Some of us grow up with our parents as confidantes, taking part in every small struggle, Gilmore Girls-style; others have parental relationships involving more structured disclosure, where nobody knows everybody's business. But either way, chances are that, as you grow up, you'll have occasions where you feel you have to tell your parents something because, well, they're your parents, and don't they have a right to know? Well, it depends. The interesting bit about adulthood and parents is that their parental status no longer becomes as valid a reason for them to know your business; it becomes much more about healthy responses, helpful boundaries, and what will be best for you and them in the long run. There are some topics where the obligation to tell all doesn't exist.
Note that on no condition am I suggesting that these are things you shouldn't tell your parents. By all means, if you have a healthy, all-sharing relationship with your folks, let them into everything and support each other. If, however, there are certain parts of your life where their involvement complicates rather than aids, I'm here to reassure you that it's OK to draw the line. Parents are parents; they are not friends. They are people who have often invested a great deal in you and want to make sure you're OK, but their responses can make your life difficult, sometimes through no fault of their own.
If you don't want to discuss something and are hesitant about revealing that decision, learn a script to reinforce the boundary and explain your reasons if you want. But explaining isn't always necessary, either. If there's no way for you to communicate with them to get their responses to be more helpful (i.e. "Mom, the way you talk about that makes me feel XYZ"), setting up a No Go Zone is also a perfectly valid response. Don't use withholding as a weapon, but don't let the pure fact of parental status make you impart information that will cause drama and/or misery.
1. Your Mental Health Situation
I told my mother I had depression, and was yelled at for three hours about how I had "planned this" and "ruined their favorite restaurant for them". But even if your parents aren't as bizarrely awful as mine, and are in fact healthily supportive, your particular mental health status may be something you'd prefer to deal with by yourself. While it may be an excellent idea to share struggles with them if they can support you, there's no obligation for your intimate mental details to be part of their world. If it would cause stress and trouble that wouldn't do anything for your particular condition, feel free to leave it out.
2. Details About Your Finances
Parents can worry about your financial stability. It's often part of their modus operandi. But unless they're paying your bills or have some role of responsibility in your monetary position, there's no need for them to know everything that's happening in minute detail, particularly if money doubles as a method of control or measure of success in your family.
If you're in a position where you might need to ask them for help, or they're doing something to fund you, things become a bit trickier. Finances are a part of your life where you need to assert boundaries, as much as anything else. So work out what you're willing to share, and stick to it; make it clear what you don't want to discuss with them (like job hunts, saving for a mortgage, or stuff they tend to nag about) if you don't think they're going to be helpful.
3. Your Reproductive Timeline
They may want grandkids. They may decide that you can't have babies until you finish your PhD and get a six-figure pay check. Either way, they are entitled to their opinions, but they don't need to know what your plans are unless you decide to share them. You have control of your own womb, and while it may be an exciting thing to daydream about a future nursery, they ultimately don't need to access your thoughts on this, particularly if you're unsure or things are prone to change.
4. Your Plans For Career Advancement
What parents decide is a "good" job and what you actually want may be very different. And I'm not stereotyping about baby boomer generations and their obsession with stable 401k jobs, either; I have friends with high-earning banker careers whose parents are wondering when they'll "come to their senses" and open a small bohemian bakery where the staff wear a lot of hemp. This is part of a basic relationship issue with parents: if their expectations are invasive, even if well-intentioned, you are allowed to respond with reticence. "What happens next" conversations can make you feel pressured, anxious, and crushed by the weight of expectation, and if there's no way to redesign them, you can opt out.
5. Your Precise Location 24/7
If you're an adult, you don't need to be tracked. Helicopter parenting may be charming when it's a toddler in the playground, but it becomes a lot less sweet when your parents are blowing up your phone at irregular intervals past the age of 18. Getting to the root of what motivates this monitoring might help stem this, but they don't actually have the right to know what you're doing and where you are at all times. You aren't a CIA operative and they're not your handlers.
6. Your Personal Achievements
This is an interesting one. One of the basic cultural narratives we have about parents is that they revel in their children's achievements, and that's often true! But in some cases, that can be deeply unhealthy; in the case of my own parents, for example, achievements and gold stars have always been Really Big Deals, intimately tied to love and attention. If you're in that sort of bind, where a sparkly new promotion or bit of praise will get unhelpful responses (whether it's comparing you to other people, demanding more, or rating your worth based purely on your new Cool Thing), cutting off news is perfectly acceptable as well. Share if you want — but know you don't ever have to.
7. Your Relationship Status
Parents genuinely do not need to know if you're serious with that new girl or if the dude you really liked is being weird. They can know, but they don't need to. Your intimate romantic business is your own, and if they're allowed access to it, it's a privilege, not a right. Romantic relationships need to be separated from parental interference to be fully mature and healthy; your sexual and romantic identity requires boundaries, and if they can't be respected by your parents, they don't get to know.
8. Your Mistakes
OK, so you f*cked up. You over-spent, over-drank, fought with a friend, sent a rude email to the boss accidentally, lost your passport, whatever. Do parents need to know? Not necessarily.
In some cases telling them may be valuable; it could be an excellent opportunity for your parents to demonstrate that they still love and value you even when you don't do everything right. (Sometimes that isn't entirely clear.) But as an adult, it's also important to remember that difficulties don't need to be solved by your parents any more; if you choose to solve things yourself, you can. And that can be empowering. Even if they could be helpful, it can sometimes be an excellent idea not to run to them, and deal with the fallout on your own.
9. The State Of Your Relationships With Siblings & Family Members
If you've ever been part of a fraught family system with numerous fights and agendas, you're likely more of a diplomat than Ban-Ki Moon. But parents don't have an automatic right to know about your relationships and discussions with other members of your family purely because of their parental status. Status hierarchies within the family tend to become more flexible as children become adults, and that means your dealings with other family members can operate on your terms, rather than be dictated or overseen by parents. Straight-up vagueness is your friend if overt boundaries won't work; "oh, we chatted about this and that" is a good deflection technique.
Remember, you can, but you don't have to. That's the golden rule. Good luck!
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