5 Ways Parents and Adult Children Can Improve Their Relationship

4. Respect one another's boundaries.

Posted Nov 17, 2020

Relationships between parents and their grown kids can be incredibly meaningful when worked on intentionally. But too often, old habits of speaking and interacting stand in the way of parents and children forging and maintaining mutually fruitful relationships. Here are five ways to improve yours.

1. Speak to one another like adults.

Having spent decades in communication with each other, parents and adult children risk falling into age-inappropriate communication patterns. Adult children may lapse into speaking and acting younger than they are, particularly during disagreements. Parents, in turn, may lapse into speaking to adult children as though speaking to a child, making inappropriate demands or offering unsolicited advice. If this happens, parents and children can take a step back and shift into speaking more like adults. 

2. Take responsibility for the relationship.

Both parents and adult children hold responsibility for shaping, maintaining, and managing the relationship. That effort includes initiating contact, compromising and negotiating, and finding mutually enjoyable ways to connect. When a child or parent feels entitled to simply wait for the other to expend effort to build and maintain the relationship, resentment can build. 

 Ketut Subiyanto
Source: Pexels: Ketut Subiyanto

3. Learn constructive conflict.

Unhealthy conflict styles can calcify during childhood and feel hard to revise. Silent treatments, passive aggression, screaming fights, ignoring issues, and guilt trips are just some of the destructive patterns that adversely impact the relationship. Part of taking responsibility for the relationship is each party seeing their role in these conflict cycles and starting to observe how they might respond differently. The steps in these conflict dances can shift, but they won’t if the involved parties don’t make a concerted effort to be curious about why familiar arguments keep happening and resolve to learn new ways of being together. 

4. Respect one another’s boundaries.

Boundaries go both ways, and parents and children may both feel resentment when the other violates their boundaries. Parents must decide what sort of access adult children have to information and what level of support they are willing to provide. Adult children too, must decide what level of privacy and involvement they seek and accept from parents, particularly in the realms of career, relationships, lifestyle, and finance. If parents and children are looking to improve a struggling relationship, both can examine how well they do at respecting each other’s boundaries. 

5. Accept feedback.

Relationships strengthen when both parties can accept feedback about how the relationship feels. A parent might tell a child to call earlier in the evening, express frustration at the presence of phone use during in-person conversations, or indicate that they’d like their own life asked about during a conversation. An adult child, in turn, might tell a parent what conversations feel comfortable or uncomfortable or ask that a certain tone be exchanged for a different tone during conversation. Accepting feedback is a cornerstone of healthy relationship management, and it means accepting responsibility for one’s role in hurting or irritating another person.

Change Is Hard

All of these improvements require both parents and children to look at their relationships and ask themselves things like, “Is this working for me?” “What can I do to make this relationship work better?” and “Are there old ways of being together that we’ve outgrown?” It is much easier to maintain the status quo, even when it leads to frustration. Change is always the harder choice, but it is also the quickest way to greater relationship satisfaction.