I was stuck in a cycle of resentment towards my parents, until a heartfelt conversation revealed their side of the story. Here’s how it changed my perspective on forgiveness.

Mia Zhang by Mia Zhang | March 22, 2024, 9:55 am

After 24 years of harboring resentment towards my parents, I found myself locked in a cycle of bitterness and animosity.

I blamed them for a childhood that felt more controlled than carefree — for the curfews and restrictions that seemed to stunt my social growth during my high school and college years.

I held them responsible for my emotional walls, my difficulty trusting people, and my almost pathological yearning for independence.

It was in this state of mind that I boarded a flight back to my country, after living independently in New York for several years.

My parents were getting older, their health deteriorating slightly, and I felt obligated to visit them – an obligation that was more duty than desire.

Upon landing, the familiar sights and sounds of my small hometown were a stark contrast to the bustling city life I had grown accustomed to.

It was this contrast that set the stage for a conversation with my parents, one that would challenge my deeply ingrained beliefs about their parenting style.

The conversation was unexpected and unplanned.

It happened on a lazy Sunday afternoon, over cups of coffee at the kitchen table.

Mom and Dad shared stories from their own childhoods, stories I had never heard before — tales of hardship, struggle, and sacrifices they made for my sister and me.

Their revelations were difficult to digest, yet impossible to ignore.

My perspective began to shift as the walls around my heart started crumbling.

It’s been over a year since that fateful conversation and here’s how it has changed my perspective so far…

Understanding their sacrifices

For years, I had held a grudge against my parents for not understanding me.

Didn’t they see my dreams? My aspirations?

But on that special day, we sat down and talked. Openly, honestly.

They shared their sacrifices, their struggles – things I never knew.

They told me about the jobs they took up to make ends meet, and the dreams they gave up so that I could have mine.

I have to admit — it was a revelation.

I realized that sometimes, their actions were not about misunderstanding but about making hard choices for my well-being.

Recognizing their love language

Other than not understanding me, I always thought my parents lacked affection.

That’s probably because I can’t remember them saying ‘I love you’, hugging me or kissing me. 

But during our conversation, it dawned on me – love isn’t always spoken.

That’s when I realized that mom’s home-cooked meals, my dad’s late-night pickup from parties – these were their ways of saying ‘I love you’.

The thing is that their love language was different from mine.

But it wasn’t any less valid.

This recognition made me see their actions in a new light, replacing resentment with understanding.

Learning about generational differences

Have you ever realized how much the world has changed in the last century?

This rapid evolution has created a significant generational gap.

Yet, our parents grew up in a world that was vastly different from ours.

And the same applies to my parents — they were raised in an era where respect and obedience were paramount.

They didn’t have the freedom to question their elders or express their opinions as we do today.

This understanding helped me appreciate why they might have seemed strict or unyielding at times.

They were simply parenting me the way they knew how based on their own upbringing and experiences.

This realization made me see them not just as my parents, but as individuals shaped by their own unique life experiences.

Seeing their vulnerability

We often perceive our parents as figures of authority, as people who have all the answers.

But, they are humans too.

They are prone to mistakes, insecurities, and fears just like the rest of us.

During our conversation, I saw them break down. They expressed their regrets and fears, and for the first time, I saw their vulnerability.

There was a realness in that moment. It made me realize that they were just trying to do their best, even though they didn’t always get it right.

And you know what?

This humbling insight fostered a deep sense of compassion within me, softening my hardened heart towards them.

Understanding the roots of resentment

In that pivotal conversation, my parents revealed a side of their lives I was oblivious to.

For the first time, I saw them as individuals with their own histories, traumas, and struggles, not just as my parents.

Dad grew up in a household where discipline was the law. His father had been a military man and believed in strict adherence to rules and regulations.

Mom, on the other hand, was raised by a single mother who worked three jobs just to put food on the table. She grew up too quickly, taking care of her younger siblings while her mother was at work.

I realized that this past shaped their parenting style.

The rules, the discipline, they were all ways they tried to protect my sister and me from the hardships they faced.

Simply put, it was their way of expressing love and care, though it may not have felt like it at that time.

This revelation didn’t instantly dissolve my resentment, but it initiated a process of introspection.

I began questioning my entrenched beliefs about my parents and started seeing them through a lens of empathy.

Misunderstood notion of ‘forgiveness’

I won’t lie, forgiving my parents wasn’t easy. It felt like I was letting them off the hook for all the hurt they had caused me.

But as I began to understand their side of the story, I realized that holding onto resentment was only hurting me.

It was like carrying a heavy weight around.

The thing is that a commonly held belief is that forgiveness is a one-time act — a moment of grace where we let go of all bitterness and resentment.

This perception suggests that forgiveness is like flipping a switch — and once you do it, all negative emotions disappear.

My experience, however, has taught me otherwise.

Forgiveness, particularly towards our parents, is not an overnight process. It’s a journey, often a long and arduous one.

It involves acknowledging and understanding the pain they may have inadvertently caused us.

After hearing my parents’ side of the story, I realized that forgiveness couldn’t be a singular act.

It had to be a process where I continually reassessed my feelings, challenged my long-held beliefs, and actively chose empathy over resentment each day.

Besides, it was more about freeing myself than absolving them. It was about choosing peace over bitterness, love over anger.

It was about breaking the cycle of resentment and starting on a path towards healing.

Forgiving my parents wasn’t just an act of kindness towards them, it was an act of self-love.

It allowed me to move forward, lighter and free from the burdens of the past.

How I took a holistic view of life

To sum up, that conversation helped me realize that the resentment I harbored wasn’t just about my parents.

It was also about the societal and cultural expectations that had shaped my understanding of parenting.

The result?

I had to step back and reassess not just my relationship with my parents, but also the way I viewed the world.

Taking responsibility for my feelings and emotions, even though they were rooted in my parents’ actions, became an essential part of my healing process. I

t wasn’t about blaming them anymore — it was about understanding my reactions and working to change them.

In doing so, I also had to question societal norms and expectations.

  • What did ‘good parenting’ mean?
  • Was it based on societal standards or personal experiences and emotions?

Questioning these beliefs was crucial in redefining what forgiveness meant to me.

Here are the key points that emerged from this journey:

  • Acknowledging feelings of resentment.
  • Understanding the roots of these feelings.
  • Opening up a dialogue with parents.
  • Accepting their flaws as humans.
  • Choosing forgiveness every day.
  • Taking responsibility for personal emotions.
  • Questioning societal norms and expectations.

This whole process was a journey of self-exploration that reshaped my reality.

It wasn’t easy, but it led to self-empowerment.

And in this journey, I found reading about others’ experiences and insights extremely helpful.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl was one resource that significantly influenced my perspective.

The ideas in this book helped me realize that it’s not just about forgiving your parents or coming to terms with your past — it’s about understanding yourself better and taking charge of your life.