It was a rare occasion when your mother hugged you or showed you any affection. And if there were any hugs, you were theone giving them and it was clear that your mother didn't want them. She would stiffen at your touch and not return your affection.
In fact, she had more affection for your friends than she did for you. Whenever your best friend came to visit, there were hugs, compliments, and just a giddy atmosphere that didn't exist when it was just the family.
It used to make you feel angry, disappointed, rejected. For years you blamed yourself: Maybe if I did better in school . . . Maybe if I managed to keep my room clean . . . Maybe when I grow out of my awkward early teen stage, she'll love me more.
There. You said it. Your mother didn't love you, and you thought it was your fault . . . for a really long time. Even now, when you have adult children who will be having their own children soon, you still think it's your fault. You vowed that you would not make the same mistake-so there were hugs all around for your children. There were "I love yous"-too many to count. And somehow, still, you dwell on what you didn't get from your parents, on what they gave your friends.
First, what your parents gave your friends was not love. They simply faked it. They put on the happy face, the right attitude, the "normal" act until your friends' visits ended. Then they went back to their same unloving, unaffectionate selves.
And you think it's your fault.
It's not. It's not. It's not.
"Many parents don't know how to say 'I love you' for several reasons," says Cheryl Piper, a pastoral counselor specializing in family counseling in Syracuse, New York:
"They didn't hear it when they were children."
"Because of that, they didn't think children needed to hear it."
"They denied their own need to hear it, so they didn't give it to their children."
But not telling a child you love them is a major mistake.
"Children need to know they are loved, wanted, and special," Piper says. "It's a core need. If parents didn't receive love when they were children, they have two problems: they don't know how to love themselves, and they don't know how to love their children."
Unless they get some help to resolve the issue or they are extremely determined, they will repeat the cycle. Sometimes if they are determined not to repeat the cycle, they go overboard the other way. They become enmeshed with their children. They're so involved that they don't teach their children how to make decisions.
Before you can resolve the issue of having an unloving parent, you need to see and understand your parent's inadequacies.
"Stand back and think about your parents as people who didn't or were unable to give out of an empty well," Piper says. "From that point, a person can say, 'My feeling rejected wasn't about me. It was about my parents' inability to project on me love or acceptance because they didn't have it.' "
The end of it
So how can you break the cycle so it doesn't continue for generations?
Recognize who your true parent is-God. He positions Himself as Father. The Bible says that He's all about loving children and not rejecting them. You have to find Scripture and stand on it until you believe it. Psalm 27:10 says: "Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me."
Isaiah 49:15, 16 records the Lord saying: "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands."
Psalm 139 is a great example of a parent who really takes account of their children. It also provides great assurance to you if you're a person who feels unloved. God delights in you, and you can rest in that!
"If people who are rejected by their parents can integrate this point into their souls (emotions) and really know they're in God's arms," Piper says, "they'll feel really loved. They will have self-esteem because they will have God-esteem. And because they know how loving He is, His esteem will help them esteem themselves."
Reparent yourself. How do you do that? "You must treat yourself the way you wanted your parents to treat you," Piper says, "and take care of yourself the way you wanted your parents to."
You have to learn how to do that. Start by making lists of what you wanted to do, hear, and have as a child, and find healthy ways to put those things in place for yourself.
"Go to a toy store and look at toys. Find the one that's most attractive to you, and buy it for the little kid inside you."
"If you wanted a certain hobby as a child and weren't allowed to do it, as an adult find a hobby that you can enjoy."
"Journal. Listen to your thoughts and validate them. You have to realize that a lot of your fears and insecurities are because of that little boy or girl inside of you who never had a core need met by their parents. And your responses now to situations in life are based on those insecurities. Until you really take a look at your core issues, you may continue to make the same mistakes because you haven't resolved the issue of not feeling loved by your parents."
Learn that you are not rejectable. What does that mean? "If someone chooses to reject a relationship with you," Piper says, "decide that you will not reject yourself, that you won't take it personally."
If your relationship with your parents is lukewarm at best or is based on what you can do for them-such as going to the college they want you to attend, taking up the profession they think you should, or marrying the person they've chosen for you-it's not your fault.
Will you ever be able to have a loving, close relationship with your parent or parents? All things are possible through Christ, but it really takes both sides being willing to really work at the relationship. Whether or not your parent wants to deal with the truth, there are some steps you can take for a healthier relationship.
1 Set up boundaries. You have to decide that you're not going to dance to your parent's dysfunction, which can really be difficult. The moment you respond to their actions with something other than what they're used to getting from you, they're going to be offended. They will not like the boundaries you set up for yourself. However, a healthy boundary will help you on your road to being healed and set free.
For example, your mother calls you and says she can't pay her rent. This isn't the first time. It happens all the time because she mismanages her money. That's the way it's always been, and you usually send money to bail her out. Instead of sending money this time, tell her, "Mom, I really am sorry you're having trouble paying your rent. I know what it's like to have difficulty paying bills. Every time I send you money, I put myself in a jam. I'm sorry, but I really can't afford to send you money."
It may sound harsh, but as long as you keep sending her money, she doesn't really need to manage her finances better. She knows you'll come to the rescue.
2 Stop parenting your parents. You're not your parent's problemsolver or fixer. You have to stop allowing them to share with you information that really isn't any of your business. You shouldn't know the intimate details of their marriage. You shouldn't be your mother's ear when she has complaints about your father, or vice versa.
3 Seek a surrogate. In addition to allowing God to parent you, find someone who will act as your bonus parent. Spend some time in prayer and allow God to lead you to that person. Often these relationships develop without a lot of work on anyone's part and may already exist. There may be elders in your church who have taken you under their wing and treat you like their child. Or there may be a friend's parent who has been parenting you since the friendship began.
God just has a way of putting people in your life who will give you what your parents couldn't. Don't think of these relationships as coincidence, but as divine connections, and nurture them.
Gina Ogden is a features editor in Syracuse, New York. She and her husband, Daniel, have a 2-year-old daughter.