The following material was prepared by Foma, an Orthodox journal:
How to take steps towards improving one’s relationship with one’s parents and why it is important replied Gleb Slobin, a consulting psychologist, Deputy Director-General of Psychological Service “Family welfare”, in his interview with Foma.
Why “Fathers and Sons”?
– Mr. Slobin, they say that relationships with parents have an impact on the whole life of a person – on their family, work relationships, etc. Why are these relationships so crucial?
— You see, we are not born blank slates. Parents give us a life and along with it specific individual psychological characteristics. They pass on their accumulated cultural and spiritual heritage. God has established a certain order: a husband and wife give birth to children and raise them. The fact that we have these parents and not others is something that we need to accept as part of our life.
Therefore, honoring parents is both an obligation and a moral and psychological goal at the same time. It is essential to learn to honor them not for their excellent traits, but for the simple fact of being born by them. People often proceed from the fact whether it is easy to communicate with their parents or not. If it is easy, one can honor them, and if it is hard, it is possible to ignore or resent them, quarrel with them, or blame them. No! Mother and father are people, with whom it is essential to develop a harmonious relationship. Likewise, it is crucial in order to follow the Lord’s Commandments. It is important for both our parents and ourselves.
— Or what?..
— Or a person will not be truly happy in my opinion.
Parents are a link that connects us with previous generations. Arguing with them, blaming them, and rejecting them prevent us from feeling this belonging to our ancestors, consequently to comprehending life as a whole, to the feeling of involvement, and perhaps to the feelings of loneliness, uselessness, and abandonment.
— Childhood grudges are the most common ground for alienation, “They were too strict with me, I was not loved”; “They were overprotective of me”; “Dad was despotic”; “Mom did not allow me to do what I liked to”. How do you overcome such things?
— Let’s acknowledge, for starters, that from a spiritual perspective such words are grumbling. Grumbling at God. In other words, a person says, “Lord, You took poor care of me. You gave me wrong parents, and that is why I am worse now than I could have been. But I am not responsible for this!” Self-pity and self-justification join this grumbling. This causes people harm depriving them of an opportunity to change something in their life. It provides the ground for alienation from parents.
Holding a grudge is quite dangerous and unproductive: one is passive internally, feelings of imaginary injustice, self-pity, and anger towards others hold one in captivity. One is actually trying to avoid responsibility for one’s own life and self.
— What is the solution?
— The only solution to this is to understand yourself, accept the circumstances of your life as a fait accompli, come to terms with it, and thus to adopt proactive internal role of a creator of your own life.
Perhaps you really did not receive something when you were a kid. But you have your life, arms, legs, and head. What do you do with them? Where do you channel your efforts ? What goals do you set for yourself? These are not your parents’ arms-legs-head, they are yours, they belong to you. So the responsibility rests with you.
Therefore, a person can look at themselves and say: “Today that is who I am. What can I do about it now? Do I want to do anything about it?” I would advise a person to treat themselves in a stricter way, ask themselves these questions, find answers to them, and to neither sit around nor leave the situation to chance. Time truly does not stand still. You could be too late…
— Many conflicts revolve around the fact that already grown-up children and their parents do not agree on how they, children, should live. How important should parents’ opinion be for grown-up children?
— The commandment tells us about honoring, not about absolute obedience. But in the situation where your opinions vary, I think, the question of respect for parents comes to the forefront. If they continue pressing it, “I never give you bad advice!” It is better to answer politely, calmly but firmly, “Thank you very much, I got your point. But you have raised me an independent person, please let me think and make my own decision”. Most importantly, do not brush aside your parents’ opinion, interrupt them abruptly, show disregard for their life experience and desire to help. However, if we still did something our way, it is better to let them know about it. Even if they get upset, it will be the lesser evil than the grudge for being neglected.
Empty Nest Syndrome
— Is it easier for a child than for parents to adapt to an independent life, to the fact that they have grown up?
— Yes, I believe that parents are more tempted to leave everything as it used to be. Firstly, in many respects modern parents often forget that the goal of upbringing is paradoxical. The goal is to make sure that the child ceases to need their parent, becomes mature and able to start their own family, so that parents like some struts are no longer needed. The final stage is for relationships to move to a new footing, a friendly one. In order that eventually, grown-up children take care of their aged parents.
Secondly, it is far from simple for parents to give up their guardianship role that they have had for over 20 years. Oftentimes it turns out that the only child, into whose upbringing their parents put a lot of energy, time, and heart, leaves, separates from their parents, and starts living their own life. Then, parents face a question, “Who am I now? What should I do with my life now?” This separation may become very painful for the parents. Therefore, they often want to be a “strut”, to keep a person in their childhood. However, this benefits no one.
— Is it possible to have an honest, open conversation in this situation?
— It is possible. Actually it is essential. Although, one should not expect something to change fundamentally due to the conversation. The reason parents behave in one way or another is not because they do not understand something. The question is in their ability to manage themselves, their lives, and their inner state. After all they need to rebuild their life and find new goals. This is what is hard.
— How do we help parents with that?
— Like in any other situation you need to start with yourself.
To begin with, it is crucial for our behavior to be serious and responsible in the eyes of our parents. So that they could see that we set certain goals, study or work, overcome difficulties, etc. By that we help them reduce their anxiety about us. Likewise, grown-up children may help their parents to make their wishes, interests, or dreams come true. Help them find something they will enjoy doing.
There is a concept of “empty nest syndrome” in psychology: when children become adults, parents have an opportunity to look at each other – not through a child – in a new light and to build their relationship anew. “Who are we to each other right now? We were mom and dad. But what are we now?” This period sees many divorces because people forget what it is like to be friends, to be lovers.
Our “adulthood” can manifest itself exactly in helping parents to see themselves in a new light, to see life possibilities, and not just everyday life or vanity. There are no general recommendations. But it is not enough to say, “You have plenty of time, go somewhere you want” or “There is a social center, go there!” The problem may lie in the fact that a parent does not want to go anywhere, he or she is so used to living under the “home, work, home” scheme, that the life horizon has narrowed down to a small corridor. It is important that we could find patience and mercy for our parents. It is crucial to make efforts to extend these limits: to seek, to learn, and to go somewhere together.
Because growing up we come into power. Our parents are diminished in every sense. Our job is to lend them a shoulder so that they do not feel helpless and powerless.
— Young people are usually very busy with their own lives. Apart from the commandment where would you suggest looking for motivation to devote more time to parents?
— If you lack motivation, you should realize that by paying attention and caring for parents, you return the favor: your mother and father once changed your diapers, stayed up all night, raised you, and tolerated your illnesses and antics. Now you just switched roles. The older your mother and father are, the more sicknesses they have – the more obvious it is.
Do you want to be lonely when you are old? Care for your parents! For the man of faith, I believe, it should be joyous, as it is an opportunity to serve, help, and to support. We can say it out loud, “Mommy, Daddy, you are not a burden, I need you! I am glad that I can help you, look after you, tell you something, and go somewhere with you”. It will be very nice for your parents, who sometimes feel incredibly weak or that they are not interesting enough for their grown-up children.
Translated from Russian by Julia Frolova