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Friday, March 16, 2018

How Your Perspective About Your Parents Changes Over Time

Like most people, your perspective about your parents will probably change over the course of your lifetime.  Whether your parents are still alive or they have passed away, as you change, your perspective about your parents also changes (see my articles: You Continue to Have a Relationship With Your Parents Even After They Die).

How Your Perspective About Your Parents Changes Over Time

Whether you idealized your parents as a child or you resented them, as you get older and develop psychologically, you're able to see things about your parents that you weren't able to see at an earlier stage of your life.

Depending upon your relationship with your parents and your life experience, this might mean that you no longer idealize your parents because you now see them as ordinary people or your resentment decreases because you now understand what they went through.

As a child, there might have been aspects of your parents' lives that you didn't know or that you couldn't understand at the time.  But when you're older with more life experience, you will probably see your parents' in a different way.

A new perspective about your parents allows for a change in your relationship with them.  Whether it brings you closer or causes you to feel more distant from them depends upon your particular circumstances.

Fictional Clinical Vignette: How Your Perspective About Your Parents Changes Over Time
The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how your view of your parents can change:

Alice began psychotherapy after she discovered an old family secret about her parents' relationship.

She told her psychotherapist that, after her parents moved out of their house and into an assisted living facility, she worked on gradually clearing out the house so that it could eventually be sold.

Alice explained that she had a lot of feelings about emptying out the house because it was the house where she grew up and the only home her parents ever had in their long marriage.  Although she was glad that her parents would now live in a facility that would make life easier for them, she also felt sad that the house would no longer be part of her life after it was sold.

The process of clearing out the house took a lot longer than Alice anticipated because, as she began the clearing out process, she found many old pictures, videos and letters.  She had so many memories to contend with that the process was almost overwhelming at times.

Alice said that there was one day when she was going through her parents' belongings and she came across an old picture of her father and a woman that Alice didn't recognize.  Her father had his arm around the woman and the woman was gazing lovingly into his eyes.

The picture was at the bottom of an old chest in the attic that belonged to her father where he kept old photos of his family, and college awards and certificates.

When Alice turned the picture over to see the back, she was shocked to read a note in a woman's handwriting, "My darling, Rich, you are the love of my life.  Love, Ann."

Alice noticed that the photo was dated 1962, which would have been 12 years after her parents got married.  She felt like a ton of bricks had just landed on her and she had so many questions whirling around in her mind that she had to sit down and take a deep breath:  Who was this woman and what was her father doing with her?  Did he have an affair?  Why was he holding onto this picture?

How Your Perspective About Your Parents Change Over Time

She told her psychotherapist that she sat in the attic for a long time not knowing what to do.  She had always been closer to her father than her mother and she looked up to her father ever since she could remember.

At first, she placed the picture back where she found it and closed her father's chest.  Then, she took the picture out again and took it with her when she left.

She was planning to visit her parents later on that same afternoon, but she called them and made an excuse as to why she wasn't coming.

Then, she sat on her living room couch, looked at the picture and wondered whether to ask her father about it or not.  If she did ask him about it, she wasn't sure how to broach the topic with him.

She wondered: If she spoke with him, would he get angry?  Would he tell her that it was none of her business?  But then she realized that her father had never been this way with her before.

When her husband came home, she showed him the picture and he was surprised too.  He knew that it would continue to bother Alice until she spoke with her father, so he encouraged her to wait until she could speak with her father alone to ask him about it.

Tossing and turning, she barely slept that night.  The mystery about her father and the woman in the picture was eating away at her.  She ruminated about it all night long.

She thought about how in 1962, she would have been 11 years old, and she tried to think about what was going on in her family during that time.  But she couldn't remember anything unusual.

By the next morning, Alice said, she decided to visit her parents at the assisted living facility.  As it turned out, Alice's mother was in the beauty salon, so Alice had time alone with her father.  As she thought about how to broach the topic with her father, she suggested taking a walk around the grounds.

Her father was in his usual cheerful mood and talked about he and Alice's mother were making friends at the assisted living facility.  Then, as they took seats at an outdoor table near the pool, he asked Alice how the clearing out process was going.

All along, Alice felt her heart pounding and her throat constricting as if she were about to burst out crying.  Not knowing how to approach the topic with her father, she took the picture out of her pocket and wordlessly placed it in front of her father.

Her father looked down at the photo for a moment and then he pushed it back in Alice's direction, "I knew there was something bothering you, Alice, the moment I saw you, but I didn't know what it was.  Is this what's bothering you?"

Alice could barely speak, "Dad, who is this woman?"

Her father looked away and stared out into the distance, "Alice, it was a long time ago. Let sleeping dogs lie.  Your mother and I worked this out years ago."

Alice burst into tears, "Is that all you're going to say?  I've looked up to you all my life.  Do you know how shocking it was for me to find this picture?"

Alice's father let out a long sigh and looked into Alice's eyes, "I'm sorry to disappoint you.  I'm sorry I haven't lived up to your image of me.  Your mother and I were going through a rough patch at that point and I had an affair with another woman, but I never stopped loving your mother or you.  I told your mother about the affair when Ann threatened to confront your mother about the it.  She wanted to me to leave your mother and I wouldn't do it--I wouldn't leave your mother and you, so she started threatening me.  Your mother and I eventually worked it out and decided to stay together.  The affair last a few months and there never was a another woman before or after Ann.  We never wanted you to know about our problems.  I'm sorry you found this picture.  I forgot that I even had it."

Alice's thoughts were so confused that she didn't know how to respond, so they sat in silence for a while.  Then, Alice said that she needed to leave and she would see him and her mother soon.  Before she left, she hugged her father and kissed his cheek perfuctorily and then she rushed to her car.  A few days later, Alice made an appointment to see the psychotherapist.

As she sat in her psychotherapy session, Alice told the psychotherapist that part of her felt like a child again who wanted to keep looking up to her father, but another part of her felt like an angry adult who felt betrayed (see my article: Are You Approaching Your Problems From an Adult Perspective or From an Inner Child Perspective?).

She wasn't sure how she felt about her father now.  In a way, since she found the photo, she felt like he was different from the person that she had always known him to be.

Alice met with her psychotherapist once a week to try to work out how she felt about her father.  There were times when she felt that if her parents worked out this problem all those years ago, she should forgive her father for making this mistake.  But then there were other times when she felt angry and hurt.

She also saw her mother in a different way.  For most of her life, she thought of her father as being the more nurturing and loving parent and she saw her mother as the more practical, stoic parent.  Now she felt much more compassionate towards her mother, and she wondered how much of her mother's stoicism was related to her efforts to deal with the affair.

Alice also felt confused about her childhood since she found the photo.  She had always thought that she had a happy childhood and that she was from a stable, loving home.  But now that image of the happy family was marred by the discovery of her father's affair.

A week later, Alice's mother called her and suggested that Alice come visit.  On the drive there, Alice wondered if her father had mentioned anything to her mother and if this was the reason why her mother wanted to see her.

When she arrived, Alice found her mother alone sitting out by the pool.  As soon as she saw Alice, her mother waved for her to come sit next to her.  As Alice approached the table, she had already made up her mind not to mention anything to her mother about the photo if her mother didn't bring it up.  She felt there was no need to upset her mother about this issue all these years later.

When Alice sat down, her mother reached across the table and put her hand over Alice's hand, "Your father told me."

They sat in silence for a few seconds, and then her mother squeezed Alice's hand, "I know you're upset about this, but try not to be too hard on your father.  I've made peace with that affair a long time ago.  I hope you can too.  Your father is a good man who made a mistake."

After a long silence, Alice told her mother that she never would have thought that her father would ever do something like this.  In response, Alice's mother smiled, "I know, dear.  I felt the same way back then, but your father and I were going through a difficult time.  We tried to keep it from you  because you were too young to be burdened by this.  He made a mistake.  I think he found some consolation with Ann, but he would never leave you and me.  He loved us too much to ever leave."

Alice and her mother talked for the rest of the afternoon.  Throughout their conversation, Alice went back and forth from feeling like an 11 year old girl to feeling like an adult.

When she saw her parents together again, they looked happy and, as always, they were affectionate with each other.  She told herself that, even though the affair was news to her, her parents had more than 50 years to reconcile their relationship.

Alice continued to attend her weekly psychotherapy sessions and talk about her disillusionment.  Over time, she realized that, until she found that photo, she still saw her father through a child's adoring eyes and her idealization of him wasn't realistic.  She grieved in therapy for the loss of that idealization.

How Your Perspective About Your Parents Changes Over Time

Over time, Alice was gradually able to accept on an emotional level that her father is human and he made a mistake at a time when her parents were going through a difficult time.  As she continued to work on this in therapy, she was able to see her parents from an adult perspective--kind and loving people who  had their flaws just like everyone else.

As Alice accepted that her father made a mistake and he had made amends with her mother, she felt even closer to each of her parents.

There are many ways that your perspective about your parents can change over the course of a lifetime.

Whether you discover family secrets or you develop new insights into your parents, as you change and grow, your perspective of your parents can also change and grow.

Getting Help in Therapy
There are times when problems arise and you're unable to resolve them on your own.  Rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to work through your problems so that you can move on with your life (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome trauma.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

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