I recently spent a minute shopping for a father’s day card for my dad. This caused the usual lamentation of how most cards are incredibly lame. I just need to go into my own card business already. But alas I haven’t added that to my professional repertoire yet. Give me time.
Also, I can never seem to send a card out on time. But that’s for another day.
The point of this is that in addition to these more usual thoughts, on this particular trip to the card aisle, I also reflected on parent-child relationships as a whole. Many people have, shall we say, less than perfect relationships with their parents. This can lead to a bunch of complicated feelings around the holidays celebrating parenthood.
One of the challenges in card buying is there is rarely the perfect one that fully expresses what we want to say to the person we’re giving it to. There were zero cards that said such things as:
“I know we have a unique, not entirely ideal relationship but thanks for the things you did to make me me. Because I like me. Most of the time.”
“I have a hard time being around you but I love you still.”
“I don’t know where you are Dad (or Mom). Or even who you are. But thanks for the sperm (or egg) donation so I could exist.”
“I know you did your best but I’m still working on myself. Love you!”
“I’ve forgiven you for all the ways you so royally screwed up.”
"I like some things about you. Others not so much."
“I’m only sending this card because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do. Aka I’m still working through some stuff.”
Or even “Eff You!” Although, perhaps simply not sending a card sends that message well enough.
Now I mean these mostly in tongue and cheek. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to actually send a card with these phrases in it to their parent. Unless you really enjoy the drama. In which case send away. But it won’t help the relationship if that’s your goal. You also probably won’t feel good about yourself. Which really is the ultimate goal here.
The thing is cards are a communication tool and those who have complicated relationships with their parents are in a large part due to communication issues. Most Dad’s Day and Mom’s Day cards further contribute to these communication difficulties.
If you don’t mean “You were the best parent ever! Thank you for everything you’ve done for me! I’ll always look up to you! I love you!” and you give that card, they know it’s a bunch of BS. So once again there’s no authentic communication and you’re not actually connecting.
The truth is these parental holidays are tough for a lot of people. They bring up a lot of painful memories. They bring up a lot of painful feelings. And that’s okay. Trying to pretend any differently is even more painful.
Perhaps the actual parental appreciation days aren’t the right time to bring up the things we really need to say. But you also don’t have to say or do anything you don’t mean or want to. The best thing to do on these days is parent yourself in the way your actual parents couldn’t and maybe still can’t.
Honor your experiences and feelings. Do something nice for yourself. Set boundaries. Even if that means not seeing them that day. At least for this year.
Look for the positive ways in which they shaped you if you’re in a place to be able to do that. Even the worst parent can inspire their child to behave in a more caring, compassionate way. But don't force anything. Acceptance and forgiveness are a process and take time.
Now this isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of people who can relate to these cards. Luckily there are also many healthy relationships between parent and child. If that’s you card away! Really celebrate how lucky you are to have that relationship.
And if you have that relationship with someone who isn't your biological parent then by all means celebrate them. Parents aren't simply the people who did it and then birthed us. Sometimes they adopted us. Officially or unofficially. Sometimes they're other family members. Or our friends' parents. Parents' friends. Teachers, coaches, baby-sitters, neighbors.
Sometimes too, you had an amazing bond with a parent or parents but they're no longer alive. That's just as tough. Honor the memories and feelings that show up, taking care of yourself along the way as your own parent would have.
Maybe you really want to be a parent because you had such great examples and life just isn't quite working out the way you want it too. Honor, honor, honor. Lean on your own parents if they're still around.
We need to keep in mind that there’s no normal. Whatever this holiday brings up for you is your unique experience. Use it to reflect and make choices that best support you. Heck, maybe just design your own card no matter what kind of relationship you have with your parent(s). Hallmark just isn’t cutting it anymore.