Don’t be ashamed if you’re thinking about cutting your relationship with your parents. Whatever your reasons, they are valid.
Most probably you have toxic parents. They could be abusive, have some undiagnosed personality disorders, or they just don’t like your significant other. Same goes with stepparents.
On the other hand, you simply don’t have that much in common, or you have polarizing beliefs. Do these warrant you cutting the relationship with them?
In my opinion it all boils down to three reasons:
- Are they good enough parents?
- Have they been toxic and abusive to you your whole life?
- Maybe there’s a gray area between those two above!
This post is for you especially if you fall below numbers 2 and 3.
What is a good enough parent?
In the 1950s, English pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott coined the phrase “good enough mother” (generally applies to fathers, too, thus “good enough parent”).
It is posited that being a “perfect parent” is detrimental over the long haul. Striving to become a perfect parent magnifies the “imperfections” one allegedly sees in a child.
The inevitable outcome of this is blame—whether blaming the child himself, or blaming another adult to basically evade responsibility. The child also ends up with self-blame or self-criticism.
Thus the idea that a parent needs to be only “good enough.” Winnicott even put a number on it—a parent needs to be good enough only 30% of the time. Recent research shows that when responding to babies’ needs for attachment, caregivers need to “get it right” only 50% of the time.
This does not mean that a parent should be the most unimaginably worst parent 70% (or 50%) of the time, though.
Good parenting will always be grounded on sound parenting foundation, there’s no contest to that. Even if the parents can provide all the material needs of the child to survive, emotional needs are as important (or even more).
Therefore emotional attunement and empathy are impressive skills any parent can master. And the best part is that parents can raise their kids well just by being “good enough” on those points.
How does your relationship with your parents affect you?
I want to jump right to the uglier side of this.
Apparently, children with strained relationships with their parents can have physical health issues down the road (similar to the growing body of research proving that a traumatic childhood yields the same).
For example, 91% of participants who said their relationship with their mother was “tolerant” or “strained and cold” were diagnosed with a significant health issue such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, or alcoholism.
With their father, it was 82%. Now the kicker is that if it was with both parents, 100% of the participants had a significant health issue.
In the long run, disruptive family relationships can also make you:
- Begin to blame yourself for these poor relationships
- Experience fear and anxiety surrounding family or holiday events
- Hesitate to reach out to other family members
- Suffer from lack of emotional or financial support during hard times
- Develop trouble sleeping or focusing due to the stress of these interactions
There’s also the issue of children acting as a caregiver when parents reach old age, with which the stresses and responsibilities of being one can negatively—and heavily—affect family relationships, let alone toxic ones.
This is a sad truth when children universally seek approval from their parents, even if they convince themselves otherwise.
You somehow became a copy of your parent(s), in terms of your behaviors, the things you tell yourself, and how you express yourself.
What to do when you don’t want a relationship with your parents?
1. Reflect real hard on your thoughts.
You can seek solace in the good qualities your parents have. Be careful, though.
Do you think they’ve been “good enough,” or are they still 100% toxic right until this moment? Can you compromise?
Give yourself all the time you need, for this is certainly a huge decision that will affect your life moving forward.
2. Communicate what you feel to them.
By this time you probably have a decision already. It’s time to let them know. Do not be afraid especially when your wellbeing is at stake.
You could even email it to them if you think that’s more appropriate. (It’s also good for bookkeeping, where you could resend it or they could review it.)
You could suggest that they seek some form of professional help. It would also be fair to give them some time.
3. Accept. Grieve. Move on.
There’s a high chance that toxic parents will not change for the people around them or for those expressing concern. After all, you cannot change people.
A difficult part of the process, I know, but moving on and grieving for the parents you have not been blessed to have is simply the way forward.
This will take time so be sure to cut yourself some slack.
4. Find support and solidarity.
Go find and build the family you needed. Nurture your existing non-blood relationships, especially if they are also from a difficult home.
Real-life interactions are the center of our humanity. But you could also use the internet, which has loads of forums and groups that are genuinely there to offer support, even for free.
5. Set boundaries.
You need boundaries especially on your path to healing.
When you’re feeling better about the situation, you can make compromises by, say, a low-contact or phone-only relationship, or contacting them after a couple of years.
They will get in touch with you at some point. Be ready for different scenarios.
6. Remind yourself that to be able to love others, you have to love yourself first.
You’ll have different kinds of feelings such as guilt, sadness, and regret.
But if your parents still fail to prove that they’re “good enough,” then gracefully accept what’s happening and move on with your life.
(Clueless) people will call you out on your decision, but know that it is the best way to preserve your health (including physical health) and your sanity.
Don’t underestimate the value of your “chosen family.”
Your parents—biological parents—do have a special place in your heart, especially if you lived under the same roof for many years.
But, as many people from healthy families would never imagine, you do not have to have a relationship with people who do not treat you like an able human being who can make decisions for himself.
You don’t have to maintain a relationship with your parents if they treat you as a possession and only take advantage of it at the expense of your happiness.
This is where your “chosen family” comes in. Heck, your friends who are also children of toxic parents, and who you can share the stories with, may even automatically make it as your real family. Do not take them for granted.
Remember that even if you have turned socially awkward because of your toxic upbringing, you still need other people—even if it’s just one person—because that’s what we simply are: humans.
This obviously needs work but I’m sure you can find at least a similar soul who may also be waiting for someone just like you!
If you are going to use the internet, be very cautious and watch out for predators.
My point is that given the information and technology available to us in this era, you can build the relationships you need.
How to cope without parental figures?
I’m not going to lie—it’s going to be difficult, especially if you see other people who seem to be really close and have a secure attachment with their parents.
But coping without parental figures can be done.
Arguably, looking for your support group—your real, “chosen family”—is the best you could do.
But in case you’re still in the process of building your support group, or are simply afraid to do so yet, you could first read some books. You could maybe Google “books for people without parents Amazon (or GoodReads)” and start from there. You could also consult your favorite online forums.
Grieve gracefully. It may be a constant feeling from now on. But grieving will help you let go of all the anger and hate that are only pulling you down (while your parents are out there living their “best” life). It is not worth it to hold on to these feelings.
Finally, you could go seek professional help. Looking for, say, a therapist could be hard. (It’s like dating, you have to match.) But trust that these formally trained mental health practitioners can help you process your thoughts and move on.
Remember, you can still love your parents even without having a relationship with them. It’s just that if they are literally not good for your health (after you’ve taken the time to affirm this sentiment), then it would just be for the best to live your life without them.
Live life with your chosen family instead for indeed, life is too short to be wasting it away!
Image Credits: Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash