It’s not our parents’ fault

Mom and me, 2009, on a road trip

Attributing blame to one’s parents may be a natural inclination for those suffering from childhood emotional neglect, but it would be misguided.

What???? Am I forgetting who threatened to hit me with the wooden spoon (but never did), who banished me to my room because she couldn’t tolerate my emotional outbursts or who failed to build bridges between her children so they grew up to be strangers to one another?

Not at all. Mom could have been a better mother, absolutely. But everything she knew about parenting she learned from her own upbringing.

Same with Dad. His hands-off approach to being a father was something he learned from his own dad, a Brit who left raising the children to his wife. So I don’t mean to give Dad a pass, but he didn’t know much about raising kids, so he busied himself with other things.

You see, emotional neglect usually goes back generations. While I was a mediator, I’d often ask divorcing couples about their own upbringing and the vast majority had seen their own parents divorce. They had no clue how to be supportive partners or emotionally mature parents. How are kids to grow up to be good parents if all they ever knew were parents who were stifled emotionally?

Mom and Dad were teenagers during the Great Depression, and you know what followed that — the Second World War. There was a lot of upheaval for that generation and not a lot of them tolerated pity parties.

Dad and his own father during the war.

The experts assert, quite rightly, that our parents pass along their emotional hang-ups quite unintentionally. Being children, we follow in their path and learn to stuff down the “bad” emotions. We don’t recognize the physical and emotional toll such repression takes on us.

My mom suffered from frequent migraines, anxiety and depression. Dad leaned on alcohol to boost his spirits but still had long bouts of depression. Alcohol worsens depression. Both my parents seemed completely at a loss on how to deal with teenagers who vented anger through an eating disorder, who shut themselves off emotionally or who suffered bouts depression from a young age.

The apples don’t fall far from the tree.

My parents had difficult early lives as well. Mom was raised by her parents and grandparents on a local farm. Her younger brother got polio as a young child and was placed in a facility where he received oxygen through and “iron lung.” Mom was 11 when her grandfather died, and 17 when her father passed away.

Dad’s parents were both immigrants to Canada, his mom came from Iowa and his dad from London, England. Dad was the third child. The first child, a girl named Ada, died as an infant days after birth when she was being fed by a nurse. The baby, born healthy, died while a nurse bottle-fed her. Ada choked on the formula and died. A year later, another girl was born. Four years after that, Dad was born. I can’t imagine the impact the loss of that first baby must have had on Dad’s parents. In pictures, his mom always looks sad.

I have great empathy for my parents and long ago forgave them for missteps they took while raising us. They did their best. There’s no doubt they loved us even though they couldn’t bring themselves to say it very often.

None of us had the emotional support we craved and we suffered physical and emotional health issues because of it. But with awareness, healing is possible. Even probable.

4 responses to “It’s not our parents’ fault”

  1. I definitely am with you on that … these errors in lifestyle and upbringing can be passed on to the next generations unless you stop and realize you have the choice to follow the same path or make your own path. It’s not an easy thing to do.

    1. Nice insight. And the more we fume about our upbringing, the unhappier we are. Not easy at all but worthwhile.

  2. […] The other difficulty of sharing this kind of thing on Facebook is people will feel I’m disloyal to my mother. They may have met her and thought the world of her. True, she was a wonderful friend to many. But I’m sure a lot of people can relate that mothers who have friends who love them may not be the best mothers. Again, I’m not picking on my mother. Read this post. […]

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