Be Better

What Having an Awful Parent Can Teach You About Making Better Relationships

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It would be easy for me to blame my father for my temper, and even easier to blame him for my intimacy issues. I could lament his vacancy in my life without question. However, blame is a double-edged sword. On the one hand we have an “out.” Yet, once we’ve acknowledged the bad behavior, any action hereafter is on us. It’s a work in progress but I’ve learned to harness my disdain into self-improvement and become better in relationships.

Daddy issues and momma trauma don’t end with adolescence. Many of us are genuinely afraid to become like our lesser parent. I’m not talking about run of the mill nagging or poor driving skills. Think August: Osage County —  drug addiction, abuse and abandonment. You know, the kind of stuff that can really mess anyone up unless they’re very careful.

Are You a Lost Cause?

Study after study tells us that half of our personality is coded within our DNA. With that knowledge I’m terrified of becoming my father, a surly and selfish person who was absent from much of my life after age 6. Malcolm Gladwell explains this further in his book Tipping Point, “… genetics have shown that most of the character traits that make us who we are — friendliness, extroversion, nervousness, openness, and so on — are about half determined by our environment, and the assumption has always been that this environment that makes such a big difference in our lives is the environment of the home. The problem is, however, that whenever psychologists have set out to look for this nurture effect, they can’t find it.”

The point being, even with a supportive upbringing, we are who we are upon exiting the womb. I’m sure if my newborn brain could’ve formed coherent thoughts, I would’ve expressed some emphatic opinions about the harsh lighting or a desire for a warm bath.

“Daddy issues” are no excuse to be an ass

A few months ago a friend came to me with a problem. The man she’d just started dating would go through spells of excited communication and sexual intimacy but then disappear for a few days. Classic mind games. Naturally this was making my friend feel as if she had done something wrong, but he always came back. She told me that he grew up with alcoholic parents and the result made him, as he phrased it, “afraid of commitment.” It’s not acceptable to truck out childhood traumas when it suits you to be a jerk. You’re just being a jerk who happens to also have crappy parents.

Talking about exes

Even when my father lived with us, he was barely around. He held no interest in my life, which was fine by me because his negative vibe always put a damper on playtime. However, after my mom moved my brother and I away from him, he decided to take her to court for sole custody. Even at a young age, I could see this was only to spite my mother. On visits with him, he would speak negatively about her. One of the least attractive qualities in a person is hearing them lambast an ex-lover. There is no need for praise, but it’s a red flag if civility after a breakup isn’t possible.

Express your love by showing up

My childhood was thoroughly documented by a 1980s Panasonic VHS camcorder. My mother usually ran the hulking machine so her voice was in the background giving orders to “show me how you dive into the pool.” My father was never in these videos of moments both mundane (a Saturday in the park) and profound (an 8th birthday party) and believe me I noticed.

Your boyfriend’s holiday party may seem tedious but there’s something to be said for being at an insignificant event with your significant other. For all the musicians you date, you’re going to hear the same set over and over again and that’s part of dating this rocker. You don’t have to be at every event, but public expression of support goes a long way. And your absences will be noted.


The romance to being damaged faded with my brooding young adulthood and I realized therapy was made for people like me. Many people are more willing to hear criticism from a third party. One of the benefits to therapy that I’ve found is an alternative perspective to how I function in relationships. Therapy can be used to draw correlations between my upbringing and my less than admirable shortcomings that I couldn’t see on my own.