One of the Greatest Injustices of Existence. . .

. . . is that children always love their parents but parents often don’t love their children.

No matter how horrible the relationship is, how much abuse and heart-ache there has been, how many years have passed, a child always hopes that one day Mommy will say, “You know, I’m really sorry. I’m sorry for things I have done. I didn’t know any better and I’m sorry” and Daddy will say, “You turned out very well. You are a great human being. Remember how I said that you were a disappointment? That wasn’t true. I said it in anger and I’m sorry.”

Parents, however, often spend years and decades passionately disliking every aspect of their children’s way of being and communicating it to them in excruciating detail. And no amount of “I’m sorry, Mom, Dad, I’m sorry that I can’t be what you want me to be, I’m sorry but this is how I need to do things to remain sane” changes anything.

This happens because when children are small, their parents are always not just people but the people. The most important, crucial human beings whose every angry glare is perceived as the end of the world, whose every rejection confers a feeling of universal loneliness, of being abandoned by God.

For parents, however, the greatest struggle is always to see children as separate human beings. It is hard, indeed. They came out of your body, they were completely dependent on you for a long time. Besides, after everything one sacrifices to bring them into the world and keep them alive and healthy, it’s not unnatural to start expecting something in return. “I gave you life, so I feel it belongs to me,” is a tacit conclusion many parents reach. Seeing their children as people is a feat many parents never manage to perform.

“How can you do something like this to a person?” a daughter asks her mother.

The mother looks at her in bewilderment.

“What person?” she asks with heart-breaking sincerity. “I’m doing it to you. You are not a person. You are my daughter.”

If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, then you should thank your lucky stars, sit quietly in a corner and not comment on something that, for many people, constitutes the greatest tragedy of their existence.

18 thoughts on “One of the Greatest Injustices of Existence. . .”

  1. Yeah, that was exactly my situation. I’m sorry if this was yours, as it appears to be.

    Actually, that was just the baseline of the underlying problem I had to face. There was another level to it, apart from the inability of my father to discern that I was a different person from him. He was also reversing the parent-child relationship, so that I was responsible for him, for his failures, his moody outbursts and so on. At times, he was a two year old yelling his hostilities at a figure he took to be his mother.

    Then there were also the problems brought on by cultural shock, loss of identity and stress — all factors of migration. I was not behaving like a right-wing female, as my father had anticipated I ought to be doing. This seemed like a betrayal to him — although one expressed in angry, aggressive attitudes, rather than words.

    Then there was the fact that the rest of my family were rather right wing — and religious to differing degrees. They bought into my father’s cover-up story that I was an unpleasant person who required heavy berating and control to set me on the right path.

    So, there were many layers of difficulty for me, brought on by my father’s very strange early relationship with his mother.

    And, people didn’t believe me that there was anything odd about my father. They inevitably bought his line that father’s are good and caring and upheld a view that there was something wrong with me.

    And when I was bullied at work, this appeared like confirmation to my father that there was something wrong with me that required even more severe correction.

    So, yes, I understand where you are coming from.

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  2. But I have heard it is the opposite – parents necessarily love children, but children don’t necessarily love them back, and you don’t know what love is until you love a child, etc.

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    1. Look at real life examples, though. How often do you see children beating, sexually abusing, humiliating their parents, invading their privacy, endlessly criticizing their life choices? If that happens, it is extremely rare. And how often does the opposite happen? How many people do you know who are endlessly criticized, berated, used and abused by their parents?

      Some people can have any number of children and there is still just one kind of love that they can experience – the one they feel towards themselves.

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      1. My intuition disagrees with you, Clarissa. May be you’ll search statistics on Elder Abuse and Neglect vs Child Abuse? I found f.e. this article
        http://www.apa.org/pi/aging/resources/guides/elder-abuse.aspx

        Every year an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological, or other forms of abuse and neglect. Those statistics may not tell the whole story. For every case of elder abuse and neglect that is reported to authorities, experts estimate that there may be as many as five cases that have not been reported. Recent research suggests that elders who have been abused tend to die earlier than those who are not abused, even in the absence of chronic conditions or life threatening disease.

        Most elder abuse and neglect takes place at home. The great majority of older people live on their own or with their spouses, children, siblings, or other relatives-not in institutional settings. When elder abuse happens, family, other household members, and paid caregivers usually are the abusers. Although there are extreme cases of elder abuse, often the abuse is subtle, and the distinction between normal interpersonal stress and abuse is not always easy to discern.

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        1. Most elderly people in Western countries do not live with their adult children. Which is what your own quote demonstrates. And also, your quote talks about the kind of abuse that is often not even abuse. When the numbers of children who are raped and killed by their parents are, indeed, huge and can’t be confused with “normal stress.”

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      1. I mean to the effect , ” a son may be cruel to the mother, but it never happens the other way round” Good, old-fashioned , nurturing motherhood is of course a revered trait in my culture. The mother-son relationship particularly is highlighted in all its melodramatic glory in pop culture.

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  3. I saw so many heartbreaking examples of this when I practiced family law, no matter how callused I became (which was necessary to work in family law), there was always something involving children that could shock me. I think part of it is that many parents think of children as a “project” that they are putting out in the world. No matter what other projects they have failed at, or maybe because they have failed at so many, they think of their children as something that will redeem them. And as a child, even if you can intellectually realize that your parents are just screwed up people, you still need that unconditional love.

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  4. By the way, has anybody heard of the dead bodies of parents being strewn in gutters because they happen to have the gender their children don’t like?

    http://www.taliacarner.com/deadnewborningutter.html

    “An estimated 17 million girls are “missing” from the population nationwide. Infanticide and abandonment account for some of these lost females”

    – 17 million parents killed their little girls. Is there a country where similar numbers of parricide are reported?

    I don’t think so.

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  5. thank you for this post. There have been several posts on dysfunctional parenthood going around the blogosphere today and I no longer have the spoons to comment coherently without having a meltdown, but thank you for writing the post.

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  6. I’m with you here. The relationship between my mother and her mother (i.e. my maternal grandmother) was terribly dysfunctional. My grandmother was a cold and cruel woman and my mother spent the entire life trying to win her love; never happened (was painfully obvious even to me as a child). My grandmother controlled every aspect of her two daughters’ lives and held them under her paw until she died. Both daughters had screwed-up love lives and were constantly undermined in efforts to actually separate from their mother (yes, I grew up with parents, sister, and my maternal grandparents) and have anything resembling a harmonious relationship with a man. My grandmother was smart, strong-willed and fascinating, but also a tyrant and a misandrist.

    Often I am very happy to have an ocean between me and my primary family.

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  7. This makes me feel fortunate that my parents did apologize to me. The apologies aren’t fully satisfying, though–they’re usually tempered with points like, “but you shouldn’t have been such a sensitive person in the first place.” Still, I guess at least they’re trying, and for that I’m grateful.

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  8. Everything is okay for me now. My father once acknowledged the depth of his difficulties by stating, ” I thought [i.e. I still think] that you were part of my brain.” Since his stroke, I am no longer part of his brain, and he is able to see me as a distinct person.

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