For a long time, my relationship with my parents could only be described as a traditional parent-daughter relationship. But reshaping this definition has become very important to me. I could only define it like this as there were parts of myself that I was hiding, believing that they could never relate to me.
I perceived parenthood as an impenetrable state of being that was so far removed from, and therefore unable to relate to, childhood and adolescence. So often, I’d think, “Why would I tell my Mum what I’m going through? It’s pointless, she wouldn’t understand.” This changed when I began reflecting on my parents’ personhood; considering the parts of them that grew up with the same questions and internal qualms as me, things that seemed so unsolvable.
I’ve had to remind myself that in order to turn 40 years old you must have been 20 years old once. In more ways than I could know, they have always been where I currently am. Although our lives have been different – my parents grew up on a different continent, and during a different time – there is still a relatability between us. I can no longer dismiss this.
“I just assumed the world was as understanding as we were at home.”
One thing that evolved my parents into people in my eyes was considering the impact of my Mum’s hearing impairment on her daily life.
A car crash we had when I was young damaged a great deal of her hearing and our family has adapted since. I’ve not known a life outside of it. However, upon learning how she was treated at work put a lot into perspective for me. The prejudice she faced and the exclusion from everyday conversations because people simply didn’t care to speak up for her to hear, or make sure she could lip-read them, made her workplace hostile. It’s an example of putting on a brave face for those you care about, because as a child I didn’t know my Mum faced this at work. I just assumed the world was as understanding as we were at home.
Then I consider my Dad’s childhood. After his father passed when he was 12, he was sent to live with various relatives, removed from his base and growing up a lone ranger. Then he consistently threw himself at opportunities in both Nigeria and the UK after moving here aged 32, finding that some opportunities weren’t as lucrative as he was told they would be.
His catchphrase “perseverance works” is reflective of how he’s gotten to where he is despite life’s setbacks. Again, growing up, I didn’t know the depth of my Dad’s personal experiences and the way they could have affected his navigation of parenthood.
Considering their past and the experiences they had, I was an oblivious child; waking up, going to school, and coming home to my Mum and Dad who were effortless in looking as though nothing bothered them aside from my fidgeting and misbehaviour. Growing up and knowing this was of course not the case has reframed my understanding of parenthood and more specifically, my relationship with my own parents.
“Now that I’ve put myself in their shoes, one thing is clear: they have done the best that they can for their children, all the while dealing with their own issues.”
I often get frustrated with my Dad when he persistently tells me to “keep trying, seek opportunities, develop new skills, don’t be deterred by setbacks and rejections”, especially when I don’t feel like it. And sometimes get impatient with my Mum when I have to repeat myself, or when a conversation drags because she misheard someone who doesn’t know what she’s dealing with. But it doesn’t last long. Their personhood – the reason behind it all, calms me in the moment.
I am not alone in this realisation. I asked people on my Instagram story a while ago, “What is one thing your parents/guardians have said/done that made you see them as more “human” than “invincible”?” I got a range of responses. To name but a few: “they cried”, “they became ill”, “they asked to borrow money from me”, “they picked on me”, or even, “they died”.
“Witnessing the evolution of your parents into people is a necessary and universal experience.”
It’s fascinating that such occurrences are what snap a child out of their awestruck, invincible perception of their parents, planting them in the reality that they are being raised by mere people with experiences they can identify with – people who are just as broken as themselves, and reacting accordingly.
I tell myself that broken people raise broken people. We cannot expect spotless and guilt-free upbringings from people who were raised by their own imperfect parents on this imperfect earth. I am finding peace with this. It has shown me that witnessing the evolution of your parents into people is a necessary and universal experience.
Seeing my parents just as human as I see myself has forced me to open up a door of grace for them. There are even examples of their actions from my childhood, where they had the best intentions at heart but it hurt more than helped me. Yet, resentment I have for their shortcomings in various areas of my life begins to fade when I realise that I myself try hard for things and sometimes, I fail.
And yes, I understand that some parents do unforgivable things that require no consideration of grace – however there is an imperative change in perception when you ask why this happened in the first place, and what personal experiences led them to it.
I have enjoyed this new perspective. Anger and resentment burn the heart and I don’t want any part of it. I also know that if I have my own children, I am not immune to making my own mistakes. But the humanity of us all is the explanation for that.
I believe we should acknowledge this, allowing it to soften our hearts towards our parents and upbringings when things get heated – even if it’s just a little.
Adefela is a 21 year-old Black-British writer from London. @adefelurr