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17 Things I Want to Tell My Parents After I Have Become a Parent

17 Things I Want to Tell My Parents After I Have Become a Parent

My parents sometimes tell me that I changed their lives more than any other single person, including each other. I am their firstborn child, and it was only after I became a mother myself three years ago that I finally understood what they meant. My own two children have completely rewired my priorities, routines, and emotions. Becoming a parent myself has also added depth and texture to the gratitude I have always felt towards my own parents. Here are 17 things I would like to tell my own parents now that I have become a parent myself.

1.  I am truly, truly sorry for what I did to your sleep.

I expected some midnight wakefulness on the front end of this parenting gig, but I had no earthly idea what we were really in for. And now I realize that you didn’t warn me how bad it could really get because the chronic sleep deprivation that you were enduring during the early years of my life, have made it almost impossible for you to recall those years in any detail. So, thank you for enduring years of irrational and determined resistance to sleeping, 2am screaming marathons, and demands in the wee dark hours for company, drinks, dry sheets, the vanquishing of monsters, etc.

2.  Thank you for saying no to me.

Until I became the mother of a toddler and a three year old, I never realized how much energy it takes to keep saying no over and over again—even to things like touching power-points and playing with scissors. Thank you for setting some limits and sticking to them in the face of repeated and vociferous (and did I mention repeated?) demands. Those no’s helped teach me to be more patient, appreciate my possessions, and cope more effectively with frustration.

3.  Thank you for reading me so many stories.

Until you have to read Fox In Socks every single night for three weeks, you don’t truly appreciate the degree of sacrificial patience it can take to read to toddlers. Thank you for reading to me at all times of the day and night when I was little. I know there were probably times you would rather have been at the dentist than reading me Are You My Mother for the 452nd time, but all of those stories ignited my imagination and established reading as a lifelong passion.

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4.  Thank you for teaching me that poo does, indeed, belong in the toilet.

Thank you for changing approximately 5500 of my diapers. Thank you, also, for spending many hours convincing me that using the toilet properly really is an essential life skill, for wiping my bottom countless time, and for repeatedly wrestling me out of wet clothes and into dry ones. Also, if I was anywhere near as difficult to toilet train as my own kids are proving to be, then I apologize for the couch, carpet, and mattress I undoubtedly ruined all those years ago.

5.  Thank you for answering approximately one million questions that started with the word “why”?

Listening to little person chatter gets tiring (and, let’s face it, sometimes boring, too). Thank you for all the times you stopped what you were doing and paid attention to me when I wanted to talk to you. Thank you for taking my childish contributions seriously and for asking me questions. Thank you, in particular, for answering innumerable “why?” questions (and particular kudos for doing that in the pre-Google era).

6.  Thank you for loving each other.

Parenting can feel a lot like being the logistics manager of a small business—a 24-hour on-call business with customers who are impossible to satisfy completely. Thank you for making each other a priority despite the continuous barrage of demands from your knee-high charges. Thank you for hugging and kissing each other, for sharing, for speaking nicely, and for using please and thank you. In other words, thank you for treating each other lovingly and respectfully, the way you were always telling me that I should treat people. I was watching.

7.  Thank you for trying so hard to figure out what was best for me.

Parenting is 1001 daily decisions and not all of them have easy answers. I rarely feel completely sure that I’ve made the right call when I’m deciding how and when to discipline, when to hold a line or to compromise, and where to draw that line in the first place. Thank you for all the time, energy, and emotion you spent on trying to figure out what was best for me.

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8.  Thank you for not telling me that I could do anything I set my mind to.

You didn’t raise me to believe I could do anything (because, let’s be honest, it was apparent from quite early on that astrophysics lay outside my field of strengths). However, you raised me to believe that doing what I was interested in would lead me to figure out what I was good at. And that doing what I was good at would help make me happier and the world a better place.

9.  Thank you for feeding me.

Until I gave birth to a child who apparently never feels hungry, I had absolutely no idea how much creativity, effort, and anguish can go into getting a child to do something as necessary as eat. Thank you for feeding me. Thanks for making sure that I actually ate. And special thanks for never telling me, “Oh, he’ll eat if he gets hungry enough,” in the last two years.

10.  I’m sorry for all the worries I’ve caused.

Until I had a baby of my own, I didn’t really understand that having children means watching a big piece of your heart walking around this big scary world—climbing trees, traveling in cars, and sometimes getting their bodies and feelings hurt. I didn’t really understand that my own birth granted you fear right alongside love. Thank you for embracing that burden of vulnerability, and for loving me enough to worry about me.

11.  Thank you for showing me the world.

When you are little, your family is your whole world. So thank you for taking our little family out into the big wide world. Thank you for showing me so many different people and places, for embracing adventure, and for teaching me to do the same.

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12.  Thank you for saying “I love you.”

I was lucky – I never doubted that you loved me. But I was extra-lucky that you also said it out loud. Words matter, especially when they are “I love you,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry.”

13.  Thank you for loving my children.

Now that I have babies of my own, I realize how precious and awe-inspiring they are. Sure, I have hours when I’m just done chasing a toddler around, and if you leave me alone with my kids for too long I am likely to end up bored, stir-crazy, and craving a glass of wine. But even when parenting is high on hard work and low on happy feeling, I know my children are miracles. Thank you for loving them with the same whole-hearted, focused, and transparent love you lavished on me.

14.  Thank you for teaching me your beliefs.

Thank you for taking me to church while we were growing up, and for telling me what you believed about God, the universe, and the meaning of life. This gave me a starting point. It gave me an enduring belief that all this matters, somehow, and a solid framework of meaning that I could test, question, and adapt as I grew and changed.

15.  Thank you for always letting me come home

Thank you for letting me move back in with you at 26, when I wanted to quit being a psychologist and write a novel instead. That worked out better than any of us expected. Thank you for keeping an open door throughout years of globe-trotting. You have provided a safety net that helped enable me turn my face to the wind and embrace adventure.

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16.  I forgive you.

Last week I heard my three year old cry out from the next bedroom. I was hurrying to get to him and he was hurrying to get to me. When I opened his bedroom door he was trying to come out, and the corner of the door hit him in the face and split his lip wide open. I felt terrible. Mum and Dad, I want you to know that I forgive you for those times when you accidentally hurt me, or you lost your temper and said things in ways you wish you could take back.

17.  I love you.

Thank you for parenting me then, and being friends with me now. Thank you for all that you did then, and all that you still do now to support and encourage me. Thank you for, so much of the time, looking like love to me.

Featured photo credit: parents via i.huffpost.com

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Last Updated on November 11, 2019

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

A dysfunctional family is more than disagreement or constant arguments. Anything from plain neglect, to abuse and even verbal and physical violence is the everyday experience of those who are part of a dysfunctional family.

You know how this looks:

  • Parents constantly comparing children.
  • Siblings in conflict because of tolerated bullying.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Adultery…
  • And many others.

For all the members, this will mean emotional pain and even trauma; which, in case it doesn’t get resolved, will have a detrimental effect on the individual’s personality and development.

Needless to say, the younger members are the most vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean the parents are out of danger, as most commonly the parents play the roles of abuser-codependent, and in some cases, both parts inflicting pain on one another.

Most like to think these problems stem from deep-seated issues, and that therefore it’s pretty much impossible to deal with them.

This is only true for families not willing to do what it takes, for if only a single member is determined and knows how to do it, the whole family can do a lot of progress.

In this article, I’ll break down for you the basic steps of fixing a dysfunctional family. Although it may seem hopeless, it is possible to turn things around.

If you have ever felt in this position, or if you know somebody who is, this article is for you.

How to fix a dysfunctional family

In a few words the solution for a dysfunctional family lies in dropping the ego, focusing on the solution, switching blame for responsibility and doing the work as a unity, for the good of the whole family.

And this will accomplish things you once only saw as a dream.

Dropping the ego? Switching blame for responsibility? Doing the work? What does all this mean?

It’s simple. In a nutshell, it’s that which will allow you to turn a dysfunctional family into a functional one.

Let’s take a look at how exactly this can be done. And near the end we will also talk about what you can do in a dysfunctional family with cynical traits.

Dysfunctional families where not only problems are well-known, but also nobody seems to want a fix or openly decide to perpetuate the harmful behaviors. Such as the case of abuse and physical violence.

There is also a solution for these, it’s just not what you are expecting…

Dysfunctional… Or just average?

Most families are dysfunctional, though at varying degrees of dysfunctionality.

The milder cases, are just marked by “typical” comically-shrouded bullying or lack of interest in other members’ development or wellbeing.

You can know a family is dysfunctional if their interactions are anything different than cooperation, solidarity, care and support. But let’s get more specific…

A dysfunctional family is one in which members directly or indirectly suffer emotional and/or physical harm inflicted by other members of their family. Most commonly, perpetrated by the parents.

Even harmful actions as “passive” as neglect, which is inflicted by inaction rather than action, signifies a dysfunction within the family.

Dysfunctional families have conflicts such as:

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of interest and time spent together
  • Sexism
  • Utilitarianism
  • Lack of empathy
  • Unequal or unfair treatment
  • Disrespect towards boundaries
  • Control Issues
  • Jealousy
  • Verbal and physical abuse
  • Violence and even sexual misconduct or abuse

You may think a dysfunctional family has very little or nothing to do with personal productivity, but you would be wrong in thinking this way…

If a person is not emotionally well, she will not be able to perform as desired, as the emotional harm that has been inflicted will hinder everyday performance in the way of inability to concentrate, lack of mental clarity and low levels of inspiration, motivation and discipline.

Having a functional family does exactly the opposite: It creates productive members with no emotional baggage.

How to turn it around

When you’re part of a dysfunctional family you know it. You can quickly identify in other members the behaviors and conflicts that create the dysfunction.

But just in case you’re having trouble telling functional from dysfunctional I will tell you the following:

One of the easiest ways you can recognize if you are in a dysfunctional family is to survey your won feelings.

We often overlook this, but have you stopped to ask yourself how you feel?

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As cheesy as it may sound it really sheds a lot of light on the subject.

What behaviors, actions and attitudes in your family you wish were better?

Do you think certain behaviors and actions from your family marked you in the past?

Sadly, we cannot go back to the past to correct it. But we can do a lot in the present…

Correction is possible

In order to fix a dysfunctional family, you must start by putting an end to the behaviors and actions that are affecting you.

Verbalize it.

All members of the dysfunctional family have one issue in common: They don’t put a stop to the harm.

Whenever you feel your boundaries being overstepped there is just one single word you have to remember: STOP.

This is the door to a better, more functional family, because after this, comes the fix.

But first you have to identify and make others know where exactly lies the problem.

So go ahead and fearlessly start with “Stop”, followed by your expression of dissatisfaction.

Putting it to work in real life

In real life it would be something like this:

“OK, stop! Every time you belittle me I feel you don’t care. I need attention and respect, and it is your responsibility as my family to provide them to me”

Or:

“Stop. When you compare me with my cousin it hurts, I feel like I don’t matter and that’s not ok. I ask you to stop doing it.

Or:

“Please stop. When you start yelling all respect is lost and it turns into a battle of who can do it louder. Don’t raise your voice and let’s work this out the way humans do”.

As you can see, here you start by putting a stop to the toxic behavior when it arises. And afterwards you verbalize why it’s wrong and what needs of you need to be fulfilled.

This is what you have to remember:

1-Stop.

2-Why it’s wrong?

3-What you need.

And this will also work well in case you need to do it for another family member.

It’s a family thing

A dysfunctional family cannot be fixed by one member alone.

Yes, a single member can initiate progress and be the leader of the change. But in order to completely become functional all members must contribute to the solution.

In other words, you will need cooperation…

So don’t be afraid of asking for it!

Approach your family member and ask to be listened.

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We sometimes feel our needs are “not that important” or we simply believe they won’t listen. But thinking like this would be like being defeated at an unfought battle.

You will be amazed by how much people listen when you voice your needs, especially if it implies showing yourself open, vulnerable and in need.

It’s not a free-for-all battle

In order to get your family to cooperate, first you must fix your individual relationships with every member of the family. Remember: Relationships are always between two people, and two people only.

No matter how complex, the quality of a multi-member relationship (like a family) will always depend on the quality of the individual relationships.

Once you have straightened the relationship with every member of the dysfunctional family you will be able to better communicate with other members and help in the betterment of their individual relationship.

And this is where we will talk about the fix itself. The one I mentioned in the introduction…

The method

1. Drop the ego

Wherever there is conflict there is ego.

You cannot fix a relationship where there is ego, because the ego will want to win. Always. Yours and the other person.

Ego craves control and satisfaction, and in many cases, to establish dominance.

What does this have to do with a dysfunctional family? Everything. Ego will interfere with every plan you have to fix it.

It will make people suborn and defensive. And it will also make them drop responsibility. This is why, the first step is to drop the ego.

After you make sure you are not going to allow your ego to interfere you must work to make the other person do the same. How? By speaking from the heart…

Tell the other person how important all this is to you.

Tell the other person that it’s not a matter of arguing, but just working things out together.

Point out how it is not possible for you to do it alone.

And ask for sincere attention without any desire of opposition, because what you are doing is by no means in the hopes of harming the other person, but just to better the relationship and stop the damage being dealt to you.

You will have to point out the mistakes you need corrected, that’s for sure. And that leads me to the next point…

2. Not blame, but responsibility

When talking about others’ mistakes we often use an accusatory tone. And that’s natural, it’s what things should be like if ego was not present.

But since we are all creatures of ego, this immediately brings the shields up. And then unsheathes the swords…

When we blame others they automatically enter a defensive state, and this only leads to a failed negotiation.

What you need to do is to shift from blame to responsibility. And even that will have to be done carefully!

Instead of telling them off or demanding change or complaining, calmly point what the problem with their behavior is.

As much as this feels contradictory, also make them feel understood. You know how difficult it is to accept a mistake, so just make them feel it’s no big fuzz… which does not mean it’s ok, but it takes tension off.

You will do something like this:

“Hello dad. Can I talk with you for a minute? I really need to tell you something.

I have been feeling pretty sad lately and I know this is something you do care about.

You see, whenever I talk about my accomplishments you mention something else that makes my achievement pale in comparison.

I know you don’t do this intentionally and I know you might have not realized this until now, but I want to let you know this really brings me down.

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It would mean a lot to me if you could stop doing it, and it would help better our relationship, because this has already forced me to distance myself from you. And I don’t want that, I want a good, healthy relationship with you”

What happened here?

We started off with making it something important, something that needs both time and attention. Then we openly show ourselves vulnerable, just as we are.

We also mention why he should listen, and shove our feelings there again, because they are important.

We describe the issue with no attachment and with no hostile intention. It’s just a description.

And then we take the blame off. Just before we assign responsibility without actually saying it.

You are not blaming him directly, but you are pointing out the inevitable fact that his actions are causing a dysfunctionality. He is now responsible for changing.

This is what “switching blame for responsibility” means. What comes next? Doing the work!

3. Doing the work

What would any of this mean if, in the end, nothing changes? Exactly, nothing!

This is why you must follow up with every change that needs to be done.

Do so in a manner that is not hostile. Bring it up in a casual manner, and emphasizing how you both reached an agreement and how that is important to the family.

If the person doesn’t follow up don’t hesitate to bring it up again, and tell them you feel disappointed that your honest try at it was not listened.

It may even be a subject in itself, and therefore the need for another conversation.

“When you go back to old habits it shows that you didn’t really care about what I said. But back in real life you just reinforce how much contempt you show towards me and my feelings.

I talk with you because I care. Because although it would be easier for me to just distance myself from you I rather do my part in nurturing this relationship.

But there is just so much I can do, if you refuse to do your part I can do nothing else.”

You need very clear and positive communication in order to make this work.

Love is all you need

You must remember that in order for a dysfunctional family to become functional, all the work needs to stem from love.

That is the single one requirement for all this to work: Love.

And what happens if it simply is not there?

What happens if, nobody is willing to do what it takes?

What happens if a member of the family refuses to change and is happy with the harm he or she is dealing?

There is only one thing you can do:

To break away.

Let’s be honest, people, especially adults, are very difficult to change.

There is a Jewish proverb that I love, which sums it up like this:

“We spend the rest of our lives trying to unlearn what we learned before we were 7”

If you find it very hard to change the very traits that make your family dysfunctional or if it’s simply impossible, you still have a card up your sleeve…

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Although nobody likes to beak away from family members, we must remember we have a responsibility with ourselves as individuals, before any relationship with anyone.

You have the responsibility of making yourself happy and free. Because you matter as an individual, regardless of any relationships you have, be it family, friendship or romantic.

Putting distance

So in case you are dealing with a family member who is simply unwilling to change take both physical and emotional distance.

What do I mean?

Learn, first, to take their damage in a detached manner.

Don’t let it hurt you further. Instead take a deep breath and distance yourself emotionally.

Don’t be attached to feelings such as “Why doesn’t she love me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” or “If he wasn’t like that my life would be perfect”.

Simply refuse to keep participating in the emotional downward spiral and accept, even if it’s painful” that there is nothing you can do. Accept that even without that relationship you are whole, you are worthy of love and respect.

They are their responsibility and you are yours. So decide what is best for you.

Realize it only comes down to two possibilities:

I keep the relationship and therefore accept the abuse. Or…

I choose my peace of mind.

And don’t let your mind fool you. We often think that since we all are imperfect, we must take the good and the bad behaviors of people. And we are especially forgiving towards our family…

Well, guess what? We are also responsible adults who are aware and must own to their acts. Never excuse abuse or violence or transgression towards you or anybody else.

Choose your happiness and if possible, also distance yourself physically, as it will increase your peace of mind tenfold.

How to prevent it

There are two key concepts you must bear in mind in order to prevent the dysfunctionality of a family:

  • To be completely aware of one’s own mistakes and not allow them to impact others and…
  • To make sure our SO’s are also on the same channel before creating a family (i.e. having children)

Dysfunctional families are the product of irresponsible paternity, for the decades-long unresolved emotional conflict ends up surfacing in the family inevitably, and it will for sure harm those who least deserve it: Innocent children.

You may notice we went from talking about family, to talking about individual relationships, to talking about you. We went from “them” to “us” to “me”.

Why? Because in the end you have the power to fix a dysfunctional family. To correct the mistakes you have in yours and to prevent dysfunctionalities if you don’t have a family but plan to create one.

Priorities and clear thought

You may be part of a dysfunctional family, but that does not mean you are powerless or that you have to suffer the consequences.

You learned today how it’s all a matter of priorities and thinking clearly.

You learned that, if love exists, everything is possible. You learned that even when there is no love and no fix for your dysfunctional family, there are still things you can do. It’s a matter of choosing your peace, because you deserve it.

Everything will be better if you apply this knowledge. If you talk to that problematic family member. If you help them see the harm they are doing. If you make sure they do change and treat you the way you need to be treated…

If you choose yourself over that toxic family member. If you refuse to justify the harm that others can do to yourself. If you realize the most important relationship you have is with yourself.

And lastly, that you also have to be aware of your actions and be open to criticism. Because we might be unknowingly harming others. And that would be us creating a dysfunctionality. Don’t allow it to happen.

Dysfunctional families are not impossible to fix. It just takes love, cooperation and responsibility.

But if you tried and those elements are not present, just choose yourself instead.

Featured photo credit: Xavier Mouton Photographie via unsplash.com

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