Why am I more angry at Mama than Papa?Aug 14, 2023
Why are my kids angry with me, and not their dad?: A common war cry, by single mothers
I am the oldest sibling in my family, and the only daughter (female). Being raised by a single mother, and watching her struggle to raise us on her own, wasn’t easy. I have a lot of memories of my mom, struggling with my dad when I was a kid (an alcoholic, womanizer, who was abusive to her in many ways), and I also have memories of her struggling in relationships with other men (men who were emotionally unavailable and only seeking to take advantage of her weaknesses). As a daughter, I formed opinions around her dating life, and concluded that while she was a very smart woman - she was terrible at picking men that were good for her. My brothers watched this play out as well, and soon we learned that when a man is in mom's life, she becomes less and less present for us. She would also encourage us to call these men “daddy“ and pressured everyone to accept her newly formed “family“. Mom had a belief that you can only be a “real family“ if there was a man present.
All of this was hard on us. We can so easily talk about it and go back there emotionally. Feeling all the hurt, anger, frustration, and resentment all over again, but we rarely talk about our dads? While our mom may have made her mistakes, she was still there! She didn’t leave. She stayed and faced her responsibility to raise us. Meanwhile, our dads made poor choices, failed in their roles as husbands/fathers, and walked away - leaving their responsibilities behind. My father and my stepfather both left, started new relationships and families, and left our mom to clean up the mess they left behind.
So, with all that said, why is it that children who grow to be adults knowing all of this, seem to find fault in the mother, who stayed and raised them; yet don’t tend to bring up the father very much - even though he is also responsible for the pain and suffering they experienced in childhood? After working with so many clients over the years, and, addressing this behavior in my own healing as well, here is my humble opinion on this topic. The three main reasons for this behavioral phenomenon is:
1. Mothers are expected to be the wiser/stronger parent and are held to a higher caliber, than fathers.
2. The fathers who leave, then have the luxury of being absent, and not contributing to the struggles within the home on a regular basis.
3. Adult children can be vocal in expressing their frustrations to the parent that is “present“; yet feel an emotional and psychological disconnect with the absent parent so there’s less open dialogue about him, as he didn’t participate in the day-to-day work of raising the children.
I’m not saying any of this is fair. As a mother, myself, I can look back at how much my mom struggled and the choices that she made with compassion and understanding. It took a long time to get here, but I get it now. However, I can also recognize how we as adult kids of broken homes tend to be so judgmental and resentful towards mom, and seemingly let dad off the hook? In my humble opinion, the three statements I listed above tend to ring true for many of the people that follow me and the clients I have worked with. Here are some hard truths that we need to acknowledge:
As children, we do expect mom to be smarter/wiser/more present than dad.
We shared a body with mom, as we were in her womb. Therefore, there is a physical and psychological connection that we have with her that also reflects a heightened level of expectation that we have of her over dad.
Dad has to work for the connection to the children, that would usually come naturally to mom.
We do expect mom to make good choices in men/partners, so when she doesn’t, it does add to the pain and resentment we carry into adulthood.
Unloading our frustrations on mom, offers us some relief in expressing our deep pain and anger. However, talking about dad’s absence, seems to re-trigger wounds of abandonment and lack of self worth. It’s painful to recognize that he left, and didn’t step up for us. It affects both daughters and sons in different ways, but it’s still equally as painful and it can be hard to spend time in that reality.
These truths may be hard to hear, but it’s important that we sit with them for a bit. Moms are not perfect, and those that are (or had to) raise kids on their own while living in survival mode, can’t always be emotionally and psychologically present in their role as a mother. This is why it is important for mothers to heal as well, as their healing will create an environment where their adult children can communicate themselves in a safe way that supports the healing of both the parent and an adult child. Becoming defensive, placing blame, or using narcissistic tactics of manipulation and gaslighting, isn’t going to help heal anyone.
We can experience all emotions, and accept many truths all at the same time. Life is very complex and families are comprised of different people, with different life paths, all clashing together into the intersection of their own making. Takes effort to make a marriage work. It takes even more effort to keep a marriage going after children come into the picture, but also, I think it is safe to say - there are many examples of adults who’ve entered into adults situations while still lacking maturity and self-awareness.
We can all acknowledge that, as a collective, right? So here’s my message to the different people healing from this intersection of familial pain:
To the mothers that stayed:
It is not fair that you get the brunt of your adult children's' blame from their wounded childhoods. I know you’ve tried to do your best, but it would have been helpful to have your partner there and carrying the load with you. Thank you for doing your part! Now, I hope that you heal from your past and be able to reinvent your relationship with your adult children. To be able to connect to them from a healed, compassionate, and understanding place. Allowing them to share their emotions, ask questions, and get clarity from you without you becoming reactive or offended. Please know, these conversations are meant for connection and understanding; not to place blame, or further hurt you.
To the fathers that left:
I hope you heal as well. I hope you address your own past and shed light on the man you can be going forward in this world. The children are likely adults now, or old enough to form opinions about you. It seems like you took the easy way out, but I bet it didn’t feel it easy at times? You have missed out on all the hard and rough times in raising those kids; but you also missed out on all the good parts. Every birthday party. Every award assembly. Every sports game. Every dance performance. Every milestone. You were not there. That’s got to be a heavy burden to bear as each year their birthdays go by, and your heart recognizes that they are one year older each time. So, I hope you heal for yourself, for them, and that you send this healing energy to your adult children, so that they can create abundant and happy lives, despite their difficult childhoods.
To the adult children who are healing now:
Your pain is valid. You deserve to discuss what you felt, what you remember, and to share those experiences with a parent that can hold space for you. However, I ask you to take a compassionate look at your parents, and really ask yourself, “are they emotionally and psychologically capable of having these conversations with me?” Have you ever seen them have difficult conversations with others? Or have they been reactive, defensive, and emotionally immature in adult conflicts previously? It’s tough to face the reality that your parents are not the strong, mature, wise adults you would like them to me. But, they are human. As are you. As am I. So, share with them to the capacity that they can meet you halfway; and if you still need deeper work, seek out professional help or someone you trust to hold a safe and non-judgmental space for you to unpack your emotions. Please do not stunt your growth or prolong your healing, waiting for mom and dad to heal as well. Go find your healing, and you will find acceptance for yourself and for them.