What Did Your Parents Teach You about Relationships? (A Discussion) July 6, 2009Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Guest Posts.
Tags: happy and single, marriage, parental influence, parents, relationships, single-or-not
Recently, fellow singles blogger, Special K, offered to collaborate with us on a special post in which the three of us wrote brief responses to the question, “What did your parents teach you about relationships?”
You’ll note that we each hold markedly different perspectives on the issue, and we hope you’ll offer your own below!
Special K says:
“Sheesh, nothing,” one muttered… Well, that’s not exactly true. Like parenting, most people’s parents leave an impression on things you’d like to do that they did, and things that you’d like NOT to do that they did. Parents are powerful role models (we can talk about other role models another time) as well as mirrors for our own relationships. So here’s the thing: whether single or married, with kids, or with dog, your parents matter to your current single-or-not status. Period.
Why? 1) They taught you something about relationships through their relationships with other adults. For example: Did they have friends? Did they kiss in front of you? How did they support each other in their careers? How did they handle conflict? 2) They taught you something about relationships through their relationship with you. This is the old “blame the parent” approach for why you’re current love life sucks (“Your dad never paid attention to you/paid too much attention to you when you FILL IN THE BLANK”). I think this influence, however, is not as strong as #1. Or at least it isn’t for me, due to the many other influences and inputs I have in my life (education, books, role models, the media, traveling). Perhaps for other people, #2 above does hold more power than #1.
Maybe it’s my personality. Maybe it’s where I live (in an urban liberal setting versus a conservative rural one). Maybe it’s because I ate dog food when I was little…I don’t know exactly why; I just know that if I start digging around in my past with either one of my parents, I remain un-changed. It’s not that your parents will DEFINE your approach or philosophy of/about relationships, but rather that they inform it. I am not now single because my parents demonstrated an extreme lack of shared interests and later divorced after 20+ years. But it does add to my disillusionment about whether one long-term relationship can THRIVE and “complete” a person… My parents’ flaws relationally serve as the foundation for the disillusionment, perhaps, but so does our instant voyeuristic Jon-and-Kate-plus-eight culture. They now carry equal balance in shaping my philosophy – compared to my adolescence, for example, when pleasing my peers carried more weight than anything, but now it doesn’t. Wait! Do I have a relationship philosophy? Hmmm….
I always knew I didn’t want to get married or have kids. Well, that’s not entirely true: I assumed I would get married, but I didn’t want a wedding. And I thought that if I did have kids, the rest of my life would have to be completely stable for my perfectionist self to raise those kids the way I wanted – and because stability seemed so far away, kids did too. Today, of course, I am sure I don’t want either.
I would say that, unlike Special K, although contemporary pop culture influences my perspective, much of my current (and long-standing) perspective about relationships absolutely stems from my parents. A short history: My parents are still married today, but I grew up with them fighting almost daily. They came close to divorce in my teens, but apparently managed to salvage the relationship when they moved from the Midwest to the Bay Area when I left for college. I think they should have gotten a divorce a long time ago, but they held onto the belief that divorce was morally wrong, and so they have lived through a relationship that has made them both unhappy. Whenever I visit, I am sharply reminded of my childhood, as they continue to squabble and carry the same painfully bad habits of communication as they always have. It makes me miserable. It always has.
And so that has been my model of marriage and parenting. When I was younger, my parents’ marriage made me dread (and refuse to address) conflict in my own relationships – a problem in itself. Now that I’m older, I feel incredibly cynical about how having a single, long-term relationship can be intrinsically valuable. And now that I’ve gotten over the assumption that I will get married or that I must have kids, I feel incredibly comfortable being single and childless. Because otherwise, I might turn into my parents!
I’m going to weigh in here because I don’t want any heteronormaholes who are reading this to think that we in the singles-advocacy community are “just” reacting to our parents’ poor marriages. My parents have a strong marriage, are very happy, have excellent communication skills with each other, and are often laughing. And yet I, like Lisa, am in no hurry to find a significant other, and I do not ever intend to get married. Perhaps this is because–if we go back to Special K’s theory that we cannot escape our parents’ influence–I base my standards for a relationship on my parents’, which is a tough model to follow. But I can’t just lower my standards. Once you’ve had Ben and Jerry’s ice cream you can’t just go back to Giant-brand frozen yogurt.
Readers, how do you answer the question: “What did your parents teach you about relationships?” And how does it relate to your single status today?