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Thursday, 14 September 2000

Mortal Mothers, Flawed Fathers and Critical Kids

Written by  Sara Eisen

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When my son was five, he looked me squarely in the eye and proclaimed me to be the meanest mommy in the whole wide world. Ever.
I must admit, it was a bit of a shocker. I mean, I'm young. I remember being five. I try to be understanding, try to put myself in his shoes. But, dammit, he can not pretend to be Zorro and run down the street wielding a sharp metal pole he found in the clearing. Even if that makes me the Wicked Witch of the West.

The next thought I had was terrifying. That means that my parents may not have actually been as bad as I thought they were. If I was the Wicked Witch, that thought was Dorothy's house. I was flattened.

It's true. Parents are not perfect. Definitely not. But that's part of the point: We spend so much time ragging on them because they are not this, or they are too that.

Give them a break! They are only people, just like you

To be sure, sons and daughters of all ages tend to overreact, and to take things too personally. But your parents' faults are usually not about you at all; they are about them, and their own humanness.

However, the things that bug us about our parents are usually real. Real flaws. Like a dad who is too talkative to strangers, or a mom who is really nervous all the time, or a dad who has no taste, or a mom who is too tough and strict. But everyone has faults. Why can't they?

I'll tell you why. Because they are your parents! You thought they were nearly perfect for years, when you were a child. You worshipped them

And then, slowly, you started to notice that your father couldn't complete a sentence without saying "uh." Or that your mother was always putting herself down. And it started to drive you nuts. Why is he so inarticulate? So unsure of himself socially? Why can't he communicate? Why is she so insecure? Why does she make such a dish rag of herself?

Of course you are bothered by these questions. You have noticed something terrifying with your new, more worldly eyes: Your parents have human flaws. And that means...you do.

Your parents' quirks may also freak you out because these faults have consequences for you. If your mom is strict, you suffer not going out as much as you want. If your dad is a hopeless nerd, you feel embarrassed to bring friends home.

But things do become easier if we look at things with a bit of empathy.

Why is your mom strict? Did she have a rough upbringing? Were her parents very authoritarian? Is she particularly nervous that something will happen to you? Why?

This may not make it easier to miss Rocky Horror (No way you are staying out so late, young lady, and certainly not to see garbage like that!), but maybe it will take the edge off. Your mom isn't mean; she's trying her best to keep you straight, as she sees it. Also, she's most likely scared.

When I first realized that some of the qualities in my parents that I had been taking so personally were really not about me at all, I felt tremendously relieved. Seeing them as people with various bumps and imperfections made me understand, a bit too late, that things could have been easier had I been calmer as a teen.

Our relationship would have been more productive had I spoken to their fears, concerns, and doubts, rather than antagonizing them for not being like the parental prototypes I had in mind.

As much as we resent our parents trying to tell us who to be, we often try to do the same thing to them. We can't create them in our own image. It's not fair.

There may be some things which you will always disagree on (trust me!) But it'll be easier to handle this when you realize that you can think totally differently on an issue, and still love, or at least respect, the person that is your parent.

So give your human parents a break. Most of them are trying really hard.

Even if they are the meanest in the whole wide world. Ever.

Last modified on Tuesday, 05 April 2011 12:24
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Sara Eisen

Sara Eisen

Sara is a journalist and editor.

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