Dear Mom and Dad,
(This story was originally published here.)
May is the month of Mothers and June is the month for Fathers. And well, tradition says we have to smile and be thankful to them. Maybe as babies, we could throw a tantrum or two. As teenagers, we would sulk around and grudgingly play our roles. But as adults — for holidays, birthdays, and each ‘parent’ day — we are expected to have a happy, healthy, and friendly relationship with our procreators.
It can make being angry at your parents a very difficult emotion to process. Society demands we put these feelings aside and just be thankful. Yet, we just can’t seem to genuinely smile and find those loving words we are meant to give. Instead, we find the conversation too much and we begin to daydream about getting back to ‘our’ lives.
Quite simply, the demands to be the good son or daughter can seem almost oppressive.
We know our parents love us. We know we love them. However, having to be with them in a down-to-earth way seems like a losing battle. We feel oppressed, yes, but then we feel guilty about feeling that way.
We don’t call as much as we should and we may not feel like spending our time off and savings to visit them. And to admit the worst of all thoughts, we may even feel a little relieved (albeit completely destroyed) about the day they will no longer be with us.
So, how do we find a win for this seemingly long battle between child and parent?
More Than a Meaningless Card
It is time to give your parents that awkward and painful truth for the reason you are so avoidant with them. It might take some courage to say it. It may take some time to find the words. But in the end, it will be better for all involved to do so.
You’re not alone: I left home at 17 and barely called my parents but once or twice a year. It wasn’t until I was 31 that I finally sat down with them — over a period of a few months — before all old feelings were:
- Finally spoken
- Then felt defensive
- Then avoided
- Then used against each other
- Then felt bad about
- Then discussed
- Then felt sincerely
- And finally peace
- (For the father-son equation: sitting on the porch, staring into an empty cotton field, and drinking alcohol was needed)
How you decide to speak to your mother and father may be different, but perhaps a letter that can be reread again and again and digested in their own time will work best. It is less confrontational and allows you to put your thoughts in exactly the words you want.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I’ve been doing some thinking. In fact, this is something I have always kind of thought about but was never really sure how to say it. I was also always afraid of disappointing you. Of causing awkwardness or being selfish. But mostly, it is because I loved you and didn’t want to hurt you or upset you. And to be entirely honest, I am still afraid of you. Afraid of your disapproval and afraid I am still just ‘your little boy or girl’ in your eyes.
I’ve come to see that I need to say it now though. I think it is best for both of us to have a more healthy, genuine, adult, and sincere relationship. To be honest, to say nothing only corrupts what we could have. And I want to be my true self with you. And I want to know who you really are.
I know you may think I am a bit distant or distracted or simply cold. The truth is, I am none of those things deep down. I just feel and act that way around you because I’ve never been able to say what I need to say. So if any of this sounds harsh or confusing, just know that it is all in the spirit of trying to make things as good as they should be between us.
Then you could bring up whatever it is you may feel needs to be said, but vaguely speaking it could go something like this (or continue like this after your list of complaints):
I know you have given me so much. In fact, on many levels, you have given me everything I needed. So, to complain seems unfair and shameful, especially considering many other children have had it so much worse.
Yet, there were times I needed things from you that I just never received. Complexly simple things like acceptance — not for who you wanted me to be, but for who I actually was. Who I actually am.
I know you love me and I have always known that you do, but there were times where it felt like anything but love. I craved to feel like I unquestionably mattered to you. Today, I can still feel the gaps where it wasn’t enough. Not enough of the raw affection that I desired. I still carry this desire and defeat with me today.
I know how much I have disappointed you. Maybe not all the time, but there were times I indeed let you down. This occurred on both sides. And it isn’t something I choose to feel, but I often feel furious and resentful against you still, when what I really want to feel for you is love.
I know you only wanted the best for me and you didn’t mean me any harm for what you did and didn’t do. But to be truthful and to put it behind us, I must say, that it scarred me profoundly. It has made me who I am and potentially less than what I could have been.
It touches on my friendships. It affects my work. It hinders my true capabilities of connecting deeply with another. I really don’t want to push all this on you. I don’t want you to feel guilty or burdened by all of this. However, I continue to struggle and obsess over the past more than I should.
It is time to put hurt feelings aside. I want to be close to you. You are so much to me. I want to appreciate you without shyness or self-consciousness. We should be a family at ease — safe and comfortable. I have been obedient, perhaps too obedient that it caused me to be rebellious, even defiant towards you.
And though it may be our culture or expectation to love out of obligation or even fear, it is not what either of us deserves. It is fake. It is forced and uneasy. I occasionally want to scream and bark at the frustration I sometimes feel from it all. I need to be myself around you. Yes, it is for me, but it is also for you. So you can see and adopt and understand that side of me. So that in the future, I can be my truly warm self with you.
Please don’t think I am being too odd or melodramatic with all this. I am doing this because I care. I am doing this in the hope that we can spend whatever years we have left together in this life happy.
I hope you understand.
I love you.
To Send It or Not to Send It
Let’s be honest. This whole letter is a bit selfish. We are doing this for our peace of mind more than theirs. They may very well despise us for blaming them or for being ungrateful for all they have given us.
Yet, they may see it and appreciate it as the maturity it represents on your part. These words show you aren’t afraid anymore. You can let go of the past — the errors that were made on their part and yours.
By being honest with your parents, it gives you a voice to those that first defined your voice. Ultimately, they will either understand and you will become closer. Or they won’t, and you will be free.
All the best.