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Why do we put up with our parents put downs?

Talking Point | Published:

Best-selling author and Talking Point columnist Anouska Knight looks at whether grown-ups still need a good telling-off

Anouska Knight

Hands up, whose parents still tell them off? Good, and so they should. We all need to be challenged from time to time.

But how about this – whose parents still talk down to them? Undermine them maybe? Or even, dare I say it, make them feel downright lousy?

Yep, despite being old enough to have families, careers and mortgages of their own.

This is something that came up in conversation with two separate sets of friends recently, and it’s the strangest thing.

The strangest part of all is why do so many intelligent, well-rounded, independent adults actively put up with being treated like their 12-year-old selves?

You would like to hope that most people enjoy positive, long-standing, tender relationships with their parents, right from childhood through the bumpy hills of adolescence and straight on into adulthood, but this is certainly not the case for everyone.

So where strained parent-child relationships are involved, and the child happens to be all grown up and free to walk away at any time, why don’t they?

It’s a huge shame on both sides of the divide when any parent, for whatever reason, can’t quite manage to champion their own kid, or love all of their children equally or even just show something like warmth or encouragement when it would take so little to do so.

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When the ripple effect of even the mildest warmth or encouragement would be so profound.

And yet when there’s finally an opportunity to untether oneself from a difficult parent, many do not.

I floated the idea of writing this article with both sets of friends.

One friend shared her frustration at being the only child to regularly visit her mother, happily running errands and offering reliable company over a cuppa and Rich Tea, yet some days barely receiving a ‘hello’ on entry.

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By comparison, she feels her sibling shows up sporadically with a bag of ironing and out comes the red carpet, three-course dinner and gooey eyes. And ironing-board of course.

I asked why she still goes so often, if she knows the treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen approach works well. Her reply was simple: “If I don’t share my time with her, who will? She’s my mum.”

Another friend admitted that before she even contemplates visiting her folks, she washes her car and polishes her shoes.

Otherwise, before she gets her ‘hello’ she’ll be standing on the doorstep biting her lip trying very hard not to explode, because exploding at your parents on their own driveway over a comment about unpolished shoes or mucky cars does make you look slightly unhinged, even if that explosion has been over 30 years coming and easily diffused with just one welcoming ‘hey, great to see you!’ in place of petty criticism.

So what gives? Why does any grown adult with years of life experience under their belt carry on subjecting themselves to an experience they know will more often than not end up with their feeling completely miserable?

“It’s easier to just put up with it for an hour, then go back to my life,” said one friend. “They’ve never been any different. And neither have I,” said the other.

One thing everyone agreed on is that families are funny old things, and old habits take some killing off.

  • Anouska is a best-selling author of novels published across 20 countries.

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