Why We Hate Our Parents
His perceptions were astute. Parents sometimes feel that their only job is to help their children separate and individuate. Once that is accomplished, they feel useless or obsolete. Compounding the problem is the inevitable estrangement of adolescence, when the first stirrings of grown-up anger make themselves known. Many parents never recover from these upheavals. Their emotional connections with their offspring are so tenuous that when the first expressions of disdain are hurled at them, they retreat forever. Hurt by their children's anger, they feel ignored and unappreciated, wishing for a miracle to restore their importance in their children's lives.
We have come to expect this estrangement in our culture and see it as the beginning of the end. One of my friends, for instance, a child therapist, startled my wife the other day by inquiring whether our 13-year-old daughter hated her yet. "She will!" he pronounced with great fervor. But, as the lama correctly intuited, children (even angry, adult ones) never stop needing their parents' love. My friend's gleeful anticipation of my daughter's anger is symbolic of where we are in this culture. There are few models of evolved relationships between parents and their growing children, only models of failure. Yet family life demands the same balance of devotion and surrender that we bring to yoga and meditation when practice gets difficult. Just as we cannot let the inevitable frustrations of spiritual practice dissuade us from our path, so we cannot let the angers and irritations of family life turn into hatred. The special challenge of childrearing is to relate to children as the individuals they already are, not to try to make them into people they could never be. This turns out to be the key to relating with parents, as well.
Mark Epstein, M.D., is a psychiatrist in New York and author of Going on Being, (Broadway, 2001). He has been a student of Buddhist meditation for 25 years.
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