By being a parent and bringing up a kid, they make the ultimate sacrifice. Nothing the kids do ever equals that. Their love never matches up.
We talk a lot about how much parents love their children. But not enough about how much children love their parents, regardless of the kind of parenting they had.
The other day I saw this tweet calling all single people and couples who choose not to have kids ‘selfish and inferior’ compared to those who have kids. Parenthood > Marriage > Single-dom. ‘You haven’t yet lived for anyone but yourself,’ it said.
As if we don’t have enough constructs that divide and pit us against each other already, here was one more. That tweet right there, for me, was the wrong ideas, ideals and idolisation of parenthood, encapsulated into a single tweet. (I hoped it was about some politician who isn’t a parent and not a completely uncalled for generalisation.)
Parenthood is glorified or even deified to such exalted levels that parents can, except in the rarest of the rare edge cases, do no wrong. Even if they do, it is done with the best of intentions and ‘love that only parents know and feel,’ or for ‘reasons that only parents understand.’
Kids can never know that. Unless they become a parent some day, of course. When I say kids, I mean people of all ages but are still kids in some ways.
We can declare every single parent out there a saint for all I care. By default. An evil person gets married, has a kid and is granted sainthood. Objections overruled.
The only thing stopping me from granting every parent the sainthood just yet is that there are a number of traumatised adults out there. These adults have no idea of what they are going through and why.
Showing traits of low self-worth or people pleasing behaviour. Or paying their acquired toxicity forward to partners, friends, colleagues and the world at large. And even silently suffering and nursing their emotional wounds for decades and dealing with various degrees of depression. It emerges, a lot of these traits are the result of parenting gone wrong.
But this article is not to blame parents, how they can be better parents or how kids can recover or anything like that. There is enough and more material out there to read up on the topic. Rather, my intent is to shine some light on the love that kids have for parents.
The child’s love is not even acknowledged by parents most of the time. It’s a given because, what else can kids do anyway. By being a parent and bringing up a kid, parents made the ultimate sacrifice. Nothing the kid does can ever equal that. The kid’s love can never match up.
Imagine that. Pure, unadulterated, unconditional love can’t match the love of parents. All because parents are automatically always unquestionably on a higher plane than children.
Parents are awesome, no doubt. But kids are equally awesome, if not awesomer. Take the whole “sacrifice” angle of parenthood out, and we have pretty much a regular relationship with an extremely skewed power vs. dependency equation, rather than a balanced equation of love.
Let’s look at some examples.
The all-too-familiar story of children who dream of pursuing one career, but are forced to be someone else by parents.
Partly out of fear of “If you don’t study hard you will fail in life. You will beg on the streets, you will bring shame on the family, I will kill myself.”
Or partly as a response to emotional blackmail: “I sacrificed my dreams to give you a good life now it’s your turn to sacrifice your dreams to give your child a good life.”
Partly in repayment for being brought into existence: “We had so much hope for you, we prayed for years and god gave you to us so if you love us at all, you have to do as we say.”
Or to make the family proud, to live the parents’ unrealised dreams, ambitions and competitive pursuits.
And what do the kids do? They love their parents so much that they do whatever the parents want. Too many people I know have killed their dreams, freedom and individuality to make a parent happy. Or to be their support and source of peace in a rather torturous life.
Some have done it without complaining. Others have rebelled and cried and protested and in the end given in. Some have gone their own way and even cut their parents out of their life because there is no hope for a common ground.
The consequences of toxic parenting don’t stop at someone giving up on their dreams and having a different career or wife or life that is still good. It goes much deeper than that.
One story I have come across is that of a budding writer whose whole life was completely controlled by his parents. They even chose his profession for him!
Luckily he got to choose his wife. By then, he was so frustrated of having his life micromanaged even at 31, he started taking his frustration out on his wife. He was married to his sweetheart but would mentally and, in moments of rage, physically, abuse her.
His mom and wife fight but he is forced to take his mom’s side. The guilt and pain of all this bears heavily on him, and he started drinking to allay his pain. Still unable to find relief, it overflows into his workplace where he starts abusing his subordinates.
If you tell him, ‘wait a second, don’t you think the problem isn’t you, your wife or your colleagues but your parents,’ how do you think he will respond? He will throw you, whoever you are, out of his life for accusing his parents of creating the problems in his life.
It’s not that he doesn’t know, but that he can never admit this truth even to himself, much less to another person. He can never stand up to his parents and speak his heart because he thinks they will be hurt. Though he is hurt every second and hurts other people too, he cannot entertain the thought of hurting his parents.
Someone is literally destroying himself and his life to protect his parents but somehow parents’ love is greater? This was almost seven years ago. Today he has managed, with the help of his wife and a few good friends, to see the truth and find a middle ground. And to make amends and live a peaceful and happy life.
One of the most brilliant, kind, joyful people I have ever met. She has been a workaholic all her life. An overachiever no matter what you throw at her. Everyone she works with is in awe of her intelligence, charisma, how articulate she is and so on.
Little do we know that she suffered extreme abuse and neglect as a child, and learnt to take care of herself and her siblings by the age of 10. She was always told by her parents that she is fat and ugly, and will never find someone to marry her, god help her.
They constantly told her they wished she was a son over and over again. She developed PCOD, became manly and denied her womanhood for a long time. Her dad would beat her up and box her so hard. The first blow was often on her back.
She has been suffering from pain in her upper back ever since she was a kid of eight. There’s a lot more but she feels we needn’t shock people too much with all the scary details. Her parents never used to acknowledge her achievements because who cares about achievements of girls. I suppose it suffices to say that today, at 44, merely revisiting these memories makes the pain on her back come back.
She is a warrior and a hero, and grew up to be this extremely independent, capable and successful person respected and adored by everyone. People fall in love with her vibe instantly, and everyone wants her to be their friend.
But it’s not that her parents’ toxicity had no effect on her. Despite being brilliant and everyone always telling her so, she has a very low opinion of herself and her intelligence. She constantly doubts her ability to find the kind of work that deserves her kind of talent and commitment, and settles for companies that exploit her.
And she lets them abuse her for years. She’ll be the person bringing in the highest revenue and profit for the company, but the least paid. Unpaid, underpaid and overworked for years. But as someone who has undergone extreme trauma since she was a kid, this is normal for her.
I read somewhere, extreme independence is a trauma response.
In her case, until she fell sick and dropped down from exhaustion, she kept going back to work, doing everything for everyone at and outside of work. It took her exhaustion with various ailments and was admitted into the hospital and forced to stay there by doctors to not do that.
She had to literally fall sick from the continuous emotional, financial and energetic abuse by her highly respected employer to sit up and take notice. Finally, she packed her bags and went and figured things out.
It took her years of trauma responses, sickness, months of self-evaluation, research and self-care for the first time in her life, to start connecting the dots. Then she finally made sense of herself. And the answer looking at her now is parental neglect and toxicity.
Her response? She realises the best thing to do is love herself like she deserves to be loved, and continue to love everyone else but with boundaries and self-respect.
Now she says, “They didn’t know how to bring up or care for kids and were terrible parents to me, but they are good people now. My life is a gazillion times better now. I am not powerless or dependent on them anymore.”
In the last few years, I’ve come across quite a few people – friends and strangers – who have had varied degrees of toxic parenting backstories. The story always pours out like it’s been just discovered and cannot stay hidden any longer.
In narrating the story, the survivors find solace and healing. Sometimes, they are able to make deeper sense of what happened and have penny drop moments while sharing the story. They even connecting with others who have been through similar experiences.
Recently I read a social thread where people narrated the most painful words said to them. A surprising number of the comments and the most hurtful comments were those made by parents to children. And the kids are hurting from it years later. You can’t read those comments and not cry.
It’s painful to even read or hear about so I can only imagine what kids go through with those kind of parents. From parents who tell their kids they are ugly and fat and stupid, to parents who have told kids they should have been aborted.
Even parents who asked their kids over and over again “why don’t you go and kill yourself.” And parents who are always telling their children their whole life was ruined the day the child was born. Or other seemingly harmless statements made for the kids’ own good.
I’m not talking about little kids here. These are 20, 30, 40, 50 year-old adults grieving and nursing the pain of what their parents said/did to them since their childhood.
In most cases, the intent of the parent isn’t to be toxic, but the outcome makes it so. Which is food for thought. “With great power comes great responsibility.” And with the kind of power parents have over children, they have the responsibility to think through the outcome of every small thing they do. If that’s not something they can do, they MUST NOT become a parent just for the glory or because you are supposed to or whatever. Today, you could get sued for that.
Kids carry hurts inflicted by parents well into adulthood. They sabotage their lives and self-esteem and more. When they start thinking about why, is when they start healing themselves.
The stories we hear are heart-breaking. But what’s more heart-breaking and heart-melting is kids of toxic parents having the kind of love and understanding. The understanding that shows them their parents too are victims of toxic parenting, toxic societal conditioning and the times they grew up in.
Instead of blaming parents, they try to empathise and see that parents were also coping with their own shit accumulated through life. This kind of unconditional, all-forgiving love, understanding and empathy is perhaps what to-be parents should be ready to give their children.
Isn’t it wonderful? This kind of understanding and love and sacrifice kids have/make for parents? Don’t they also deserve credit for being marvellous creatures doing the work of healing the trauma of the whole family through love and forgiveness? Good parents get most of the credit for raising great human beings.
Until just a few years ago, nobody used to talk about this or any kind of unsavoury life experiences. I am glad things have changed today.
Thanks to social media, digital media and a connected world, we talk more openly about a lot of sensitive topics. Psychology, mental health, the causes of broken mental health and how to heal yourself have been among the most discussed and popular topics.
Thousands of pages, groups and profiles on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and websites exist to change people’s perceptions about mental health. They have been raising awareness, taking the taboo out of these topics, normalising every kind of trauma. And even what society considers a disorder or abnormal and helping people for real.
It’s very common to see a post that says something like, “Children of abusive parents grow up to be adults without a sense of self-worth.” Then, there are thousands of comments below it saying “Oh my god so that’s how I became a people pleaser!” or narrating their own experience surviving toxic parents.
On Facebook, there are several groups dedicated to helping people understand their trauma and supporting them through recovery.
The work done by these communities is nothing short of admirable. These communities provide a safe space for people to come and talk about what they have been going through and work with them through recovery.
Many of these are run by mental health experts or social workers or trauma survivors. They do an amazing job of disseminating information on various health issues and empowering people to take control of their own well-being.
Today, there is a lot of information out there about how parent the right way. I believe that with right parenting, and people working on healing themselves from their traumas beautiful changes will happen in families. And even societies and the whole world.
I see it happening to a good extent even in these early days of mass awareness and widespread recovery. When we continue healing ourselves and the world around, perhaps we’d still be making our parents proud. Maybe in ways they haven’t yet imagined. And it’d be the love we have for our parents, of which enough paeans aren’t being sung yet, that made it possible.
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Mohabbatein
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