More than just about anything else in the world, the very thought that our parents have had sex with one or another at some point – or with anyone else, for that matter – is guaranteed to ramp up the ewww factor for most of us.
To avoid hideous mental images that we can never, ever un-see, we furiously and deliberately ignore or disregard the one undeniable biological reality of our own existence: that our parents must have had at least one sexual liaison in order for us to be existentially able to have those disturbing visions at all.
And then we have to multiply that for every sibling.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say many of us might even secretly hope we could be adopted rather than face up to plain old DNA.
Which makes it all the more ironic that most of us who are or have been in a intimate relationship are likely to have been out with, or slept with, one of our parents.
I mean, not literally, obviously. That would be disgusting, deviant and illegal. But metaphorically? Sure. We’ve all dated a composite of a parent, because millennia of genetic history means we’re psychologically predisposed to do that.
And actually, for the most part, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Our parents are, or should be, role models for our morality, ethics, principles and behaviour and much of our emotional make up is learned from them. If you’re a parent then you’ll also know that this transference of emotional teaching is a fundamental part of nurturing children to become mature, grounded and responsible adults who can call upon strong emotional intelligence to live rewarding lives.
This assumes, of course, that you are what we might call a good parent, and not the crap parent who becomes the emotional hologram that a lot of people actually end up dating.
Let’s be clear on how we define a ‘good’ parent. Being a good parent has nothing to do with the kind of education you have or whether you have a high-flying City job or you claim benefits. It has nothing to do with how many exams you passed, whether you have a criminal record or if smoke cigarettes or have one too many drinks at the office do (let me be clear here that it’s a very different story if you grow up with a parent in addiction though)
Good parenting isn’t about being able to buy your child the must-have Christmas present or being able to pay for exotic holidays to Disney World or the Seychelles.
Being a good parent is about being emotionally available. It’s about compassion and empathy and discipline that’s fair and even-handed and proportionate. It’s about filtering the very best of who you are into your children and filtering out the worst of the parenting you yourself received.
Being a good parent is about reinforcing the values that should be present in every relationship, not just those that are in some way emotionally or physically intimate – honesty, respect, trust and kindness.
Throughout history, philosophers and thinkers have known that the dynamic between child and parent is a complex one and goes a long way in shaping the adult the child will become.
But our own psyche doesn’t necessarily differentiate between the positive and negative influences our parents can have on us at an early age.
Positive parenting influences are reinforced as we grow older and there are now many psychology studies that have shown we tend to look for those same things in the relationships we seek with others.
And – you guessed it – the same thing happens when we’re exposed to negative behaviour from our parents.
A crap parent is the parent who withholds affection or approval; it’s the parent who’s domineering or abusive; the parent with a transient, shape-shifting set of morals and ethics; the parent who crushes dreams and hopes; the parent who projects their own insecurities and shortcomings onto their child to make themselves feel or look better.
Just as the child of a good parent will look to replicate those values and qualities in their own adult relationships, so the child of a crap parent is more likely to fill their intimate needs with someone who exhibits the same behaviours. Why? Because the subconscious always looks to resolve what was unsatisfactory, so if Mum or Dad were unavailable (& let me tell you there are a myriad of ways to be unavailable, it’s entirely possible to have spent your whole childhood with a parent and received very little healthy mirroring or nuturing), guess what? You’ll likely find yourself wildly attracted to Ms/Mr Unavailable in a subconscious attempt to heal that wound.
The reality is that there are scores of people who are going out with imitations of a crap parent – and most of them haven’t recognised the fact they’re living their own personal Groundhog Day.
They’re unhappy but can’t work out why. They’re unfulfilled but put that down to their own inadequacies. They despair that they can’t make their relationship work and blame their own relationship skills.
And the sad fact is they were probably doomed to this life long before they turned ten.
But this isn’t a life that’s set in stone. To change the end of the story, we just have to understand who the villain in this personal narrative really is. Once we do that, and recognise the psychological trauma that determined the decisions we ultimately made, we can then find peace with the past and do the work that’s needed to look for, and find, the validation and support in our personal lives that we deserve.
If you think about it, what that really requires is for you to become the parent to yourself that you never had – filtering out the bad parenting you received and learning the self love that allows you to find someone who’ll support you in the way that brings out the best in you.
And if you’re ready to take that step, and cast out the parental spectre from your childhood, we’re ready to help you on the journey.