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.