When Parents Hurt: A Review

A great book for hurting parents of adult children.

 When Parents Hurt by Joshua Coleman is an awesome book for parents who are hurting and trying to figure out the issues they’re having with adult children. The following is pretty much just a summary of what I learned from Dr Coleman’s book, and some quotes I found extremely helpful. I was so thrilled to find a book that tells me I’m really not alone, and I’m not a terrible parent just because my children are blaming all of their life issues how they were raised.

This book reminded me of the old saying, “perception is reality”. We all see things from our own perspective, the same events are viewed differently by each person involved…so it is with raising children and being a part of a family. You can all belong to the same family, live through the same events, and yet each member of the family has completely different, conflicting memories. Does that mean one person’s memory or perception of the way things were, or what took place is inherently right or wrong? Experts say no, because perception is reality, we are all equally right. We are just each seeing it from our own point of view.

So while as parents we believe that we did the very best we could, based on the knowledge, information and resources we had at the time-sacrificed and compromised, made difficult choices in order to be the best possible parents-our children can be equally convinced we were the worst possible parents who ever walked the face of the earth.

Dr Coleman points out that both points of view may be completely accurate, based on each person’s perspective. The bottom line is that as parents we are simply flawed human beings, just like everyone else. We make mistakes, screw up, blow it, and hopefully learn something along the way about how to be a better parent. Whether or not our children chose to love us, accept us as the flawed, imperfect people we are, and someday find within themselves the ability to forgive us for our mistakes, is up to them.

In the meantime, parents need to learn and practice self-compassion, and how to forgive ourselves. Could we have done it differently/better? Of course, but hindsight is 20/20. We can’t change the past. One of the mottos often quoted at my job is, Today I did my best, tomorrow I’ll do better. I just try to remember  that the time will come, long after I’m gone, when my own children will be standing in my shoes, facing the criticism and condemnation of their own children.

The bottom line is that no matter who you are, no matter how hard you try, you are not perfect. And being a parent is one of those jobs where no matter what you do, what choice you make, which path you take, somebody is going to pass judgement on you for being wrong. Because as a parent you can’t ever get it right 100% of the time. More often then not, you’ll blow it. And the harshest critics in the world (other than yourself) will be your children.

The above is what I learned from Dr. Coleman’s book, combined with some of my own experience. The following are direct quotes…maybe it will strike a chord with other parents who are struggling with the same issues I am. (bold print is my own emphasis)

…despite all of your efforts and regardless of your innocence, we have to start by accepting your child’s view that you could have done it differently: loved more, pushed more, or worried less…And even though you tried as hard as you could, read self-help books, and consulted other parents, pediatricians, learning specialists, social skills consultants, your therapist, or your kids’ therapist, your children still have a right to complain that you didn’t do enough.

One of the cruelest ironies of parenting is that we can do harm even when we are trying to be the most concientious.

As parents, we have to accept the fact that we may have created problems for our children, even when we were making sacrifices and trying to do our absolute best.

You want to be able to say to yourself, “I tried everything that I could and it hasn’t worked. Everyone makes mistakes in life. I am deserving of compassion, if not from my child, then from others and myself. I need to stop punishing myself.”

***Often, too, kids need to blame us so they don’t blame themselves. Children who are burdened with a difficult temperament or with some other malady can carry huge feelings of shame and self-loathing. For better or worse, criticizing the parent for not doing enough or for getting it all wrong is one strategy for relieving themselves of this burden. It may not feel fair, but parenting isn’t a fair exchange of effort for reward. It’s more like an exchange of effort for seeing what the hell happens next.***

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you turn a blind eye to being mistreated by your children or others, or that you never get angry. It doesn’t mean that you are required to have a relationship with the person who hurt you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you have to accept, condone, or respect the behavior of those who have caused you to suffer.

Forgiveness of yourself and others is important because it is a way of taking back your power, taking responsibility for how you feel, and focusing on your own healing.

Nathanson suggests that an “empathetic wall” is a healthy and necessary part of human development, because without it, we’d be vulnerable to picking up the transmissions of every being around us…it’s what I call affectionatly detached-you’re detached enough to prevent every pore of your skin from being open to the acid rain that’s about to fall on you…

What’s a parent to do for their child when they’ve offered help, frequently way past the point of utility, and nothing has changed? Often precious little…What else is there? They can’t lead his life for him.

Gaining serenity comes in accepting what can’t be changed, forgiving your child and  yourself, and experiencing gratitude for what is good with or without your child.

Why work so hard for a child whose thanklessnes, in Shakespeare’s words, is sharper than a serpent’s tooth? Because being a parent means giving when you’re getting nothing back  in the short term, and may get nothing back in the long-term. It’s not pretty, but it’s what we sign up for when we have children, so we don’t get to feel that sorry for ourselves. Okay, we do get to feel sorry for ourselves-a child’s rejection is incredibly painful. But we still have to do the grunt work of parenting, even when we get little (or nothing) back.

There is so much wisdom in Al-Anon’s saying, “I first detached in anger, then in indifference, then in love.” Anger is a useful step to begin grieving. But it’s an early step, not a final one. Healing requires the willingness to eventually let go of your anger and move towards forgiveness…

While being estranged from your adult children can be heartbreaking, it is something you can survive. From experience I can tell you that life can still be good, even if your children have chosen not to include you in their lives.

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