De-cleave the Parental Units

Maggie and Phillip have been married for 10-years, at least according to their marriage certificate. Maggie feels like she’s a third-wheel to Phillip’s relationship with his mother rather than an help-meet to her husband. Today, Phillip came home from work extremely anxious. Maggie asked about his increased levels of anxiety, and he explained that their trip to visit his mother would be postponed a few days due to work, and he was worried sick about telling her.

Maggie was miffed at Phillip’s concern over what his mother would say, with seemingly little thought for how his children would take the news, let alone his wife. Phillip descends from a long line of guilt-leveraging ancestors. The only upcoming trip Phillip is taking will be orchestrated by his mother’s guilt. This is a violation of boundaries and addictive, toxic behavior.

Have your parents guilted you into submission on their wishes, with no consideration for you? Since we are all hard-wired to connect, there are two principles when connecting. Principle ONE: create safe space. Principle TWO: empathetic listening. If I want a healthy connection with another person, my son, for example, then I create safe space for him and I listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to be understood.

In order to create safe space, I (father) apply certain behaviors (applications) to make sure that he is free from my: unsolicited opinions, criticism, judging, sarcasm, and relating. By so doing, my son is free to be authentic, in fact, he can be wrong and make mistakes without the fear of retribution.

To apply the second principle, I employ the tactic of permission interviewing (empathetic listening). I discover what he’s thinking, feeling, and experiencing through the perspective of his eyes without my bias. This is a neutral approach to understanding him, his wife, and my grandchildren. 

Too often, parents abdicate their role as parents, teachers, and role models when they engage in the addictive behavior of guilt-leveraging, criticism, and a constant barrage of unsolicited opinions. When a couple marries, their respective parents move down the priority scale. They are no longer the primary source of connection. However, if their connection is maladaptive or codependent, it compromises the integrity of the children’s relationship. Family decisions are made without input from the mother and father or from the in-laws. 

Years ago, while living in Gig Harbor, WA, I was visiting my family in Utah. Our family traveled the 1800 mile-round trip annually. The visits were not reciprocated. While chatting with my then, 85-year-old grandmother, she leveraged me, suggesting that I should visit more often. In perspective, for the previous 25 years, they (grandfather and grandmother) visited me once and complained the entire time about the weather. 

Her comments violated my safe space. She wasn’t neutral, and she didn’t practice empathy. She didn’t ask about my work, my economic situation, how my health was, my children’s schooling, sports, interests, or how Cheri was getting along. It was all about her.

In response, I suggested that making me feel guilty about not visiting more often doesn’t motivate me to increase my quantity of visits. In fact, it does the opposite. I explained that I’m here now and wish to enjoy my time with my grandmother without it being tarnished with guilt-leveraging. 

She accepted my boundary and for the next 7-years before she passed away, she scheduled an appointment with me 6-months in advance. The entire family respected our hours of scheduled time to discuss books, articles, ideas, and my studies. 

It was the richest time of my life with my grandmother. It was never my goal to get to her like me or to get her affirmation, affection, and approval. I already had all of that. My goal was to respect myself and protect my family. Since she wanted a relationship with her eldest grandson, she reciprocated my behavior and our relationship thrived.

Children of addictive, manipulative parents, it’s time to free yourself from the chains of their maladaptive behavior. What would it be like if you were not beholding to your parents’ or in-laws’ immaculate perception and harmful, manipulative behavior?

If you are a parent and realize that your space with your children is not safe and truly want a healthy relationship with them, married or unmarried, practice removing yourself from the equation. They really don’t care or need your constant barrage of unsolicited opinions.

If you’re the child of such parents, you are under no obligation to allow yourself to be violated. It’s time to set yourself free, or you will become your parents to your children, and they will feel about you the way you feel about your parents.