After therapy sessions, it is occurring to me how my parents (perhaps, most desi parents) never really grow as parents. A person would be a very different parent to a baby and to a teenager because the needs and vulnerabilities of these two development stages are so different.
In fact, a parent would need to be a very different kind of parent to a toddler and a ten-year-old.
But in Pakistan, I feel that parental growth stagnates sometime around when a child is 12–13. Sometimes, it happens even before that. None of our parents really talk to us about puberty and growing up. None of us are taught or can talk about relationships because of moral, cultural, or religious reasons. Forget romantic relationships, most of us cannot even talk about our interpersonal platonic relations because our parents don’t understand us and neither do they understand the importance of these relationships in our lives.
Along with this, there are many things we cannot talk about because our parents will ridicule, dismiss, invalidate, or not see our feelings and perspectives because they’re busy upholding their parental pedestal.
It’s like our parents refuse to acknowledge us growing up which reinforces their own lack of growth as parents.
With this sort of mindset, what do you get?
You have parents who are still parenting their adult children like actual children.
They do not apologize to us but ask us to eat, peel us fruits, remind us to wear jackets, lock up cars, lock up doors, wash our hands, be careful, and other pieces of parental “wisdom,” which is very basic advice that’s been imprinted in us since we were young already. These reminders are simply our parents trying to repeat the same things that always seemed to work with us. But somehow, they don’t work anymore, our parents would say. It’s like you’re a completely different person. And of course, they would think that. Because they don’t see that the child whom they treat like eight is actually eighteen.
I am not saying they don’t care. They do. They care a lot.
But parents are coming from a level of care where the parent is always concerned about keeping the child safe, away from harm, and alive.
In my opinion, this really reduces the kind of parental advice and care one needs as an adult.
Because we as adults know enough about the world to no longer be infantilized. Yet we still have parents who expect us to be the same children because they’re still the same kind of parents.
This is why so many of our parental relationships are strained or just based on civilities. We’re forced to hide a lot from them because parents refuse to grow as parents and acknowledge us as adults. How many of us are still lectured, have curfews, and various other restrictions? How many of us are still told off or scolded the same way as if we know nothing and haven’t seen anything if somehow we do manage to share something?
Parents love us.
They really do and they try to love us in the ways they always did because it always worked (according to them) before, when we were actually children.
However, cooking a favorite meal in response to an emotionally disturbed adult versus a kid throwing a tantrum are very two different things (I am not even in support of cooking a meal in response to any person — no matter what age — displaying emotions which aren’t validated or addressed).
Infantilization is another route parents choose. Parents infantilize you by speaking to you in the same “I am older and know better” tone whenever you do go to them with adult decisions. These things may have worked when we were kids and we did believe they were older and wiser. But we have also had various experiences, some richer, dangerous, scarier, or more controversial than anything our parents have ever faced. However, these are all dismissed (or aren’t anything our parents know of because of their refusal to see us as adult autonomous beings).
Our parents don’t see us as beings with valuable or significant experiences when compared with their own. Which makes sense. Of course, compared to the extra decades they have on us, there are a lot of things that we may still not know or have experienced. But does that call for our thoughts and feelings being completely overruled?
Another reason why parents don’t grow is that in desi cultures, many parents have a lot of children without spacing them or opting for family planning. This leads to children with a very little gap in them. However, the eldest and the youngest are also typically at least a decade apart.
This ends up making parents paint all the children with one form of parenting, literally. You have parents treating their 20-year old exactly the same as their 10-year old.
To have any relationship with their growing children, parents really need to evolve as parents. They need to first acknowledge that the child they love is a teenager/adult now and has different needs which require a different form of parenting than the infantilizing one they’ve been used to giving.
I don’t really see evolving of parental relationships happening because, to be honest, our parents don’t want growth. Especially as parents. Especially at this age.
They’re fine loving you in the same way because let's be honest, how many of us actually turn away a meal and say what we actually want from them? How many of us will be rejected?
How many of us cannot even bring these topics up because it will end in your mom and dad becoming taunt-y and snide and actually make things worse between everyone?
The best thing (which is working for me) is recognizing that my parents never “grew up” as parents.
It's recognition that they love me in their own way even if it’s not the love I need or want. I really wish they would evolve because I would love to tell them a lot about me since I have not grown up in their eyes since I was 12. But that won’t happen ever.
So whenever I’m frustrated now by how my parents are being. Whether it’s in response to me establishing boundaries or me making my own professional and personal decisions, I try to understand their gestures and their perspective which doesn’t justify what they do/don’t do but explains it a lot.
I also try to remember that my parents were also parented by other people who have probably inflicted their own traumas and troubles on them.
So it’s important for me to recognise and see how my mother is projecting or how my dad is displacing his own issues. It’s very necessary for me to try to understand their childhood issues, family and parenting types, and how they ended up perpetuating the same patterns and trends.
Parents do become a major psychological and personality foundation for us.
I’m still learning daily how much of my current behaviours and patterns are formed by them and also learning their own issues and problems through what I know.
I also know that recognition isn’t much. Why should we be doing all the work and emotional labour? Why are we expected to be better? But this is how patterns and generational trends are broken.
At the end of the day, despite the label of the word, parents are still human and very flawed ones.
Removing my parents from the “parent pedestal” has really helped me a lot to come to terms with them as individuals autonomous beings who did not always make the right decisions when it came to their children.
However, despite all this, there are times when despite knowing and giving a lot of room to your parents, there’s this sudden emotion.
A sudden invisible ache within you that becomes known to you and you want to talk to your parents but you can’t because it will bring up so many scars and pain.
However, you can heal without your parents because you have a lot of resources that they’ll never get which includes healthy supportive relationships, therapy, and of course, the times you live in.
But they will not be able to survive it without you and can you really help them through their own healing journey when you’re so closely tied to the pain?
The ache is so deeply imprinted that when you get to the root of it, you realise the reason it’s even there is because of your parents. Sometimes, I find myself getting really angry at them for things they did (that they don’t even remember or discount its significance) which have affected me so deeply.
I want to go up to them and say things that I’ve kept swallowing over the years. How disappointed and angry I am with them for making me believe that I deserve the barest minimum. For making me internalize that I’m a burden. For instilling a terrible sense of worth and esteem in me.
For making me believe that crumbs, scraps, and bones of affection, and love is all that I deserve. For making me beg for these crumbs, scraps, and bones. Sometimes, these are such maddening realisations that I find myself feeling emotional in the most inappropriate of moments with them which stops me from being able to have a healthy relationship with them. These moments and emotions are worse with regard to my mother.
It’s in these moments that it’s hard not to think of how different I (and consequently, my life) would have been had I been given healthy ideals of love. Of self-worth. Of self-esteem. Of boundaries. How I would not have gone looking for these in anyone else cause I’d have them in me.
I suppose this is the work and burden of people unlearning and breaking patterns. Of realising that regardless of how much room you give your parents, the hurt goes beyond comprehension when you understand what all they’ve (unintentionally) done to you and how it's carried within you.
You get the chance of recognising what doesn’t serve you and can choose to walk away from it, learn and heal. But it hurts that this is the way it is. That if it weren’t for therapy and the reflection you are lucky to have, you’d be still continuing the same cycle and perpetuating the same pattern just like everyone else.
It’s a very isolating experience. Because you’re working on repairing your relationship with your parents, unlearning a lot of your patterns and schemas, and trying to heal. But all they will ever see is the way you’re changing (for the better) and you see how they’re hurting because of it.
They don’t see how you’re growing and blossoming and finding a healthy way in life.
They don’t see how much you’re still trying to repair your relationship with them on your own. All they see is a loss of power and control over you. And maybe that’s all what they’re sad about.
That poses heartbreaking questions: do you tell them what they did and how it affects you? Will it result in anything different from all your prior attempts? Can they even understand and listen to where you come from and your perspective without dismissing, demeaning, invalidating like they always did?
Are you protecting them because they’re old and won’t survive the pain that will accompany the talks and realizations?
Are you looking out for the fact that at most, you have a decade with them, and talking about certain things will cast their perspective and their version of reality in the shadows?
If they were wrong about us, how much were they wrong about then?
Or maybe. After everything, you’re sorry for the way their parents must have been with them and all their unspoken pain and you vow that you’ll heal, it will end with you, and it won’t carry and pass on.