What kind of son or daughter are you? Are you as good as you could be or should be? Here’s a guide on how to get in the Hall of Fame.
Father’s Day is set aside to honor dads, at least those worthy of being honored. But how often do you think about how well you did or are doing as a son or daughter?
Sadly, for too many folks Father’s Day (or Mother’s Day) evokes feelings of resentment or guilt rather than warm feelings of gratitude and affection. Even those who really love their parents are often more annoyed than uplifted by their perceived responsibilities as a good son or daughter. I don’t want to increase guilt or discomfort but I think you might benefit from an honest and objective look at how you are servicing the most significant relationships of your life – your relationship to your parents.
As I’ve said elsewhere, you had nothing to say on how you came out in the Dad or Mom Lottery. Some parents approach sainthood (at least in the blurry eyes of grateful children) while others should be imprisoned for bad parenting (at least in the eyes of resentful victims). The vast majority, however, fall somewhere between these extremes.
First, I need to emphasize how important it is that you don’t take on any responsibility for the failures of your father or mother nor for your feelings toward them. Your dad and mom are or were the parents they chose to be.
If you got a bad one or both, you have a right to feel shortchanged and in no way should you entertain the thought that it was some deficiency in you that caused him or her to be less than an ideal dad. You were the child, it was their job to adapt to their parenting responsibilities and nurture, encourage and love you. If either didn’t it is their loss and their sin.
And if a fair and objective view of your dad or mom reveals a person not worthy of your love, admiration or even respect, don’t feel guilty for your true feelings.
But however you assess their performance I urge you to make an equally objective assessment of how good a son or daughter you were or are. This is especially important for those of you whose parents are still living.
Most of us were not good enough or grateful enough to our parents when we were teens. It is a stage when the demand to pull away and become independent combines with extraordinary but natural self-absorption. And, it’s possible that your parents were (or are now) unreasonably demanding and needy – no matter what you do, it’s not enough.
Your challenge is to work through the natural annoyance you may feel about having to think more often or spend more time doing things with or for your parents than you’d like and look at your actions through your parents’ eyes. (If you do not yet have adult children they are eyes you will come very familiar with).
It’s pretty simple really. Your parents want to feel sincerely loved, appreciated and valued.
Now, if you don’t actually love, appreciate or value your parents your options are somewhere between cruel candor and well-intentioned insincerity. That’s sad, but possibly the best you’ve got. It’s likely your parents know when you are faking it or just going through the motions, but maybe they will appreciate that you cared enough to fake it.
If on the other hand, when you sort through the myriad of feelings you have about your parents you realize that you really do love them, appreciate them and value them you really ought to think about what you could (and will) do to more frequently give them the gift of feeling loved, appreciated and valued.
It’s much easier than you may think.
Random communications (not just on big holidays) to chat or check in with them go a long way as do notes and messages of appreciation. (Printed cards, regardless of the eloquence of the sentiment, do not move the needle nearly as much as a one sentence note expressing either love or gratitude for a little thing). The more specific you are, the better. Mention something that evokes memories in both of you (e.g., “Went to a play last night and thought of the great time we had when we saw Les Miserables together – it’s still a great memory. Thanks. Love you.”)
Parents want to know about your life, what you are doing, what you are happy about and what you are worried about. Usually they want to know far more than you want them to know or have the patience to tell them. And when you do let them in they sometimes intrude with unwanted and sometimes outrageously unwise advice — they really don’t know you or your situation that well.
Parents want to know you value their perspective and wisdom — even if you don’t. They love it when you actually ask for their advice (as opposed to financial or physical help – “give me money”, “watch the kids” – things they may not mind or even enjoy but do not rise to the level of giving advice).
If you are lucky enough to have a parent who really is capable of helpful advice, comforting words or effective encouragement, draw on that bank account often — you’ll both benefit.
If this is not so much the case, think if their are things you really do think they know more about. Whether its trimming your banzai tree or getting a stain out of a silk dress or fixing the washing machine, go out of your way to give them a chance to be your parent again, to know more than you and to teach you. They love that.
I don’t know if you view this as a Mission Impossible, a Mission Improbable or a Mission Undesirable, but your task, should you choose to accept it is to at least once a month do one thing to really show your parents you love them, one other thing to show you appreciate them and one more thing to demonstrate you value them. That’s only three things a month and it will take less time than you invest in getting your morning coffee.
One thing is certain, if you don’t think of these things now, if you don’t go a little out of your way to give your parents a little more joy and seek and seize the opportunity to get to know them a little bit better, you will regret it when they are gone. You will feel this most when your children treat you the way you are treating your parents. (Remember, you are teaching your children how to treat you).
Trust me. Every moment is precious if you make it so.