You can ignore strained relations with your parents for decades. You can call them only once in a blue moon and only visit them for holidays. You can pretend to forget about childhood grievances and their unfairness. You can even say that you have forgiven them with all your heart. All in all, that’s just what most people do…
However, as your parents’ health begins to decline and they need care, it seems that you go back to your childhood. It’s all the same people, the same grievances, the same complaints. It’s just that the roles are reversed. You are no longer obligated to put up with their cruelty or high-handedness, you don’t have to follow their advice or agree with their opinions.
However, everyone (including your parents) believes that you must take care of them, that you have to be kind, patient and understanding. You, meanwhile, feel trapped by these “musts” and “have tos.” You feel that you are deprived of your right to live as you see fit.
It seems that your life is sacrificed to people who may not have been kind to you or earned a “Parent of the Year” award.
Is your only choice either to be a sacrifice, who puts her youth on the altar of old age or a monster, who sends her parents to a nursing home to forget them there?
Look at the problem from another point of view
The first thing you need to realize is that you have a right to feel anything. If you feel angry, hurt or annoyed – allow yourself these emotions. In this case, someone else’s needs conflict with yours. If your parents lay claims to your time and energy, it is quite possible to have negative feelings as your first reaction.
Secondly, you really do owe your parents. You may not owe them love, but at least you owe them gratitude. Just add up how many hours your mom spent as a nanny, housekeeper, cook, teacher and so on when you were little. Now multiply that by even $5 an hour. You will end up with a formidable amount. So it seems that you really do owe something.
Thirdly, dealing with parents is a resource that may sap your energy or it may regenerate it. That depends on you. To make the idea clearer, picture your smartphone. It has a battery that needs to be charged from time to time – that’s your effort. However, when the phone is charged, it lets you make phone calls, write messages, use Viber, take pictures and visit social media. It is really useful.
The same applies to relationships in a family: if you set them up right, yes, they require time and effort, but they give you energy and joy hundredfold.
How does your “family resource” work?
Let’s consider the family as one of the resources of the resource circle promoted by Marina Komissarova. There is a scale that allows evaluating how the give-and-take works in a relationship. Roughly speaking, it tells you how well everything works.
“Disconnected” is when a person does not feel emotionally connected to their parents. They don’t invest any time, effort, energy or attention into the relationship and get no joy out of it.
“Frustrated” is when a person gives more than they receive and strains themselves doing it. For example, when you do something for your relatives because you feel it as a duty or a moral obligation.
— In the middle of the night you run to an all-night pharmacy for medicine for your elderly mother. You come back panting with the vial and listen to a diatribe on what a bad daughter you are.
— You take your parents into your home, sacrificing your habits and comforts and spend all your free time by your parent’s bedside, turning into menial help who never even gets a thank you.
There are two types of family frustration:
- You do what you must. Or what you think others expect you to do. You control your annoyance and sacrifice something important to you. However, you feel no joy or even simply satisfaction, none whatsoever!
- You don’t do even what you can. To spite. At the same time you waste a lot of mental energy on internal resistance. You spin dialogues in your head that excuse your uncaring behavior and blame your parents. You get no joy of it either.
“Connected” is when the relationship brings you joy. You invest and your return is much higher than your investment. There is more fun, more joy and more other pleasant emotions. However, this just happens. It does not come about as a result of conscious effort, but, as they say, just by luck.
There is no merit of yours in it; it is simply that your parents are understanding, kind and pleasant people. That is why taking care of them is joy and not a burden.
“Advanced” is similar to the previous one: you invest a lot and your returns are high. The difference is that you have learned to do it consciously.
You might have had horrible relations with your parents to begin with. However, you put in effort and build them so that both you and they enjoy talking and living together. At the same time, you get a feeling of support, respect and understanding. And, because of this exchange of energy, you get more inspiration and creative power than the time and effort you have invested.
Addiction is a painfully dependent relationship when a person may act against themselves, may not be aware of some of their actions and may harm those near them. Even unconsciously. Even out of love.
You know examples of that:
— Devoted daughters/sons. They never have their own families, often renounce their careers, good education or self-realization. They simply do everything for their elderly mommy who raised them on her own. Moms suffer from it too because they never go beyond the role of the parent. They don’t learn anything, they don’t strive for anything. Often, they even limit their social ties.
Such painful dependence devours all other aspects of life or any other interests. Naturally, this is an extreme.
What can you do if the “family resource” does not work right?
What does an intern do when they come to a new company? They want to become a professional but they don’t have the experience or the skills. So they learn, they work a lot, they take up the most difficult projects. Yet, despite all this expenditure, they enjoy working much more than simply hanging around or doing nothing.
Yes, it may be that your relationship with your parents right now if very far from ideal. Especially, since you will have to change the life you are used to and sacrifice something to take care of them.
Your task is to consciously move from a position when caring for your parents is a burden, to the position when you are ready to invest your time, emotions and effort in dealing with them; when you want your relationship to be pleasant, happy and joyful for all of you. If you are sincere in your effort it is always mutual.
How to fix your relationship with your parents
How do you do it? You start “investing.” We live in a world where simple natural laws rule: “you reap as you sow”. In other words, there is no option for “Earth, you give me wheat and potatoes, and, alright, then I’ll sow them.”
You must realize that if you don’t have something right now, there is only one option for you:
— First you plant, and care, and weed, and get rid of the bugs, and spray, and so on. Then, if you are lucky, you have a rich harvest.
The same principle works for your relationship with your parents. First you invest, patiently, slowly, for several months or maybe even years, you raise the harvest. Only then can you bring it in. There is no guarantee, but the cause is well worth it :).
Even if there is no happy ending the first time around, you will get the hang of it. The important thing is that it won’t get worse. You will grow stronger and more experienced and will hone your skills of building a relationship “the adult way.” Your efforts will pay off tenfold.
The way these months or years right next to your parents turn out depends on you only. They may become a torture. You may be peeved at them and at yourself, suffer and feel trapped. As a result you will feel additional guilt because you have not managed to be kind to your parents and “do your duty.”
Alternatively, the time you give, taking care of your elderly parents may become pleasant and wholesome. It will give you back the feeling of love and support :). The choice is yours.