Dear Dr. Hurd,
So much is said, especially in religion, about honoring your parents . What if a parent does not honor their child? My mother makes it a point to embarrass and humiliate me in front of friends and relatives.
I have tried many times to talk to her about it but she is either in denial or feels I deserve it. Please advise.
Dr. Hurd replies:
‘Honor thy children.’ I like that!
Childhood is not a democracy, but it shouldn’t be a dictatorship, either. A child has a consciousness, and this fact should always be respected by any adult who claims to love the child. A child thinks to the greatest degree possible, and as a result has ideas, opinions and emotions. A loving parent should honor that consciousness.
Of course, you’re an adult now. A lot of people endure what you’re describing with your mother. It can also happen with siblings, fathers and grown children. It’s one of the most common things people discuss with me.
The error here is that many people look at family membership as a ‘free pass.’ The unspoken rule your mother is following, and expects you to follow, is: ‘I’m your flesh and blood; I’m your mother. Therefore I can say or do what I want.’
Of course, no such thing is true. And you’re under no obligation to honor or enforce the rule. It takes two to buy into such a policy. If even one of you bails, the policy instantly becomes null and void. So don’t tolerate it.
A parent, in most cases, does deserve special dignity and consideration most other relatives don’t have. However, there’s no blank check for anyone, not even a mother.
Explain to your mother that you will not tolerate rude behavior any longer. She will probably erupt into a rage, tears, or some equivalent. She will call you ‘selfish,’ and insist that she’s your mother and she can do what she wants. Let her erupt, and when she stops, ask, ‘Are you finished?’ And then proceed with examples of what you mean by rude behavior. If she keeps erupting, simply walk away and tell her you can no longer have contact with her until she’s calm and lets you speak. You can always put it in writing, and refer her back to that when she erupts.
Inform her that if she continues with the rude behavior in the future, you will simply walk away or hang up. You’ll resume contact with her later, but only if the rude behavior stops. Each and every time it starts up again, calmly hang up or walk away. Treat it as rational, logical behavior on your part—because it is. Your mother is the one who won’t listen to reason, if she keeps acting this way.
I can’t imagine why a mother would want to treat her grown child this way. If she honestly doesn’t realize what she’s doing, she’ll be horrified to learn you feel this way and do her best to understand and correct her insensitive behavior. If she knows what she’s doing and feels entitled to keep doing it, then what twisted concept of love does she actually hold in her mind? Would she tolerate the same from you? I strongly doubt it.
People are sometimes shocked when I encourage them to treat relatives on the principle of justice. But relatives, even mothers, are human beings no more or less than anybody else on earth. They must be held accountable for their actions. Family membership is not a free pass. This may be the rule of tribes or primitives, but not people seeking to live as rational, conceptual beings.
This happens even more often with siblings or extended family. Such people sometimes consider themselves entitled to do to you, or gain from you, whatever they wish. Their entitlement does not come from anything earned, deserved or mutually agreed upon; the sense of entitlement comes from simply having been born to the same parents. Imagine that: Feeling entitled for something you never caused or created. That’s how a lot of people feel about a lot of things, sadly.
The good news? You’re free not to buy into it. You always were free, even if you did not know it. For whatever reasons, you were reluctant to do so before now. But you can set yourself free now, and I mean immediately. And you don’t need anyone’s permission to do so. Not even your mother’s!
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