When children grow up, get married and have children of their own, most people think they are done with parenting, right?? Apparently not! Listening to some experiences shared by parents of adult, middle aged children, one realises that parenting is a lifelong journey and one can face hurdles at any stage. Sometimes we encounter parents who are senior citizens sharing their pain about the anger and resentment being expressed by their children- all in their thirties or forties. These parents of adult children are often taken aback and even shocked by what they hear, coming as it does at a stage in their lives when they themselves are feeling quite emotionally fragile and their dependence on their children is increasing.
As parents, we all do the best we can with the knowledge available to us. Every parent is devoted to their child's wellbeing and having spent a lifetime doing whatever they could for their children such revelations can be extremely hard to hear.
“You never loved me. You loved my brother more”
“I didn't feel important. Your career was more important.”
“You always made me feel I was not good enough”
‘You never had time for me.”
What does a parent do at this stage when they hear such allegations from their children? Yet, can we discount the child's experiences? What they feel is real for them. They are simply expressing their pain at how they perceived things when they were growing up. And can we deny their experience? Can we parents claim to have truly loved each child in equal measure? Can we say with certainty that we were always there for our children? Can we be sure that the decisions we took really benefited the child? It's scary to realise what an important part we play in our children's lives. Each look and each action of ours holds so much meaning for them.
So, what can we do now, is the question the parents ask? While it may feel hopeless there is another perspective to this situation. They are lucky that their children are still longing for that connection and hence reaching out to them. In fact, they are fortunate that they have a close enough relationship that their children are feeling free to express themselves (There are so many others who never will) The relationship between parents and children goes through ups and downs. Healing and connection can happen at any stage. Parents have within them the power to heal their children's wounds even though they may find it hard to completely understand what their children are feeling.
Most often our egos come in the way of us acknowledging that we may have erred in our actions. We get defensive. We say, “After all that I have done for you how can you say this.?” If the parent can look beyond the blame and accusation and see what the child is longing for - it’s never too late to meet that need.
Some ideas for bridging the gap:
Just listen: A participant once shared with us a conversation she had with her parents. She said, “I actually felt so bad about bringing up the past. One part of me said I should let bygones be bygones. Yet all those feelings were coming in the way of our relationship today, so I took the plunge. It made me sad to see their hurt and bewilderment. But then when they heard me out without getting defensive, it was a great healing. Sometimes all you want is for those feelings to be acknowledged. Nothing more. I can see the difference in our relationship now.”
Apologise: Most often parents want to justify and tell their side of the story. Since hurt has been caused by them, though unintended, it always helps to say, “I am so sorry to hear that you felt that way. I had no idea. I would never have wanted to hurt you. I am sorry you went through all this.”
Share your backstory later: One is not suggesting that the parent bury their own feelings and accept responsibility for everything. It's important that they too share what they were experiencing at that point in their life. And why they took certain actions. After patiently listening and hearing out your child's feelings, you can choose a time when he is receptive and say, “Would you like to hear a little about my backstory.” A participant shared, “When my parents told me about the stress that they were going through at that point of time, I understood better. It also helped to know more about their upbringing.”
Find ways to make amends: If a child feels that you didn't have time for them, or they didn't feel valued, you can change that now. Many find it a healing process in having their parents help and care for their own children. Watching their children receive love and attention is a way of receiving what they may not have got as a child. Even at this stage, parents can show interest and pride in what their children are. It’s never late to give your child the approval or appreciation he is seeking.
However old we grow, it's interesting how much parents and children long for that deepest connection at all stages of their lives. And having that connection makes us whole!
Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.