I have a friend whose parents are very traditional, and she feels that they put their own feelings before hers. How can I help here?
Our elder has some advice on opening up their communication.
I have a friend who has communication issues with her parents. The father is the uncommunicative type, not warm and expressive, often formal. If there are issues with the children, he’ll always ask the mother and hardly ever the children directly. She has a sister who is in the same position as her and a brother who is the mother’s darling. The mother has always deferred to the father and feels her daughter should make the effort to call the father regularly and ask after him. My friend says she always takes initiative to call but her father has never once bothered.
My friend is annoyed at her mother, who she feels that all her life has stressed the importance of being respectful to father but never taken into consideration her feelings. She is unhappy at the fact that the father has been excused for making an effort to engage with his daughters/children and to connect with them. The mother accuses the daughter of being ‘competitive’ and that it’s children who should ask after parents. My friend protests and disagrees and feels that respect and concern should be both ways and reciprocal. The mother thinks my friend is being rude. Clearly the father feels that parents’ ranking is higher than children’s and that they should defer to him He is a good provider but emotionally distant and of a traditional mindset. How can the situation be improved? My friend feels her parents put their feelings first and she has to suppress hers and can’t make them understand her point of view.
Thanks for trusting the Elders for advice for your friend. She is lucky to have a friend who supports her.
First, from my experience, I would like to try to offer the father’s perspective. As you will find when you become a parent, your parenting behavior often mirrors your upbringing whether you intend for that to happen or not. I found myself behaving toward my daughter as my mother behaved toward me, even though I considered some of this behavior to have a negative impact on me growing up. It wasn’t until someone pointed that out to me that I realized it was OK to parent a different way without judging myself as a ‘poor parent’. I think your friend’s father is just imitating the parenting behavior that he experienced as a young son growing up in a traditional household. He probably feels that he is doing an adequate job as a father (in the traditional way), and certainly your mother is supporting him in this. In their world, ‘good’ children provide emotional support to them as a way to honor their parents, not the other way around.
What your friend should realize is that this parenting attitude doesn’t necessarily reflect a lack of love or concern on the parent’s part. It’s a matter of expression and communication rather than a rejection or disinterest. Having said that, your friend is not wrong to want to have a more reciprocal relationship with both her father and mother. In a very traditional family, sometimes the child has to become a parent themselves before they can bridge this gap with her own parents because then she and their parents have much more in common. However, I do have some suggestions for perhaps opening up better communication:
- Try to get over the hurt feelings caused by the father’s response because the emotional side of this comes through every communication. Would you want to talk with someone who blames you for not being a better friend? Wouldn’t it be more likely that a conversation could happen if the blaming can be set aside? Opening her heart and accepting that the past parenting cannot be changed is a good place to start anew.
- Your friend is upset that her feelings are not considered as important as her parents’ feelings within their relationship. She does not feel respected as a family member. She should try showing her father (and her mother) that she deserves their respect by acting respectful herself. That means within this traditional family, she should follow the expected responses of a daughter for now and work to create a more reciprocal respect between members going forward. She can do that by communicating her feelings without accusations, attitude, or blame and by focusing on her wish to relate more directly with her parents.
- When she contacts her father, she should point out her appreciation for any response or action he’s taken on her behalf (this could be something memorable from the past as well as something current). Then, she can tell him how much it meant to her to have connected with him, and that she would truly like to do something with him to reconnect on a new level. The father may be a bit uncomfortable taking the initiative, so she should have a couple of events or activities in mind to offer. If he declines or doesn’t respond, she should let him know that she is going to try again because she wants to spend more time with him. I know this will be difficult to do if your friend cannot let go of her resentment toward the past parenting, but he may need to hear this from her directly several times before he comes to an understanding of how this relationship could become more fulfilling for both of them. This will be new territory for both of them.
At times in our lives, almost everyone wishes for a more loving, more fulfilling relationship with their parents or with their children. I think many of us have also had the fantasy of the perfect parent or perfect child. Unfortunately, human relationships and interactions are seldom perfect and require effort, understanding, and acceptance. My mother and I became closer as I grew into adulthood and beyond because no one is perfect, and love can overcome past hurts and perceived wrongs from parent to child and back to parent. Your friend can help her father to become more connected with her, but she should not feel rejected if he finds this difficult to do. She should also not give up on him even though this may require more patience and maturity than she may have right now. My experience says that later in life she may regret not doing this if she doesn’t at least try to connect in a more meaningful way.
You are a good friend to be so caring of her. I hope you and your parents have a good bond, and that life brings you good things.