I’d say I was more tolerated than loved by my parents.
The comment caught me off guard. Several people were talking about how each of us, whether we’re adults or children, give and receive love a bit differently. However, as adults, we can refrain from demanding people convey love in specific ways and be considerate and generous in the ways we receive love.
I think familiarity with the commonly-accepted five love languages can help with our insight into relationships. It can enhance our awareness and nudge us to be considerate in the ways we express love to others. But that same familiarity can just as easily prompt us to be demanding. I’ve heard friends say more than once, “He knows my love language. Just because he is expressing love his way doesn’t mean I feel it.” I get it. I really do. But healthy adults and healthy relationships add generosity and patience to the familiarity with love languages. Plus, it all helps us see how we were given and how we received love as children.
Claiming we were loved by our parents isn’t simply a check box of getting what we wanted or could comprehend as children. Considering our parents’ love for us takes their humanness into account. Under the circumstances of their lives at the time, were they expressing love to us to the best of their ability?
I hope so.
But when I heard, “I’d say I was more tolerated than loved by my parents,” I empathized, knowing that experience is common. The basics are taken care of, but there is no intentional nourishment. And many kids make it out of the situation unscathed, perhaps even more determined to invest in others and invest in themselves. Yet a lot don’t. They meander as they try to find their way.
There’s another experience some have had (or are living out with their own kids). Some kids are more worshiped than loved. It’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from being tolerated. There’s a lot of attention, and it vacillates between pressure and pride. It’s an odd position, because it feels pretty good at times, but it’s confusing. I’m close to people who have been on the receiving and the giving end of the worship, and while they will hesitate to frame it quite in that way, they will admit to the struggles involved. Parents who worship their children have a close relationship with perfectionism—for themselves and their children. They will state, and in many ways, express an intense unconditional love for the kids, but their standards and the practices to keep everyone on track are strict and often harsh at times. The affirmation can be gushing, even embarrassing at times, and the expectations can be confusing and burdensome. The kids often grow into adults who have an inflated sense of self rationalized as confidence as well as insecurities that can be expressed with lashing out and manipulating others sometimes and crippling anxiety at other times.
That’s not to say those who were loved well by their parents have it all together. It’s still a struggle to learn all the lessons of life and how to cope with the confusion, hurt, and challenges of adulthood. Love gives us a sense of security but not immunity to struggles. I bring up these different experiences and dynamics not to exalt, condemn, or pity but for awareness and encouragement. As parents, no matter what the age of our children, we can be better. If we’re parenting the same way we were several years ago or decades ago, we’re missing the possible growth of ourselves and our kids, even if they’re adults, too. As adult children, we can be better. We can thank our parents and affirm them in the ways that have helped, and we can healthily refuse the interactions that we might like because they keep us comfortable but that we know don’t help us grow. After all, the way we respond to our parents and the ways they love (or tolerate or worship) says something about our own love and values as well.
Each of us can grow.