Magazine article Work & Family Life

An Adult Child's Guide to a Peaceful and Friendly Relationship with Your Parents

Magazine article Work & Family Life

An Adult Child's Guide to a Peaceful and Friendly Relationship with Your Parents

Article excerpt

I've begun to realize that my mother is just a person, not the superpower she presented herself to be - and what I saw as a child and even as a young adult in my 20 's.... I'm learning more about my parents as people now that they don't "parent" as much.

Recognizing that they are like everyone else - human beings with flaws as well as virtues - helps adult children change the way they relate to their parents so they can become more like friends, share their lives as grownups and enjoy each other more.

In talking to more than 150 adults from ages 27 to 55, I was surprised by how much they wanted to forge stronger bonds with their parents and find ways to relate more like peers. Aware that their time with parents is limited and precious, they wanted to get to know and understand them better.

They're still your parents

Achieving a more peerlike relationship with your parents requires attitude adjustments and new groundrules, but some things don't change. After all these years, parents can still find ways to throw you off balance and resurrect old doubts. They're your biggest fans and harshest critics - and you continue to want their approval, no matter how old, independent or successful you are. In short, your parents' opinions remain extremely important.

Just keep your expectations realistic. Having a respectful, congenial relationship doesn't mean you will never disagree again. A friend cannot fulfill every need and, even among the best of friends, disagreements arise. This is especially true with your mother and father. While differences can threaten to dissolve a relationship, a strong friendship - like the one you have the power to develop with your parents - will most likely survive and, as time goes by, become even stronger and closer.

Becoming more like peers

Whether you get along fairly well with your parents on the whole or have some difficulty, you will find new ways to connect once you develop a more friend-like relationship with them. It may evolve into a warm intimate friendship or something more casual. But, as with peer friendships, adult children and parents have to make an effort to make the relationship fulfilling. Here are some principles to help you and your parents become, and remain, supportive, loving allies.

LET GO OF THE OLD STUFF. Forget the mistakes your parents made (or you think they made) when you were growing up. Sometimes it can be easier to fault parents for your own unhappiness or shortcomings than to admit to yourself that you also made mistakes and are accountable for your own behavior and disappointments. Consider that when a friend upsets or hurts you, if you value the friendship, you forgive that person, or at least tuck the incident away, so you can preserve what's most important in what you have together.

ADDRESS NEW HURTS PROMPTLY. Small rebuffs such as an insensitive remark about a meal you prepared or a complaint about your holiday plans with your inlaws can create riffs in a relationship, but they can be overcome. When a new offense occurs, explain to your parents how it upset you, and ask them to do the same with you. Look through a long-term lens: Life is too short to...

ACCEPT YOUR PARENTS AS THEY ARE. Rebecca wishes that she and her mother could talk more about their feelings, but her mother just doesn't "get close" in that way. So they discuss more superficial matters such as clothing and store sales: "She's a good person," Rebecca says. "We're close because I'm her only daughter and I have daughters of my own, not because we confide in each other and share our feelings. …

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