoming a teenager, his hugs….. it’s overwhelming.
The thought of him leaving to go to college and not seeing him every day breaks my heart more than I will admit to him. It is the circle of life, and it cannot be avoided. But as I think about making sure he has everything he needs for college, I realise that more than the material things, I want him to know how loved he is and what he means to us.
I work with many teenagers and young men and women in their twenties who have a difficult relationship with their parents. Hearing their stories makes me realise that there is a gap in the way they communicate with each other. So today, I write this as a parent first and then as a mental health coach.
Parents are people too. They are not superhuman, and they do not have all the answers. They are trying their best to give their children everything they possibly can but sometimes they say things that can hurt their kids. I have rarely come across parents who want to hurt their kids intentionally. In fact, most parents are shocked when their kids tell them they feel unloved.
From my personal experience, there are several stories I have discussed with my mother, and she is genuinely shocked at my account of them. That is not how she remembers that particular event, and the fact that I felt hurt through an action of hers brings tears to her eyes even 30-40 years later.
As a coach, I have heard several teenagers describe their parents as difficult, unloving, selfish, uninterested in their kids’ wellbeing, harsh etc. While some of those things may be true, they are not all true. Sometimes parents do not understand the impact of their behaviour (which may be due to other stress factors such as finances, their own childhood traumas, their failures etc.) on their children.
So here is what I have learned through my personal and professional experience:
1. Communicate openly: Talk about your feelings in a non-confrontational way and do not unnecessarily hold on to pain and misunderstandings. If you can do that, two very specific things will take place: a) You will earn how to express your feelings in a healthy manner, and b) You will avoid misunderstanding the other person by hearing their side of the story.
2. The part you play: You are not a victim, and your parents are not trying to hurt you. Whilst you may not have understood the difference between discipline and lack of love as a child, if you are an adult now, you should. We all react negatively when faced with fear. A perfect example of that is when we are harsh with our children or punish them when they do something that could hurt them. We do this not because we want to punish or hurt them but because we need to discipline them. In that moment of fear for their safety, health or future, we can react in the opposite way and instead of holding on to our children, we may be harsh and unintentionally push them away by punishing them. I don’t expect children to understand this, but as adults, you need to stop blaming your parents and see the part you played in that scenario: like when you were reckless, when you refused to study, when you did not care about your health or your future and many other times you just refused to take responsibility for your actions.
3. Forgiveness: As I said in my previous blog, you cannot live with joy and pain at the same time. If you love your parents and want a relationship with them, choose to forgive them rather than hold on to the pain you ‘THINK’ they have caused you. Choose communication over misunderstanding, choose love over grudges and choose joy over pain.
It is not possible for a child to understand what their parents go through to raise them until they become a parent themselves. Whilst I am not saying that parents have never hurt their children emotionally, what I am saying is many times that hurt may be unintentional and can be cleared up by both parties talking to each other in an open, honest and respectful way.
So as my child prepares to travel thousands of miles away to start the next phase of his life, I hope he knows that no language in the world has the appropriate words to fully describe my love for him. I hope he knows that no matter where he is in the world and how old he is, he will always be my baby. Finally, I hope he knows of the many wonderful ways he changed my life.
If you are a child, know that many times your parents may not be able to express their love for you but that does not mean they do not love you. If you are a parent, know that if your child is not communicating with you, you need to try harder to get through to them because they need your love no matter what they are saying.
I will never tire of telling both my children how much I love them even if they may be tired of hearing it because in the end that is all we remember: how much someone loved us!
Until next time,
Kanchan ‘loving and sometimes annoying mom’ Kulkarni