healthy relationship unsupportive parents
October 27, 2010 7:12 PM   Subscribe

I still want my parents' approval and support, but that's just not going to happen. How do you maintain your relationship with your unsupportive parents?

I'm a 29 year old single female living a couple hundred miles from my parents. I seem to be stuck in a pattern of desiring emotional support/approval from my parents that they just can't give. My parents are unemotional people; when I tell them about issues I'm facing, they are likely to respond with pragmatic solutions or worst case scenarios when what I want is their unconditional support and affection. They have very little capacity to be supportive and loving in this way. I have tried to address this with them, which makes my mom extremely defensive and my dad claim that he's not an emotional person and is unable to do more. I think I've generally compensated for this support and affection by seeking it from my boyfriends, but (a) I don't think that's healthy and (b) I'm single now and finding that I really want this support from my parents. How can I straddle the disconnect between what I want and the fact that I'll never get it from them? How can I move past wanting my parents' approval and support? How do you maintain a healthy relationship with your unsupportive parents?

A couple other notes: I am currently in therapy dealing with these and other self-esteem issues. Also, these feelings seem to be exacerbated now because of my sister's upcoming wedding, which is taking up all of my parents' time and making me feel invisible.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I don't want to say anything that conflicts with your therapist's advice. Personally, I estranged myself from my mother, and only discuss things with no emotional depth with my father.

Also, I spend a lot of time on the internet, trying to help complete strangers with their problems.

posted by ErikaB at 7:15 PM on October 27, 2010 [20 favorites]

Some parents just aren't capable or don't know how to give the support you want/require/need.
posted by Bacillus at 7:16 PM on October 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am certain someone will give you a better answer than the one I am about to share, but....

I started to feel 110% great about myself and my life when I finally 100% cut the cord with my parents and stopped trying to maintain something that just continued to hurt me.

Also, I focused a lot on myself - meditation, walks, changing the destructive patterns that did me nothing but harm, etc. Lastly, I did this experiment for about a year where I went out of my way to be really really awesome to everyone without expecting anything in return. And I do mean anything - even a thank you. (FWIW, somewhere towards the end of that I met my wonderful husband and got married.)

This all started about 4 years ago.

Like ErikaB, I now spend a fair amount of time on the internets sharing my experiences and trying to help others. Perhaps I do this as an extension of that "Generosity Experiment"? I'm for sure that answering questions like yours helps me to continue processing the success and happiness which I now have, something I've never known before. Feeling good when you weren't brought up that way sure takes A LOT of getting used to! I also find answering AskMe's like this are sometimes the equivalent of pinching myself to make sure I'm not dreaming, ya know?

posted by jbenben at 7:32 PM on October 27, 2010 [18 favorites]

I think it comes down to learning to accept that you do not, nor will you ever, have the parents you want to have.

The fact is, you have the parents you do have. They have their limits, and you are wise to recognize them, because then you can start to choose what you do and do not expect from them. That is, you start to accept that for the emotional support you want (and deserve) in your life, you will simply have to seek it elsewhere. If you stop pinning your hopes on your parents, then you will no longer keep having your hopes dashed.

This also gives you the room to start to see realistically the positive things you can expect from them. For example, they may not give you any emotional support in times of need, but their tendency to give pragmatic solutions to your problems is good to recognize -- first, it's their way of showing that they do indeed care for you and love you; second, that advice can actually be helpful to you at times. So this means that when you're facing a problem that is causing you a lot of anxiety, you know that you can turn to your parents for some potentially valuable nuts-and-bolts advice in finding a solution, AND you know at the same time that you'll need to rely on others for the emotional support you will need as you make your decision.

In other words, you start to embrace that your parents can't support you in all ways, but they can support you in some ways. It may not be the ideal parent-child relationship... but then, I don't know that most of us have that, anyway!
posted by scody at 7:32 PM on October 27, 2010 [20 favorites]

I gave up on my parents a long time ago. Instead I forged familial-like friendships with people who have given much of what i needed and did not get from my biological family.
posted by mareli at 7:38 PM on October 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

I have a similar could be a cultural thing. I grew up in a different culture than my parents' did- or at least that's why they believe that their non-emotionality is 'normal'. Anyway, therapy is definitely good. I always thought if you were able to create your own family then you change patterns that way...but I certainly am nowhere near there. I guess eventually you just 'give up' looking for it from them...not in a bad way, just in a 'have to go elsewhere or inside' to get the emotional support I need. I think I'm on my way...I hope! And you too! It's hard, I know that, especially when you are single. But time and therapy seem to help.
posted by bquarters at 7:39 PM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

How are your other support systems? Friends, brothers/sisters? I would cultivate those.
posted by TheBones at 7:40 PM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think I've generally compensated for this support and affection by seeking it from my boyfriends, but (a) I don't think that's healthy and (b) I'm single now and finding that I really want this support from my parents.

Has your therapist said anything to you about not seeking so much support from external sources and finding ways to strengthen your own internal supports? Knowing (really accepting) that your parents cannot meet your needs, and that there will not always be someone else around to meet those needs either, means that you are the only person who can give you the unconditional support and affection you seek.
posted by headnsouth at 7:47 PM on October 27, 2010 [6 favorites]

What helps for me, when I want to tell or share something with my parents, because that is my natural urge, even after all this time, is to play the whole conversation/scenario out in my head:

Me: "Hey, I just joined this club/want to take a class/am thinking about getting a different job/dumping my boyfriend/driving across the country!"
Mom/Dad: "Oh wow, sweetie, that's great news, tell me more about it!/Oh, really, hmmm, tell me more about how you're feeling, was it a hard decision to come to?/Oh, that sounds like fun but please be careful, don't talk to strangers!"

[music stops, record scratches]

Me, to myself: El Oh El, thebazilist, stop right there, you know that is not how it will go.

Mom/Dad, for real this time: "Underwater basket-weaving, that sounds like a real waste of time, you have nothing better to do?/Well sweetie, you always have been a quitter you know, maybe you should try sticking with something for once/But I think he's so nice, I think you haven't given him a chance, you're too picky!/I drove across country once, and I hated it, you should just fly."

I just have to keep reminding myself that what I wish they would say is NEVER going to come out of their mouths. By sharing sensitive information with them, I am only giving them ammunition to hurt me. (Just because they are not yelling and cursing at you doesn't mean what they say or don't say isn't hurting you.)
posted by thebazilist at 7:48 PM on October 27, 2010 [16 favorites]

Oh, and I forgot to mention your point about seeking support from boyfriends in lieu of your parents' support, and your hunch that this is unhealthy. This is wise and insightful on your part, too. Healthy relationships aren't meant to compensate for the things we didn't get from our original relationships with our families, and it's smart of you not to try to shift your expectations from your parents to your boyfriends. (This is actually the premise of the first couple of chapters of a book that I recommend all the time, which you might find useful on this score.)

On the other hand, we all need emotional support. So this means cultivating a variety of sources for affection and support in our lives -- starting (and I know this is a cliche) with ourselves, and then moving on to getting support from a variety of friends, other family members (if possible), romantic partners, and (when necessary, as you've recognized) therapists. A deeply supportive therapist who can still challenge you to grow and to become your own best support system is invaluable in precisely this quest that you're facing.

You also may benefit from developing friendships with people who are older than your immediate peer group (if you're not doing so already). This is not to say you explicitly need to go out and find substitute parental figures, per se (though creating parental/familial substitutes is not automatically a bad thing, of course; starting in my 20s, I became really close with two different couples who are closer to my parents' ages than mine, and it was -- and still is -- a source of great comfort to have become basically an honorary family member). The benefit for you is that having older friends (whether by 10 years or 30 or whatever) can offer a kind of perspective and comfort that could be more helpful to you in certain ways than what you might tend to get from friends your own age.

Good luck. I know from direct experience that this is a hard issue to work through, and it takes a lot of time. My own relationship with my parents isn't perfect, but coming to grips over the years with the reality of what they can and can't give me has helped us all have a more constructive and loving connection.
posted by scody at 8:02 PM on October 27, 2010 [7 favorites]

My parents are unemotional people; when I tell them about issues I'm facing, they are likely to respond with pragmatic solutions or worst case scenarios when what I want is their unconditional support and affection.

You're not going to be able to make your parents into the type of people who will give you what you want, in the form that you want it. But it might help for you to understand that, for them, this is giving you support. You have a problem, and they either express anxiety about you or try to help you make the problem go away. This may not be the way you want to be supported, but it seems to be the way your parents support people. So maybe it will help you to think about this differently, to tell yourself not that they are unsupportive, but that their support takes a particular form.

I, for example, have learned, very gradually, that sometimes when people come to me with problems they do not want pragmatic help to solve these problems. I have learned this on an intellectual level, and can apply it to my interactions, but it makes no sense to me at all. To this day, I cannot understand how someone with a problem would not want help solving that problem. But I know that some people are like this, and that knowledge was very hard-won.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:12 PM on October 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'm you.

I can't address how to BEHAVE towards your parents -- that's something I'm still forging for myself -- but I CAN give suggestions about how to cope with the state of affairs yourself.

One thing that helped me was figuring out something about why it was they were the way they were. I have a pretty strong hunch that my parents weren't QUITE ready for kids when they had me -- I was a draft dodge baby. They knew they wanted kids someday, but the timing just got bumped up -- and maybe they just weren't ready.

Also, a friend of mine who knew me when we were all little kids observed recently that he always felt like my parents invested more in my brother than in me. And thinking about that some, I realized that my brother was a bit more of a challenge, so they kind of...had to.

I know this sounds like making excuses for them -- but it didn't have that effect, for some reason. In accepting that they maybe were focusing on my brother more because they thought my brother needed more attention, and in realizing that maybe they were inexperienced enough to know that maybe they just didn't GET that what they did wasn't quite right for me, that helped me realize something else really important: it helped me realized that the reason they were a little distant was NOT because they disliked me. There was nothing wrong with ME.

How I do relate to my parents is still a bit of a work in progress, and how I feel about the situation also is in a state of flux, but realizing "it's not MY fault, and there is nothing wrong with ME" really, really helped me a lot. And the step that lead me to that was accepting that THEY were imperfect themselves, and these were the specific ways in which they WERE imperfect and this was WHY they were imperfect. It shifted the onus off "whose fault is it that this happened" onto "it was no one's fault, it was just bad luck".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:13 PM on October 27, 2010

Healthy relationships aren't meant to compensate for the things we didn't get from our original relationships with our families, and it's smart of you not to try to shift your expectations from your parents to your boyfriends.

Sorry, just to refine this a little: relationships that are built primarily on the expectation of compensating for the things we didn't get in our original relationships with our parents don't tend to be healthy ones. In other words, the starting point for a good relationship can't be "I'm empty in this particular way and I need/expect this relationship to fill that hole." The hole itself has to be dealt with first, which is what it sounds like you've recognized.

posted by scody at 8:25 PM on October 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

At 29, it's time for you to start building your own emotional support, approval, and empowerment bases. It's past time.

Your parents aren't going to be around forever. Even if they were the perfect, supportive, and most wonderful parents you could imagine, they won't be around forever. The fact that they're not 100% supportive makes it even more important for you to establish this kind of self-esteem base for yourself. And while it's great to build family-type support systems from friends or other relatives, you also need to be able to rely on yourself for much of your self-esteem, approval, and emotional stability needs.

I worked on this in therapy over the last two years (I am your age) and it was very helpful. It also has changed my relationship with my parents for the better -- I am no longer relating to them in an immature way, looking for their approval and support, but as adult to adult. It has revolutionized our relationship, actually.

This is definitely something you should bring up in therapy and work on with your therapist. (Also, go a little easy on yourself right now -- weddings dredge up all kinds of subconscious crap.)
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:31 PM on October 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

How can I straddle the disconnect between what I want and the fact that I'll never get it from them? How can I move past wanting my parents' approval and support?

I have the most unsupportive parents imaginable. Like, they were declared criminally negligent. Like, I moved out of the house twelve years ago and my mother has called me two or three times since I left (TWELVE YEARS AGO). I wrote them off completely several years ago and built a really full and satisfying life full of other people. This summer my grandfather died and I had to see my mother again for the first time in maybe five years. And I realized that while I had been assuming for many years that her lack of support didn't bother me, it actually broke my heart. I cried for days and basically walked around thinking, "I am your daughter, you stupid motherfuckers, and I am awesome." Then I made a big renewed effort to reconnect with all the wonderful and supportive people in my life. Since I was turning 30 soon I decided to write thank you letters to 30 amazing people that helped me become who I am. Focusing on all the truly supportive people in my life made my unsupportive parents feel completely inconsequential.

Ultimately it came down to: my parents are not demonstrative, they're not supportive and they don't want to be a part of my life. I cannot change these things about them but I can definitely change the way that I feel about these thing. That's what I did and it felt really good.

How do you maintain a healthy relationship with your unsupportive parents?

My tactic? I don't. Seriously. You are an awesome person. I am sure of it. Fuck 'em.
posted by kate blank at 8:35 PM on October 27, 2010 [16 favorites]

Well, you've taken two important first steps: recognizing that you're still seeking out your parents' approval, and accepting that it's never truly going to happen. So that's positive, right there.

Now, as far as tactics to maintaining a healthy relationship not based on pleasing them goes, what's (somewhat) worked for me was trying to take interest in, and engage with my mother more as a person and peer. By this, I mean I made an effort to ask more questions about her work and its challenges, about her take on some extended-family drama, inviting her to kvetch about her own mother, etc. Through this, I started to get a better idea of her own insecurities and issues, and got some context that enabled me to understand her disproval as part of a general pattern of sweeping judgements that weren't focused on me in particular.

Essentially, the more you're able to see your parents as the flawed, troubled human beings that they are, it's easier to not take their disproval as coming from up on high -- and you can start to realize that the disproval goes both ways, but so does sympathy and care.
posted by patnasty at 9:00 PM on October 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

FWIW My mother was always pretty unemotional and distant with the family but for some reason very nurturing and lovingly supportive of her friends (they would always tell me how wonderful she was and I had to stop myself from asking if we were talking about the same person!) but when I look back through the family tree, I realized that she didn't learn how to be a nurturing loving monther because her parents were pretty unemotional and distant with her and in turn, my great grandparents were alcoholics and my grandmother had my mother at 16 just to get away from them so you can see a whole family pattern there. I just tried to remind myself that they were all doing the best they could with the models they had and there is no way to change decades of behaviour. So I would say suck it up and do your best with your own kids so you can change your family tree.
posted by MsKim at 9:08 PM on October 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Scody, as usual, hits the nail on the head. I was in almost the same place as you were when I was 29. It was not a happy place. But it did turn around, and I have really come to cherish the relationship I have with my parents now. I changed, they changed, the family as a whole changed, and it just got better. A former mentor of mine used to say "time takes time" and, while that's infuriating to hear when you want things to be better now, I want to offer some hope that it can change - beyond what you even think they might be capable of.
posted by judith at 9:13 PM on October 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm with headnsouth. Your parents won't give you what you need, you won't always have an SO to do it, and friends can only do so much. You gotta provide for you, or else learn how to deal with being hungry. Depending on others to feed you and give you emotional support is just not a good idea.

(And now I'm off to call my semi-supportive, semi-unsupportive mother...)
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:33 PM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

You just do. I know it's unhelpful, but you just suck it up and gird your loins and stop expecting something from them that they are unable to give.

My father has expressed his pride in me twice: getting my first article published and getting married. And I'm pretty sure my mother coached him on the first. He's expressed gratitude ONCE and it was such a big deal everyone noticed. I don't expect him to express pride in me or my actions, I don't expect him to express gratitude over nitpicking. I do what I do and his reaction is his reaction. Things are changing slowly but I can't expect more from him than he can give. My mother is better but even now she wouldn't know what degree I have and would be hard pressed to tell people anything other than 'librarian' when it comes to my job and that's okay! That's how she is. Instead of expecting something from them I tried to observe and they really are proud of me and really do care - they just don't show it the way I expected or thought they would.

But even if you learn their 'language' and all that, you really have to find your own strength. You need to provide for you.
posted by geek anachronism at 10:41 PM on October 27, 2010

You didn't get the parents you deserve, and the ones you have *will not change.*

You still have a need for "parent love," and you know that the biological sources are untenable.

This is where the idea of other mothers/other fathers comes in. These are platonic relationships with older people that you respect and admire and want to learn from, and who--most importantly--make you feel valued. They will help you find those inner sources of strength so that when all of the mothers and fathers of your life are gone, you will still know what a good and worthwhile person you are.

I wish you luck in finding them. They are invaluable.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:59 AM on October 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure why at nearly 30 you're still looking to your parents for approval and support. You're an autonomous adult. To still be leaning on them for those things seems frankly juvenile. You should at this stage have something that much more closely approximates a peer-to-peer adult relationship with them, one in which you recognise that they have flaws and short comings the way you do, and adjust your expectations accordingly.

If you had a friend who was a good, sound friend with many wonderful qualities but was always late, putting yourself in a situation where you constantly relied on them to be on time would be foolish. Accepting that Jane will always be late and adjusting plans accordingly would let the friendship proceed in a manner based on reality, not an ideal of what friends should be like. By all means, look to Jane to help you bake a cake or decorate your living room, but not to pick you up at the airport on time, you know?

The same is true for parents. Parenthood is an accident of biology; it is not a degree granted commensurate with skills or suitability, nor is it a match based on compatibility of needs and personality like some kind of eHarmony match. The act of being your parents doesn't actually equip those two people to meet your specific needs. But more importantly, approval isn't something you should be seeking from others, and support should come from yourself or your wider adult community at this point.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:31 AM on October 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

I found the following useful. It may or may not help you, but I hope you can get some kind of comfort from it, if nothing else.

1] Parents usually do the best job that they can. It might not be a fabulous job, a very good one or even a mediocre one, but generally speaking, they try.

2] I read a quote somewhere that said "just because someone doesn't love you the way that you want, that doesn't mean that they don't love you with everything that they have". Having met my grandparents, I can see why my parents are the way they are.

3] Not everyone has the skills to be a good parent. Not everyone has a good upbringing themselves. Not everyone is given the tools to be a good parent with. This isn't about you, nor is it your fault.

4] Parents are human beings too. They should do certain things, but lots of people should do certain things, and don't. This doesn't change because someone is a parent.

I had to take some time a few years ago to sort out my relationship with my parents, and I came to the conclusion that everyone is messed up in their own way, including my parents. I'd spent many long years looking to these two people for everything - food, shelter, clothing, affection, support, love, etc - and it was hard for me to realise that just because I needed something from them, it didn't mean that they could give it to me. They did the best they could, but nobody can be everything to someone. My mom is a great cook and she can hem a pair of trousers, but she's useless at listening to me moan. So I've accepted that she doesn't have the tools for "listening to Solomon moan". She can't use tool that she doesn't have. She's not perfect, but nobody is.

From the other point of view, nobody is the perfect child either. Everyone fails in their parents eyes, somewhere along the line.

Accepting the fact that X isn't the case is the first step to dealing with it. You have Y, or Z, or maybe some other letter of the alphabet. X isn't a option. Make the most of what you do have, rather than trying to will X into being.

These days, I try to rely on my parents as little as possible, and way more on myself to supply my needs. It's amazing how much you can do for yourself, if you try. It's kind of like learning to fly - until you jump out of the nest, you never know how well you can do it. Maybe you could spend some time working out what your needs are? If you need a hug once a week (for example), then look for someone to provide you with that. Don't rely on that person, though, to go shopping with you on a Thursday afternoon. Expect less from other people and more from yourself & only ask other people for what they can give.
posted by Solomon at 5:57 AM on October 28, 2010 [8 favorites]

I think you may be skipping the intermediate step between recognizing your parents' lack of support and accepting it. That step is recognizing your anger at them for withholding that support. I don't mean that you need to yell at them or anything like that. Just that you need to recognize that you ARE angry--identify the feeling in yourself, despite it being mixed in with seemingly contradictory others. Owning that anger will allow you the necessary separation to accept their limitations.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:57 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

My dad was 47 when his father died, and despite being a successful, autonomous adult who had basically cut my grandfather out of his life, still tried, every so often, to establish some sort of good relationship and hear kind words from a person who abused him and my grandmother severely. He knew it was futile and miserable and that he'd never get appreciation or validation.

So that thing about it being juvenile to want love and validation from your parents...well, that's nonsense. Therapy, time, and listening to advice like scody's and jbenben's and others about practicing accepting the way some events and relationships have affected you, and working on cultivating other support and not 'filling the gap'...that's how you get there. It's wonderful that other people achieve those things earlier. Good for them. You're working achieving that now. Good for you. Changing your framework takes time. Keep practicing. And it is okay to have feelings of loss and need and anger. Having feelings isn't bad, even if other people think they're the wrong feelings and you shouldn't have those feelings. It's how you react to having feelings that matters, and you're working on accepting the feelings and finding other ways to meet those needs. Like, you're asking your therapist and even the internet for ideas, rather than your parents.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 6:17 AM on October 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

I am sorry you are dealing with this - I have seen several friends struggle with it and it affects all aspects of their life, especially contributing to their insecurity. As you can see, there are many ways to deal with this from cutting them out of your life completely, developing a "twice a year phone call" acquaintance to destroying your self-esteem by beating your head against the wall of their behaviour.

As Obscure Reference mentions, you have a a right to be angry with them, and ALL the emotions (denial, anger, bargaining, depression) you feel as you grieve the loss of the relationship you hoped you would have are necessary for you to painfully experience on your way to acceptance. It is great that you are seeing a therapist and recognise the impact their unwillingness to listen to you when you state what you need. Please continue down this healthy path but unfortunately there are no "shortcuts" anyone can recommend and nothing anyone can do to change them.

Because this is such a fundamental relationship it will take time for you to process; please be gentle with yourself and the expectations you have for yourself. You have done an excellent job explaining to us in an unbiased, non-judgemental manner the dynamic you have with your parents. That speaks highly to your self awareness and your ability to become an even stronger person.

You mentioned how your sister's wedding is making you feel invisible, which is an awful feeling when you have been rejected by your parents for so long. Of the two of you though, I would rather be you. Weddings are HUGELY stressful (I am a low-maintenance, non-bridezilla type and I was really surprised how judgemental everyone else is and the unrealistic high expectations that is placed on brides). Can you imagine how awful it must be for your sister to be going through that emotionally-charged planning without the support of your parents PLUS getting flack from so many other people about why her parents are not "normal"? Your poor sister - I hope you are reaching out to her as someone you can commiserate with!

Good luck! I think you will look back on this in a few years and be incredibly grateful for doing all this hard work to get to a healthy place.
posted by saucysault at 6:32 AM on October 28, 2010

Wow, I think you need to do some reality testing of this with your therapist. From what you've written about your parents (My parents are unemotional people; when I tell them about issues I'm facing, they are likely to respond with pragmatic solutions or worst case scenarios when what I want is their unconditional support and affection.) it's a huge, huge jump to assume that they are "rejecting" you or have acted in some other egregiously harmful way or are not "normal". Believe me, what you've described falls far far short of the sort of true dysfunctionality and toxicity of some parents in the world.

What it sounds like to me is that they aren't supporting you in the way you'd prefer because you have different personalities and expectations. But instead of trying to figure out some common ground, you insist on them supporting and interacting with you in the way you want, and get upset at them when they try to explain that that's not who they are. In short, if you want an adult, satisfying relationship with them, you're going to have to start treating them like regular people, not like magical people who can solve all your problems if only they would act a certain way.

these feelings seem to be exacerbated now because of my sister's upcoming wedding, which is taking up all of my parents' time and making me feel invisible.

Yeah, you're going to just have to accept this because weddings take up everyone's time and attention, that's just a fact of life, has nothing to do with you. This seems like another aspect of you failing to reality test what's actually going on.
posted by yarly at 7:08 AM on October 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

I absolutely agree with yarly on this one. Unless you are leaving a lot out, your parents do not sound like the sort of people you should be cutting out of your life!
No one can deny your feelings, and you should deal with them , for example, by checking them against reality. Frankly, the only entity that will give a thirty-year-old unconditional support and affection is a dog. You're quite right you should not be expecting these things from an SO. And if your sister's wedding is making you feel invisible, wait until the grandchildren come. And that is just life, and nothing wrong with your parents--or with you either.
My advice is to focus on learning to comfort yourself. Build your inner resources, through therapy is the best start. Build a network of friends who each can give you something of what you need. No one person can give you all of what you need.
posted by uans at 7:43 AM on October 28, 2010

Cutting your parents out of your life is not the same thing as facing your anger at them. In fact, it's the opposite of facing your anger. It's a trick to avoid your anger. Not that it isn't sometimes necessary, but it's probably not in your case. Your anger is just a feeling. Not a blueprint for the future of your relationship. If you can't get angry at someone you love, you'll always wonder if your relationship could survive it and never feel totally secure with them.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:49 AM on October 28, 2010

I am your parents. When people tell me the issues they're facing, I respond with pragmatic solutions (and sometimes worst-case scenarios - I really like facing up to worst case scenarios and thinking about how I would deal with them, and usually deciding that they wouldn't be the end of the world, and for me it's a very positive exercise). This is just the way some of us are. If we were friends I probably wouldn't be the one you'd go to with certain kinds of problems, and if you did come to me and complained that my way of responding to your problems was wrong, I would be pretty frustrated with you. I know it's harder because these people are your parents, but as yarly says one way or another you need to modify your expectations.

Also: the sister getting married thing... that is just a tough thing. My sister got married two weeks after my 30th birthday (I was/am single, and not exactly unhappy about being single, and wasn't desperately unhappy about turning 30, but...). Oh, and then my mother didn't call me or respond to my emails between my sister's wedding (in May) and Christmas. Good times. But I actually maintain a pretty friendly relationship with my mother now (just a couple of years later!), largely because I've changed my expectations of what I'm going to get from her and what she expects from me.
posted by mskyle at 7:53 AM on October 28, 2010

I once had a conversation with my Mom, where she said she regretted not praising her kids more. I said "It's not too late." and about 5 minutes later, the penny dropped, and she gave me a big wallop of lovely praise. Tell your parents "I love it when you listen, not because I need answers, but because I need reassurance from my parental units. I'm not too old to want your approval." When you get reassurance, give them positive feedback.

However, it's helpful to transition to providing your own approval. Not your boyfriend's, not your parent's, but your own approval and acceptance.
posted by theora55 at 8:03 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Upon reflection, I think 30 was about the age when I started tackling this stuff head-on (as you are). And now at 38 I can look back and say that it does get better. You can make it better.

Part of the process for me was finding things that make me feel better about myself. I was a bit flippant earlier when I said I spend a lot of time "helping strangers on the internet." But it's true. It's really validating to be able to spend the time to give someone a really quality answer to their question.


Another thing is knitting. I can knit gifts for people who appreciate them, and give them the knit gift, and they appreciate it, and everyone's happy. I can also knit things for charity, and send them off, and imagine making some poor little kid's day with a fun warm hat. Or I can knit something just for myself, because I deserve it, and look at all those skills I've mastered, etc etc.

Donating to charity gives me that same little kick of someone else's approval - slash - self-respect. I wish I had more money and/or time to give.

Start keeping an eye out for things that give you that warm little feeling. It could be gardening, raising animals, painting, writing, shelving books at the library, whatever. Then do more of it!

The best way to feel better about yourself is to do good in the world. People approve of that.
posted by ErikaB at 9:14 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

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