Parents: 1,000,000. Equanimity: 0.

Via Joslyn Hamilton
on Dec 12, 2010
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I'm going to stab myself in the eyeball if you don't stop talking.

A friend of mine recently said to me: “Parents. They sure know how to push your buttons. Which makes sense: they installed them.”

Uh, amen and shout that one from the rooftops.

I have four parents. They have nothing in common except a complete lack of boundaries and an innate inability to communicate in direct language. For this and many other reasons (admittedly not all having to do with my parents) I now live 3,000 miles away from where they are clustered in rural Western Massachusetts.

Now, my parents, they are really good people. I love them. My mom is a hardworking restaurant owner. My stepfather (long divorced from my mom) is a chef. My dad is a retired carpenter and musician. My stepmother is a housekeeper. They are salt of the earth sorts with genuine hearts. I look forward to spending time with them — once a year.

But it’s amazing to me how, despite my eager attempts to drop my expectations by the wayside when they visit, I always end up disappointed and frazzled. As an aspiring Buddhist, I am dismayed at how reactive I get when they push my buttons. I don’t even know how they do it, quite honestly. One minute I am being the perfect, equanamous daughter; the next I am screaming.

Here, for instance, is a recent exchange with my father, out visiting for five of the longest days of my life:

Setting: A windy, steep part of Route 1 with a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean. I am driving my Subaru station wagon in the rain.


Me, in flat, emotionless tone: I am going 17mph.


Me, increasingly dejected but spookily calm: I didn’t.


Me, calling on all my inner reserves and causing my tongue to bleed for the biting: This is a one-lane, one-way road and we’re already almost at the end of it.



Ten minutes later, my father: Well, this certainly is beautiful. I’m so glad we came here.

I’ve noticed that I’m not alone.  A lot of my friends have similar relationships with their parents. And interestingly, their parents always strike me as model human beings when I meet them. Last summer, I met Vanessa’s mom.  I found her sweet and charming.  But when I told Vanessa this, (“Dude, you’re mom is so sweet!”) she (or really, whoever) stabbed me through the heart with her eyeballs. Which is how I feel, exactly, when my friends say, for example: “Your father is not nearly as bad as you made it seem.”

Yes, he is that bad.  And so are my mom/stepfather/stepmother.  And so am I. Because we are our worst selves around each other. I, for one, am a seven-year-old again. A spiteful, bratty, temperamental seven-year-old with zero patience and limited compassion. How does this happen?

I’ve been a practicing yogi for over fifteen years. I actually taught yoga for close to a decade. I have an on/off meditation practice. I’ve sat through weeklong silent mindfulness retreats. I did the Landmark Forum. I’ve consulted repeatedly with a shamanic healer known for being able to clear generational angst from one’s psyche. I’ve been in traditional therapy. I’ve adopted a forgiveness practice. I’ve practiced metta.  I was a waitress, for Godsakes.  I know how to keep my cool.

Every time a visit looms, I brace myself to set proper expectations (in other words, none) and to re-calibrate my reactivity to it’s most possible low. But give me a few days with a parent, and that all goes out the window. Once again I become a reactive child with anger issues and an inability to talk about my feelings.

I had a recent exchange with one of my parents that shed a little bit of light on this dynamic.

Without getting into the gory details, let’s just say that I had an opportunity to stand up for something I needed. It was a boundary-tunity. I took my time crafting a well-worded email that would—I hoped—sound firm and clear, yet kind and loving. I was proud of myself for choosing to be clear about my needs rather than simply cave in to what was expected of me. However, it did not go well. The parent in question did not like my sudden acquisition of the word “no” and shot down my empowered moment with a wounded, defensive reply. Which, naturally, made me feel like a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad daughter.

In the end, though, I once again realized humbly that I am only in charge of myself, and what other people think of me, well, it’s none of my business, and it’s certainly out of my dharmic realm to control.


About Joslyn Hamilton

Joslyn Hamilton is a freelance writer living in beautiful Marin County, California. She is one of the co-founders of Recovering Yogi and also launched Creative Truth or Dare. Joslyn has an imaginary spice + skincare line called SimpleBasic. She is a functioning craftaholic and counts hiking, cooking, reading and rabid tweeting among her many chaste vices. Reach her directly at [email protected]


16 Responses to “Parents: 1,000,000. Equanimity: 0.”

  1. Love this! And I'm totally stealing my new favorite word from this: boundary-tunity. Awesome work, as usual, Joslyn!

  2. BenRiggs says:

    Joslyn, I absolutely loved this!

  3. Sarah says:

    Hi Joslyn, I enjoyed reading your article… You mention the word opportunity which is great.. I have written a fair bit about that in my blog ( lately… At the end of the day, that is the best way to look at everything in life – opportunities for further awareness, opportunities for further growth to take place and opportunities for us to practice…

    Thanks again 🙂

  4. Great writing, Joslyn. I also love "boundary-tunity."

    Bob W.

  5. I have to confess that the suffic "tunity" was not of my invention. Credit goes to my good friend Nira, who made me realize that you can pretty much add "tunity" to anything to make a somewhat sarcastic positive statement.

  6. vanessa says:

    As always, awesome.

  7. Lynn Hasselberger says:

    Love it! Perfect timing, Joslyn, as we journey through the holiday season, working hard NOT to have expectations. And LOL on the exchange between you and your father in the car. When my dad was teaching me how to drive stick-shift he called me a shit head. As I remember it, it was because I was afraid to cross a highway from the stop sign. As he remembers it, I slammed on the brakes at the stop sign.

  8. My mother teaching me to drive a stick was a major in low point in our relationship as well. I remember stalling in the major of an intersection, frozen in panic and crying and refusing to drive any farther. Come to think of it, things went pretty much the same way when she tried to teach me to ride a bike.

  9. helene_rose says:

    Hi Joslyn,
    Perfect timing indeed! I am staying with my mother this month and definitely feeling those buttons. Maybe I'll write about it, in writing it is funny and we can have a laugh about it. In the moment, however, not so funny.
    Happy Holidays! Helene

  10. Don says:

    Joslyn, what a great article! Even though I only live 40 miles away, my parents are getting older and I'm thinking I might have to move to the same town to better support them. Of course, the thought comes up that if I move in with them, I will save tons of money, but the second thought is the true cost of saving that money (I can hear my sister laughing as I write!)

  11. […] Parents: 1,000,000. Equanimity: 0 and The Plague of Woo Woo both by Joslyn Hamilton. […]

  12. healthyadventurestv says:

    This is a great article. I laughed out loud several times as I can completely relate. Thank you for making mr not feel so bad!

  13. Audrey F says:

    OMG, yes!! This perfectly describes the button pushing that goes on when I am around my family. I'm curious to know how you managed to get your cross country family visits down to one without reactions from your 4 parents, or did they react. I too, live 3000 miles away from my 2 parents who are in eastern Masschusetts. Excellent article, Joslyn! By the way, I am learning to say No also and the backlash I get from people used to my just going along with them is so extreme. I wonder how two year olds do it (learn to say No successfully). Thanks!!!