As we go through life, nearly all of us develop the habit of using external “stuff” to define ourselves (“stuff” being used as an exceedingly broad term). Whether as children, teens, middle-agers, or elders, practically all of us are guilty of this to some extent. In living this way, in believing that the things we associate ourselves with make us “who we are,” we tend to lose ourselves in dissatisfaction when our relationship with that “stuff” doesn’t pan out exactly as we’d like. More specifically for the sake of this writing, we believe that no matter how much suffering something may be causing, the more we attach to it, the more likely that it will eventually bring us fulfillment.
Under the general comments above fit a dizzying number of categories, each having a differing degree of relevancy to any individual’s life. One of these many categories, and the one I would like to discuss in this post, is that of certain relationships between parents and their children.
What I occasionally notice is that some parents overly enforce their perspective of life onto their children. They want their children to live how they themselves have lived, even if that life is not satisfying. (Not that they can necessarily do otherwise. If they were aware of a more fulfilling perspective, one that was already within them, they probably would not be acting as they are.) What occurs in such situations is that the parents, who unquestioningly and fearfully abide in their own unease, strive to make their children into a living affirmation of what they couldn’t heal in themselves. Said another way: Because the parents have a fear of validating their own perceptions, they raise their children to affirm for them that their own troubles are acceptable.
Thus, strain in the parent-child relationship is commonplace. The parents try to set the child’s life path by their own unsatisfactory views rather than by reality or the child’s own intentions. As a child tries to grow in his/her own direction, the parents may see the child’s behavior as “straying from affirmation” instead of the need to express a unique personality (or even being a mirror for the parents’ dysfunction). If this isn’t properly understood by the parents, then attachment becomes all the greater and struggle continues for both parents and children alike.
The following are a few examples:
Perhaps parents work excessively hard with the expectation that this will eventually bring satisfaction or the acceptance or appreciation of others. Although it never does (not for any worthwhile amount of time anyway), they attempt to impress this mentality upon their children by making them work hard in hopes of proving it.
Another is the kid who wants to go to college but the parents say no because they still have an ill-will against themselves for not going. Rather than the parents working out their own personal problems, they create all sorts of tension within the family (which extends out into the world). They try to “heal” the pain of regret by giving their child all sorts of reasons why not to go, all in hopes that the child’s nonattendance will justify the parents’ own negativity.
And there are the parents who have so little trust in themselves and each other that they can’t trust their own children. Even when the kids are in their mid- to late teens, the parents seldom let them go out with friends and allow little access to the outside world (internet, cell phone, car, etc.). They project their own dysfunction onto their kids rather than seeking to fix internally that which is maintaining an uneasy distance between everybody.
A fourth are the religiously zealous. Even though there are hundreds of various denominations, the parents firmly believe that their religion is the “Chosen One.” They impress this upon their child, usually from birth; all the while, the child simply goes along for a number of years not knowing any better. Although this can end with a child finding balance, it’s no less common to end with that child either becoming a religious nut him/herself or dropping religion completely for the reason that all religion and all God-related stuff is unsafe.
Even if we are not all part of some of these more extreme situations, many of us still carry lighter versions of parental dramas. So there is still a takeaway to be found by understanding this aspect of parent-child relationships. This means that we as children—because we are all a child to someone—have the task to question: Are my parent’s truly satisfied? What makes them unhappy? Do I do that also? Does it make me unhappy? Am I making someone else’s problem my own? Why do I continue doing it? Am I doing it just for them? What if I didn’t do it? Would I find satisfaction in being who I want to be instead of who my parents want me to be?
When we find the truth, it then becomes our duty to go our own way—nobody else’s. Others may not agree with us, but we can’t worry about that. There are as many different ways to live as there are souls. We shouldn’t be afraid to give a discerning ear to the words of those around us, even if we think we’ll disagree with them; but to blindly believe those who tell us that our life path is incorrect when those people live in fear of understanding and expanding their own is folly.
Resources for overcoming parent-child control dramas:
James Redfield’s The Celestine Vision – Chapter 5
(Thank you, Starstuffs and James Redfield.)