Gratitude and resentment towards our parents

I once had a dream where my father was going to do some sort of dental surgery on me for free.  He likewise organized for one of his colleagues to do something on McKenzie for a steep discount.  I arrived at his office and had one of the babies with me.  He started to get frustrated at having them around and he started grumbling out of frustration that he was having to give me the surgery for free.  He had calculated how much he would have otherwise charged and made sure I knew about it.  He was giving out of feeling of being obligated to give to me, but at his core he resented having to do so.  I then absolutely flipped out in anger towards him about how if he is not happy to give to me then I don’t want it at all.  I really started violently chewing him out.  This has been a recurring dream for me.  I have had similar dreams to this, perhaps 4 or more times in the last decade.  The context changes, but the main idea is the same.

The biggest fights I have had with my father have revolved around this question.  I project onto him the expectation that he happily give to me what I perceive as normal (child support when we were kids, college education, dental care), he then falls short of my expectations and I develop resentment towards him for that.  He gives some, but not as much as I expect him to.  He senses my resentment, and then himself grows resentful towards giving to me because I am ungrateful for what he does give.  His giving is then no longer freely given, but done in order to avoid my getting upset at him.  He then always has to worry about whether I am  going to get upset at him about things like this.  This then makes him resentful.  I then pick up on this resentment and the whole cycle starts over again.

Even if it is true that him paying for these things is ‘normal’, I am clearly the problem here and largely responsible for the dysfunctional dynamic.  If he does not give to me, it is because I have failed to give to others in the past.  If he resents giving, it is because I was like that in the past.  This also makes him an object of compassion, not anger.  Though often, when I consider him an object of compassion, I try change him in his ways, but this too just feeds the dynamic.  I need to stop that too.  In reality, nobody owes us anything.  When we expect from others more than they give all we do is destroy the joy of their giving (thus violating the bodhisattva vows of causing others to regret their virtues), make it harder for them to give in the future because people don’t like giving out of fear of the other person getting angry at not giving, and generally destroy our relationship with the person.  We should quite simply be happy and grateful for whatever people do give us freely, understanding that nobody owes us anything.  So anything they give is nothing short of a miracle.  To expect more is to be a spoiled brat. 

When I have discussed this with my father in the past, he explains that from his perspective he agrees with the logic of giving, but he is balancing the virtue of giving with the virtue of creating the conditions which force me to learn to stand on my own two feet (which is for my own good).  All kids would rather their parents do it for them, but this makes them lazy, dependent, non-self-sufficient and interferes with them growing up.  So philosophically, he says he doesn’t disagree with me, he just draws the line between these two competing virtues somewhere different than I do.  This is a fair point. 

Clearly this is an area where I still have unresolved anger and lack of gratitude.  I am making myself and him miserable with this, and I am creating the karma for similar problems with my own kids in the future.  Short conclusion:  expect nothing, be grateful for anything.

6 thoughts on “Gratitude and resentment towards our parents

  1. Parents are always a really hard one, I struggled with my relationship with my mum during my teenage years so much so that I had to leave home at 16. I always used to resent the lack of guidance and understanding from her side and it wasn’t until I met the Dharma at 17 that I started to understand how hard of a job being a parent must be and how kind my mum had being at trying to bring me up all on her own. I started to appreciate all her efforts and that she only wanted to help me become a good person, in her own way. Now that I’m almost 30 our relationship is very good but at times we do get tangled in that old vicious cycle of how things used to be when I was at home and get very defensive. Harmful cycles are hard to shift specially with the people closest to us.

  2. Thanks KR, it happens to me all the time with my ex-husband i should be aware that If he does not give to me, it is because I have failed to give to others in the past. If he resents giving, it is because I was like that in the past,
    is very funny though, because even our Mexican laws protects me and my sons about this,the more I feel anxious that he does not give the right money every month, the more it takes long for him to give money.I used to be angry for this in the past,now i understand i had created this experience, i want to thank you because i was not able to see the other side of this cycle, that, nobody owes us anything. and that also, when we expect from others more than they give, all we do is “destroy the joy of their giving.” oh,oh,and therefore would be a cause for others to regret their virtues, and in consequence it would be harder for them to give in the future.it is sounds terrible…On the other side i have to ask him to be responsible with their commitments; child support , college education, doctors care, etc.
    But i feel the same that i need to work harder with my anger and lack of gratitude,i really want to feel that freedom in my mind: I should expect nothing and be happy and grateful for whatever people do give us freely, understanding that nobody owes us anything.Thanks again.

  3. Dear KR, great post ! I cannot help but think of a delusion that is ever so present in my daily life. It is probably the ultimate poison, because it stops us from learning and utimately denying us the chance of achieving our ultimate goal, freeing ourself and others from the suffering s of contaminated rebirth . In the case of giving and receiving, pride (I deserve more/better), can deny the giver the full benefit of his/her virtue and deny us of the benefit of accumulating heaps of merit by rejoicing in the virtue of others.

  4. This entry was particulary helpful to me today. I was thinking there should be a way this beautiful blog can be fed to a kindle in a regular fashion, like a Magazine or so. It would be so good if anyone could access these posts in their way to work, or waiting for a train.

    thanks for talking to us Kadam Ryan

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