Growing Pains: When your parents seem to treat your children better than they treated you.
As an adult, watching the relationship that develops between your parents and your own children can be incredibly sweet, but for many people that same interaction can also bring pain. It is very possible that your parents behaving as loving and supportive grandparents to your children is a stark contrast to how they parented you. Watching the interaction between your parents and your children can bring up deep-rooted wounds from your childhood that you may not have even realized you were holding onto.
If you are experiencing some of these feelings, it’s OK to admit how you feel. If you try to ignore your feelings it will only lead to bitterness and resentment in the long run and may damage not only your relationship with your parents, but also your children’s relationship with their grandparents. Owning your feelings now is the first step towards a healthier perspective on your relationship with your parents.
Acknowledging feelings of pain or anger surrounding your parents’ relationship with your children is the first step towards healing. This is the perfect time to seek the help of a therapist who can discuss the things you’re feeling and help you come up with a strategy for working through them.
Dealing with childhood wounds can make you anxious and depressed. As with most relational issues, communication itself can be therapeutic. The simple act of explaining how you feel in a journal, to your spouse, or to a therapist can bring healing. Another helpful technique is writing a letter to your parents explaining exactly how you feel. Instead of giving the letter to your parents, shred or burn it. The act of writing will help you process your feelings and let out some of your emotions.
For some people, these non-confrontational techniques alone may be enough to resolve your feelings and allow you to move forward, but if not, you may need to consider having a conversation with your parents about the situation.
Some parents will be receptive to this type of conversation, but others may not be. This is why you should discuss the issues with your spouse or a therapist before going straight to your parents. If you do decide to confront your parents, it’s important that you prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. If you haven’t fully processed your feelings ahead of time, you are more likely to jump in and attack. That kind of conversation isn’t likely to be productive and will probably do more harm than good.
If you do confront your parents, be sure to do so away from your children. Don’t allow your issues with your parents to keep your children from having a positive relationship with them.
Be loving and accepting towards your parents, even though you’re feeling hurt. Remind yourself that they don’t live with your children full-time around-the-clock the way that you do. They aren’t responsible for your children’s upbringing the way they were for yours. This is one of the reasons grandparents can be more relaxed and patient than they were as parents. You should also recognize that by spoiling and enjoying your children, your parents are probably filling what most people accept as traditional roles for grandparents.
Remember that your parents were likely parenting you the way they were parented. You can give their motives the benefit of the doubt even as you acknowledge the way their actions have made you feel. Instead of accusing your parents for the things they have done, simply explain your feelings. Say, “I feel hurt when…” or “when you do this, I feel…” Owning your emotions will help your parents feel less attacked and may help them accept what you have to say.
It’s also important that you manage your expectations for the conversation. Your parents have been the way they are for a long time, and you have to accept that they may not change. However, standing up for yourself is still therapeutic. Even if your parents never apologize and nothing changes in their behavior, you have still made huge strides towards healing by speaking truth and bringing it to light instead of allowing your pain to stay hidden and fester into bitterness.
Whether you decide to confront your parents or use one of the other strategies we discussed, remember that your emotional health doesn’t depend on anyone but you. Your feelings are valid and they deserve to be acknowledged, but they don’t have to ruin your relationship with your parents or your children’s relationship with their grandparents.