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Why It’s So Hard to Give Up Wanting Parental Love


If you’re hoping to win your parents love and attention or change them in any way, you are not alone. One week not so long ago, I had intense conversations with five (adult) clients on this subject when they were upset by feeling rejected, abandoned, shamed, invalidated, or simply dismissed by a parent. The best news I could give them was that all 7.9 billion people on the planet, along with all our human predecessors, have struggled, to greater or lesser extent, with this very same issue, including yours truly.

Although we may seek love and approval from others, yearning for it from parents is in a class by itself. We will frequently turn ourselves inside out to get a scrap of praise or avoid a tongue-lashing, far more so than we do with folks who aren’t our parents. This is true whether we live next door to them or across the globe, whether we speak with them daily or rarely, whether we adore them or don’t even like them very much. 

Why is it that when we’re adults who can stand alone and live without them, we still cling to the hope that our parents will give us what they have never been able to give? Sometimes I think it’s hard-wired into our DNA as an innate way to bind parents and children together: when we’re young and need them and when they’re old and need us. The desire for their love and approval feels ingrained and almost cellular.

Here are some of the things we long for: to be accepted as is; to be seen as capable adults; to be viewed as uniquely separate beings from our parents and siblings; to be valued for our failures as well as our successes; to be entitled to our own opinions no matter how different from that of our parents; to be encouraged to grow healthier in all ways; to be urged to take care of ourselves, follow our own desires and live our own full lives; to hear praise for the wonder of merely being us; to be told we are lovable and loved and always have been; and to hear apologies for how our parents wronged us. 

What would accepting that none of the above is remotely possible feel like? What if we decided (yes, it’s a decision) to recognize that we don’t need any of the above? For sure, we did need it as children, but we now can find what we sought from our parents in ourselves or others. The urge to be loved and accepted by parents comes from the past and is mostly memory of the urgency and desperation we felt as children. 

When we give up the hope that parents will change, we must mourn and take full responsibility for our own lives as is. Mourning means surrendering the desire for them to give us what they cannot. It involves sadness and a sense of aloneness, but relief and joy that we no longer need to depend on our parents. That’s as good as it gets.




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