Whether you have a healthy relationship, a broken relationship, or no relationship, your parents influenced your life and even your marriage. Our earliest influences are our parents.
According to an article by Rachel Gillett in Business Insider, one of the most significant factors for children becoming healthy successful adults is the relationship of their parents. How your parents interacted, whether healthy or not-as-healthy, directly affects you psychologically, physiologically, emotionally, and even economically.
In marriage, you begin to see the effects of this parental influence.
- Vowed never to be a neat freak like your mom, but now you feel irritated every time your husband leaves his dirty clothes on the floor.
- Love your wife’s entrepreneurial endeavors, but you miss Mom’s homecooked meals and baked goods. Your wife’s idea of homemade lasagna is popping into the oven Costco’s fresh made one. Her favorite cookies are Pepperidge Farm Milano’s.
- Remember your mom working every day of your life. After your first child arrives, you and your wife enjoy a few weeks together. Thank you, FMLA! Then, at the end of her leave, she suddenly informs you she doesn’t want to go back to work. You’re stunned. Why? And how can she expect you to replace her income? The discussion turns heated when your wife says, “Children should not be in childcare.” Your mom worked your entire life, and you turned out fine.
- Grew up with a dad who fixed everything. Now there’s a water leak in your house. When you mention this to your husband, he tells you to call a plumber. He’s not interested in repairing anything around the house. That’s not how your dad did things. He’d figure out how to fix whatever broke. Fuming you jump on Google, determined to fix it yourself.
Parental influence directly impacts your daily life. And your marriage.
My husband and I smack into this regularly. One thing we’ve done to stem the potential conflict is to respond nicely with, “Okay <insert appropriate parent name>.” That triggers us to recognize we’re dealing with influence here, not a right or wrong issue. Usually, we both start laughing, which allows us to find the solution together.
Whether you consider your upbringing healthy, marginal, or detrimental, as an adult, you must deal with these influences. Multiple studies highlight the effects in adulthood of children of alcoholics, drug addicts, neglect, those incarcerated, and abused.
When it comes to your marriage, parental influence cannot be ignored.
I grew up in a stable home, small-town-America, with parents who loved each other. Their constant care for the other shown in many different ways. Yet, even with this stable upbringing, there are still unhealthy patterns I learned. And those patterns affect my marriage.
The same is true for my husband. Both of our parents were married for around 60 years. That’s a legacy we don’t take for granted. But, as we live together each year, we discover more influences from those unions of a different era—some good, some not-so-much.
Whenever you and I take those influences and turn them into the “only way to do” something, we create problems.
How your parents or mine did something is their preference or opinion. Unless it comes straight from God’s Word, as a command from God, it isn’t law or necessarily right. Work together to find the best way to move forward.
When we were first married, I insisted we fold our towels a certain way. My husband graciously offered to help with the laundry and proceeded to fold the towels . . . wrong. ? Recently, while helping my mom, I did some laundry for her. As I folded her towels and went to put them away, I realized her towels were folded differently than she taught me. Evidently, she folded the towels the way I learned because they fit in the space better. Sometimes the influence is related to simple circumstances.
How does parental influence work when you leave home (or your child leaves home) and marry?
After our first child married, we discovered the leaving and cleaving process meant something to us as parents too. Our relationship with that child needed to change. No longer were we intimately involved in the details of that child’s life. To help their marriage succeed from the start, we needed to back off and let them get established. We became their biggest cheerleaders, but we resisted the urge to coach.
When I was a new bride, it frustrated me when my dad wouldn’t give his opinion on something Dave and I struggled with, even when we asked. Instead, he asked great questions to help us think through the issue. But, never did he tell us what to do or even what he would do. He used to say, “I’m not in your situation.” Now, I’m grateful for this example. Dad allowed my husband and me to build our lives together without his interference.
Not every child or parent understands this gift Dad gave. I made this mistake early on with our adult children. I was wrong and had to apologize for my interference.
When meeting with clients, it’s common to hear about their struggles with parental interference. Often it’s couched as respecting their parents. But, I believe once my child becomes an adult, what they do, and how they choose to live is their responsibility. I may not like it, but that’s my issue, not theirs. As an adult, respect does not equal obedience. Too often, we try to make these words synonymous. My husband and I give honor to our parents, respect them for who they are, and the years they’ve lived, but just because they think its right to do something doesn’t mean it is. The same goes for our grown children.
Your relationship with your parents influences your relationship with God.
In the Bible, God often uses references to our parental relationships to explain how He relates to us. When our parental influence has been negative or even detrimental, this colors how we view God.
If your father was abusive, an alcoholic, absent, neglectful, or hyper-critical and demanding, this colors your view of God as the Father. You can’t relate to God as a father who is compassionate to his children.
If your mother abandoned, abused, or neglected you, hearing a verse like
But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131:2
doesn’t draw you closer to God.
Our earthly parents are supposed to show us different aspects of God. Yet, because they are human like we are, they are imperfect examples at best. Even when you have good parents, you have some influences you need to rethink, review, and maybe reject.
Evaluate your parents’ influence in your life and marriage.
Maturity means we honestly evaluate every influence in our life. Yes, even your parents. Look at the benefits and opportunities they provided for you. Write these down. Be grateful for them. If you have a chance, thank your parents personally for them. I recently had the opportunity to do that with my mom, which blessed me more than her, I think.
I challenge you to take an honest look at what wasn’t so great in your home that influences you today. Write these down. What do you need to do to find a different way? Often it helps to work through these influences with an unbiased coach. Someone to offer a new perspective and suggest ways to undo the influence and point your marriage toward its best. I’d be happy to help.