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How Parents and Adult Children Can Save Their Relationship

7. Does this feel like an adult relationship?

Key points

  • The relationship between parents and adult children suffers when the relationship fails to evolve.
  • All family members can take the time to assess what is and isn't working in the relationship.
  • Calm, open communication can go a long way to shifting relationship dynamics.
Pexels: Robert Stokoe
Source: Pexels: Robert Stokoe

The relationship between parents and adult children should reflect not only the bond of parent and child, but also everybody’s status as an adult. Some relationships between parents and adult children suffer because the parents and their children never stop to make sure the relationship has evolved to reflect their adulthood, instead relying on dynamics that solidified when the children were young. When that happens, goodwill erodes and everybody feels dissatisfied.

The idea of taking a conscious step back to assess the relationship’s health may not occur to adult children and their parents. For many of my adult therapy clients, the idea that they get a say in the relationship with their parents feels revolutionary. They have adapted to their parents’ wishes without stopping to notice how the relationship makes them feel and whether it works for them, too.

Likewise, it may not occur to parents to check in with adult children about the health of the relationship unless things really fall apart. A little intentionality can go a long way.

Make the Implicit Explicit

Adult children and parents can build a healthier relationship by asking themselves questions like:

  1. Does this feel like an adult relationship?
  2. What parts of this relationship may need revising?
  3. What kinds of conversations do I love having with my parent/child?
  4. What kinds of conversations and activities make me uncomfortable?
  5. When do I feel really close to my parent/child?
  6. When do I feel distant from my parent/child?
  7. If I could change one thing about my relationship with my parent/child right now, it would be...

Create New Terms

The answers to these questions may illuminate the best and most challenging parts of the parent/child dynamic. Once each person has noticed what is and isn’t working, families are tasked with openly and honestly communicating their needs to one another and negotiating new terms for the relationship. Requests for change may sound like:

  • “Dad, I really like it when you ask me how work is going and engage with me about my job.”
  • “Mom, I don’t care to speak about my dating life anymore. Please don’t ask again.”
  • “Alex, I love going to baseball games with you and realize we haven’t done it in a while.”
  • “Honey, it feels like you never ask me how I’m doing. I’d love for you to check in with me when we talk on the phone.”
  • “I feel like we don’t talk often. I know we’re all busy, but can we talk about how to make that happen more often?”

How to Have Tough Conversations

Having these conversations may be uncomfortable, but they can be very effective. To maximize that effectiveness, family members can think both about what they want to say and how to communicate those points calmly and gently. It may help to notice and connect with one another not only about the parts of the relationship that need work, but also the most fulfilling parts. Family members should work hard to both provide and receive uncomfortable feedback. Families thrive when they can speak in nuanced ways, maintain a sense of humor, and offer to hear how they themselves can improve the relationship.

When parents and children take the time to examine their relationship and communicate their needs, they upset the status quo and sometimes, all involved parties in the process. But the short-term discomfort makes way for greater long-term harmony.

Facebook image: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

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