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Why We Hate Our Parents

Western parents feel it is their job to make their children into who they should be rather than relate to who they already are.

By Mark Epstein, M.D.

"When I first came to this country," the Tibetan lama recounted, "I thought, 'This is the way children should be raised all over the world.' So careful, so loving, so much attention." In the middle of his Dharma talk, he was suddenly speaking quite personally. He had been explaining some of the finer points of what he called "naked awareness," the mind's capacity to see deeply into its own essence.

We were on retreat in Litchfield, Connecticut—about 70 of us, practicing together in silence, learning an ancient meditative yoga called the Great Perfection. But like a sailboat tacking to grab a fresh breeze, the lama was now heading in a different direction. He screwed up his face, mimicking the expression of a doting parent, and lapsed into an uncanny imitation: "Here, honey, just try a bite of this. Are you okay with that, sweetie?" Leaning forward, with his shoulders hunched over an imaginary child, he looked for a moment like a mother bird hovering over her nest.

Startled out of our meditative reveries by the lama's impersonation, our attention quickened. "It's not like in Nepal or Tibet," he continued. "If a child does something wrong, he just gets slapped. Leave him in the corner crying; it doesn't matter. Treated that way, sometimes the child gets a little dull, stops caring about things. That is not so good. But then I found out, here everyone hates their parents. It's so difficult. Relationships are so difficult. In Nepal, this doesn't happen. I can't understand this very well."

As quickly as he brought the subject up, he dropped it again. I found myself wondering if I had even heard him correctly. Usually Tibetan teachers talk only about how special mothers are, about how their kindnesses allow us, as totally helpless infants, to survive, over and over again. It is the kind of teaching that we in the West often find refreshing, if slightly intimidating, because we have ignored those basic aspects of the mother-child relationship in favor of more conflicted ones. In an infinite series of multiple lifetimes, the traditional Tibetan argument runs, all beings have in fact been our mothers, and we can cultivate kindness toward them by imagining their prior sacrifices for us. But here was a lama who, however briefly, acknowledged our more difficult relationships with our current parents. He seemed as startled by our difficulties as I had been on first hearing of the meditation wherein all beings are considered our mothers. I was intrigued by his candor and disappointed that he did not take the discussion further.

But a day or two later in another talk, the lama, 35-year-old Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche of the Drukpa Kagyu and Nyingpa lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, raised the subject again. In virtually the same language, he expressed astonishment at the level of anger that his Western students seemed to harbor against their parents. Clearly it was bothering him. That night I left a note for the course manager telling him that, unless somebody else volunteered, I could explain to the lama why Westerners hate their parents. The next morning, someone tapped me on the shoulder after meditation and told me that the lama would meet with me.

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Reader Comments

Jim

I find my self here among other "Why Kids Hate Their Parents" pages I googled. I found my daughter loving, always did the right thing, no real trouble the 17 years she at home. But when she went to college she developed anger at her Mum and I. Her Mum did decide to leave the marriage that summer, no real reason. She cam from a very broken home, dad in jail, Mum choose to leave her with Grand Parents and run around partying so the shrink said that she feels comfortable in a broken situation, our marriage was to stable for her. At breakfast I mentioned we should go to a marriage counselor now that it will be just us and she moved out the next weekend. So I could understand some anger due to that but at 28 now she just a had child and still punishes me through withholding. I can count on just about 1 hand how many times she has come to see me. Has not offered to allow me to see my grand daughter. She has been the well of so much joy and hurt. I just do not understand. Good upper middle class home, I went to just about anything she ever did, I encouraged her to do many activities. We were in YMCA Indian princess program from 5 yo to 12 yo camping 4 times a year, father & daughter activities twice a month, Baseball, Football and Hockey games here in S Fla often. Car races together, classic car events together. I thought I did it all right and here I am without a daughter at 62. I just do not understand.

Mimi

@susie_klly@yahoo.com - the reason kids put their parents in a rest home and forget about them is because their parents abused them as children. The way I see it, this is perfectly fair and just. When the children were young and helpless, the parents beat, belittled, and abused the child every chance they got. They didn't think about the day that they would be old and helpless and need their children to take care of them. Now when the parents are helpless, the children want nothing to do with them. It's our only chance at revenge - find the cheapest, lousiest nursing home available, put the bad parents in there, and leave them to rot. Perfectly fair.

andrea

i have a 4 year old son with a very strong personality. he is a true leader...extremely charming and knows how to get what he wants. unfotunately, he is also very grumpy. the more i try to show him how to focus on the positive, the more he fights it. this article has inspired me to truly embrace him for who he is, and i suspect he will ease up on the negativity.

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