The sun was shining on that wonderful July Sunday when you were enjoying your summer vacation. Your parents were with you on your walks in the park and watched you ride your bike without the slightest care in the world. Their smile gave you hints of the purest parental love.

I think many people agree with me when I say that in those moments our entire universe was reduced almost entirely to the close family, parent and child. The rest of the elements did not have the same importance to us. We could not fully understand the value of our parents, but instinctively we loved them.

Over the years, our universe has expanded, allowing for other concepts that have become fundamental parts of life—school, college, work, hobbies, a stable group of friends, a life partner, and so on. Parents still occupy an important place, but they have gone from being the dominant component to something more ambiguous, especially because, with advancing age and the acquisition of autonomy, our relationship with our parents has become imprecise and more difficult to explain.

Superhero capes are just an accessory

The transition from childhood to young adulthood is inevitably accompanied by the demystification of the “superheroes” we call mother and father—those who seemed able to move mountains at their child’s request, who offered refusals not because of the impossibility of fulfilling wishes, but for other reasons beyond our understanding, those who had an answer to any question, no matter how difficult it seemed to us.

For some, this process is sudden, for others it happens in stages, but the end is the same: the understanding that our parents are just people, who suffer from fatigue, stress, and frustration, who run into problems they don’t know how to deal with.

Parents don’t have a handbook to guide them every step of the way, and, just like us, they make mistakes. This last revelation, I think, is the hardest to accept. However, in such moments it is vital to recognise their true value as real-life superheroes and to be able to show them how much we appreciate them despite their imperfections.

Our appreciation for them must arise first of all from the awareness of the immense sacrifice they have made and will continue to make for our growth and development. The moment we came into the picture, the life of the family took a turn that we had no way of noticing. A huge amount of time, energy, and money had to be channelled towards us.

There are certainly times when we think that we would have done some things differently when it comes to raising a child, but most of our parents did everything in their power in terms of their temperament, the education they received, and their professional training. The fact that they didn’t have a perfect parenting plan in no way invalidates the work they’ve done; on the contrary, it increases its value. With the limited resources they had at their disposal, they managed to pave the way for us to move forward. The respect that we acquire with the awareness of the inherent nature of human flaws is, in my experience, the key to true love directed towards parents.

We want to build dreams, and our parents offered themselves as a foundation on which to build

Parents give us everything they can in an unconditional manner. In a society dominated by individualism and a keen sense of self-preservation, this giving without any expectation of reward seems almost irrational, but it happens naturally. However, parents’ efforts must not be made without satisfaction for them, and the greatest disservice we can do them is to forget them and their devotion when we leave home. They did not work to watch us stagnate, but to offer us an easier path to much higher goals than they themselves managed to achieve.

We give our parents validation and help dispel doubts about how they raised us when, regardless of the mistakes they made, we recognize the value of the lessons they gave us, following King Solomon’s wise counsel in the first chapter of the book of Proverbs: “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck” (Proverbs 1:8-9).

The value of our parents’ teachings comes not only from their life experiences, but also from the fact that they understand us best. As individuals, we are constantly changing.

Throughout our lives, we will have various jobs, live in different cultures, and meet new people while distancing ourselves from others, but family members are the only people permanently present in our world. Because the family is with us from the beginning and is, most of the time, the only constant, hardly anyone outside the family can give us more appropriate advice.

At the same time, it is important to realise that personal growth can also have a negative aspect. We can lose our own essence, dreams, and aspirations with which we started our journey as an adult. The connection with family members also includes a close connection with the personal origin, almost in a documentary way. Giorgio Agamben, a contemporary Italian philosopher, says that the essence of a thing is covered by its concepts. We are enveloped by the very diverse concepts attributed to us in the environment in which we live, but within the family, we can always rediscover our true identity.

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They loved us first

For parental love, there is a fairly obvious biblical parallel, namely God’s care, which can be summarised by the famous verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Just as we appreciate the fact that God sacrificed Jesus out of love for us, to open the way to salvation, so we should also appreciate our parents, who sacrificed everything they could for us.

Because they loved us first, let’s not forget to show them appreciation and let’s not neglect to give them proof that no matter how far we go, their place in our hearts will never be filled by anyone else.

Codrin Panainte analyses the way young adults relate to the parent-child relationship, highlighting some of the ways in which we can show our appreciation to those who raised us.