The Bittersweet Transition: When A Parent Becomes A Human
“I felt a bit lonely so I decided to watch some TV and there was this show on called…” my mother went on in a conversation I was having with her.
But I was caught off guard because a rather undesirable yet perfectly normal aspect of my mother’s human nature presented itself to me — something that I didn’t really think about ever before. My mother felt alone?!
At first, I failed to understand why I was caught off guard. I mean, it’s perfectly normal for a person to feel alone. My mother can feel alone too — what’s so surprising about that? And it wasn’t as if the conversation was a cathartic expression centred around my mother’s loneliness.
She said it in passing! She was telling me about something she saw on the television. It was literally the most insignificant, and indirect reference to her perfectly human tendency to feel a bit alone at times. And it still caught me so off guard. I was surprised by the fact that I was so surprised. And I couldn’t understand why, until a bit later.
As kids, we tend to not view our parents as humans. Every aspect of our relationship with our parents enforces our tendency to put them on a pedestal. They do serious stuff, after all. They work long hours. They run a business. They pay their taxes. And they’re authority figures for us — as we have to ask them for permission to do the smallest things.
For instance, my father is a doctor turned businessman. The memories I have of him as a kid were of a busy man who worked late nights and rarely had any time for me. He would wear the same clothes every day: a crisp white shirt, and trousers. He had the most intricate systems in place to ensure his office and our home would run smoothly. He was strict and wasn’t so generous with granting permissions.
On the other hand, my mother was the head of a small religious group. Whenever I went with her to religious gatherings, I would see everyone treating her with a lot of respect.
I just never saw the ‘human’ parts of my parents. I always saw them on a pedestal. But lately, I’m beginning to notice their human side.
A couple of years into college, my father would often call to ask me when I was going to make a visit home. In fact, many times he would even casually suggest ditching college for a few days to come back to visit. And that would baffle me. This man — who was obsessed with my grades in school — now wanted me to ditch lectures just to come back home? And when I did visit, he would often actually utter the words, “I feel elated when you’re at home.”
This was very confusing to process for me.
Why does this grown, powerful, self-sustainable, and busy man care about me when I come back home from college? Why does my mother — who’s highly revered in the religious community of our city — have moments of loneliness?
Of course, I understand that these are perfectly human tendencies. But I understand that only objectively. I struggled to adequately comprehend these instances subjectively because I never saw my parents as humans.
As a kid, I never thought that there may come a time when my father would need me. I mean, I needed him! I was dependent on him. He paid my school fees. He put food on the table. He was always too busy to spend time with me. When did I become the busy one? When exactly did he start feeling a need for my presence?
And it’s hard to face the fact that your mother may feel lonely at times. That’s the kind of thing you’re okay facing yourself — but wouldn’t want for your loved ones.
This transition of a parent becoming a human isn’t so pretty. The first few exposures to their human sides are shocking in themselves. And worse, they open a gate. Once your mind begins to realize that it’s even possible for your parents to have a human side, you slowly begin to unearth the complete emotional skeleton of their human nature.
You were always aware of their mistakes as a parent. And maybe, you held a grudge against them for these mistakes and never forgave them. But now, you begin to understand the deeper insecurities that actually caused them to make these mistakes. Perhaps you go even deeper and understand their emotional pain — and maybe even pinpoint the exact traumas in their life that caused them to develop these insecurities.
The process is slow, painful, and often automatic. You begin to realize some ugly and upsetting truths about your parents’ emotional structure that, if given a choice, you would have preferred not to.
It’s bitter. But … fortunately, it’s not just that.
Because when a parent becomes a human, they can also become your friend.
I’m back home for a few months. And every evening, I intentionally spend time with my mother. She tells me about her life and I’ll tell her about mine.
Sometimes, I bring my laptop to the living room. My mother often does her own work there, while I do mine. It’s not the most productive session of course — for both of us — because we have a few brief chats here and there about random things that may break the flow of work. But who cares about productivity? It’s nice because it’s like working with a friend in the same room.
I’ve also noticed a friendship grow between me and my father. For instance, oftentimes, my father has to take care of the most trivial chores. Chores that I would be happy to do for him, or automate them, or delegate them. But he wouldn’t let me.
Parents are often stuck in their ways. He insists on completing those chores himself — but wants me to join along. I used to think that it was a waste of time but then I realized that, well, it’s friendship! Two people doing unproductive things together while enjoying each other’s presence — that’s friendship, right?
My father also shares secrets with me — things he hasn’t told anyone else. Isn’t it a bit weird to think that I’m this grown man’s most trusted confidante? But then again, it’s nice.
The truth is that my parents don’t feel the need to obsess over my life anymore, as they might have had to when I was a kid. They know that I’m a grownup and that I can take care of myself. And because they don’t feel the need to be too authoritative or too parent-like, it allows them to be more human. And in turn, it allows them to be my friends.
The transition is bittersweet because it’s a bit painful to witness the human side of your parents. But it’s also necessary because it’s a prerequisite for them to be your true friends.