By Marisa Peer
My two children are grown up and out of the house. They are both relatively successful, stable individuals who got a good education and now contribute to society in a positive way. As a result, I have always thought I did a pretty good job as a mother, and we’ve by and large had a stable relationship in the five or 10 years since they left home.
But recently, my elder daughter has been going to therapy and as a result, bringing up things from her childhood that she says affect her adult life now. She says there was a lot of unaddressed, simmering anger in our house, and the way we “brushed things under the rug” has caused her to struggle in romantic relationships. She also says it has manifested as anxiety in her daily life.
I am hurt by this. I know I was not perfect as a parent, but she could have had it so much worse. It seems that people in her age group are almost looking for reasons to feel hard done by, and therapy is often the place where they go and find it.
I’m not sure what she is trying to achieve by bringing this up with me and my husband, and to be honest, I do not know how to respond. What do you think?
I did my best
Dear I did my best,
Here are two truths that can be said about nearly all parents. One, they do their best with the resources and awareness they have at the time. And two, they mess it up.
As a parent myself, I know how difficult it can be to hear about the ways you came up short as a parent. It can feel extremely unfair, especially if you are comparing it to your own childhood, which may have been materially much worse. It’s not unreasonable to feel some shame around these kinds of conversations.
But here’s the thing: You should try to see it as a good thing that your daughter is bringing up these topics with you now. It shows that she has a desire to remain close and connected to you in her adult life. I would imagine that for your daughter, part of doing that is to address some of the ways that her relationship with you as a child affects her now. In other words: she wants to stop sweeping things under the rug.
The reason she is talking to you about it isn’t because she wants to punish you, it’s because she wants to feel better understood by her parents, who she loves. She wants more connection with you, not less. This is her way of showing that.
Keep in mind that you may not see the ways that your daughter has struggled in her adult life. Just because she is stable, employed, and not a menace to society doesn’t mean she hasn’t suffered.
Issues like anxiety and depression affect so many people, and our society has really not reckoned with their deeper causes, instead jumping to medication and quick fixes to keep them at bay. Try not to dismiss her suffering as something she’s making up for attention. She is trying to better her life, and this is likely part of that process.
When you find out your child is going to therapy, it’s easy to jump to a thought like: “I can’t believe I raised a child who was messed up enough to go to therapy.” I invite you to change that thought to something like “I raised a child who was intelligent, resourced, and emotionally aware enough to seek out growth and development with the help of a therapist.” As long as your daughter is being respectful in the way she brings up these topics with you, I would try your hardest to listen to her.
One thing that might make that easier for you is a practice of self-compassion. Remember how I mentioned the shame many parents go through when met with the ways they failed as parents?
The best antidote to that is feeling compassion for yourself, both the present and prior versions of yourself. Absolutely no one on the planet is spared from suffering, imperfections, shortcomings, and faults. That includes you, your parents, and their parents. The only rational response to that hard truth is to forgive yourself.
Cultivating a deep well of compassion for yourself through regular practices like meditation, hypnosis audios, or daily affirmations can help you show up to conversations with your daughter more willing to hear her truth, which will always be different from your truth. After all, the best way to feel compassion for others is to first feel it for yourself first.
Our children don’t see their childhood the way we as their parents do and that is normal. As a parent something I found immensely helpful was to apologise to my child, even if I felt I was not in the wrong. When you can say “I am so sorry you feel like that, I am so sorry that affected you,” you are giving your child the gift of being heard and acknowledged and often, that is all they are asking for.
I wish you luck,
“Tell Yourself a Better Lie: Use the Power of Rapid Transformational Therapy to Edit Your Story and Rewrite Your Life” is available on Amazon.