While it is normal for parent-child relationships to be shaky during the years of adolescence, the conflicts and strife tend to peter out once a child becomes an adult. After all, young adults are mature enough to understand what their parents have gone through by raising them.
However, it’s not always a smooth transition, studies show that there are still large numbers of parents and their grown up offspring who don’t get along. For a lot of families, parent-child conflict persists until adulthood and sometimes isn’t ever resolved at all. It is a sad situation and often it can seem that a resolution is simply unattainable.
While it may look hopeless, you should not despair. If both parties make efforts to patch up the relationship, problems can eventually be resolved. Here are some strategies to help your relationship with your parents grow and mature.
Come to terms with your childhood and accept reality
You should accept that your parents, like all of us, are flawed. They are human beings with their own quirks, eccentricities and shortcomings. You may question their parenting style and believe they could have, and should have, done many things differently while raising you. They probably feel the same way about their own parents.
Emotional maturity requires that we come to terms with and accept our childhood disappointments. Blaming parents for troubles in adulthood may be understandable but it’s not productive and will only keep you rooted in the past and feeling resentful. While you may feel justified in blaming your parents for their actions and decisions during your childhood, the truth is only you can change your life now.
There are very few, if any, perfect parent-child relationships. If your relationship is not all that you would like it to be, what can you do to change it? Are your expectations for your parents reasonable or are you setting yourself up for disappointment? What role do you expect them to play? Do you expect them to be your best friend and someone you can share anything with? Should they be able to understand and support everything you do? Do you expect them to drop everything when you tell them you need them, or know what you need without you having to verbalize it?
Can you accept what they have to offer you? What you gain from your parents is probably all you’re going to get, and you should embrace what they have to offer. For example, just because they can’t understand why you would quit a high-paying job to go traveling, doesn’t mean they love you any less.
Rather than create a role for your parents to fill, acknowledge and appreciate what they are contributing in their own way to the relationship. If you have an idealized image of what your parents should be, you will never appreciate the reality of what they are now and this can really harm your relationship with them.
View the relationship from their perspective
It may also help if you try to look at your relationship from their own perspective. You want them to be perfect; however, are you the perfect child? Did you cause sleepless nights when you decided to run away? Or maybe you put undue stress on them when you dropped out of school for no reason at all?
Maybe you’re not the perfect child they hoped for – but they still love you! How great is that?
Treat them as fellow adults
One of the best ways of improving your relationship with your parents is by seeing them as they are now: fellow adults. Try to stop seeing them as the people who raised you and whom you may perceive to have caused you damage while growing up. If every time you see them you act like a child (e.g., not talking to them, acting sullen, seeking approval) they will be far more likely to treat you as one.
Be an adult with them. Condition yourself to treat them as you would treat, say, a neighbor or a friend. Part of treating your parents as fellow adults is to let them live their own lives. They want to go around the world? Fine. Don’t tell them they’re too old for it or that they shouldn’t sell their house to fund their travels. Grant them their freedom and independence, they have earned it.
Create new memories with them
As well as treating your parents as fellow adults, you can really help your relationship if you create new memories with them. Find out what their interests are now and do them together if you find something you both enjoy. You could cook together or perhaps go hiking or fishing. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you share a common activity or interest. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that you enjoy your parents’ company more as fellow adults than when you see them purely as ‘your parents’.
Another thing to bear in mind is that when you do spend time together, avoid the temptation to only talk about the family. Explore other topics of conversation; from current events and travel, to sports and the neighborhood. Religion and politics can be thorny issues, though, so it might be best to avoid them unless you happen to share the same views!
Communicate, communicate, communicate
When you were younger, you probably didn’t talk to your parents much because you were sure “they didn’t understand.” While they may not be aware of what you are currently going through, they’re your parents and they care for you. Try not to lose sight of the fact that they were also your age once, so there’s a very good chance they really do understand – or at the very least can empathize with you.
In order to really improve your relationship you need to communicate with them. Tell your parents what’s bothering you. What don’t you like about how they act with you? Don’t sulk, don’t withdraw; act as a responsible adult and let go of that resentment within you. Let them know what you think and what you feel, they may just surprise you with their reactions.
Let your parents know who you are and what you want in life. They may be acting in a certain way towards you because they’re concerned that you don’t know what you’re doing. By making them aware of the fact that you are in charge of your life, they may just back off and start treating you as an adult too.
Despite any efforts made, remember that parents will always be parents. They may find it hard to let go of that role even though you’re already an adult. If they slip and treat you like a child again (e.g., telling you what to do), keep your sense of humor. It’s useless getting angry, instead firmly reiterate what you want to do and leave it at that.
Accept who your parents are and gradually they will learn to accept who you are too. If you are looking for advice on how to improve your relationship with your parents, or your children, contact us today – we are here to help.