Collage by the author
Just like respecting senior people, separating garbage, not going naked in the street, loving one?s parents has been a generally expected and accepted behavior. Of course, everyone has issues with their parents, but saying ?I don?t love mom and dad? when you?re no longer 5 or 6 years old and not generally loathing the world, is absolutely stigmatic in the society.
The moment when I realized and accepted that I do not love parents became the starting point of a journey towards my psychological freedom. It?s not about the love-hate thing, but more of an objective recognition of your own feelings. Before that, I used to fall into the denial, which resulted in me outrageously hating mother and father even after I passed the teenage threshold. I felt the social pressure to love and care whilst my body and mind would rebel against it. I was constantly fighting myself, torn between a hippie-style love with forgiveness and an utter desire to disappear and never have to deal with the monster in me again. Yes, that?s how it felt ? monstrous.
To make it clear: my parents are okay, they raised me fine, provided support while I was getting my higher education, gave me access to the best books, films, and music. From them, I learned not to be ashamed of poverty, nationality, and gender. Of course, there were family issues, mostly because my mother always had a number of psychiatric problems, which finally resulted in substance (medications, alcohol) addiction and the loss of personality at the age of 70. Father was overwhelmed with his own psychological troubles, for which brother and I had hated and despised him for quite a while. But it wasn?t until five to four years ago when I saw two separate individuals instead of my mom and dad, who I have compassion for, but who I had the right to not love. It took me almost 30 years to understand how simple it was. So, here I want to share some of the personal insights that helped me along this way.
Your parents don?t owe you anything
The most helpful thing that I realized over time was that in fact, I should be grateful for what I have without even trying to ask for more. Here go all typical accusations that kids might spare for their parents: not giving the best education, not being around, not buying an apartment or not financially helping in the adulthood, putting the wrong sauce on pancakes etc. But hey, very few of us were lucky to be born by either wizards or tycoons. Yes, I wasn?t offered all the life opportunities that I deserved (within my inflated ego), but after all, I can catch up with that myself, through my own efforts. One of the sweetest benefits of adulthood is choosing and doing what you need and want, right? I didn?t have my teeth fixed when I was a kid and I remember my mother being disturbingly relieved when a doctor told her that my dental unevenness was ?charming?. She was pleased that family wouldn?t have to spend a ton of money on making a ?charming? kid even more charming. I?m actually okay with my teeth now, especially after a severely underaged student of mine (I no longer teach, but I used to) asked why my teeth looked like those of a vampire. I responded: ?Because I turn into a bat at nights and fly searching sweet children?s blood. And guess what, tonight I?m coming for you!?
Thus, after years of feeling offended and bearing a grudge (teeth were only an example), I?m no longer affected by that veil of stereotypical parental responsibility. Which takes us to the second point:
You don?t owe anything to your parents
Here I should clear things up: you don?t owe anything unless you want it. When one afternoon I was going back home from work and tried to find a place in an overcrowded Moscow bus, my mother called to say she was diagnosed with colon cancer. I was 29. I cried and promised to come back and take care of her. It took me two airplane trips and about one month spent in the hospital and at home to see her walk and eat again. There were good moments, there were bad moments, but it was the first time when I felt sorry for her suffering because that was the suffering of a human being, regardless of our family relations.
Years after, when diabetes, alcoholism, and addiction to pills took her over, I didn?t want to be there for her. I didn?t rush to yet another plane when she was found in a terrible overdosed condition after three days of lying on the floor in the apartment. I haven?t seen her for 2.5 years now and probably I should visit her sometime, but this day is yet to come. The decision to not be around a person who had spent years willingly rolling to hell, felt right. It was her choice and I don?t owe her anything in this regard. I inevitably have to face bits of social disapproval and accusations of ?sitting on a beautiful hill and looking down at the mess?, but I don?t want to prove anything and explain all the situation happening in my guts. People are different and the only way to stay away from stereotypical norms is not reacting to them.
If you?re an adult, be your own parent
A very simple yet effective substitute for parental affection and approval is finding those within yourself. I know, this guru-type preaching annoys the crap out of you, but there?s no way of putting it simpler. I guess it can be the final stage of personal individuation/separation, becoming a whole and independent thinking organism (in most situations). When I passed this stage, I was no longer looking for approval and appraisal, critics didn?t make me mad, because I wasn?t a girl trying to please her parents with excellent marks or provoke their anger with smoking. I was an adult, never willing to get back even to my 20?s, when my frontal lobe was far from being in a full swing. Accepting responsibility for your own life also helps raise an inner parent. If you don?t take care of yourself, no one will. You can feel weak for an hour, a day or a week, but things won?t start getting better until you do something. The inner voice that is telling you should quit smoking, cut sugar, wear fair-trade cotton or simply stay true to yourself, is your inner parent, is the essence of you to be cultivated.
What happened in the childhood stays in the childhood
It?s a dubious statement, I get it. I don?t mean severe childhood traumas that need to be worked through with a specialist support. I?m talking about minor to medium situations of abuse that were somehow handled by you in childhood, but you?re still recalling them in different situations, bringing the disturbing things back to life. I used to resurrect a number of abusive situations over and over again: mother beating me with a rubber cord to make it more painful; mother calling my brother ?an ugly stutterer?; father beating his head against the wall crying how much he hates us and that he wants to go kill himself; mother deliberately exposing her private parts to us? This list can be long, but it doesn?t make my present life better or worse.
We all had tough times when we were kids and growing is not about dragging along all the suitcases of pain, suffering, and tears, but leaving them where they belong to. Getting rid of the Freudian accusations helps clear the mind from anger. And then, with my mind clear, it occurred to me that yes, some shit happened which affected our family relations. Now I don?t love my parents, but it?s not the end of the world. After all, the whole situation gives a lot of food for thought and field for growth.
Parental love can take the most bizarre forms, but you don?t have to take it
This thought is closely tied to the previous statement but shows the issue from another angle. A child doesn?t understand what is good and what is bad, they learn from their parents. And many years after it might strike you that what you thought was parental love and care was a totally unacceptable behavior. That your mom?s words about the sacred character of love between mother and her children were nothing but manipulation. Also, don?t let stereotypes fool you. There are moments when we are forced to demonstrate our love to parents which is not there. And as we are expected to do that, we start deceiving ourselves, replacing lovelessness with something else. This is what happened to me. Honestly, I?m still doing a huge work to stay true to my feelings and accept them. Because no humiliation or pain are cultivated by love even when you?re told so. Since childhood, the conflict in me was so strong that I couldn?t stand touching or being touched by my mother (no goodnight kisses, no pats, very official hugs that gave me nausea). For the most part of my life I couldn?t understand why I was such an insensitive monster, but then the riddle was cracked.
As an adult, I don?t have to squeeze fake loving reactions to the parent that I don?t love and I don?t have to take their love, too, whatever are the generally accepted norms. Sometimes I think that I even feel relieved that my mother ended up being an alcoholic because it was a fair reason to finally reject her, which I wasn?t able to do with the rest of the stuff that was hidden from other people?s and family?s eyes. It was a mere fright to accept my unloving and very often hating self.
It?s not only the genes that make you you
I can?t boast a wholesome bunch of perfect genes. Apart from various fatal diseases and slight mutations, our family has a long history of alcoholism. From my mother?s side. And yes, I checked it out in practice and found out that I?m very susceptible to all kinds of substances with a lovely chance of becoming an addict pretty fast. I know it. Just as I know that I look like both of my parents together, I see their fingers, eyes, lips, legs. It?s their legacy manifested in me. But I?m something more than this. I keep it in mind looking in the mirror, challenging myself physically and mentally, learning new things, taking risks, learning from mistakes. Lived through my mind, this experience is the actual me. And the real me has almost nothing to do with my parents, therefore I?m the only one in charge here, without exhausting hatred, bitterness, or regrets.
Moving far away will not necessarily cut the ?umbilical cord?. Sometimes you have to come back
I?ve been dreaming of leaving my parent?s place as long as I remember myself. Four of us and a couple of pets tried to survive in a one-bedroom tiny apartment. So, at the age of 20, I happily accepted a proposal and entered my doomed first marriage. I remember my excitement very vividly, my thoughts that from now on, things would be different. But they weren?t. I would often come over to my parents? place, they almost never came to ours. Then we moved to Moscow. Then I would visit my hometown once or twice every year. Then the cancer situation happened and I began to reconsider my values. At a distance, it felt right to take care of my unfortunate parents. So I quit a lucrative Moscow job to move back to Siberia. There, I found out what was kept in secret: my mother?s destructive addictions. My disgust was overflowing, leaving me shattered and helpless. Again, I felt a stereotypical urge to save her, but nothing worked. Father, brother, and I tried everything except for violence. I won?t describe all the atrocious things she did and said during that time, but anyone who has abusive addicts as family members would understand. For the first time in my life, I went to a therapist, who actually suggested that I don?t have to love and save my parents if I don?t want to. And on our final sessions when I was about to leave the hometown again, my therapist said that I had to come back to get completely separated and cut the rotten umbilical cord that had been strangling me for years.
It?s fine when love is not all around us
There are things I can give my parents other than love. I can understand all their weaknesses and sufferings, their unhappiness and disappointments which had taken them here. As I?m no longer expecting anything, I don?t feel offended by them. I?m trying to take care of my father, recognize his quirkiness and egocentrism. I?m still preparing myself to go see mother. I know I have to do it before she passes away. Just to have a complete book of memories of her. A full stop before I reach the bottom of my loveless shadow to move further and break yet another border that keeps me from a total acceptance of myself.