There’s no manual given to you when you become a parent. There’s no customized guide to tell you what’s best for your child. There’s also no rewind button after you’ve had a major role in an event that traumatized your child. There’s no law that says they have to forgive you, or bring their children (if they have any) around you. Just like there’s no law that says every parent must have the perfect parenting technique. It’s tricky, isn’t it? Being completely responsible for another human’s physical and emotional needs. I don’t have any children, but I am the child to parents whom I once held a great deal of resentment towards.
I can only imaging how painful it would be for me to endure being on the other side of a wall that my child purposefully built to keep me out of their life. I shut my parents out for years while I dealt with the pain that they caused (or pain that I projected blame onto them for). I want to offer some insight into the best things my parents did, what they shouldn’t have done, and things I wished they had done.
In general, when someone expresses to you that they feel traumatized after an event, your opinion of whether or not they should/shouldn’t feel traumatized is irrelevant. Invalidating their feelings by saying things like “well that’s not really the type of thing that traumatizes people” or “if I were in that situation, I would’ve…” makes you come off as uninterested in their life or feelings. In fact, it’ll only make your child more bitter/resentful.
Even if you don’t agree with your child’s viewpoint of the traumatic event(s) or their feelings about it, just listening creates a space for your child to heal. It also offers you an opportunity to understand your child better. You might have a child who (you now know) is really sensitive and you mistakenly hurt many times in the past. At least now, you’d know that you should be more considerate when interacting with them (to avoid making things worse).
Accept Your Wrongdoings
You weren’t the perfect parent. No one has ever been. Hopefully you did the best you could, but regardless if your actions were intentional or not, your child probably wants you to admit to your wrongdoing. This doesn’t mean that you’re admitting to being the world’s worst parent. It means that you’re taking responsibility for the way that your choices affected your child. If you know that you had good intentions or was only doing your best, then put your pride to the side for this. If you purposely caused pain in your child’s life, own it. It’s your mistake to make right and an apology is a start.
Whatever you do, don’t try and erase what you’ve done from history by denying it. In fact, if you’re not ready to accept where you went wrong, it’s better for you to say nothing than to deny it ever happening.
So, you’ve been confronted by your child about how your parenting style negatively impacted them. You’re hurt, confused, angry, and sad. However, retaliating against your child is like adding gasoline to the fire that’s about to burn the bridge between you two.
Refusing to help your child when they need you, no longer showing up for life events, or constantly bring up the fact that they confronted you will all push your child away. Things like “you were smiling in all of your childhood photos, so I don’t understand how you could’ve been traumatized back then” or “well since I was such a bad parent, then it’s better for me not to come around you anymore, huh?” will put the nail in the coffin and surely end your relationship for good.
You and your child need to move forward with life. It would be very nice for you to move forward together. If it’s appropriate, encourage your child to seek therapy to heal. Even offer to go with them for family counseling, if you’re comfortable with that. If you’re still struggling to agree with your child’s feelings, try finding the middle ground between you and your child where you can co-exist without constant conflict over the past.
Most important, don’t beat yourself up. Remember, nobody gets parenting “right” and the fact that you’re trying to be a pro-active factor in your child’s healing is a huge step in the right direction. Your child doesn’t want to see you hurt, sad, or depressed. They want to heal and move forward and they wouldn’t have come to you about their feelings if they didn’t want you to be a part of that.