Day 18 – How to have an adult relationship with your parents

One of the hardest realities to face and deal with as a 20-something is the fact that family dynamics inevitably change. And although it’s actually quite healthy, it can be excruciatingly painful too.

When I was in my 20’s I faced the harsh fact that I was way too dependent on my parents. I struggled to make any decision for myself and when I did, just knowing that they may disagree ripped me apart inside. I’ll never forget when I started realizing that I wanted to leave my cushy job in the entertainment industry. My parents didn’t think I should and it took everything in me to try and convince them it was a good decision. I’ll never forget sitting at my computer one weekend and typing out a long letter trying to explain how I felt and going on and on about all the reasons that leaving would be a wise choice. I was never able to convince them and it really caused a rift in our relationship for a while.

What I now realize is that although I still, at age 32, love to make them proud (and especially love to make decisions they agree with), I still have to follow my own path. Not only is the world different than it was when they were my age, but I am also a totally different person with different goals, dreams and plans for the future. I will never be satisfied simply trying to please them 24/7. No one can be happy trying to live out someone else’s expectations!

There are so many ways we can deal with these kinds of disagreements and varying perspectives. We can totally cutoff our parents and move across the country (or world) vowing never to speak to them again! Or, we can remain close (physically and emotionally), consulting them as we take each step and ensuring that their agreement and support follow us wherever we go. Or a third option, and the hardest might I add, is to remain in close contact with our parents and yet continue to separate to the degree that we can confidently make our own choices in life. Like I said, this is much easier said than done.

We need to be able to recognize the value our parents add to our lives…

To begin with, you know the whole “with age comes wisdom” concept? Well, there’s some truth to that! Picture a big sheet of paper taped up to a wall. On the paper is a timeline drawn horizontally stretching from one end to the other. We all have the ability to see just a portion of the paper; up to our own age but not beyond that. Our parents have some years on us and therefore a broader perspective on life’s timeline. We can learn a lot from them.

They have a vested interest in our success and happiness. I don’t have children yet but I know many people who do. From what I can gather, the second you see your child you love them. They do nothing at first (besides, eat, sleep and poop). They have nothing to give or offer the world; it’s just take, take, take. And yet, they are deeply loved. Our parents have known and loved us since birth. Although they may disagree with us at times, they want to see us happy.

All that to say, as we change, our relationships evolve as well. We don’t have the same needs as we did when we were children. We have the capacity to give, share and contribute. If we can learn to adapt to these changes, we’ll develop a whole new kind of relationship with our parents… an adult relationship.

How do you adapt?

1) Speak your mind, from one adult to another. Don’t yell. Don’t stomp your feet (a personal favorite of mine as a kid). Don’t slam the door as you leave. Speak to your parents as you would any other adult in your life. Describe how you’re feeling and listen to their point-of-view.

2) Be patient. Your parents will always be our parents. They spent considerably more time giving you advice than not, so cut them some slack! They need to adjust too!

3) If you want to be treated like an adult, act like one! Don’t expect your parents to give you money or do your laundry for you. If they offer, that’s one thing; I think many parents enjoy helping their kids out. But don’t expect to be treated like an adult if you’re stilll acting like a teenager.

To read more about this new stage, check out USA Today article, “Adult Kids and Their Children: Handle With Care”. The author of the article interviews Jane Isay, who wrote the book Walking on Eggshells to help parents and adult children better understand each other. She offers some practical advice and explanations so that parents and adult children no longer feel so alone as they try to figure out what their relationship will look in this new stage.

** Quick Disclaimer: There are situations where it is actually healthier to separate from your family… at least for a period of time, if relational dynamics are having detrimental effects on your physical or emotional well-being. If you feel that might be the case for you, please contact me or another therapist/life coach to sort through what you’re experiencing.

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