by: E.B. Johnson
Parental relationships are dynamic and volatile things which undergo a number of changes over time. Even as we grow from child to adult, the bonds we share with our caretakers grow and transform too. What starts out as a simple and innocent bond can often turn into something far more complex and tricky to navigate. In order for us to stay connected to our parents, we have to let growth in and find better ways to understand one another along the path.
You can improve your adult child-parent relationship, but you’re going to have to put in a lot of time and energy. It can’t be done alone, though. Every healthy relationship has more than one side to it. If you truly want to transform the bonds that bind you and your parent or caretaker, then both of you need to take strides in changing the way you view one another and the way you communicate and level with each other.
We all grow up, and that’s okay.
Life is a chaotic and complicated journey. No matter how well we plan, practice, or prepare — things don’t always turn out the way we want to and plans change. That’s the nature of being human and being alive in this world. We are constantly encountering new ideas and experiences which cause us to grow and shift our perceptions of self and the world. We become more fully who we are meant to be every day, but that changes how we relate to others…our parents included.
Have you and your mother or father fallen off track? Do you disagree on everything and fight all the time? There are better ways to communicate and come to terms, but we have to commit to seeing one another as equals and we have to come to the table ready to tackle our personal responsibilities.
We all grow up. That’s okay. We are supposed to become someone different from the child that our parents raise, and they way we see one another is supposed to change. It’s all a natural part of the cycle, and it’s one that we have to embrace. If you are truly seeking to improve the relationship you share with your parents, then open up your heart and tap into your empathy and your acceptance.
How adult children and their parents become disconnected.
As adults, we don’t become disconnected from our parents by accident. It’s a process that happens as a result of critical faults. We are programmed to love our parents, but when they refuse to take responsibility or they disrupt our closest relationships — that love becomes harder to manage and maintain.
Refusal to take responsibility
No matter who we are, we are going to make mistakes in this life. This includes our parenting journeys, where we do the best we can to gift our children with a life that was better than our own. When we can’t apologize for getting things wrong, though, we allow our ego and pride to take precedent over our children. This leads to eventual resentment as the adult child grows into realization and cracks further begin to show.
Disrupting intimate relationships
A common disconnect that a lot of adult children experience with their parents that that of the relationship disrupt. Parents often can’t help but to get involved in the relationships of their children. It’s understandable. They want what’s best for their children, and it’s hard to stay out of it when you see problems that need to be addressed. Does your parent or caretaker get in between you and your partner or spouse? They don’t belong there and will cause more problems the longer they linger.
Blowing past boundary lines
Boundaries aren’t just for our friends and intimate relationships. They count when it comes to the adult relationships we build with our parents, too. Does your parent always blow past your boundary lines? Do they show no respect for your privacy either in word or in deed? We need to respect the boundaries of one another in order to establish connections that are full of trust and mutual respect and understanding.
Creating internal conflict
Our parents often know just which buttons to hit, and this often results in major conflict, upsets, and irritations that ripple throughout the family unit. Maybe they spend the holidays pitting the family against one another, or they create a lot of distrust by playing favorites between siblings. Instilling these types of toxic beliefs or habits can destroy your life, as well as those of grandchildren and anyone else your parent has access to.
Overbearing and manipulative
The overbearing and manipulative parent is one who can often find their relationships with their children fraught. They might hold their parenting over your head, or use it against you. When we are controlling, we don’t allow someone else to be who they want to be. We squash their authenticity and take away their joy. Manipulation, likewise, is uncomfortable and damaging. It pushes your child away and can make them feel resentful as they become more and more emotionally aware.
Constant criticism or judgement
Does your mother or father subject you to an endless stream of criticisms every time you’re around? Do they run down your choice of partner? Your job? The way you raise your family or pursue your future? In short, they don’t allow you to be yourself. They constantly try to tear you down or break you by making comparisons that are based on their imaginary perceptions of who they expected you to be. Behavior like this is toxic and pushes our adult children away, who move in the direction of their happiness and people who show them more support and compassion.
The best ways to improve the relationship you share with your parents.
You don’t have to settle for a subpar relationship with your parents. If they are equally committed to improving things, you can get things back on track and find a way to establish a connection that is mutually respectful though not a mimic of the perfect, “Leave it to Beaver” lifestyle. Our adult child-parent relationships don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be better.
1. Take some personal responsibility
As our relationships with our parents grow and change, we can find ourselves injuring one another on both sides of the line. In order for us to get back on track, everyone has to admit to their wrongs and strive to do better. Both parties need to take responsibility for the parts they’ve played in the background, or there can be no finding a middle way. Admit your mistakes and then allow your parents to do the same. Then you can find forgiveness.
Let your parents take responsibility for what they got wrong, but look for your own faults and missteps along the way. Were there better ways in which you could have communicated your needs? Were there better ways in which you could have stood your ground?
Be brutally honest with yourself and brutally honest with your parents. Let them know how certain actions made you feel and explain how their efforts have affected your life. Don’t shut out their perspective either, though. Even if one party carries more of the blame than the other, there are always improvements that both sides can make. Concede where you can and encourage your parents to do the same. Maybe then, you can find a common ground.
2. Handle things respectfully as adults
Adult child-parent relationships are complicated because of the strange dynamic change they undergo. In the early stages, you are completely dependent on your parents for everything. To learn what you need to learn, you have to focus and respect them; you have to listen when they try to teach you and demonstrate new skills. Over time, though, we become less dependent and more equalized with our parents.
Both you and your parents need to accept that all parties involved are adults now. Speak to one another like you are. Don’t talk down to one another and don’t be condescending or controlling. Approach one another as respectfully and equitably as you would a co-worker. After all, you are working toward similar goals.
You both need to have respect for one another, and respect for the fact that you have your own desires, wishes, and needs. Coming from different perspectives, you’re going to see and experience the world in very disparate ways. Handle those differences and divides with maturity and compassion. Believe it or not, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about working these things out.
3. Construct more positive feedback
To fix the issues that are going on in the relationship you share with your parents or caretakers, you’re going to have to sit down and talk to one another face-to-face (or as close as it is safe to do). That’s not always as straightforward as it seems, though. For us to get our point across in a way that is both palatable and effective, we have to figure out how to construct more positive feedback.
Accept feedback, but also find better ways to get your point across without fanning the flames or irritating things further. There’s always a kinder way to say what you want to say. Open your heart, but don’t seek to get “even” or to level out some unjustified sense of revenge.
Find healthier ways to disagree with one another. Study the art of constructive conflict. Give them your perspective and then question theirs. Really seek to understand things from their angle. Don’t use blaming language, try to keep it as neutral as possible and focus on what you know best — your experience. You don’t know what’s inside their head, so don’t make assumptions. Listen to one another and keep an open mind.
4. Toe boundary lines more mindfully
We all have boundary lines, and these boundary lines are important in helping us to protect ourselves and build up the foundations of our relationships. When we set boundaries, we decide what we will and will not accept in our lives. This includes how others behave around us, and how they treat us too. It’s not just limited to friends and intimate partners, though. Our boundary lines are especially important in repairing the bonds with our parents.
Spend some time setting your own boundary lines; but also ensure that you’re respecting their boundaries too. What do you need from them in means of behavior and consideration? What are you unwilling to accept from them as active members of your life and the family that you’re building?
It’s important to define boundaries for what they really are — protection, not punishment, and not a means of control. Our boundaries shouldn’t be used to control the behavior of others. They should be used only to communicate what we will and will not accept in our environment. Figure out what behaviors and support systems really meant the most to you. Prioritize your needs. Then draw the line and communicate you’re not willing to settle for less.
5. Leave behind preconceived notions
One of the most toxic elements that gets in the way of a healthy relationship with our parents and caretakers is our preconceived notions. This includes unrealistic expectations and even the judgements we build up against one another. All of these things keep us from seeing our true selves, and they prevent us from seeing who the other person really is too. We have to drop these toxic reservations in order to connect authentically.
Forget who you thought the other person was going to be. Accept your parents for who they are in the moment and know that you have no right to tell them to be someone different. We can all be the person we want to be. We have a right to hold whatever beliefs we want to hold, and whatever needs that align with our values and our morals.
We make it hard to connect, though, when we become so rigid that these ideas take up all the room in our lives. We make it impossible to stay true to one another when we start to put our beliefs before the humanity of the children that we raise. At the end of the day, we’re all trying to build better lives for ourselves — we just disagree on how to get there. Tap into your acceptance and then follow that through with whatever organic action is right for you.
Putting it all together…
The adult child-parent relationship is a tricky one, and one with a lot of moving pieces. It can be difficult to stay connected through the changes, and sometimes it proves to be impossible altogether. When we can repair the relationship, though, it’s important that we do so with compassion, understanding, and a willingness to work together as a team.
Start taking personal responsibility for your mistakes and encourage your parents to do the same. In order to find middle ground, we both have to be willing to work and admit to the things we get wrong. Come together and communicate honestly and with respect. You’re both adults now. Act like it. Be just as respectful as you would be to a coworker. Make room for one another’s ideas and feelings, accommodate where you can but don’t compromise yourself. We all have a right to be who we want to be. Construct more positive feedback and approach one another with understanding and empathy. Toe boundary lines more mindfully and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself when you feel like your parents are crossing the line. Above all else, though, drop your judgements. We are who we are, and only we have the power to change that. Stop trying to change your parents and try to reconnect with them in new ways instead.