Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Parental dreams

I wonder why so many parents find it so tough to accept their children for what they are? They so often have hopes and assump-tions quite unrelated to what their children actually want out of life. Or what they're really suited for.

They imagine a grand career in some profession their child has zero talent for. They expect a dull, routine lifestyle for a child who is clearly rebellious and quirky. They hear the patter of tiny feet when their child has no desire whatever for an infant.

I've known so many people who say their parents don't understand them, don't appreciate what motivates them, and constantly undermine their true aims and ambitions. In short, their parents are more of a hindrance than a help.

Is it so hard to see your children as they are and encourage them in their true inclinations rather than a load of parental daydreams?

When I was young my mother and father had endless preconceptions about what sort of person I was and what I should do with my life, and they always found the reality hard to adjust to.

In the few years that I worked for a local paper, they saw me as some high-flying journalist jetting around the globe reporting world-shattering events. But it wasn't what I was cut out for or interested in.

They assumed I would share their very orthodox political views, and were baffled and upset when my views got increasingly left-wing and iconoclastic.

They expected me to have children and grandchildren, and couldn't understand why I opted out.

In general they saw me as Mr Normal, following a predictable, conventional, conservative lifestyle, probably on some new-build suburban estate where everyone mowed the lawn on Sundays and changed their car every three years.

I think they were permanently shell-shocked by my turning into the exact opposite of their stifling stereotypes. They looked on in disbelief as I adopted one radical cause after another - homosexuality, feminism, socialism, vegetarianism, premarital sex and abstract art, to name but a few. They probably wondered if some hospital blunder had left them with someone else's baby. They certainly saw me as as some alien being from another planet.

It must be very heaven to have parents who truly appreciate you for what you are.


  1. Understanding is a two way street, Nick... my parents are the children of Victorians.... remembering this helps me to understand how they perceive the world.
    But I hear what you're saying!

  2. good intentions
    that's what parents have
    good intentions.....
    as long as you remember this... you can forgive them

  3. I always feel the role of parents is to show you who you are, whether you conform to what they want, or rebel against it.

  4. Scarlet: I've tried very hard to understand my parents, but all I can see is the most obtuse narrow-mindedness.

    John: I'm sure they had good intentions, but they were so utterly insensitive to where I was at. I'm usually a very forgiving soul, but some things are not forgivable.

    Jenny: Showing you who you are is exactly right. And as you say, whether that means you're like them or not like them is beside the point.

  5. Nick, you say "It must be very heaven to have parents who truly appreciate you for what you are." In which case my son, the Angel, must be in heaven.

    There are two parts to your post. The first generalizes too much. However, that's just the lead up to the second part, your own personal experience. And if that is what it was, then yes, I can understand that you 'opted out' of parenthood yourself. If you had had children maybe there would have been too many painful reminders of what was lacking in your own childhood.

    You are clearly still hurting. After all these years.

    Take heart from this, and it might give you some peace despite the fact that it flies in the face of what many people advise: Some things are unforgivable. Don't beat yourself up over not being able to forgive your parents over their shortcomings. All it amounts to, if at your cost, that they weren't the parents that would have suited you best.

    May I ask (not that you have to answer): Are your parents still alive? Do you have any siblings? Any extended family, say, cousins? Where does Jenny figure in all of this?


  6. Our society because it leads parents to believe there's only one real path to success or "respectability". If your child tries something else or wants to do something no one else is doing--or is a terrible student--he or she is doomed to become the hobo on the corner. At least with the predictable, the basic needs of survival--food, shelter--are met. We forget the heart and soul in that equation.

  7. Ursula: Oh, I certainly don't beat myself up over not forgiving my parents. They could have been more sensitive to my personality and my needs but they had a fixed idea of what was good for me and imposed it regardless. Unwitting mistakes can be forgiven but not deliberate insensitivity.

    My father died in 1988. My mum is still alive. She has no computer or internet access so can't read my scurrilous outpourings! My sister was/is much more in tune with my parents' views than me. I think I may have a cousin or two but I haven't seen them for years. And Jenny? We have very similar views on most things.

  8. Liz: Indeed, many parents have a set idea of what amounts to success and respectability, which often denies their children's actual aspirations. And their heart and soul.

  9. I mentor and counsel some young people who come to me because they cannot relate to their parents. It is increasingly getting to be the case for the young in urban India which is undergoing very rapid changes with strange values becoming the norm for the young and the parents not having a clue as to what is going on. In some cases, my heart breaks for the breakdown of parent child relationships which could have been avoided had the parents just chosen to listen instead of tell.

    The situation becomes more stressful when one parent is supportive and the other is not and that devastates the whole family. This too is a pattern that is not uncommon over here now.

    In my own case, my mother was very supportive and my father totally uninvolved and suspicious. This however resulted in very strong bonding between the four siblings and the mother and continues to be strong till today. My father however has paid the price. But from his point of view, he lived his life as he chose and he has no regrets.

    Human relations are complex and it is very difficult to generalise but emerging patterns cannot be ignored either.

  10. I however think that my late wife and I provided a nurturing environment for our only child, a son and though he has not exactly become what some of his cousins have, has certainly grown into a fine human being and materially and spiritually successful in his own way.

  11. Ramana: I think a lot of parents just run away from what they don't understand. Instead of listening to their child and trying to get inside his/her mind, they batten down the hatches and simply insist on their own fixed ideas.

    Good that your mother's supportive attitude has led to such strong bonding.

    If you think your son is a fine human being, that's all that matters, even if he's different from what you expected.

  12. I'm proud of my sons no matter what they do. They both work in the entertainment industry, both appear to have lots of premarital sex, one has tattoos and the other has a facial piercing, one is very left wing, the other not so much..... but both of them know how to be polite to old people, have a firm handshake and remember my birthday. I'm happy with my lot

  13. nurse myra,
    lead me to your sons! preferably the left leaning

  14. you know, nick
    when people are obtusely narrow minded it is usually because of fear and you have to pity them for that.
    i know its freaking annoying, we have all been there and done that to some extent but as parents we are people first: people with our own fears and baggage, people with our own unreasonable parents, people with disappointments and desires to shield our precious ones from similar pain.

    we all do the best we can and thats all we can do

  15. Myra: Good for you. But it's always been obvious that you're an open-minded, non-judgmental person who appreciates other people's differences. Not so sure about the firm handshake. I know a few men who practically rip my arm off.

  16. Kylie: I'm impressed by your generosity and willingness to excuse abominable parents! Yes, I'm sure my parents were/are motivated by fear and insecurity and wanting to protect us kids, and believe me, I've thought about all this many times, but I still think they could have been more understanding if they'd just tried a little bit harder.

  17. Kylie, you should make contact with Myra. I think you two would get on. And you're both in the same city, after all.

  18. I had no expectations for my daughter, except that she be a decent person. I was curious to see how she would turn out.

    I can't say my folks understood me much, so I learned not to talk about the things I was enthusiastic about. I did learn to be good listener and to love them just the way they were.

  19. Monk: Being a decent person is a fine ambition. What more could you want? But some parents have the most peculiar hidden agendas.

  20. My mother was a very strict catholic who lived by a narrow set of limiting rules. Growing up with her was pretty stressful and I was constantly slapped for questioning the doctrine. Yet I am who I am in no small part due to her. So I can forgive her because I'm jolly happy to be who I am.

    Also, thanks to her I learnt how not to bring up my son.

  21. Eryl: I guess that's common, that you can resent your parents' strictness and rigidity while you're growing up, but then as an adult you realise they taught you something quite valuable. Not in my case, though!

  22. Nick,
    Who knows about hidden agendas. The main thing is she turned out fine. She's more ambitious in her career than either Andy and I were, but in spite of her work load she goes out of her way to help others.

    She and her husband are simply great people. They both blow me away. When she was little I used to tell her how lucky Andy and I were to have her. That's still true.

  23. Monk: That's great that you're so happy with them both.

  24. At age 49, I still can't see eye to eye on anything with my mother. So, yeah.

    On the flip side, it is difficult to watch your own child be lazy and clearly not live up to his potential. Karma is clearly a bitch.

  25. Bijoux: He may be lazy now, but I suspect he'll change in due course, when he's got his teeth into something. I was pretty idle too when I was young.

  26. Every time I read this, Nick, I think of you. And me. And all of us.



  27. www: I know. So many people who've been fucked up by their parents' totally inappropriate ambitions. I always think of Larkin's famous poem as well.

  28. I try to keep in mind how stressed they must have been over long periods.
    Lots of children. The Troubles. Homework. and lots more.
    I try to avoid getting into situations where I'll experience the same build up of pressure - with the potential knock-on for my children.
    I try anyway.

  29. Paul: That's true, high levels of parental stress can do children a lot of damage. Certainly my parents had their share of stress - not enough money and a very cramped house didn't help.