The past is for learning from, not for living in - A stern warning for parent-blamers everywhere
If you ask most people, at some point in their lives they’ll have assigned a portion of responsibility for their struggles to their parents. There is no doubt that a person’s upbringing plays a huge role in their development and their future character and relationship health. However, when do we draw the line between holding our parents accountable and taking responsibility for our own lives?
No one had the perfect childhood. There may have been fantastically good aspects to it; loving parents, being relatively well off perhaps, lots of attention and support, and even pets can play a large role in a happy childhood. But rest assured, no one’s childhood was perfect, and the chances are, if they say it was, they’re probably looking back with rose tinted spectacles.
People tend to go one of two ways when it comes to the past; they repeat it, or they rebel against it. You’ll often hear people say that they didn’t receive much affection from a parent and therefore when they have children, they want to be the opposite and provide that child with the love and support that they never had. This is how the past can influence you in a positive way. In fact, those that look back at the past objectively, and actively do the opposite or aim to improve on what their upbringing was like, are the best kind of people.
I’m sure we all know the other kind of people as well; those that bitterly use the action or inaction of their parents to excuse themselves of bad behaviour and/or repeating similar mistakes. This can go as far as blaming parents for bad relationships, poor health, violent and generally bad behaviour and even the wrong career decisions.
(Reality check: if you’re no longer a teenager but you’re spouting the ‘you’ve ruined my life’ venom as oblivious teenagers do towards their parents, then you’re heading for self-made disaster and emotional exhaustion).
Parents are human. Yes, it seems obvious, but when you’re a child you hold your parents to a ‘superhero’ standard. This is fine when you’re five, and you can live happily never considering the mortality or flaws of your parents; but the trouble comes when you’re twenty-five or thirty-five and you still haven’t accepted that the people who raised you were living, breathing, mistake-making, perfectly flawed human beings; just as you are. This superhero standard must dissipate because otherwise you’re holding other people to a higher standard than you would yourself. Even some of the worst parents can look back and honestly say they did the best that they knew how to do.
Don’t compare your upbringing to others. Every family has its bad patches, dodgy relatives, secrets, scolding arguments, misunderstandings, communication failings and life-long bruises. A family is made up of individuals, and just like society, you’re not going to agree with how every individual acts, the decisions they make or the moral compass they have. No one is perfect and quite often, the families that present themselves as such often have the most to hide!
Forgiveness is a gift. The ability to forgive people or actions taken in the past that wronged you, is a powerful tool. Forgiveness is not a weakness; it is a strength. It’s the power to look back at the past and say ‘what you did was wrong, I don’t agree with it, I may never forget it, but I will not let it impact my present or my future any longer’. To better your wellbeing even further, empathise with those who’ve wronged you. People find this very difficult but try to open your mind and put yourself in their shoes. You may still think whatever they did or didn’t do was wrong, but there is a chance you could see what led them to that point. A little understanding goes a long way. Some things people experience in childhood are truly horrific, there’s no doubt about that, but people who learn from their past instead of living in it, undoubtedly lead happier lives in the long run.
Another thing to consider is your own expectations. If you’re way beyond childhood and you’re still not happy with the relationship you have with your parents, consider for a moment, are your expectations just simply too high for what they can provide? Again, put y
ourself in their shoes, it is possible that they’ve done the best they know how to do in raising you and you’re still discontented with them. It is a positive action to work towards improving your relationship, but is that what you’re doing or are you trying to change them as people? At a certain point you have to accept who they are, in the same way they are expected to accept who you are.
Also don’t forget, you’re an adult now and no one can force you to stay in a relationship if it makes you truly unhappy. You can leave, and for some, this may be the only way to finally detach themselves from the past. Before getting to this point, you should also consider that for the most part, no one is all-bad. You may be angry at something a parent did, but don’t let this define your entire memory of them. Think hard about all the times you had a positive moment in time with them, when they loved you
or supported you, when they cared for you, held you or fought your corner. Good people do bad things and bad people do good things, remember this when you’re mentally crucifying someone for not being perfect.
Make it mean something. Whether you can forgive and forget, or perhaps just forgive or just forget, make your past mean something. Carry forward the good times, the positive behaviours learned, the skills taught, the care given, the kind words, the really good and honest traits you saw no matter if they were few and far between, and drop the rest. Don’t carry it forward in a self-sabotaging, relationship damaging, cold and self-destructive way. Don’t make everything you do a kind of revenge for what your parents couldn’t do or give you. Focus on the positive, the truth is, for some people, you’re lucky to have parents to moan about.
There are words that none of us want to be described as; self-pitying, dysfunctional, resentful and bitter to name a few. One thing is for sure, if you’re constantly blaming your past for your present, you will be described like this, and your future isn’t looking too perky either.
If you’re still struggling to move past your relationship with your parents, try to do it for yourself. It’s far more emotionally draining to be hateful and bitter than it is to make peace with the past. Don’t exhaust yourself mentally with something you can’t change, because frankly, what’s the point?