Do We Become Our Parents?

Art by Navita Wijeratne

This is a difficult question, especially when you have parents you don’t even speak to anymore. I’ve been estranged from my abusive family for a few years. It’s never an easy process. COVID-19, lockdowns and the constant state of tension that an unprecedented global pandemic has provoked has inevitably tested all of our close relationships. This has made me reflect further on my experiences with my now estranged parents.


I live with my partner currently. Since the mayhem of 2020 and COVID-19 began, I’ve experienced long periods where I can’t go to class, my partner can’t go to work, and we’re left to breathe down each other’s necks all day. And then there’s the addition of our cute but often infuriatingly naughty cat. Whilst this hasn’t been easy, I’ve felt that there’s no one else I’d rather be ‘stuck’ with.


Being spontaneously confined to the household you are currently in prompts you to consider the relationships you value the most, and the ones that may be causing you harm. You gain a deeper sense of gratitude growing up in a toxic and violent household, when you manage to finally escape. When you are not forced to ‘stay safe, stay home’ in an unsafe place that never did feel like home. Having narrowly escaped lockdown with my own abusers, I feel even more joy in the relationships in my life that now are loving and nurturing. I’ve spent nights in lockdown building cardboard box obstacle courses for my cat or trying whacky cooking experiments with my partner. During these times, I’ve realised the gift of having a family of choice, where you always feel safe.


We get to know ourselves and each other very rapidly during periods of crisis. During the stress of the pandemic, it hasn’t been easy to see that I often reflect the dysfunctional way I was raised, whether that’s with anxiety, fear, anger or shutting down. The circumstances of lockdowns and the pandemic overall have prompted me to work harder to develop better coping mechanisms and responses. A lot of households that have struggled with dysfunctional or abusive dynamics have had these issues brought to a head. Living in much closer emotional proximity to one another, it’s not as easy to avoid the unsaid.


Through this period of extreme stress, I’ve often been disappointed or scared when I recognise a similarity to my parents within myself.  However, I’m aware of this process now, and the fact that I have agency in it. There are deep and unavoidable links I share with my parents and childhood – appearance, personality traits, my memories. I don’t necessarily want to get rid of all of these. But the more unhelpful traits, I can choose to work on. 


I think the answer is that yes, we are shaped by where we come from and who raises us, but ultimately, we have the chance every day to wake up and decide who we are.


Originally published in Woroni Vol. 72 Issue 1 ‘Evolution’

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