Seeking Approval From A Critical Father

Seeking approval is what so many of us want from our parents. Unfortunately, I never got much approval from my father growing up. Instead of being encouraging, he was often critical. Even to this day as a 44-year-old adult, he is a critical father of my work.

Due to the criticism my father constantly gives me, I've decided to be much less critical with my two young children. Instead of criticizing, I will be support. I'll show them what's wrong and how to get better. That's what a father should do.

Seeking Approval From A Critical Father As A Teenager

My father would always tell me, “You're just not good enough,” every time I would lose a tennis match in high school. He eventually made me want to stop practicing so hard to see if I could make it to the next level because I was afraid of his disapproval. I asked him to stop coming to my matches, even though I went 10-1 senior year because I was worried he'd show up for that one loss. Losing is already a painful feeling. To then have your father be disappointed with you is terrible.

I remember coming home one day all proud of my 92% math final score. Instead of congratulating me he asked what happened to the other 8%. I stayed up all night for weeks studying because I'm pretty bad at higher level math.

I still don't know the purpose of Calculus in every day life. All I wanted was a high-five for my efforts. Once again I disappointed my father, but this time I didn't fade. I tried harder in school because I wanted to prove to him and to myself I wasn't a failure. I needed options.

But I realize no matter what I do, I will never live up to my father's amorphous expectations. He never told me what occupation to follow or how much money to make or what type of person to marry. He let me figure things out for myself, which is something I do appreciate. Unfortunately, I don't understand exactly what he wants out of me and that's frustrating. Best I go ask.

A Compliment And Then A Criticism

He recently shot me an e-mail telling me, “Congrats on trying a new site design. Should be awesome once kinks are worked out.” The problem is, I just stayed up from midnight until 4 am working out all the kinks. I was exhausted.

I decided to redesign Financial Samurai to make it brighter and more professional looking. Readership via tablets and phones is going up, so I wanted a “responsive” site that adjusts to the size of the screen for better readability. I figure why not do an update since it's been almost five years. My only issue is how the site looks on a mobile phone. I like the old look better but so far there's no way to have both.

Change is hard for people to accept, especially the older we get. I was excited to get my father's out of the blue e-mail, but upon re-reading his words now I should have known what was coming. Because he enlarged his font size to massive on his screen, the right side column of my site disappears and he doesn't like the layout as a result. Once he went back to regular font size, things appeared normal. Not good enough though.

Here Comes The Criticism

Then he said FINANCIAL SAMURAI in the header looks “counterfeit” and therefore unprofessional due to all the “white scratches,” even though this is the same font I've been using since 2009. The reason why I kept this font is because it reminds me of battle tested armor. Building wealth over the long run is not easy as the financial crisis has shown. Temptation to splurge also gets heightened the more you have.

We talked for 28 minutes about all the things he was dissatisfied with about the redesign until I couldn't take it anymore. He did begin to soften towards the end as he said, “I better go. I think I've said too much.”

I was once again so sad that he was so critical and utterly disappointed with my efforts because I try very hard when it comes to my work. It's difficult to please everyone all the time, but my father is someone I would like to one day please if no longer for my tennis and academics, then for my career and entrepreneurial endeavors.

I didn't understand why he had to be such a critical father. I was doing well on my own. I took a leap of faith after 13 years in banking to do my own thing. Financial Samurai was growing. Why to try and support m?

Parents, Please Encourage Your Children

If you are a critical father reading this, please send your kids some words of encouragement sometimes. Be proud of your children. Wrap your suggestions for improvement in a blanket of kindness. Think back to the time when you struggled to make something successful on your own. Your kids will appreciate everything you say and work that much harder to make you proud.

As for me, don't worry. I'll get over the hurt as I already have by writing this post. Writing is cathartic for the soul if you have some torment.

I'll experiment with more font types for the header and keep doing my best so that one day he might say, “Good job son,” and mean it. I'm not sure why he can't just say nice things, but on the positive side, if it wasn't for my father being so critical I don't think I would have tried as hard.

I Don't Want To Be A Critical Father To My Kids

When I originally wrote this post back on January 4, 2014, I wasn't a father. But I started wanting to be. Now I have a son and a daughter whom I love so very dearly.

I promise I will ALWAYS be encouraging. I will do my best to keep criticism to a minimum. And if I do criticize, it I will follow it up with a compliment.

A critical father makes kids fearful of screwing up. A critical father also causes kids to not try new things. I always want my son and daughter to try anything they want. If they fail, who cares? Not trying is actually the biggest disappointment.

Man Up Dads! Time To Be Better Fathers

Career Or Family? 5 Years Is The Most Career Sacrifice You Need

The Average Amount Of Time Spent With Children

Nature vs. Nurture: How Important Are Parents To Our Success?

The Importance Of Being Consistently Uncomfortable For Progress

Readers, do you have a critical father who never seems to be satisfied with your accomplishments? What are some of the things they've said or done that hurt? What did you do about the situation? Why do you think parents are so critical of their kids even though they know they work hard and know their words are painful? Do you think it's more of an issue with something happening to the critical parent than yourself?

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82 thoughts on “Seeking Approval From A Critical Father”

  1. I get this. I am so tired of being afraid of messing up all the time because as soon as I do my Dad lords it over me. When I was growing up he was always pointing out little things like leaving pens on the floor, towels folded the wrong way etc. as a teenager I became incredibly stressed out over remembering all these little nuances that needed to be kept immaculate. My Mum and I used to tidy up together and remind each-other of things so that we wouldn’t have to see each-other get into trouble.
    Now that I’m older it’s even worse because Dad expects me to know things that I can’t seem to grasp or remember. He gets especially angry if he comes home and finds the windows open or closed depending on the weather. Mum and I try to remember and remind each-other but it’s not easy to remember everything. The worst thing lately, is that Dad’s taken to accusing me of things that I haven’t even done, which is so much worse than anything I’ve ever had from him. I am apparently the culprit of messing up the laundry and loosing his tools, which, I am actually a tidy person by nature, so I would never mess up and lose (on purpose) my own things let alone someone elses.

    1. Just wanted to let you know, you definitely aren’t alone. My father is the same way with the little picky things. Putting a dish in the dishwasher in the right location or taking a quick enough shower or keeping the curtains closed are all some of the things that make my dad angry if they are not done properly by me or my mom. It is so frustrating. I just was accepted to a college and into their honor program and there was no congratulations or acknowledgement of how hard it is to get into those kind of things from him. A head nod was all I got. It’s hard but we both need to stop looking to our father for approval. You aren’t a disappointment and neither am I. Even when our dads make us feel like we can never do anything right. I’ll be praying for you and I hope things get better:)

  2. My parents were born in 1936. My father had a difficult relationship with his father. My father was emotionally unavailable. He was hypercritical, a perfectionist, and practiced tough love. My father was a good provider, but my mother was cheap. I received only praise from people not in my family. My father once asked me why I was so negative.

    I’m a perfectionist​. I know I have qualities that I learned from my father. I try not to treat people the way I was treated. My oldest sister has a Ph.D. Meanwhile at 50, I never finished college, I have no friends or relationships, and I can’t keep a job.

    I’m not looking for pity—this is cathartic. Please remember what can happen to people who are emotionally abused. Years of therapy has not undone the damage.

    1. I’m facing the same thing, but at 30. No matter how much I work on all that lovely baggage, I still have my father and mother whispering in my ear that I’m not worth anything. It is rediculously hard to fix child abuse and neglect.

      Keep at it. We have to be able to beat this some day.

  3. Really good article! I seem to have had several conversations about this very topic as of late. It is interesting, my father and step-father were both very critical and I did end up becoming an “over-achiever” which I think was attributed to me wanting their acceptance. Yes, I am happy for the “tough love” that helped me be successful, but the question: what is success? Trying to get someone’s approval your whole life is an exhausting endeavor, and we as a society attribute success with money, power, and maybe the white picket fence, 2 kids, and two car garage. But, we all know this success does not guarantee happiness, which should be our ultimate gauge of true success. So, is it really all that “helpful” for fathers to be so critical? For us to become such over-achievers? I think, at the end of the day, it wouldn’t hurt parents to be tough, encourage their children, but man, give them a high five every now and then. At age 40, I have come to the realization that no matter what I do, my father may never feel happy with my accomplishments. And, the truth is that it is not my problem, but his. He has to struggle with his own feelings of inadequacy and learn to no longer project them on to me. Parents need to learn that their children do not define their own success in life either. If we can all take a deep breath, love a little more and accept a little more, maybe we will not all have six figure salaries, but we will may live much healthier, happier lives. That, in the end, is a real measure of success anyway. P.S.–being a webmaster myself, your site looks great!

  4. Priscila Duarte

    Hello Sam! I’m Priscila, from Brazil. You need to read “The Middle Passage” from James Hollis. After that you can also read “Under Saturn’s Shadow: The Wounding and Healing of Men.” from the same writer. These books will really help you. Not solve the problem, but to understand it in a way you never imagined before.

  5. I feel your pain! But would have to say you lead by example. Your words are very inspiring and thought-provoking, and provide strength to everyone that looks up to you. Thanks so much!

  6. Hi, I have a father who appears uninterested in my life and perhaps it’s just that our values are different. Parents encouraging focus, hard work and discipline should go hand and hand with displaying love, support and approval. Sadly it appears they are often mutually exclusive. I am now 53 and still deep down crave the interest and approval of my father for the small achievements I have made in my life. Sadly I know this will never be forthcoming. It’s just the way it is. I am slowly learning that maybe we can’t get to tick all the important boxes in life and it is important to come to terms with this rather than necessarily looking for a resolution. Not easy if you’re still wrapped up emotionally which I guess I still am. Just my take on it all for what it’s worth.

    Well done for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Nigel. I empathize and understand. I’d keep trying to have that heart-to-heart conversation with him and see if you can chip away. Good luck and thanks for stopping by my site.

  7. I just read alot of your website over the last two days. This is my first post.

    I’m not sure what your Dad is dealing with. Maybe he thinks being hard on you is what he’s supposed to do. My Dad is kind of an awesome, always supporting wise genious type. I kind of lucked out.

    What I wanted to say us that you are obviously a smart, accomplished, caring, awesome person. Any father would be proud of what you have a accomplished. That is just an objective fact. I know you want the most important man in your life to day that, but I don’t think he will. Doesn’t make you any less awesome.

  8. Hello Sam,
    First of all, well done on the website update! I think it looks neat and clean, not only that but having a responsive website is definitely beneficial for us readers when we access the site with mobile and tablets :)

    I think it’s very sweet that your father gives you feedback on your website maybe take on board with some of his suggestions that you agree with, and leave those ones that you don’t. Because after all, you know your readers better than anyone else.

    My mother is the critical one, she sends me on a guilt trip when I don’t do things she approves. It’s only recently that I learn to filter out some of critical things she said. I’m grateful for things she points out however, at the same time it’s kinda of hard having an open discussion with her, because most of time we would go into an argument instead of a constructive discussions. Perhaps that’s how my parents show their affection.

  9. Perhaps I am naive, but I believe there can be a healthy balance to create a driven and nurtured child. My parents were tough on me about grades, success and being financially responsible, but at the same time I felt supported even when I failed (well, minus getting grounded for some bad math test scores).

    These days, I get a lot of feedback, which a times can feel critical but ultimately I can see and feel that my parents love and support me and my endeavors. Maybe it comes from gaps they felt in their own upbringings that they figured out how to deal with when raising their own kids? I’m grateful not to have been over-indulged though. The constant rewards and praise didn’t set up the millennial generation for anything more than major letdowns in the “real world.”

    1. Don’t bash yourself too hard either. You must know how people in the forties, fifties, sixties and seventies could literally walk out of school one day and start working the next day with or without drades and there was a basic jobsecurity you can only dream of. It was easier back then in some ways. Today I would trade security for hunger any given day. Not for my kids by for myself.

  10. Although, hard to have someone critizing what is not only hard work, but of superior quality. Your father is making an effort and taking a personal interest in what you are doing. Only by spending time on the website and looking through would he be able to notice such things.

    I would rather have a parent vested and interested in my doings; taking the critique along with the vested interest than the alternative of no interest from my parents.

    1. Mark I dont Think you see the point where his dad always turns to criticisms of a certain kind. It’s the classic issue with the half-full glass. There can always be a worse or a better dad (daily beatings for some doesent make anyone elses emotional issues less important or problematic. The original post here and all the replies including yours are helping me understand my life and my relation to my dad. I dont want go diss anyone I am just answering right here because I think it is a good startingpoint for my contribution. I can see my fathers incapability for connecting emotionally too because he is stuck in his own childhood. Everyone in my family knows he and his two brothers got a horrible start and as soon as any of the brothers starts to act in a way anyone can see there must be a relation to their emotionally impaired 1950’s and 60’s when their dad made the first two brothers mom (my grandmother) undergo lobotomy and then leave her to what would turn out to be a 50 year mental assylum sentence. Thing is my grandfathers sister started to rent a house on a small island and “the boys” wich was the two older brothers, got to spend the summers there as some kind of compensation as their dad made a career abroad and the boys were separated living in Sweden and Germany, the youngest of the three got to grow up in Italy with his dad. The island ended up in the hands of the two older brothers after about 60 summers spent there. The summers there has always been heavenly for me, my three sisters, ofcourse the brothers, my cousins, the 11 grandchildren, boyfriends, girlfriends.. you get the picture. So what is my problem? What is my fuckin problem? Who has a private island that happend to end up in the poshest archipelago area of Sweden, where it once lived only fishermen and occational rather unusual urban hipsters of the 1930’s when life in the archipelago included no luxury whatsoever. There was a rowing boat, a fishing net and hard bread basically. If I live to see my generation becoming the owners, We are at least me and two of the sisters ready to sell and put an end to all the buried emotions that has made us all exentric and emotionally either hyper attentive or emotionally impaired. For me the elephant in the room is the sons of “the boys” wich is me and my male cousin who lives in Austria (we all came here simultaneously up until a turningpoint when my big sister had enough of our oldest female cousin who occupied the “guest house” for month every summer on the basis of living nearby but also because grandchildren were all over so we split summers in two between the two branches of the family. My problem today has a connection to being handy, and I can see how I always wanted to be handy, the guy with the toolbox, because “the boys” always were and because we were old upper class bred from a straight line of engineers from the 1850’s or more even though “the boys” devoted their lives to being rebels in that regard. I grew up in a fantastic mess of glorious 1980’s, emotional and physical abuse wich my sisters experienced none of (and I still wonder “was it only because I was a boy I got different expectations”? Did it happen to my male cousin too wich today suffers from some cleaning disorder and his own ways of trying to replicate his dad). Now as I write I am in a tent on this island. I just had an argument with my dad. I “stirred up trouble” wich means I questioned him. I asked if I could help out with something and the answere I got was outlandish. I got an answere in affection wich made me heckle him at the dinner table, sisters stepped in and I had to ask them to stop degrading me with dismantling my way of being and talking and solving my questions with dad. TAnd in the midst of that I see him leaving the table, just as I have gotten so used to doing. The bailing of uneasy situations, the regression, the anger, the eventual outburst of rage I mechanically came to as a kid. And I see how all my life has been circulating around getting dads approval or down right trying to be him. In latter years life is also about being what he never was, wich is the attentive super focused dad, and I lost contact with my oldest daughter completely due to todays feminism and I see his and his brothers idea of me is at least in part a really jokey one. I’m the black sheep who can never hold a job, nor a relation. I always gravitate towards debt and selling my stuff in a haste to keep my shit together. I even use him for selling my cars “cause he is better at it”(muthafucka..). So whyyy the fuck do I let him affect me? Because thats what dads are supposed to do right? They are suppose to affect us in a constructive way but not in a destructive way. It just becomes hard when short time gratification and “love” wins over the long term ending of the endless perpetuation of the story about who you are. The walls can be trembling with agony but someone yells “cofee time” or “dinner is ready” and we all make an effort to forget . I had a spiritual awakening earlier this week. I turned to LSD and it worked like a charm. The day after a very thoughtful trip with a friend in a classic car at a fantastic place and a Hollywood cliché sundown I had a laughattack and a crying attack. But it wasent about the issue at hand here, only related but yes indeed related. Tomorrow I will “meditate” and persist in being strong and not let my own dad in under my skin. How that can be a sollution is tragic but at least I have now dropped before my sisters I see my childhood as a disaster even though I have believed I had a lucky one. I was not lucky and I will have to cut off this emotional chain reaction very soon. My youngest daughter is a new beginning and my life today is a new beginning. I don’t see how I can keep praying for the hurt child my dad still is. I need to pray for my grandmother, both my daughters and myself.

  11. Do you think your father might agree to a guest post about his perspective on success and parenting?

    My mom was a high achiever and often told me I could do whatever I chose. She was big on education. My father was more laid back and had, or expressed few expectations. I always felt supported, but rarely pressured.

    I’m more driven, and probably am a little more like your father. I expect excellence from my kids, but need to not demand it. Relationship is more important than financial or career success. Feels weird typing it, but I believe it.

    1. I would love to have him write a guest post! I’ve asked him several times before to share his perspective, but he has always declined. Let me ask him again right now. It’s hard to write a post. Much easier to critique.

      How old are your kids now and what do you they do? What is it that you do and do you wish your parents were more strict?

  12. I was in my mid-twenties when I began to have what I now to refer to as an “adult-child” relationship with my parents. It was at this time that I began to relate to them as an adult, rather than a child.

    My perspective of my parents changed at this time as well. I just flat out landed on the fact that my parents did the best they could. Their parenting may not have been what I wanted or needed and it was their best.

    I am age 49 and can see that my parents, my dad in particular, was a product of his environment. He was a child of the depression, came from a poor family that ate a lot of cornbread and beans – when they ate at all during this time – and he achieved his dream of marrying, owning a house, and having two kids who attended college.

    When I was eighteen and graduating from college, he talked me out of joining the Peace Corp. He thought that it would put me behind my peers in terms of my life-time earning potential. He focused on my lifetime earning potential, aka how many years I could work, rather that the benefits of a Peace Corp experience that were other than monetary. Early retirement was not even a concept on his radar.

    It was the best he could do.

    Note: several earlier posts refer to motivation. I suggest you check out the book Mindset written by Carol Dweck.

  13. It’s hard to balance being critical and being supportive. Of course, you want to drive your kid to achieve more, but you need to be supportive too. It’s probably the product of the culture of the previous generation too. They are a bit more distant and want their kid to succeed financially.
    For me, I’m more of a supportive parent. I don’t see myself being disappointed with my kid’s 92% on a math test. I think for our generation, we are more open minded about success and happiness.

    1. It probably is a generational thing, along with a cultural thing.

      I do wonder whether our generation will be able to raise motivated enough children to be financially independent on their own as a whole when they know our generation was able to accumulate a significant amount of wealth. Why work so hard when you can get a trust fund, or inherit lots of assets?

      1. I wonder is it really about motivation (this something.. )? Referring to myself I grew up without any conception of money, totally spoiled, but interestingly enough believing I was raised well in that regard because I was never or hardly ever handed money so that I had any substantial amount I could nurture. Money was solely something that was seen as a fuel, like toilet paper or any other finite resource. My friends who grew up with both the idea about how it felt to own money and how they could be invested, became sucessful economically (even though not emotionally as it seems as far as I know even tho I dont know). Not having the hunger can be plainly being misinformed and lacking the ideas and conceptions even tho the urge is there. I always wanted to be independent but in my early teens I looked at museums and farms, soldiers houses “torp” in Swedish (thorpe.. in english /Swedish names) to learn about how to farm the land and use tools to be financially independent (yes what a joke). I did’nt go door to door selling breadrolls, did’nt sell my toys, did’nt arrange a lottery and did’nt ask for fences to paint. My parents conception of money incorporated the idea that one should “get a job” and they never ever even told me about different salaries and what their own life costed in terms of devotion. They became dentists both of them and through the years my dad grew an arrogance towards his son who he never saw as good enough. Even when I can see today how I technically speaking know more about money than him, that’s nothing I share with him. I don’t see any reason for our relation to heal now in a more constructive way than my becoming free of his negativity stuck in his own childhood trauma where critique was the only tough love a son could expect.

    1. I actually sent him a draft of the post before publishing yesterday.

      There’s nothing awkward about the truth. We’ll then discuss community feedback and see how we can find solutions.

  14. This post really resonated while my parents have never been that critical, I can see fragments of my growing up in your post. I truly believe it is a cultural thing where Asian cultures and parents have very high expectations and sometimes they themselves don’t realize what they want from their kids. The funny thing is I had a 98% in algebra sophomore year in high school, and my dad asked the same thing “where is the other 2%”. The funny thing is I don’t know if anything would have changed if I had gotten the 100% because then there might have have been something else which wasn’t perfect.

    But yes, this thinking is heavily culture influenced, I believe.

      1. I am a strategy analyst for a fortune 50 pharmacy retailer. Ummm…no I don’t wish they were stricter. I think they were strict enough at the time. I mean they never mandated anything but it was like underlying expectations which I mostly followed. For example, I wanted to study abroad in college and they never said no, but it was very apparent that they didn’t want me to and thought it was unsafe and why would I want to go study elsewhere when I am at one of the best institutions already and so on. Like they didn’t get the whole “getting the experience” aspect and having a holistic view on life. And well, I didn’t study abroad. I really wish I had. Maybe I wasn’t convinced enough myself at that point or I would have fought for it. To be fair, they are also very liberal when it comes to south east Asian parents, but I never really pushed the envelope and I wish I had so I would know if they were truly strict or just doing what Indian society has ingrained them to do.

        One thing I do wish is that while they were strict in some sense where they have expectations, they always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted but just be the best at it. I wish they had been stricter in telling me: “maybe you should choose the following career paths and those will give you the best returns and so on’; they never pushed that maybe because they didn’t know themselves since I emigrated when I was 7. I am not sure if your dad pushed you into finance/wallstreet? or was it your choosing? If so, how did you choose?

        Any who, I am going off on tangents.

        1. OK, so you DO wish they were a little more strict so you can test your limits. I’m all about testing my career/money making limits.

          My father introduced my to online stock trading when I was 18-19. After trading some stocks on my own, I was hooked! And the natural progression was for me to find a job that dealt with securities investments. I have my father to thank for guiding me towards going into the world of finance. I LOVED my time from 1999-2008. Not so much during the tail end due to over regulation. But it was great, and I’m thankful for my father’s guidance.

  15. I didn’t read all the comments, but I agreed with Nate. Your father has issues with himself or his own parents that he hasn’t dealt with; you probably need one, too. (I’m a big believer in a good therapist.) My heart goes out to you.
    Would you tolerate this kind of thing from a friend? Then don’t tolerate it in a parent. You’re an adult now, and you can find an adult response to his behavior.

    Criticism can make us better, but the way it’s given needs to be tailored to each person – adult or child.

    1. I used to give the criticism right back because he has his own small business. But I began feeling bad so I just stopped. You don’t want to enrage the beast in me!

      Overall, I just want this post to relate to others who may feel the same way with the same situation out there and also communicate how I feel to my father.

      If nothing changes even after he reads this post, then what a shame.

    2. Don’t think I would. Because I care for the happiness of my father, I’m hoping to help him out of his funk.

      I don’t think very happy people are so critical of others.

  16. Somehow I came to this post and feel sooo related to me, though I didn’t visit your website before. I totally understand your feeling. Thanks for your post and the following discussion. what i have is another similar but different situation: I’m from a family that my parents are always nice and supportive, while my husband’s from a family where both of his parents like your dad. Then here comes the conflicts, while i want my husband’s support so badly when something goes wrong (sometimes its my fault.)or i feel down. He will be just be as critical as his parents, saying “See,I’ve told you before…”althouth i know what he say is more objective or right, it’s just hard to undertake when he is the one that is closest to me. i don’t know, maybe he’s just honest to point out my weakness. And i’m just thinking I maybe spoiled…

    1. That’s a tough one. I’m afraid I will be super critical of my kids and of others as well based on how I was treated.

      Talk things out with him and share your different upbringing style. Have him read this post and maybe it’ll awake something in him that will make him more understanding.

      Good luck!

  17. Done by Forty

    I have some of the same issues, Sam. For a long time, I felt like what I did was never good enough for my father. In the past few years, I don’t know why, something changed. I think some of our personal finance successes triggered him to be impressed, and now it’s turned around. He says he’s proud of me at least once a phone call, and it’s great.

  18. I have a friend who solved this problem with his mother. One day he sat her down and said to her ‘I don’t need a Mom anymore….what I need is a friend. I would like you to become my friend.’

    It took some time for her to get over this comment, but eventually she figured it out, and by the time he was late 30’s, she became his friend. And their relationship has been much stronger ever since, although different than before.

    1. That’s what I want as well having graduated from college 14 years ago. I’ll give it a go and see what they say. However, I think they always want to be ‘parents’ no matter how old I am. Don’t think being a parent ever goes away.

  19. My Mom can be that way with me, though not to same extent. She isn’t critical of my brothers, and I am by far the most successful. Mom is a competitive person and one day, it dawned on me that her behavior was motivated by insecurity. Now that I realize what’s going on, I share a lot less about my successes but what feedback I do receive is positive.

    Good luck!

  20. Very personal post…thank you for sharing…I really enjoyed it. I can definitely empathize. Maybe it’s an Asian thing. My parents were “Tiger Parents” if you will. When I got a 95, they would ask me what happened to the other 5 points. When other kids got rewarded for their academic success, my parents would tell me that doing well in school is a reward in itself and that it was expected. Well that was in childhood and I guess it did instill in me a good work ethic. In adulthood, I have to say it can be tough as my parents can still be a little overbearing and critical. It is one thing when you are a child, but much worse when you are a grown married adult. Thanks for letting me vent!

    1. Vent away! It’s not easy becoming a lawyer. Lots of studying to get good grades! Are you happy with your law track? Did your parents push you to be a lawyer by any chance?

      1. Wow great memory Sam! I was unhappy about the law track at one point when I was stuck with a large amount of student loans, but my salary is somewhat higher than it would have been. (Not by that much though…but I try not to think about it). I work in government and my position involves mostly research and writing…while it can be a little tedious and dull at times, I don’t have the personality for other type of lawyer work. It fits me I guess. My parents didn’t push me onto this track, though they did say I better not major in liberal arts. I was a double major in Business Mgmt and Poly Sci. Of course, my parents are enamored by the prestige of the attorney JD, the accountant CPA, engineering license…etc…

        1. Fascinating man. I’m totally PRO Liberal Arts! I believe people need to a broad range of education to become productive and socially competent human beings today.

          When I was interviewing at the major Wall St. banks, then preferred not to have business majors. They wanted to interview history majors, english majors, economics majors. Anything but business, b/c they had their own way of doing things. They wanted people who were well rounded and who could hold a conversation.

  21. I get it! I spent a lifetime trying to please a difficult Mom. About thirty years ago, I realized I couldn’t! Instead I started to please me and I am now fine with it. It takes time and effort to stop listening to the negative words.

    1. Interesting, so that was at the age of 35 or so? Perhaps we’ve got something here as a couple other folks said starting in the late 30s, and one at 40, the relationship got much better.

  22. I can relate to this so much. My parents are very supportive, but at times, their comments can hit a little more close to home than they should. Sometimes I think it is me, and sometimes I think it is him (my Dad).

    I remember being about 23 and my Dad reviewed my CV for me from a senior management hiring perspective. I couldn’t take his criticism. I’ve since learned how to handle criticism in general (thanks to an excellent PhD supervisor).

    I think it is different when it comes from a parent though, because we expect a bit more nurture than sometimes comes across in their comments. Even as adult children and with a dynamic change with parents, it isn’t two acquaintances. The family lines makes us want more from parents.

    1. Alicia,

      I think you’re absolutely right on adult children who will always expect more nurture from our parents, even though we are way beyond that. I’ll remember this during our next conversation, and try to remove that expectation given I’m an adult after all.

      Whatcha doing with your PhD now? I totally considered it, but I don’t think I could last!

      1. I’m a relatively recent grad working as a research scientist. Hopefully in the next five years or so, after putting in some dues, I can transfer to a little bit less hands on. Maybe I’ll do that MBA (only if funded by my company).

  23. Andrea Whitmer

    I’ve spent most of my life trying to gain my mother’s approval. My dad is great and has always been my biggest supporter no matter what I do, but my mom is highly critical and quick to tell me why I can’t do something or why I didn’t do it good enough. It has affected every adult relationship I’ve ever had – I have a really hard time developing close friendships with other women because I’m always waiting for them to criticize.

    People always tell me I have to get to a point where it doesn’t bother me and I can use it as motivation, etc. etc., but the truth is, it’s painful not to feel accepted by a parent. And nothing will make it hurt less. I do think it can have positive effects – I’ve become very driven and ambitious/perfectionistic as a result of my relationship with my mom – but I think I’d rather be less driven and feel like anything I did was good enough for her.

    On the flip side, in my quest to make my son feel 100% accepted (both to counteract the way I grew up and because he has special needs), he’s not very motivated at all. He knows I’m not going to express disappointment in him unless he does something really terrible, and he doesn’t have that inner drive to succeed or try hard. Sometimes I wonder if I should have been harder on him or if I should just realize that what he does isn’t as important as who he is.

    In other words, I have no answers whatsoever but I’ve been there and I know it sucks. Thanks for sharing this post! (And of course I think the redesign looks great, but I’m biased.)

    1. Such an interesting dynamic, the critical parent creating a highly motivated child vs. a loving parent perhaps not instilling as great of a drive as a result.

      From a son’s point of view, I absolutely appreciate their strictness growing up. If they let me slack off too much in high school, I don’t think I’d have the same opportunities now. But as a 36 year old adult, the dynamics have changed. I’d much rather have a friend to share thoughts with and hang out with.

      Thanks for your great work and most excellent service. Service is what I cherish most. To know someone is on the ball makes me happy. Kinks can always be worked out!

      1. Yes, this is something I struggle with getting my head around. My parents weren’t tiger parents but they were certainly stricter and held me to higher standards than my white NZ parents did. I ended up rebelling, but I’m the kind of person who would never go totally off the rails – it’s just not in my nature. T’s (white) family were a lot more laidback and also from a trashy sort of culture, and some of the kids wound up being utter failures. Would a stricter upbringing have helped? Or would it only have accelerated the fall for them? How much can parents really be held responsible for? I really have no answers.

  24. Sam, I’ve been meaning to post a “thanks” to you for weeks, for the blog, which is always thoughtful and provocative, and for being gracious when readers disagree with you. But today’s post finally made me do it. I agree with Nate — your father’s reactions are reflections on him, not on you. I’m guessing that he cannot, or does not, communicate humanely with you — or reveal that he’s enormously proud of you — because he simply doesn’t know how to. That sounds strange to many of us, particularly those who are younger. But it seems that some older people never learned to communicate in the way that we expect them to. That doesn’t mean he’s off the hook for his derision, but maybe puts it into context and allows you to shake off some of his critical comments. I really believe it has zero to do with you.

  25. I think that one of the most important things a parent can do is to be encouraging to their children. That doesn’t mean that we should let them go down a destructive path but always let them know that you are there for them. I am not in favor of parents constantly trying to “harden” their children due to their own issues with lack of achievement, failed relationships, etc. I am lucky that my son is a high achiever/ motivated learner – I find myself on the other end of the spectrum whereby I try to teach him that he doesn’t need to be perfect and that he will have failures – it is about how he reacts/overcomes those failures that demonstrates the strength of his character.

    I expect that your father probably thinks he is being constructive in his comments. However, he probably also has communication issues that need to be improved. As a parent, we never know how our kids will interpret what we say. We may say something that we view as totally benign and they take as a total attack. The best is open communication – I have stumbled into these situations whereby I may have said something to my son that he then plays back to my wife with a totally different interpretation than I intended.

    1. “I have stumbled into these situations whereby I may have said something to my son that he then plays back to my wife with a totally different interpretation than I intended.” – This is a great example of why we all need to work on our communication skills. Communication is so UNDERRATED as a skill. The best communicators make the best of everything.

  26. As a new blogger on the scene, I definitely look up to you and what you have built here on your site. It’s truly impressive and something you should be proud of, regardless of what anyone else says.

    For the record, I like the title font. The term for it is “distressed” and it is a common design style that I think ESPECIALLY works because you have thought about why you use it, which is 10 leaps ahead of most site designs!

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Dave for sharing the term “distressed.” I think I’ve heard of it before, but now I will proudly use it in my designer lexicon when people ask why go with my font!

      I hope folks can recognize the battle tested armor analogy with the use of the font. Are we going to give up? Or are we going to keep on fighting? Hopefully the latter!

  27. I’ve had a similar experience with my parents. Instead of criticality and disapproval though, it’s more of a lack of acknowledgment and general apathy towards life. They’re good, hard working, honest folks, but they never really got involved in my or my brother’s lives and it has caused a lot of anger from both my brother and I. Parental approval and acknowledgment feel like a primal need. I’m 38 and still glow when my Dad genuinely says he’s proud of me for doing X, even though I’ve mostly written off most of my concern about my parents’ involvement in my life.

    It’s a difficult task to make the transition from seeking parental approval to becoming our own man/woman in the world. Parental issues like this seem to create insecure overachievers (myself included) who are constantly trying to prove something to parents and the world.

    In some ways, my parents lack of involvement has definitely caused me to try harder in life and made me insecure about achievement. I suspect a balance is good. We want to challenge our children to succeed and correct them when making bad decisions while taking the time to be supportive and involved. My goal is to simply be invovled and present in my son’s daily life. I figure love and attention covers a multitude of needs and sins.

    Might I suggest you be painfully blunt with your Dad, Sam, and have a serious discusion about this. I’ve done this with my Father, but to not much avail, at least I tried. For what it’s worth, I’m proud of you Sam, you’ve accomplished some amazing feats and should be proud of yourself.

    Recommend: “The Art of Happiness.” Co-written by the Dalai Lama. Currently reading this one and has had some positive effects on these issues for me.

    Have a great weekend! Chris

    1. “Parental approval and acknowledgment feel like a primal need.” I think you are spot on here Chris.

      I have had candid conversations with him before about delivery, which is why I’m actually disappointed in him this time around for continuously ignoring what we’ve talked about. I do wonder whether it brings him joy or excitement to knock me down. It also gets me to think about Stealth everything where I should keep anything positive from him, b/c it may look like a duck flying through the air ready to be shot down.

      It’s hard to keep achievements from our parents, b/c I think we realize they are the one’s who should be most proud of us. They won’t be the ones secretly looking to undermine our efforts. But I’m gradually adjusting what I reveal, be it income, occupation, tennis record, etc so that he won’t have a chance to knock me anymore.

      I’m going to work on developing a rock bottom image, and deploying it if needed. When you see someone at the bottom, you can’t help but lend support no?

      Have a good weekend!

  28. Thanks for sharing such a great, raw (as indicated by others) post. I wish I had some words of advice for you. I don’t. I think parents nearly always have the child’s best intent at heart and do their best with whatever limited tools that they have. I guess that we have to love them where they are and maybe choose to put a bit more distance between us and them at times.

    I can tell you that my mom has “should’d” on me more times than I can recall… You ‘should’ do this or you ‘should’ do that. I can also tell you that I have should’d all over my adult son many times. I have caught myself many times. Lord knows how many times I have done it unknowingly.

    If you are a parent, please be careful not to duplicate the bad parts of what we learned from our parents. Many people will say ‘I would never do that to my kids’ yet many still do.

    I have had this conversation with my adult son many times after catching myself ‘shoulding’ on him. I back pedal, apologize, and ask permission to discuss alternatives or make suggestions about whatever it is I was ‘shoulding.’ In a broad sense, it is often related to where he could / should live, what he could / should do for a living, how to approach remaining student loan debt, etc.

    When I catch myself, I now try to ask permission to share an idea or alternative for consideration or discussion, instead of just telling him what he ‘should’ do.

    Good luck and thanks for the great info on your blog.

    1. Thanks for sharing Doug. I do believe my father has good intentions and doesn’t purposefully try and put me down. The delivery is just off, and I’ve told him this a couple times before and nothing has changed.

      I’ve got to accept that this is just the way he is, and I have. But this latest example really hit me because I worked w/ my designer so meticulously hard to smooth out all the wrinkles. We’re 95% of the way their, but his feedback was the exact opposite of what I was hoping for. But I should know with a default setting that he will always find the negative in the positive. That is just the way it is, and I have to be more accepting.

  29. What is it with dads and being so hard on their kids? One of my close friends doesn’t speak to her father at all anymore. When she was growing up he was so strict and critical of her all the time that it drove a big wedge between them.

    Once she started living on her own she decided she didn’t want any association with him anymore and cut off all ties. I’m not saying you need to go to that extreme, but you’re definitely not the only one who has a parent who sucks at being a father.

    I don’t know what your dads upbringing was like but he clearly sounds like he’s been miserable with himself for a long time. That’s the only way I can try to understand why someone would act like he does. Nice happy people don’t say stuff like that or constantly put others down.

    It’s so not good parenting to take out one’s own emotions on a child. It’s not the child’s fault the parent is miserable.

    Maybe your dad feels like he himself is a failure and thus has a complex that you somehow have to overcompensate for his own failures in life. Or perhaps he’s also jealous of everything you’ve been able to accomplish and is taking his jealousy out on you to try and make himself feel better. I don’t know.

    In any case, HE has issues not you! He seriously needs some parenting classes and some major self help or therapy. Do your best to shake it off and don’t feel like you still have to get his stamp of approval. Clearly he is not in touch with reality and doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.

    Some people have no sense of respect or how to communicate. Hopefully someday he will realize he’s acted like a complete asshole for a long time and needs to change!

    1. I need to have a heart to heart to understand more of his upbringing and pain points growing up to get some hints as to his predisposition.

      I knew his parents decently well and it didn’t seem like they were THAT tough on him, but hard to tell as he was already 35+ during the observed dynamic.

      His comments aren’t malicious, just very poorly delivered. I wonder if he just doesn’t have good communication skills.

      One of the outcomes I see is to just stop trying as much like with tennis so it doesn’t hurt as much the next time he cuts down my efforts. This is how I see things deteriorate. The other outcome is to just keep things hidden so it can’t be open for criticism.

  30. Writing helps me a lot as well. I’m glad you wrote this post. I’m sorry to hear your father is overly critical and not supportive. He obviously doesn’t realize how much you’ve accomplished and how hard it really is to do everything that you’ve done.

    I think the new design rocks! And the current font is sweet!! Don’t worry about changing anything. You know your site better than anyone and it should reflect YOU and what you like, not what someone else thinks or wants.

    Keep doing what you’ve been doing and don’t worry about your dad. He may never be able to change or realize how constantly critical he is. It’s HIS loss not yours. He’s foolish for acting and saying what he does.

    You rock Sam and we all love you! Keep up the awesomeness. You work harder, are funnier, and more positive than anyone I know. :)

  31. I wouldn’t sweat it too much, I think pretty much all parents do this to some extent. Hell, I too will probably subconsciously someday do it. I do believe they do it because they are worried about their kids failing on some level, and hopefully it is never malicious…but I do see your frustration for sure.

    My parents (80% dad 20% mom) gave me the huge guilt trip and told me I would be sorry for leaving the “big” company to go out and start my own thing. “Son…you’ll lose your pension and a great paying job you could have for life, don’t do it!” Ummm…well now that company went through bankruptcy, I would probably be making the same money I did 15 years ago and BTW there are no longer those sweet pensions that were unsustainable to begin with. Damn glad I made the decision I did. Then again 12 years ago when I bought my first large commercial real estate property it was the same thing…”it is too risky…you are going to lose all that money…I’m going to be the first to say I told you so”.

    Fast forward to today and they are a little humbled because my hard work and disciplined approach to work and investing has rewarded me with a nice life. They tell me every time they visit how proud of me they are…when they bring some of my extended family they always want me to take a field trip to drive by the properties and businesses so they can brag on me…I politely decline and suggest we fill a cooler and go for a boat ride instead.

    At the end of the day, I am sure your father is wildly proud of you…it just may be a few more years before he see’s the light like my parents did, I was about 40 when it all changed in their eyes.

    1. Thanks for the perspective. That’s great they tell you they are proud of you all the time!

      Ok, will wait until 40 and see what happens. My mothers has been verbally supportive. My father is supportive too, but he observes with a critical eye.

  32. Dee @ Color Me Frugal

    It’s amazing how many issues we have with our parents that can carry on well into adulthood, isn’t it? I’ve had similar struggles with my mother, but it’s more that I’ve often gotten the feeling that she doesn’t like me very much. Apparently I am a lot like my father, whom she divorced 30 years ago and has hated ever since. I’ve been struggling to come to terms with this and become a strong enough person to not care as much. But it’s hard. I think I’ll always care to some extent and it will always bother me somewhat. But I console myself by telling myself that I will work hard to make sure my own children never feel this way! There’s no way to change the past, but we can change the future.

    1. :( That is a tough one.

      I’m very intrigued by these relationship dynamics and why they happen. I’m already happy, and I just want my father to be happy. But in so many things he starts off with the negatives.

      I do wonder whether we are destined to become like our parents, at least in a little way.

    2. Dee, you just told my story! My mother only married my father because she was pregnant. She hated him and the child (me) reminded her of him. I found that moving as far away as possible from her helped immensely! I also came to the realization that no matter what I did or did not do or how perfect I could possibly be, she would NEVER be happy. She would be able to find fault in anything.

      I have struggled to ‘think first’ about what I said and how I said things to my own children, being careful to not sound the way my mother did to me. I haven’t been perfect but I vowed that the hatefulness will stop with me and NOT be passed on to my children.

      Sam, I appreciate your honesty in this post. It takes guts to put your feelings in print to be seen by the world!

      As for me, I would leave the ‘drive’ behind and choose the ‘loving parents’ any day of the week! What must that be like????? I will never know.

      Let’s all be kind to our children and one another, Brenda

  33. Nate @ TheyBuyTime

    Raw post brother; I love it!!

    I got off the hamster wheel of approval from my father a couple years ago. I realized that he was actually dealing with his own approval issues with his parents — and that it didnt matter what I accommplished — he would always withhold his approval as his parents did.

    Instead, my wife and I began building a life that WE could be proud of!! We also found a tight group of close friends who all cheer and support each others efforts!!

    Your journey isn’t over Sam — you have accomished so much it is amazing!!! If you never win his approval — I hope and pray you find peace with that. As the saying goes; we can’t win them all. You rock brother!!! Keep these super raw posts coming!!!

  34. Desipte his critical nature or perhaps somewhat because of it, your father contributed to engineering a highly skilled and successful son. Perhaps his point of view is that you should be more grateful for what he has given you and not focus on what he hasn’t given you. My parents were much more loving, but I am not as driven of a person. It’s my hope that parental acceptance isn’t contrary to challenging a child and that the two can coexist.

    1. Steve, I dont focus on what he hasnt given me as im grateful for the educational assistance and upbringing as I wrote in my previous post.

      Do you wish your parents were less loving so you could have turned out more driven?

      1. I certainly do wish my mom was more critical so that I would have grown up more driven. I was the spoiled, favored child and can only acknowledge now that I’m all grown up that I have very little discipline. My older sibling, on the other hand, who was the less favored, had it pretty hard growing up as my mother was critical of him all the time. Everything I did was “amazing,” while everything he did was kind of ignored. The result? He makes 6 figures and I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my life.

        I’m pretty sure your father knows you want that “good job, son” but he’s obviously a very smart man who knows how to build a smart, disciplined child.

        While I appreciate that my mother loved me and wanted to coddle me, I plan on parenting more like your father.

        1. Thanks for your thoughts. I think I’m leaning towards a little more hard love as well, with the exception that I’m going to show A LOT of soft love when my child does great. If all you get is one or the other, that’s no good.

          I’m curious to know how your brother feels about his tough love growing up even if he is making six figures. You think you can ask him and share his thoughts or have him read this post? B/c I guess he is me, and I wonder how others like me handle such situations.

          1. In my reading about parents, I have learned that “All-good children” (in the eyes of the parent) fear success. “All-bad children” fear rejection.
            Im a mother of 5 and my advice is: Please just be honest, respectful and honor your children.

        2. Why can’t it be possible to be proud of a child and simultaneously motivate them to work hard? Why does it have to black or white?

          I grew up with a dad that was extremely strict and a mom that completely spoiled me. Of course, they divorced each other when I was a child because of clashes in parenting styles and other reasons. On one hand, no matter how hard I worked, my dad would always see me as the worst person in the world. On the other hand, no matter how lazy I was, my mom would always see me as the best person in the world. I neither agree with my dad’s nor my mom’s parenting style. I believe that it is possible to compromise between the two.

          It is important to have a balanced view of your child. You have to be able to see both their strengths and weaknesses clearly at the same time.

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