Few would disagree that parents have the most difficult job in the world. And the huge majority of parents are doing the very best they can for their children.
As much empathy as I have for parents (being one myself), today I will be talking with all who are on the other side of the fence: those of you who are grown up now, and are feeling that your relationship with your parents is a problem in your life.
There are indeed an infinite amount of ways that a parent / child relationship can go wrong. Many are subtle or confusing, and can leave all parties feeling burdened or hurt.
Especially if you know that your parents love you, you may end up baffled about your relationship with them, and wondering what is wrong.
Here are some of the ways that adults struggle with their relationships with their parents:
- You may feel guilty for not wanting to spend more time with them
- You may feel very loving toward them one minute, and angry the next
- You may look forward to seeing them, and then feel let down or disappointed when you’re actually with them
- You may find yourself snapping at them and confused about why you’re doing it
- You may get physically ill when you see them
- You may harbor anger at them, and feel there’s no reason for it
How does this happen? Why does this relationship have to be so complicated? Why can’t we just love our parents unconditionally?
Of course, there can be endless different explanations for any of these problems. But for most people, the answer lies somewhere in the area of what psychologists call individuation.
Individuation: The natural, healthy process of the child becoming increasingly separate from the parent by developing his or her own personality, interests, and life apart from the parent.
Individuation usually starts around age 13, but can be as early as 11 or as late as 16. Behaviors we think of as “teenage rebellion” are actually attempts to separate. Talking back, breaking rules, disagreeing, refusing to spend time with the family; all are ways of saying, and feeling, “I’m me, and I make my own decisions.”
Individuation is indeed a delicate process, and it doesn’t always go smoothly. When it doesn’t, and also goes unresolved, it can create a stressful or painful relationship between parent and adult child.
4 Ways Individuation Can Go Awry:
- The parent does not know that the child’s individuation is natural and healthy, and discourages it. This parent may feel hurt by the child’s separation, or even be angered by it, making the child feel guilty for developing normally.
- The parent wants the child to stay close to take care of the parent’s needs, so actively discourages the child from separating.
- The parent is uncomfortable with the child’s needs, and so encourages the child to be excessively independent from too early an age.
- The child is held back from healthy individuation by some conflict or issue of his or her own, like anxiety, depression, a physical or medical ailment, or guilt.
When your adolescence gets off track in any of these ways, a price is paid by both you and your parents. Much later, when you’re trying to live your adult life, you may sadly find yourself feeling burdened, pained, or held back by your parents. On top of that you might feel guilty for feeling that way.
So now the big question. How do you know when you need some distance from your parents?
To how many of the questions below do you answer “yes”?
- Do you feel held back from growing, developing, or moving forward in your life by your parents?
- Is your relationship with your parents negatively affecting how you parent your own children?
- Are you afraid of surpassing your parents? Would they be hurt or upset if you become more successful in life than they?
- Are you plagued with guilt when it comes to your parents?
- Are your parents manipulating you in any way?
- Are their needs coming before your own (the exception is if they are elderly or ill)?
- Were/are your parents abusive to you in any way, however subtle?
- Have you tried to talk with them and solve things, to no avail?
- Do you feel that your parents don’t really know you?
- Do your parents stir up trouble in your life?
If you answered yes to one or more these questions, and you also feel burdened by your relationship with your parents, it may be a sign that you need some distance to maximize your own personal growth and health.
Yes, parenting truly is the hardest job in the world. But parents are meant to launch you, not limit you. If your individuation didn’t happen fully through your adolescence, you may need to work at separating from your parents now in order to have the healthy, strong, independent life that you are meant to live.
So what does distancing mean when it comes to parents? It doesn’t mean moving farther away. It doesn’t mean being less kind or loving toward them. It doesn’t necessarily mean doing anything drastically different. In fact, distance can be achieved by changing yourself and your own internal response to what happens between you. I know this sounds difficult and complicated. So watch for a future blog on How to Get Healthy Distance From Your Parents.
Guilt is, for many, built in to the adult separation process, unfortunately. So separating from your parents may be no less painful now, as an adult, than it was when you were an adolescent. But the good news is, you are grown up. You’re developed. You’re stronger. Now you can better understand what’s wrong.