This is part 3 of my 4-part series on how to improve your relationship with your parents. If you are new to this series, start with part 1 first.
There was a point when I contemplated not growing at all, to take a step away from pursuing my visions in life, and to go for a “normal” or “routine-based” life, just so the chasm between me and my parents would stop widening.
Growing Up as One
For it is when I was a little girl when my parents and I were the closest. We would go out at least once a week, as a family – be it to the Bird Park, Crocodile Farm, the Zoo, Chinese Garden, IMM (a mega-mart), Fantasy Island (in Sentosa), and the like. We would also go out for family dinners 1-2 times a week.
Then during the weekdays, while my dad was working, my mom would bring me and my brother out, be it to the local market, to run errands, to do some shopping, and so on. Sometimes we would even go out with my aunt, my older cousin, and my grandmother.
During this period, our world was one and the same. My parents played an active role in creating my reality as I knew it. They were with me every step of the way. Every time I came across something new, they were either the ones who ushered it in, or they would be there to educate me about it.
Then slowly, things changed.
As I officially started school, a large chunk of my time became occupied with it. Suddenly, there was this other part of my life that did not involve my parents. I formed new bonds with classmates and teachers. I was busy with school activities that did not involve my parents. The school inculcated me with knowledge and teachings that my parents could relate little to. While I was able to discuss my school work with them while I was in lower primary, this stopped being the case in upper primary – the syllabus was outside of their realm.
This marked the start when we drifted away from each other.
Then as I entered secondary school (and later junior college, then university), we grew further and further apart. It seemed the more I ventured on my path and grew as an individual, the more dissimilar my parents and I became. For every new thing I learned was something outside of my parents’ universe. There was barely anything we could relate to one another anymore.
Instead of becoming the best friends I hoped we could become, we had become no more than just strangers, living in the same house, under the same roof.
At first, it felt like a conundrum. Should I continue to grow, but face the inevitable consequence of growing further away from my parents? Or should I stop growing and try to salvage as many of the gaps that were between me and my parents? But not growing would be to deny myself and I would never be able to live with that.
I felt a deep internal conflict. It was clear that I could never turn my back on my life purpose, which is to grow. As it would turn out, I eventually came to several revelations (about 1.5 months ago) that helped me realize that the conundrum never existed at all – and that my relationship with my parents has been the best it could ever be all along.
The ideal that is not the ideal; the non-ideal that has been the ideal all along
As I reminisced about not being able to ever attain the ideal relationship with my parents in this lifetime, I began to reflect about the situation.
- Why is it so important that pa and ma must be my best friends?
- Because then it means we’ll finally be able to connect with one another.
- Why is this important?
- Because that means we’re in the best relationship we can be ever be with each other.
- Why is it important that we’re in the best relationship possible?
- Because that means we truly love one another.
- So does it mean that we don’t love each other today then?
- No, of course not – that’s ridiculous. We’ve always loved each other since the beginning.
Suddenly, I had a bizarre, weird aha moment where everything just clicked. The reality as I knew it melted away, and rebuilt itself almost immediately – into something that was essentially the same, but fundamentally different at the same time. A layer of fog lifted before me. Everything became crystal clear all of a sudden.
Truth is, I had always sought out the ideal parent-child relationship with my parents because I saw it the epitome of love between a parent and child. When I couldn’t achieve it, I subconsciously interpreted that as my parents not loving me.
But the thing is, my parents have always loved me since young, as all parents love their children before they are even born. From since I was born, they have relentlessly showered me with love. They would buy me everything I wanted, within all their means. They would always make sure I was well fed and well clothed. They worked incredibly hard to earn money for the family, and to fund my education. They doted me as the baby of the family. They never once complained about having to take care of me nor my brother, but instead did everything in their power to make me (us) the happiest kids we could ever be.
Even today, they continue to express their love for me every day. For example, when my mom rushes back home every day, after work, to cook and do the laundry. When my mom worries about grocery shopping and household supplies. When my mom rejects the idea of going out on family meals (because it’d jeopardize the routines of other people in the family). When my dad asks me if I have eaten for the day. When my dad asks me if I want him to cook anything for me. When my parents go to work every day, to maintain the family.
I had been unable to “see” all of this because I had been so hung up on that one ideal, that one vision, which was merely just one of the many expressions of love from one to another.
Suddenly, I couldn’t help but burst into a big smile. This had been such a silly mind warp I had been living in! To think that my parents have been trying to express their love 110% to me all this while, in their own way, in their own language (of love), but I did not catch hold of that. To think that I’d been experiencing anguish all this while for no reason. To think that I’d been looking to build love between me and my parents so desperately, so hopelessly, when it is right there before me all this while. I had caged myself in a world of pain, when there has been no pain all along.
I felt like I was living in a dream before, and now I have finally woken up. I finally saw the love that my parents had been trying to shower me all this while, and the love they continue to shower to me today, for what it is.
At this moment, I finally felt peace in this area of my life which I had been struggling with all this while. I realized the ideal I had fixated myself with was never my ideal. It was merely an arbitrary ideal crafted out by the media, something I saw on TV – nothing more, nothing less. There’s nothing wrong with this ideal – It may well be the parent-child ideal for some parents and children, but not for me and my parents. My ideal with my parents is in reality what we have today, between us. It has always been the perfect relationship I’ve been looking for and I can’t imagine it being any other way.
And with this realization, my relationship with my parents – something which I’d usually rate as 1/10 on my life wheel – became a full 10/10 instantaneously.
Releasing pressure on the parent-child relationship
Right on the heel of this revelation, I realized that I had put a lot of pressure on my relationship with my parents – pressure which prevented the relationship from coming into its own.
For example, in my ideal vision, my parents would be my best friends. I would be able to share anything and everything with them. They would be able to understand what I say. They would be able to relate to everything in my life. We would be able to discuss important life decisions. We would have an unspoken camaraderie. We would hug each other whenever we want. “I love you” would be common words in our everyday vocabulary. We would have lots of long, reflective, philosophical discussions. We would be going on family outings every so often. And that’s just the tip of the ice berg.
Looking at these expectations, I realized I had hinged so much on this one relationship I have with my parents. For my parents to be my parents, my best friends, my mentors, my confidantes, my emotional anchors, all in one – all these are heavy roles for anyone to play. I had literally, created impossible shoes for my parents – or any parent, for that matter – to fill! It was a vision that no one could uphold to begin with.
I began to question these expectations, one by one.
- Why do I have these expectations of pa and ma?
- Because these are my emotional and relationship needs. I love to connect with others and to build deep, meaningful, emotional connections with others. Connecting with others make me feel alive.
- What happens if I don’t fulfill these needs?
- Life will be quite empty and meaningless.
- Are these needs of mine not being fulfilled at the moment?
- No, not really actually. I have my best friends who are the best confidantes I can ever have. I have my readers whom I can share anything and everything with. I have business associates whom I can discuss work-related topics with. I have coaching clients who connect with me on the deepest, most personal level. I am continuously making new friends who inject new colors and joy into my life.
- Does it matter who is the person fulfilling a particular emotional need?
- No, it doesn’t. As long as all my needs are met, I can’t be happier. I can’t ask for more.
- If that’s the case, does it matter whether pa and ma fulfill my emotional and relationship needs?
- No – actually it doesn’t.
With this, I realized how unnecessary my expectations had been. There was never really a need for my parents to fulfill my X and Y needs. There are all these people out there, all these relationships I’m in, which can help me fulfill my emotional needs perfectly well. By insisting my parents fulfill my emotional needs when its not in their desire or capacity to do so, I had created a mold which boxed in our relationship and prevented it from becoming anything it could be.
Rather than create a mold for this relationship, or any relationship for that matter, I realized I should let the relationship come into its own. Rather than expect my dad/mom to do certain things or perform certain roles, I should just appreciate and enjoy whatever they can/want to give to the relationship, in their own space and capacity.
By removing this mold, suddenly a space is created for the relationship to develop. I didn’t know this before, but my narrow expectations had ironically prevented the relationship from growing. Just like when you press down on a seedling – it can never blossom. With this, I finally saw my relationship with my parents as it is for the first time – a beautiful bond that has been bearing beautiful fruits of love all this while.
Finally, viewing the relationship from their perspective
My final revelation came when I adopted a new perspective on the situation.
All this while, I wanted my relationship with my parents to conform a certain image. When they were not able to fulfill that, I was disappointed. As you have read in parts 1 and 2, I wondered why my parents couldn’t open up to me. Why they resisted my attempts to know them better. Why they couldn’t make an effort to have family meals/dinners. Why they pushed away my attempts to arrange family outings, including vacations.
Seeing as to how I had not been able to resolve the situation all this while, I tried a different approach – I stepped out of my shoes to view the situation from their perspective instead. The realization was jarring.
For in my one-tracked mind to get my parents to fit my parental ideal, I had not stopped to think whether I myself fit their ideal for a daughter to begin with.
Fact is, if I am to hypothesize a typical ideal a parent would have for a daughter, I’m none of that. None of that at all.
I’m rude, obnoxious, rebellious, critical. I lose my temper at my parents all the time. I barely ever take time out to be with them – Instead, I’m always busy with work and my life. I’m never happy with my parents even though they try so hard to be the best parents to me. I’m unfilial. I do non-conformist actions like quit a proper, well paying job in the corporate world, which leaves my parents worried about my career success (even though I was not worried and had told them that everything would be fine). I keep pushing them to do things which they are obviously not interested nor comfortable in doing, such as suggest family vacations, ask them personal questions, hugging them (which is not their language of love), and so on. I do things like go to Europe on an extended trip, an action which inevitably leaves them worried regardless of the whatever reassurances I give. I had my ideal for the parent-child relationship – but I never considered if it was their ideal too. It clearly wasn’t – else we would never have had the resistances in the first place.
In short, I absolutely suck as a daughter. I’m probably the worst daughter any parent can ever have. Hence, who am I then, to even demand or expect them to fulfill anything? It is not in my place to do that at all.
On the contrary, my parents have never demanded or expected me to fulfill anything as their daughter. They have always given me my space to grow and come into my own. They have never judged me for what I have done or haven’t done as their daughter. They’ve never rejected me in any way, even if I may not fulfill the role of a typical daughter. I have been so selfish all this while, and them – so graciously forgiving.
Rather than expect them to fulfill anything, it suddenly became clear to me that I should first work on becoming a better daughter. For it’s something I’ve never thought about since I was born. It was well time for me to fulfill my role of being a good daughter to them.
Putting Everything Together
All-in-all, the struggles I had experienced in my relationship with my parents in the past 15 years had been in my mind. Because I had been wrapped up in that one ideal as the expression of love, I had suffocated our relationship and prevented it from growing. My internal struggle in turn manifested itself outward – I would face resistances in my efforts to improve our relationship, simply because the efforts came from a misaligned place to begin with.
Today, I can’t be happier about my relationship with my parents. I respect the space they have given me to grow and become who I am today, while I do my best to be a good daughter to them. While I may be in Europe now (as of Jul 2011), I call back once every few weeks to check back on how they are doing – the way they want me to. We are able to talk normally, without anyone losing temper or snapping. We are able to express concern for each other openly, without feeling weirded out by it.
And guess what? We’re actually closest today than we’ve ever been since I was a kid. I would never have imagined our relationship reaching such a healthy state in my lifetime.
The funny thing is, the trigger point for this change didn’t come from the external reality. It came from an internal shift in how I perceived things. This in turn rippled out into positive changes in the external world.
If you’re experiencing a struggle with your relationship with your parents/children today, that’s very likely to do with how you’ve been perceiving the relationship all along, and a sign for you to reexamine how you’ve been looking at it.
As I grow in life, I realize many of the seeming “struggles” we face in our world are a reflection of the inner workings in our mind. When we get an alignment of our internal issues, our external problems will naturally fade away.
Is it then about forcing, coaxing ourselves to make-do with what we have then? No, of course not. As you’ve read above, nowhere did I try to convince myself into accepting with the status quo. It was from sorting out my warped perceptions that I realized my relationship with my parents was actually perfect all this while – thereby finally gaining peace and resolution in long standing issue in my life.
In part 4 of this series, I’ll share a guide, together with my personal lessons, on how you can go about working on your relationship with your parents. If your relationship with your parents is not the 10/10 you wish for (yet), you’ll find the guide to be helpful. Stay tuned for it. It won’t be up so soon as I’m currently traveling in Germany, but I anticipate it’ll be up sometime in the next week.
Update Jul 23, 2011: The article is now up: How To Improve Your Relationship With Your Parents: A Delicate Guide
I’d also like to thank all of you for your wonderful comments so far on this series. ? I want to let you know that I do read all the comments, though I may not be able to reply to every single one of them.
By now, I regard all of you readers as my guardian angels in life – you give me the wings to fly and I draw strength from all of you in everything I do. The kind of connection we share is something that others can never understand, I think. You are the reason why I continue to write and share openly at the blog every day. Thank you for always reading and relentlessly sharing your support – I really appreciate it. I’m glad to have all of you with me as I journey through life, and I’m glad you have decided to let me be a part of your growth journey too. :)
This is part 3 of my 4-part series on how to improve your relationship with your parents.