My grandpa told my mom that she wouldn’t really be an adult until she turned 50. And when she turned 50 and joked with him that, finally, she was an adult, he told her that he had been wrong, and anyone who was 50 was still a kid. And, in a sense, he was right. She was still his kid.
The problem with this sort of attitude is that a number of adults internalize it. When they interact with their parents, they revert to childhood patterns.
Right now I have a friend, Bob, struggling with whether or not to accept his dad’s friend request on facebook. One of his worries is that his dad might see references to a favorite beer or other drink. Bob’s parents don’t drink and don’t want their children to drink (religious reasons), but Bob doesn’t share that viewpoint. He enjoys the local microbrews and craft beers. He has friends who are brewers. Bob is 35.
While it’s respectful that Bob doesn’t want to push his drinking in his parents’ faces, trying to hide it from them isn’t healthy or respectful. It mimics the behavioral patterns that they engaged in when he was an adolescent, and it assumes that his parents aren’t strong enough to accept his adult decisions, whether or not the agree with them.
So how do adults get past these patterns? How do we stop feeling like little kids when talking with our parents? Here are three suggestions to help. Keep in mind that breaking patterns isn’t easy, so these will be difficult for some people. And it takes time. You have to create these patterns in order to disrupt your old ones.
Parents are People
This is obvious, but it’s tough. As children, we often don’t consider that our parents are fully realized people. They’re just our parents. Even as adults, a lot of times we don’t bother learning who they are. It’s important to start thinking of your parents as more than just parents. They are people. Think of them that way.
Someone Treated Like a Friend May Become a Friend
Once you begin to think of parents as people, you can start treating them the way you treat your friends. Talk with them about more than just family history. Ask them about their interests. Do you know what they want to do with the rest of their lives? Find new common interests – things outside of what you did with them as a child (my sister and my mom just got back from celebrating Halloween in New Orleans, something that, as a child, I could never have imagined my mom doing).
You may not become best friends with your parents, and that’s fine. But treating them as friends should help you take your relationship to a more adult level.
Listen as an Adult
If you’ve read my other posts, you’ve probably figured out that listening is something I put a lot of stock in. So what do I mean by listen as an adult?
One of the patterns that’s hard to break is listening to our parents with the same mindset that we had when we were kids. This is the problem my friend Bob has when he worries about what his folks will say if they see him post something about drinking. We need to listen to our parents in the same way we listen to other adults we respect.
For instance, if one of Bob’s co-workers saw a post about a new drink he’d discovered and then told him that they wished he wouldn’t drink because they didn’t want him to go to hell, Bob would probably tell them that his belief system was different, that they were welcome to their beliefs, and that he would still continue drinking. He might even thank them for their concern, but he wouldn’t worry that his drinking would offend them. He’d recognize that they don’t have a right to dictate his behavior.
It’s harder to do this with your parents, but once you start, once you get in this habit, you can start to build a truly adult relationship with them
It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 38, having an adult relationship with your parents can be difficult. After all, they’ll always be your parents and you’ll always be their child. Learning to treat yourself and your parents as adults will help you build that relationship.