Of course you love your parents — that’s a given. But at times, maintaining the bond between parent and adult child can be as challenging as that between parent and teenager.
These days, both of you are confronting new challenges — retirement or career changes, health issues, concerns about the future. It’s to be expected these issues will affect your relationship, but as you change, so, too, must your relationship with your parents change.
Part of that evolution requires forging a new relationship, one between mature adults rather than “parent” and “child.” You already have the basic underpinnings — love and shared memories. Add mutual respect and common interests and you may find a more fulfilling relationship with your mother and your father than any you’ve had since childhood.
Of course, some things never change — Mom might still offer her unsolicited opinions on your weight and wardrobe, and Dad might still only start a conversation if it has to do with your car. The key is to love the best parts of ?them and learn to accept the rest. Here are 14 Stealth Healthy ways to forge an adult relationship with your parents and enhance what might not always have been the strongest of bonds.
1. Think of them as fellow adults, rather than as your parents. If your parents still treat you like a kid, despite the fact that you have kids of your own, you may have to help them let you “grow up.” “Feeling and acting like an adult around your parents is the cornerstone of having an adult relationship with them,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist in Long Beach, California, and author of It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction and The 10 Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make Before 40. “If you treat them as fellow adults, they’re more likely to treat you like one.” A simple way to do this is to ask yourself a question before each interaction with them: “How would I act in this situation if Mom or Dad was a friend or an acquaintance?” Then behave accordingly.
2. Talk to your parents as friends. If your parents still treat you like you’re 6 or 16, it may feel funny to give up your role as the child. A good start is to model your conversations with Mom and Dad on those you have with friends, says Dr. Tessina. “Don’t limit your conversations strictly to family memories, or gossip about family members, or your personal life,” she advises. There’s a whole wide world out there — why not explore it with Mom and Dad as you would with a friend? Current events, sports, work, local neighborhood issues, or national politics (if you happen to share the same views) are all fair game.
3. Keep your sense of humor. When you’re dealing with your parents, laughter can be a lifesaver — both to help you handle the stress of dealing with sometimes crotchety individuals and to help you bond together. Tell a few jokes you know they’ll enjoy, share some comics from the paper or e-mail with them, watch the Letterman show together. If you can laugh together, you’re doing okay.
4. Tell your parents what bothers you. If you love your mom and dad but they drive you batty, your resentment can eat away at your relationship. So don’t seethe silently. Communicate, with gentleness and respect. For instance, if your mom keeps calling you at work, tell her that your boss is starting to notice and, while you love talking to her during the day, it’s beginning to affect your job performance. Arrange a call you can both count on at a mutually convenient time.
5. Don’t ask your parents’ advice or opinion unless you really want it. Sometimes, asking for a parent’s advice is really a way of asking for Mom or Dad’s approval. If that’s the case, remember that you’re an adult now, perfectly capable of choosing a living room carpet or a car on your own. If your parents are bent on offering you advice whether asked or not, smile, nod, and take it in (who knows — it may actually be helpful!). Focus on the fact that they have your best interest at heart. Then make your own choice — without guilt.
Discover and Rediscover
6. Don’t ask your parents to help straighten out your latest personal or financial crisis. While you may depend on their emotional support, relying too much upon their resources, rather than your own, can lead to mutual resentment, says Dr. Tessina. So get used to solving your problems, big or small, on your own. You’ll be amazed how good doing it all by yourself can make you feel — and what a positive effect it can have on your relationship with your parents.
7. Create opportunities for exploring and uncovering memories. If your parents are older, look through old scrapbooks with them, asking them for stories about the people in the photos. “We help our parents discover the meaning in their lives by encouraging them to talk about their accomplishments, the high points in their lives, and the joys and sorrows they have experienced,” says Tom Swanson, Ph.D., director of support services education at VistaCare, a hospice care provider in Scottsdale, Arizona.
8. Help your parents preserve their memories on video, audiocassette, or in a scrapbook. The finished product will not only be a testament to a renewed closeness between you, but also provides a wonderful legacy.
9. Express your appreciation for all your parents have done for you. Yes, Mom may be a buttinsky, but she always makes your favorite Christmas cookies. Dad is a bit of a stuffed shirt, but just the other day, he came to your rescue when your car died at the mall. The point is, your parents still do things for you that deserve your notice — and gratitude.
10. Rediscover and share mutual interests. When you were a kid, did you and your dad share a passion for a particular football team? Did you and your mother spend time each summer canning tomatoes? Make these happy memories the foundation for new, shared activities.
11. Be honest about who you are and what you want. Maybe there are things about your growing up that your parents regret. But as long as you don’t regret it, they have to adjust. Be clear about who you want to be and help your parents accept you on your terms.
12. Look for common activities. Baking, shopping, hiking, skiing, carpentry, etc. At any age, sharing a common task or activity, and the stories it engenders, is a great way to build closeness.
13. Do not allow them to channel guilt at you. If your parents are the type to complain about you never calling, never visiting, forgetting an uncle’s birthday, not sending enough pictures, or whatever irks them that day, don’t take the bait and feel guilty — unless you honestly regret the oversight. In which case, apologize immediately and seek a way to make amends. Otherwise, let it roll off your back. You have no obligation to play parent-child guilt games. You are a mature, independent adult, and act on your own volition.
14. Grant them their independence too. Sometimes it’s the grown-up kid who doesn’t want to cut the nurturing relationship off. If you are past 25 and still find it necessary to talk to Mom every night, or immediately turn to your dad for a house repair rather than your spouse, or automatically assume your parents will baby-sit the children whenever you need to be out, then you may be the problem, not your folks. They deserve freedom too.