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Parent Problems? How To Deal With a Disappointing Parent

Updated on December 13, 2013

Have You Been Emotionally Hurt By a Parent?

We all secretly expect our parents to be perfect, especially when it comes to the way they treat us.

We only ever have one real mom and one real dad, and we instinctively expect them to love us more than anything else in the whole world. No matter what they have done in the past, we try to find it in our hearts to believe that somehow, deep inside, they really are putting us first. After all, this is how parents are supposed to feel, isn't it?

Books and movies are full of stories of family breakdowns, but almost always are resolved with the recalcitrant parents discovering that, of course, their children are the most important thing in their lives.

We long for and ultimately expect happily-ever-after endings when it comes to our parents.

So what happens when one or both parents continuously let us down? What happens when the love for their children isn't enough, or just isn't there?

Not All Parents Are Perfect

Most parents can't help but love their children more than they love themselves. It's not a choice - it's just how it is. It is a basic instinct to love and protect their children, no matter what, and forever, even when the children are adults themselves.

Unfortunately, in the case of some parents, circumstances can interfere with this maternal or paternal instinct, leaving the children lost and confused, with deep emotional scars.

Common reasons for a breakdown in unconditional parental love are:

  • Mental illness
  • Drugs or alcohol abuse
  • History of abuse - the parent was abused as a child
  • Denial / fear of being a parent
  • Fear of responsibility
  • Selfishness

Having been rejected to various degrees by both my parents, I personally understand how devastating it can be to feel unloved by those who should love you without question.

How To Cope Emotionally

If one or both of your parents continuously disappoint you, it can be very emotionally draining and cause you a lot of pain and angst. You'll find yourself constantly analysing their behavior, making excuses for them, and working to change things for the better, only to be frustrated in your efforts.

While you might feel tempted to completely remove yourself from your parent, this isn't always the best option for you. Unless your parent is dangerous, it's usually worth the effort to maintain some sort of relationship, simply for your own peace of mind. Otherwise you are working against your own instincts to love your parents, and you will cause internal conflict.

However, you need to change your own expectations as to how your parent or parents are going to act or behave in given situations.

The only way a parent can disappoint you is if you build up hope that they will somehow act differently - better than they have in the past. Odds are that this is not going to happen, and so you are setting yourself up for a fall.

Hard as it may seem, you need to take a step back, and admit to yourself that your parent is incapable of the kind of love you would like to receive. Understand that it is not your parent's fault that for whatever reason, he or she has not been blessed with the gift of unconditional love. They are missing out on the amazing joy that loving your own children brings.

It deeply hurts to realise that life has given you a parent who can't live up to a basic expectation of every child.

However, blaming the parent will only hurt you more. Instead, you can turn this around. Once you can release your emotional expectations, you will also release the pain that comes with disappointment.

Rather than concentrate on the negatives, instead focus on what positive actions you can take. Give your own children the love and support that you have missed. Be there for your own family, siblings and friends. If the problems are because of a history of abuse, make the commitment to break the cycle. Share your experience and revelations to help others cope with problems with their own parents. If you are finding it hard to move forward, talk to a professional about your feelings.

Parents are expected to love their children, but there are people who love you simply because you are YOU. Nothing can beat this, so don't let issues with parents blind you from seeing and enjoying the beautiful love all around you.


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    • izettl profile image

      Lizett 4 weeks ago from The Great Northwest

      Define "dangerous". We typically think of physical abuse as dangerous, but I'd argue emotional and psychological abuse is just as harmful.

      I agree on a lot of points you mentioned especially about the harm people do to themselves over disappointment over a parent. And break the cycle!! Couldn't' agree more. My husband and I have done this with our family now.

    • profile image

      Firstborn 4 months ago

      I am in therapy trying to work through this at age 37. It's worth noting that there are times that it may be necessary to withdraw communication or a relationship to work on oneself. Especially when the next generation of children are involved and those hurtful behaviours are being passed onto the grandchildren. Yes, it does happen.

    • herpointofview profile image

      herpointofview 5 months ago

      Thank you for your comment. I'm glad to hear that you have been able to deal with your situation in such a mature and empathetic way.

    • melissae1963 profile image

      Melissa Reese Etheridge 5 months ago from Tennessee, United States

      Thank you for writing this article. I was in sixth grade when I first realized that my parents were imperfect/dysfunctional/emotionally abusive/etc./etc.

      I've come to accept it and can even love them now.

    • herpointofview profile image

      herpointofview 3 years ago

      Thank you for sharing this, Denise. I'm so sorry that things went badly for your family, but your positive attitude and the way you have turned things around is inspiring. I hope that when people read your story, and share their own, it will help them in their own emotional struggles. Wishing you all the best.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      When my parents separated after their fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration, it really did a number on our family. We had many happy memories, yet there were issues, especially surrounding the death of one of my siblings, the loss of our farm, and other circumstances. At first, I felt that I was trying to get them back together, or even trying to mediate between them. It finally dawned on me that I was beating my head against a wall. When I realized that my only priority was to love them and keep in touch with them, I was able to let go of the hurt and disappointment I had been harboring. Nothing has changed, but I feel a lot better about things.