I am famous for telling pregnant girls that the two gifts of Motherhood are guilt and worry. Which is a good opening concept for this post about seeing things from your parent’s perspective. I get emails from you expressing your frustration with your parents:
“My parents think my singleness is all my fault!”
“My parents never know the right thing to say.”
“My parents are so critical of me!”
“I wish my parents were more supportive.”
“My parents think I am mean for not responding to guys who only offer lame pursuits.”
Your parents may blame themselves for your singleness. They may look back on any mistakes they made in raising you or mistakes made in their own marriage and wonder if that is causing your delayed marriage.
The guilt they feel from it makes them unable to form a sentence which sounds supportive. The guilt they feel is communicating something that is most likely not true. Your singleness may be, in their mind, communicating to the world that they are bad parents and this makes them feel guilty.
Your parents may also be projecting their issues and failures onto you, unable to see that you are your own person. And, these issues and failures, if they are even slightly detected in you, make them feel guilty….and they worry.
Please don’t underestimate how much your parents worry about you. I never knew worry before I had my son. When he was first born, I had this exaggerated fear that he was going to get stolen. I had this ‘Lindbergh baby’ thing going on in my head where I thought someone was going to come into our house and take him. Every night I would ask Gregg, “Did you lock the sliding glass door?”
I worry less now but I do have more compassion on my parents these days, especially my dad. My mom was always really relaxed about my extended singleness but I think my dad worried. He wanted me to be married so bad. It drove him to, at times, say things that were meant to be encouraging but somehow fell flat. Poor guy! There was just nothing he could say that would help. But, you should have seen him on my wedding day. He practically had to be sedated he was so happy. And then when I became a mother I could see that, all along, it was the joy my parents wanted for me.
Now that I have a child, I totally understand. But, I can guarantee you that my worry for him as he grows into adulthood, will make it seem as though I am putting pressure on him to meet my expectations. Heck, I do that already and he is only 9 years old.
Oh, the pressure! Parents have expectations. I am constantly on our son about stuff. Practice your math, hang up your clothes, put your shoes where they belong, fast-forward through the commercials, turn the TV down, look people in the eye. Just this morning we were heading into Mass and a schoolmate of his walked right up to him and said, “Hi.” Our son half-way acknowledged the boy and said, “Hi.” So, after putting some distance between us and the schoolmate, I reminded him about the definition of ‘stuck up.’ This, of course, made him almost cry.
I am just trying to prevent him from himself sometimes. He is a really friendly, personable child but on the rare occasion when he acts stuck up, he cannot see how his response comes off. It is my job, as his mom, to point things like this out to him. Oh, and he never appreciates this by the way.
Just like our parents corrected us and we did not like or appreciate it. They had expectations. And, those expectations can really feel like pressure…..and criticism.
One girl wrote to me wishing her mom would be more supportive and not so critical. She wishes that her mom would be more accepting and not try to change or fix her. As I was reading it, I could see my son saying this about me!
We all imagine that when we have children, we will be accepting, encouraging and supportive of them all the time. We can think of no reason to not be! Well, I thought that too. But, the job is not a glamorous one. You have to be the safety patrol, Schoolmarm, the big wet blanket, Mrs. Manners and the fun and grammar police.
As a parent, you can see the pitfalls ahead of time and you, out of love, don’t want your children to fall into these pits. So, you guide, you correct, you make faces, you make sounds of disapproval and you pontificate.
I think there comes a point when parents have to emotionally separate from their child so that the pain that the adult child is experiencing is not so keenly felt by the parents. But, my guess is that this separation process is very difficult. You have heard that having a child is like wearing your heart on the outside. Well it is true. The bond is so strong that you feel everything they feel. Your pain is their pain. Your desire is their desire. Your disappointment is their disappointment.
You want the best for them. However, parents, in their broken human condition, fumble the transition ball.
My guess is that your parents want your pain and disappointment to end as much as you do but they feel very helpless in making it go away. So, they offer less than helpful advice, on occasion act exasperated and make comments that can sound critical.
Maybe they married young and your extended singleness completely confounds them. Maybe they are thinking “What is so hard about finding a husband?” Or they are thinking, “If my daughter were more XX or less ZZ, she would be married by now.” They just have no concept of your suffering.
When you were little, they could do something. But now that you are a grown woman, they can only helplessly observe from the sidelines.
What To Do
- Know that your parents love you and want the best for you.
- When your parents offer you advice about your love life, just smile, nod your head and say ‘thank you for loving me and wanting the best for me, Mom and Dad.’
- When your parents fumble the ball and say things that upset you, forgive them.
- Find someone other than your parents to vent to. Once you are married and have their grandchildren, you will be glad you did not jeopardize the relationship with unkind and angry outbursts of frustration.
- Pray for patience and grace prior to each interaction with your parents. Imagine the Blessed Mother at your side. She understands your suffering.
- Continue to lead a Sacramental life so as to be strengthened during this time in your life.
Write to me anytime at: email@example.com
God love and bless you!
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As always you are right on. Apologies for not yet replying to your e-mail, swamped with work. Will reply soon.
What about parental indifference to protracted singleness? Does that mean they had no expectations in the first place?
Sometimes I wonder if my parents just get frustrated; they don’t understand how someone they think is SO wonderful doesn’t have guys beating down her door.
Ugh. I am sure it is frustrating for them too. 😦 Praying for you, Cindy
Thanks, Cindy. 🙂