It's undeniable that many changes occur when you become a parent. Changes in routine, changes in sleep patterns, changes to your priorities and values. But the most important changes happen to the relationships in your life: the one with your partner, your family, your friends, and for some of us, even the relationship we have with our own parents.
Looking through a new lens
All relationships will experience their share of highs and lows. But for the parent-child relationship, the turning point may occur when the child reaches parenthood.
“Many of us don't consider how challenging it is to raise kids until we have children of our own,” says Jodie Benveniste, psychologist and director of Parent WellBeing. “We can then look at our parents with a new respect for everything they did for us as we were growing up.”
On the other hand, it may open our eyes to the whole picture. “[You may] think back on how you were raised and realise that you want to do things very differently,” says Benveniste.
According to Dr. Justin Coulson, parenting expert and author of What Your Child Needs From You, changes in the relationship are common but not true of everyone. He says that whether such a change occurs, is dependent on your level of self-awareness.
“If a person is quite introspective and self-aware and thinks about the things that they're learning now that they're a new parent themselves, the more likely it is that they'll start to recognise the sacrifices that their own parents made for them.”
When the relationship improves
Mother of two, Jodi Fairhead, 32, has an incredibly loving relationship with her parents. But that wasn't always the case. “I had a very turbulent relationship with my mother,” she says. “I was very independent from a young age and very defiant.”
“My mum tried to tame me but she had no chance. She would pick me up in the middle of the night from street corners because I was so drunk and high on drugs, I didn't even know where I was.”
By the time she was 17, Jodi had moved out of the family home. Alcohol and drugs had become her whole life.
Eventually, her interest in that lifestyle started to wane. She became aware that her partying was affecting her and those around her. “I started realising how selfish I'd been,” she says. “I grew up and stopped blaming my parents for everything. I started taking responsibility for my own life.”
Although Jodi made the decision to move forward, the relationship with her mother was still struggling.
“When I was 26, I told my mum I was pregnant with my first child. I had already been with my partner for nine years, but she freaked out!” Jodi recalls. “She made me feel that I was not responsible enough to have a child and I left in tears.”
But after giving birth, Jodi started to see her mother in a different light. “I realised after I had my own kids, that she was just doing the best she could with me and she just wanted to protect me.”
“If [my kids] were doing the things that I was doing at that age, I would be shattered. I would do anything to keep them from going through what I did.”
Although Jodi says that she loves her parents, she accepts that the relationship with her mother isn't perfect. “We were and still are very different people and don't really understand each other on many levels.”
“But she was always there for me, no matter what. She's not a perfect parent and mistakes were made, but I know she's always there for me and for her grand kids too.
“I put her through hell in my teens, I hope I'm doing her proud now.”
When the relationship doesn't improve
Unfortunately, not every parent-child relationship ends as happily as Jodi's.
Ashleigh, 24, another mother of two, is no longer on speaking terms with her father. Her parents separated when she was 10, so she and father spent every second weekend together.
“Mum confided in us that dad had always wanted a boy. Once he got what he wanted, my older sister and I were treated as though we were second best,” she says. “My brother would get away with everything.”
After Ashleigh became a mother, she was hopeful the relationship with her dad would improve but it didn't. When her first daughter turned one, she invited him to the birthday party. Although she made it clear how much his presence would mean to her, he insisted that he was too busy to attend. This broke her heart.
“His second grand baby only turns one once, and to me, it's a big thing worth celebrating with family. I was very disappointed in him for not putting in the effort to come and see her.”
As a result of his behaviour, Ashleigh has recently made the decision to stop seeing her father. As much as it hurts her, she feels she's doing the right thing.
“Hopefully one day he will change and actually want to actively be in his children's and grandchildren's lives,” she hopes. “Until then, why should I put in the effort if he won't?”
According to Dr. Coulson, it is better to walk away from any type of unhealthy relationship than to stay in it. “The quality of our relationships has the greatest impact on our well-being. If we want to be happy, we need to have good relationships,” he says.
So if the relationship with your parents is affecting your happiness, it may be time to re-consider their presence in your life. “There is no relationship that is more primary in the way our well-being is impacted, than the parent-child relationship,” Dr. Coulson says.
“Sometimes the relationship is going to be so counter-productive to our well-being and to our family's ongoing happiness, that we just need to sever ties ... Sometimes we have really terrible relationships with our parents and reconciliation just doesn't seem like it's possible.”
Doing what is best for your family
Parenthood affects us all differently. And whether our own parent-child relationship will change it will also differ too.
Dr. Coulson emphasises that no matter what decision you make - whether to keep trying or to give up - it is vital that you think long and hard about it.
“One of the most profound ways that children can get the sense of where they belong in the world is by learning about their family identity. The best way to learn about your family identity is to have your family intact, not just with your parents but with your grandparents as well,” he explains.
No matter what you choose to do, though, just remember that all situations are different. You can only do what feels right for you and your family.