5 Truths About Your Parents (That No One Ever Tells You)

Parents are sort of like your large intestine: Without them, you wouldn't be who you are or have any ability to enjoy the things you do -- but you sort of wish you didn't have to know that.
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Isn't it great having parents? For your entire life you get these adoring, devoted followers who exist purely to shower you with adoration, approve of everything you do, and ensure your time on this planet is a luxurious romp filled with roses and chocolate-covered puppies.

HAHAHAHA. Yeah, mine aren't like that either. (Though, for the record, they're pretty great! Hear that Mom and Dad?!) Parents are sort of like your large intestine: Without them, you wouldn't be who you are (literally!) or have any ability to enjoy the things you do -- but you sort of wish you didn't have to know that.

When you're little, your parents are demigods, ruling your childhood universe. Then they're the evil oppressors who thwart your attempts to do fun things like snort highlighters and mainline tequila. Then they're the voices on the phone sighing heavily whenever you share your latest plan to go to grad school/start a tech company/teach English in Bora Bora. And finally, they gel into something like, "the people who screwed you up and gave you all the problems you have now."

The kicker is this: the relationship you have with your parents (whether it's through contact with them, or through silence) is setting the stage for everything else in your life. Like it or not, what you think about the people who brought you into the world colors what you think about everyone else. And if 5 minutes with them makes you want to cleave your forehead with a morningstar, well, chances are you have a few other relationships that continually suck. (If you're one of these ultra-evolved cenobites that has a blissful relationship with his/her parents, good for you. But for the vast hordes of the rest of us, it's not so simple.)

So here we go with 5 truths about your parents that no one tells you (but are nonetheless true).

1) Your parents are actual people.

Sure, it sounds obvious. Silly, even. But think about it in context: Your parents pooped diapers. Shoved grapes up their noses. Got sent to the office for pinching Billy Pinkus in 4th grade. Guzzled stolen vodka and puked on their prom date. Had sex in the back of a Subaru. Cheated on a biochem exam. Spent their first night at college sobbing from homesickness. Slept with someone they shouldn't have. Bombed a job interview. Fended off a too-friendly boss. Got dumped in a parking lot. Experienced the whole spectrum of human emotion that you know exists (because you've experienced it too). And to top it all off, they procreated (and then kept right on experiencing this spectrum, but behind your back).

If you cringe at the thought of ANY of the above happening, it's fine. You don't have to LIKE that your parents are fault-having world-fearing sex-loving people just like you -- you just have to acknowledge that it's true. And then treat them accordingly.

2) They're the only parents (and it's the only childhood) you're ever gonna get.

Lurking in the depths of our fantasy lives is this delightful specter ... the parents you wish you had. These uber-parents can quell any fear and dull any pain and answer any geometry problem and offer CEO-level advice in any work crisis, all while fixing your favorite dinner. They speak Mandarin and know Tae Kwon Do and appreciate your love for Pantera (but respectfully prefer Zeppelin and the Stones) and take a European attitude toward youth sex and drinking and practice nonstop meditation and yoga to maintain complete emotional balance so they can ALWAYS BE FOCUSED ON MEETING YOUR EVERY NEED.

Yeah let's face it -- the Parents You Wish You Had are friggin' awesome. Too bad they don't exist.

The ones that DO exist are flawed six ways from Sunday (see Truth #1) and will likely never change. They say the wrong thing and offer the wrong advice and have a limitless talent for making you feel like your life is a clogged septic tank. They brought a person (you) into the world and proceeded to stomp through your childhood leaving all sorts of emotional scars with absolutely no clue what they were doing, making every possible mistake and imprinting all sorts of evils on your vulnerable young mind. They spent your life acting like themselves, and you suffered for it.

But no matter how much resentment you harbor, or overcompensating success you acquire, or ex-spouses (aka, parent-substitutes) you leave in your wake, you will never get to trade in your parents for new ones. Even if you refuse to speak to them, they will always have that genetic and/or behavioral thumbprint on your life.Your childhood will never change, and neither will the people who ruled it.

So this leaves you with two options: 1) Thrash and writhe and curse your fate and spend your waking hours wishing things were different; or 2) accept that you got dealt a set of parents, and they're the only parents you're ever gonna get, so you may as well find some peace with them. Unless you want to have the same conversation with yourself (and everyone else) every day for the rest of your life: God if ONLY they'd just metamorphose into completely different people, THEN I'd have great parents and my life would be ultrasuperperfect.

Hint: You'll have a lot more happiness (and so will everyone who talks to you) if you choose option #2. Whether you choose to speak to your parents every day or once a year (or never) is none of my business - as long as you make peace with the fact that they are who they are, and they're yours, forever.

3) If you feel like doing something life-changing, try having a conversation with your parents as if they were people you'd just met.

Imagine you're at a dinner party. A FANCY one, filled with dapper people and invigorating conversation. You're seated next to a refined lady who happens to be the same age as your mom. How would you behave?

Now call your mom, and behave the exact same way. Crazytime, right?

We don't treat our parents like other people. We treat them FAR worse. Even if we're nice to their faces, we're bitching like crazy behind their backs. We do things to our parents we would NEVER do to anyone else. Like, you probably lifted some cash out of your mom's wallet at some point. Or some liquor from her house, or some food from her pantry, or some toilet paper from her hall closet. Can you imagine doing that to Dinner Party Lady? Yeah -- it's called a night in jail.

But our parents never called the cops on us, despite our thieving ways. Which counts for something, right? So call them up, and act like you're there to make a good impression Sure, it'll take something -- some patience, even more generosity -- but it's amazing how much you can learn about the people you've known since the day you were born, just by listening to them as if they were real people.

4) No matter what brand of craziness your parents may have instilled in you, it's on you to un-instill it.

A friend of mine never uses dryer sheets. Why? She'd been told they were poisonous. Or rather, her mom decided in the early '80s that she didn't like dryer sheets, so she told her eight-year-old "we're not buying those, they're poisonous." And her child BELIEVED her, for the simple reason that children are dumb.

Here that child was, 30 years later, still convinced that dryer sheets were coated with a rare flesh-eating acid. My friend is a brilliant woman, but her mom taught her something silly, and she never took the time to un-learn it.

We're all basically walking blobs of poisonous dryer sheets -- filled with varying degrees of misinformation that our parents fed to us, and stumbling through life as if all of it was true.

It's time to sort through what's true and what's not (or rather, what's useful and helpful, and what's not). Your parents taught you whatever they taught you (sometimes intentionally, oftentimes by accident), and you swallowed it and imprinted it on your psyche for all eternity. But now you have a choice: take that imprint and live as if it's reality, or simply put it aside. If your mom raised you to fear Arab people because she does (as she was taught to do by her mother) then it's on you to reconsider her teachings. If your dad raised you never to trust women after that "lazy wench of a mom" walked out when you were 14? Well, perhaps it's time to evaluate whether that lesson is working as far as your ability to have good relationships (I can assure you it isn't).

Your parents doled out thousands of lessons. And the chances are high they had NO clue what kind of impact those lessons would have on you years later. Or maybe they did have a clue. Either way, there's no changing the past (see Truth #2). But on the plus side, we do have some say over the present.

5) If you're a legal adult, you no longer get to blame your parents.

The statute of limitations on blaming your parents for your bad behavior runs out at around ninth grade. After that, you're a sentient being performing actions that have consequences. (Sorry!)

Bottom line: Your parents may be raging loonbags. But they also love you - they can't help it, it's a biological imperative. So quit blaming them for everything that's not working in your life -- it's not doing you any good. Plus, no one wants to hear it. We're all busy figuring out how to deal with our own crazy parents.

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