The relationship between parent and child is rarely a smooth one. Tumultuous, painful, frustrating. All of these words can define how these relationships can be; not only from the child’s point of view, but from the parents’ as well. I will not say that nature has set us up to fail, but it has set us up for extreme difficulty.
Humans are mammals, of course, and they feed, nurture, protect, care for and educate their children from the day of their birth. It’s a full time job of teaching and learning for everyone involved.
When children are born, they are so tiny and so helpless. They need us so much and it is hard to let go of that. But the nature of human growth and development is for our tiny helpless infants to grow into fully functioning, thriving adults. And even after they do, it is still hard for many to let go and realize that they are capable of making their own decisions, even if the parents don’t agree with them.
Would it be easier if we weren’t so helpless when we are born? Maybe. After fertilization and development, snakes lay their eggs and never look back. Harp seals nurse their pups for 12 days, then they abandon them to go and start mating; leaving the pups to fend for themselves. Can you imagine fat little newborn humans, plump with high calorie mother’s milk crawling around and surviving in the wild, or just lying in one spot, screaming their heads off? They wouldn’t make it very far or for very long. And for those who do survive and grow up, they would not have to deal with the peril of navigating a parent-child relationship, nor would they experience the joys of one either.
Transitions. I think that is where the problem lies. We, humans, have difficulty with transitions and raising a child, as well as raising a parent, is riddled with transitions. They are like mine fields waiting to blow up your parent-child relationship.
When children are small and growing, they don’t need their parents to be their friends. They will have tons of friends, good and bad, over the years; but their parents should be consistent, steadfast, unyielding pillars of strength and knowledge, straight shooting no matter the situation. Parents need to be reliable and dependable, because for the most part, friends are not. Children need to learn from us always, but especially those first twenty years. Those years can make or break the future for them. But during the latter part of those first twenty years, when they are delving heavily into personal and educational decision making, parents need to transition into an advisory role. By this point, we know our children’s strengths and weaknesses; and we have some knowledge about the best way to navigate life’s pit falls; so we need to advise them about what may be best for them, but not brow beat or force; that only leads to tension, resentment and rebellion.
The advisory period can last a short time, or it can last for the rest of your lives. If the advisory period continues through the child’s twenties; then the parent-child will encounter another transition. As the child reaches their 30s, they finally feel more like an adult around their parents, and they can transition into a friendship; a true friendship, because you have known each other since the beginning of life. As a child, if you’re lucky, no one knows you better, but now, the child can learn their parents on a different level. They can establish a rapport and exchange stories, and ideas, safely without the stigma of “I can’t tell my parents that; they’ll freak.” Or “I can’t tell my child that; he/she is just a child.”
Unfortunately, this is the transition that stalls out nine times out of ten. It stalls because of fear and shame. People may be ashamed to share the intimacies of their life, because they feel they may be judged. Hopefully, parents and children can love each other past those two devastating emotions, allowing all to grow the stronger for it.
This is the time, where children can learn, “My parents are flawed just like me.” And parents can learn, “My child is an adult who can help and advise me, just like I have them.” The goal is to reach common ground, and put all of the acquired baggage of life aside to become an even closer and stronger family unit.
You may ask, “What do you know?” I am speaking as an older daughter and as a mother to a little girl. I have felt the dynamics on both sides of the spectrum and will continue to as I age, as my mom ages and as my daughter ages. Common ground. It’s achievable. But it takes hard work, effort, understanding and a willingness to accept the flaws of the other and apologize for the wrongs visited upon the other.
We are imperfect, fallible, sometimes strong and sometimes fragile; I think those things make us beautiful, not the unyielding perfection that so many of us aspire to. Mother and daughters, fathers and sons, find that common ground, devoid of pride and shame and see the beauty in each other.