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Why People Become Cynics: I’ll Show My Parents

Here’s a simple truth: the greater the cynic, the greater the likelihood they hate their parents. At least, that’s what it seems like with the cynics I know. I’m guessing you agree.

Beyond the simple truth, things get complicated. Does hating your parents cause cynicism, or does being a cynic cause you to hate your parents?

Option 1: Hating your parents causes cynicism

Some people seem to become cynics because of their parents. These parents usually have one thing in common–they’re crazy strict about something.

It could be anything. I have friends whose parents insisted on personally approving the church they attended, even after they got married, graduated from college, and moved across the country. I have another friend whose parents shunned her because they wanted to personally choose her husband before she started dating.

I can’t blame these kids for feeling cynical.

There are less extreme examples. Depending on region and era, it could be anything from drinking to tattoos, from roller skating to moving picture shows. The particulars change, but the essence is the same: parents insist their children live by strict rules for no clear reason. And if their children ever break the rule, they freak out.

Option 2: Cynicism causes parent-hating

If any parents read the last section and are fretting about driving their kids to cynicism: relax.

Sometimes kids become cynics even when they have good parents.

Usually, the kids have always wanted out of evangelicalism as soon as possible. So they go through the religious motions in high school. Then they go to college, eat up whatever their professor or favorite avant garde poet says, and concoct unfair charges against their parents.

Parents, I can’t emphasize this enough: you can do all the right things and your kid might still turn into a cynic. The kid is his or her own person.

And sometimes that person decides to be a cynical jerk.

Option 3: The first two options feed into each other.

These options aren’t mutually exclusive. Maybe some extreme cases are exclusively one or the other. But for most kids, it’s a little bit of both.

I know this because it happened to me. Let me walk you through the steps of my cynicism toward my parents:

  • Step 1. My parents are great and love me very much, but they have a few rules that, towards high school, I view as arbitrary and legalistic.
  • Step 2. I go off to college and learn arguments to confirm the rules are arbitrary and legalistic. This leads me to explore more things my parents might be wrong about.
  • Step 3. I return home and–chest puffed and nose raised–share my newfound wisdom with my parents. Worried that their baby is wandering, they try guilting me into changing my mind.
  • Step 4. Frustrated at my parents’ attempts to hold me back, I decide to show them up by learning even more arguments against them, and become even more cynical.
  • Step 5. This worries my parents even more, so they ramp up the guilting and worrying, and the cycle repeats.

This is a bleak place to end, but it will get better. I have a great relationship with my parents now 1.  In the next posts, I’ll give advice to both parents and kids on how to break the cycle.

In the meantime, which option is the most common: Option 1, Option 2, or Option 3?


1  I know you are looking for this sentence, Mom. 🙂

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