No relationship goes downhill as quickly as your relationship with your parents.
When you’re little, they’re basically perfect. Even when they’re yelling at you, threatening to ship you off to correctional school if you don’t clean your room like Mommy said, yes you will, don’t you dare talk back to me –
Wait, what was I saying?
Anyway, even at their worst, it’s hard to see your parents as flawed when you’re young. They set the standard for your life. You want to be them when you grow up, and, in the meantime, you dress up in their clothes and totter around in their shoes and pretend that you, too, have to go to work, that you’re cooking dinner, that you’re changing diapers, even if they’re the pretend diapers on your stuffed bear. You recreate your parents’ lives in miniature, and aspire to one day live it in full size.
Then you hit puberty.
Something happens once you get to a certain age – 11, 12, 13 – where all of a sudden, the last people you want to be like are your parents.You get good grades, then turn around and buy that garish lipstick you know your mother will hate. Click To Tweet
It feels like it happens overnight. You wake up one day, and come to the stark realization that your parents are not perfect. They are flawed, sometimes deeply. They’re petty. They hold grudges. They’re hypocritical.
And because you are small and subordinate, those flaws are often directed towards you.
It takes a more mature, level-headed, empathetic person than your average prepubescent to take this sudden realization for what it is: that parents are people too, and people are not perfect. Instead, you become angry at them. Why are they doing this to you? They hate you. They want you to be miserable. They’re doing it on purpose.
You’re not a cute little kid anymore, so now they don’t love you.
At this point, you can do one of two things. You can lash back out, reject them, be the opposite of everything they are. Or you can work hard to regain the love you feel you’ve lost, do everything they want of you, try to please them, try to be perfect again.
Somehow, teenagers manage to do both.
You get good grades, then turn around and buy that garish lipstick you know your mother will hate. You smile sweetly as she sings your praises to relatives and friends, then as soon as you get home, you pick a fight that devolves into a screaming match.Love is not some pure thing that blesses everything it touches. Click To Tweet
You are powered by a force that is outside of your control. You want your parents to love you, but you don’t think they do, so you try to prove that they don’t, in the hopes that they’ll prove you wrong. You know that your mother will yell at you if you wear those jeans, so you wear them on purpose, hoping, however faintly, that maybe this time she’ll say you look nice.
Maybe she’ll just ignore you.
But she doesn’t. You knew she wouldn’t. It was all a setup. And doesn’t that just make you the worst?
It’s not a fun time in a person’s life, that no man’s land between childhood and adulthood. You hardly even have the words for what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking. Sometimes you don’t even know what you want, but woe betide anyone who points that out to you. How dare they presume to know you? But then why don’t they know you?
One book that encapsulates that strange experience of being a teenager is Tahereh Mafi’s Furthermore. The story’s protagonist is 12-year-old Alice, who knows that her mother does not love her. Her mother uses her for her special abilities, but doesn’t understand her and doesn’t want to. She won’t care if Alice leaves, that’s if she notices at all.It's not a fun time in a person's life, that no man's land between childhood and adulthood. Click To Tweet
It’s not true, though. Of course, it’s not true. As an adult, it’s easy to see that, easy to say, “of course your mother loves you. She can’t not love you.” Because now that you’re grown, you’ve learned that parents are people, and adulthood does not magically erase one’s flaws and deficiencies.
You’ve learned something else, too, something that’s perhaps even more important, which is that love does not magically erase one’s flaws and deficiencies either.
Love is not some pure thing that blesses everything it touches. Love is only as good as we are, and we can love people and still mistreat them. We can love people and not understand them.
An Arab saying tells us, “there is a kind of love that kills.” And even the best intentions can backfire in the ugliest ways.
Love cannot fix everything.
But it’s still good to know, all these years later, that despite their flaws, your parents love you.