As you likely already know, the whole parent/child dynamic is a notoriously difficult one. That's why most of us do whatever we can to avoid making things more stressful, or more awkward. And yet it definitely still happens. There are quite a few habits that can damage the relationship with your parents, and we all engage in them to one degree or another, whether we mean to or not.
That's just the nature of having parents and being a grown up and trying to get your parents to accept that you're a grown up. We want to ask them for advice, but we don't want to be treated like children. And they want to lend us money and send groceries, but they also want us to stand on our own two feet.
It's a tricky dynamic to navigate, but the best place to start is by establishing some boundaries. "Having solid boundaries is the basis for any healthy relationship, and parent-child dyads are no different," author Stephanie O'Leary, PsyD, PC tells Bustle. "Maintaining healthy boundaries means that both parties can tolerate difference of opinion while knowing there is a strong foundation of love and respect that will persist regardless of the topic at hand."
It can take a while to build up trust and a respectful, real adult relationship, but it's totally worth the effort. Read on for some habits to avoid, if you want to create a great relationship with your parents.
1. Looking For Their Constant Approval
If you constantly call your parents looking for approval for things like career goals and relationship choices, do yourself a favor and stop it right now. "Constantly seeking approval can be exhausting for parents and can set you up to breed resentment in the long-run," O'Leary says. Your life is totally up to you now, and I'm sure your parents just want you to confidently do whatever it is that makes you happy.
2. Spending Too Much Time With Them
It's important, as an adult, to venture away from your parents and learn who "you" are separate from them. "You should be thinking about and taking actions to establish your own identity and values," says psychiatrist Dr. Kimberly Venable. This might mean not calling everyday, or only visiting on weekends — whatever type of routine will allow you to establish your own life.
3. Sending All Their Calls To Voicemail
OK, so your parents will likely be happy to hear from you, even if you haven't called in weeks. But it's still not a good idea to totally ignore them. "Parents are people, too, and while they may continue to offer to go out of their way to help and support you, it's important to respect their time and efforts," O'Leary says. "Canceling last minute and failing to follow through are habits that can erode a healthy parent-child relationship in no time."
4. Making Fun Of Them All The Time
If you find yourself getting a bit critical around your parents, it may be time to reel that temper back in. "The fact that your parents love you unconditionally is not an excuse to lose track of manners and provide your unfiltered opinion, especially when it comes to topics that are important to them," O'Leary says. "Making a rude comment about your father's appearance or your mother's lack of tech-savvy inserts unnecessary drama and negativity into your relationship." And they will get sick of it over time.
5. Forgetting To Set Up Healthy Boundaries
Again, healthy boundaries are where it's at for all parent/child relationships. And yes, it's definitely a two-way street, as well as one that may require some rules. "If your parents say you call or text too much, or not enough, suggest a mutually agreed upon communications schedule," Venable says. "'I will call you every Sunday. And I’m willing to discuss these topics, but I will not talk about these subjects.'"
6. Thinking They Owe You
While you can only hope for the type of parents who will rescue you from a sticky situation, they definitely don't have to run to save you every time you ask. If you start to expect their help — with money, decision making, etc. — it can even start to mess with your relationship. That's why Venable suggests learning how to ask for help when you truly need it, without sounding demanding or disrespectful.
7. Acting Sorta Childish When You Visit
I know, when you're visiting home it's so tough not to revert back to those teenager-y ways. But do try to resist. "This is a very bad habit that creates/continues a toxic and immature dynamic that keeps the 'family dysfunction' alive long past its expiration date," Hanalei Vierra, PhD, a California-based marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. It's much better to show up with your adult self and leave without starting fights, whining, or raiding the fridge.
8. Asking Them For Money On The Regular
Again, it's OK to ask for help when you're in a true bind, but remember: the road to a mature relationship is not paved with unending requests for money. "This is far from the desired goal of becoming a mature healthy adult who is accountable to their own destiny," Vierra says. "This bad habit often creates resentment in aging parents who have to continue to carry the financial stress of their adult child along with whatever money issues they already are trying to overcome." Not cool.
9. Calling Them Whenever You Need To Make A Decision
Family members are a great sounding board, and you should definitely feel free to ask for your parents' advice for big things. But, again, you don't want to rely on them. And — perhaps more importantly — you don't want to give off the impression you need their input. As Vierra says, "Allowing parents to believe that they are entitled to having an influence in your decision-making [isn't healthy]." And it's a slippery slope.
10. Telling Them Every Little Detail Of Your Life
It can be nice to vent to your mom and/or dad about your day, but resist the urge to call them and spill the beans about every little detail in your life. "If you share personal things with your parents, such as fights with a partner or issues with your sex life, this will damage your relationship with them," says NYC-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW. "Parents are not your friends and should not be treated as such."
11. Letting Them Wait On You
If your parents want to show their love by cooking you dinner, cool. But don't let them do your laundry or clean up your dishes, too. As Hershenson tells me, this can create an "enmeshed" relationship where you both will rely on each other too heavily, while also expecting that sort of overly-connected relationship to continue on forever. It can become unhealthy, so don't let it happen.
Because, while it's great to feel close to your mom and dad, having a healthy relationship with your parents does mean setting up some boundaries. It's already a bumpy road, in many instances, so don't make it more difficult on yourself by engaging in these unhealthy habits.
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