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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.

Refreshingly at ease with himself, Tsoknyi Rinpoche was friendly and personable. He brushed aside my efforts at formality and indicated that he was ready to talk right away. We spoke without his interpreter present, so our conversation was restricted to the essentials.

"All that attention comes with a lot of expectations," I began. "Western parents don't feel that their children already are who they are—they feel that it is their job to make them who they should be. Children feel this as a burden."

"A pressure," the lama replied.

"A pressure. And they develop an armor to guard against it. The anger is part of that armor." I thought of a patient of mine as we talked, a young woman who always felt that her parents, in her words, "had a quota on me." She had the feeling that they just couldn't take her, that she was too much for them, too imposing, perhaps even dangerous, and at the same time a disappointment, not enough of the right stuff. This woman withdrew from her mother and father, but she withdrew from other people in a more generalized way and suffered from lack of confidence and isolation as a result. I closed one fist and covered it with my other hand, holding both up to the lama. The closed fist was like the armored child, and the hand covering it, the parental expectations. "All the energy is going into the resistance," I explained. "But inside, the child feels empty. Not like in Buddhism, where emptiness connotes something akin to freedom."

"Hollow," said the lama. He understood.

"In the psychotherapy world, we call that armor 'false self.' A child creates a false self to deal with excessive expectations or with early abandonment—too much parental pressure or too little. The problem with this scenario is that children often lose touch with who they are on the inside. After a while, they only know the armor: the anger, fear, or emptiness. They have a yearning to be known, or found, or discovered, but no means to make it happen. It brings people to places like this." I gestured to indicate the retreat facility.

"Maybe it's not such a bad thing, then!" he smiled.

I knew that, in a certain way, he was right. The spiritual renaissance of our time is in many ways fueled by the disappointments of privilege. Ambitious, overprotective parents produce capable children with a yearning for something other than more accomplishments. The desire to know oneself more deeply is often rooted in the feeling of never having been known. In our culture, this often happens because of estrangement between parents and children, as I explained to the lama, but it can also occur as a result of parent-child enmeshment. If children define themselves exclusively through their relationships with parents, relatives, and culture, they can fail to know themselves.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche sensed the rebellious inspiration for some of his students' practice. "Parents see raising children as their duty or job," he told me. "But then when the child is grown, they just let go. They've done their job, fulfilled their obligations. The child feels cut off."

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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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