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An Open Letter From an Adult Child to Their Parents

We never outgrow needing to be accepted and validated.

Key points

  • Even as adults, we need the acceptance and approval of our parents. We want them to continually be proud of us; that feeling never vanishes.
  • When we're criticized by our parents, it often makes us feel useless and worthless instead of evoking in us the desire for change.
  • A healthy parent-child dyad necessitates both parent and child accepting responsibility of past and present disappointments and mistakes.

I took a poll of 50 adults and asked them to write down the one thing they would want their parents to know. They had an opportunity to have either one or both parents in mind and could write whatever they felt—whether it be positive or negative. Here is a letter with the culmination of feedback.

Dear Mom and/or Dad,

I love you. I don’t always like you, but I always love you. As an adult, I am aware of my judgments of you and your judgments toward me. Some of my judgments are remnants of the past, and some of them circle back to behaviors in the present. Just as you want to be proud of me, it is also important for me to be proud of you. I want a parent I can look up to and respect.

It hurts when you react out of frustration and anger toward me. Even as an adult, I need your acceptance and approval. I just want to continually make you proud of me. That feeling never fades. Please take notice of my strengths and positive characteristics. Speak of those, too, rather than mostly focusing on what is wrong or not right with me.

When you criticize me, out of love, you say, because you worry about me, want to protect me, or want better for me, it chips away at my core and makes me feel useless and worthless. Instead of resulting in me changing, it does the opposite and makes me feel insecure, self-conscious, and like I want to rebel and fight back.

You sometimes have preconceived ideas about the way I should think, feel, and act. It is disappointing when you compare me to other people. I am my own person. I worked so hard at getting here. I continue to change every day. Ask me about what I take pride in, what I strive for, and what compels me. Please commit to getting to know and understand me as I evolve.

Please respect my individuality and independence and enable me to find my own way—whether or not you approve of me, share my values, or agree with my decisions. If I fail or fumble, trust that I will learn from it and will be all the better for it. Have confidence in me and convey that you do by letting me make my own decisions and mistakes.

I need to hear you express how much you love and care about me. Just thinking it or assuming I know it isn’t enough. It is important that you are explicit about why you’re proud of me, making a note of what I accomplished and why you care about me.

I still need your acknowledgment and admiration as an adult: I have the inherent need to be noticed and adored by you. I want to feel like I am a major priority in your life. That most of the time, I come first, and your love for me is unconditional and enduring.

I need for you to periodically check in on me and intently listen to me, even if you don’t agree with or have negative feelings about what I’m saying. It really hurts when you discount my feelings or suggest what I may be feeling. I think how I think and feel how I feel. It just is. I am different than you. I wish you were more open to seeing and thinking about things more flexibly.

Please notice when I’m not feeling and acting like myself. At times, when I come home or visit with you, I automatically regress and feel like my old child self. Also, as an adult, I have many responsibilities that I’m juggling. I sometimes get overwhelmed and feel befuddled.

There is usually a very good reason for my reactions. Instead of judging and instantly reacting to me, ask me if I am OK. If you are caring and patient with me, I am more likely to revert to my genuine self and share with you instead of pulling away.

I need you to accept personal responsibility for the mistakes you made. I know no one is perfect, but I was negatively impacted by some of those mistakes. When you get defensive, it makes me feel invalidated and like you are dismissive of me and my feelings. I know we cannot go back in time and redo the past, but I need to feel safe and secure that I will not be hurt in the same way again and that you will do whatever is in your power to ensure my security.

I know I have made mistakes too. Please do not throw those in my face. We are both growing and evolving and need to take personal responsibility, but it is not helpful for us to stay stuck in the past. It does not help us personally and further creates distance in our relationship.

In the present, we have to readily be able to look at ourselves and apologize when we hurt one another. It may not necessarily make sense to each of us why we think, feel, or react in the way we do, but we can seek to understand and have compassion for the other's position. We both deserve to be heard, validated, and respected.

Thank you for teaching me valuable life lessons. I learned through modeling your behavior, through what you personally taught me, and through seeing and experiencing what did not work for you and deciding to do things differently for myself. I have gratitude for all these lessons because they formed me into the person I am today. Thank you for influencing my life and for your willingness to read this letter so that our relationship can continue to evolve and grow.

Love,

Your child

Here is an Assessing Your Needs Guided Meditation led by me.

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