Even when you're all grown up, it can be hard to get out of the parent-child relationship you got used to during childhood. You may still seek your parents' approval, and they may still express their disapproval even on matters that don't affect them. So, how do you get out of a dynamic you spent 18 years of your life developing?
"When we’re with our parents, it sometimes seems as if rationality and maturity have fled the room," Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW tells Bustle. And we're not always the ones who are behaving like kids — sometimes, it's our parents. "We need to remember that even when our parents act like children, it is our job to act like the adults we are," Koenig says.
Old habits die hard, but the habit of acting like a kid around your parents can hold you back in life. When we're still seeking our parents' approval, we may avoid going after what we want out of fear that it's not what they want. We may not even realize that's why we're avoiding it — it might just feel like a sense of guilt. Developing an adult relationship with your parents will not only strengthen your familial bond but also set you free from this guilt.
But how do you make such a big transition? Here are some ways to develop a healthy, mature relationship with your parents.
1. Remember They Can Be Wrong
We we're little, it can seem like our parents know everything and therefore are always right. But if we want them to have less power over us, it's vital to remember they're imperfect, says Koenig. This will also help you avoid conflict, because you'll take what they say less personally.
2. Stand Up For Yourself
Don't let your parents walk all over you. If you wouldn't accept something from someone your own age, you shouldn't accept it from them either. "Tell them directly how hurt you felt when they said or did something," Koenig says. "Tell them because you wish them to know, not because you expect an apology (though it would be nice) or expect them to change."
3. Limit Contact If You Need To
Again, your parents can be in the wrong, and if it's a toxic pattern, you don't have to bear the brunt of it. Give your parents the chance to change, and if they don't, consider cutting ties. "Accept that many parents are insecure, narcissistic, easily angered, controlling, high immature, dismissive, or in other ways lacking in interpersonal skills to have a healthy relationship with you," says Koenig.
4. Accept Their Limitations
If you and your parents can't talk about everything or they don't completely "get" you, don't force it. Appreciate what you have, and turn to others for the needs they can't fulfill. Otherwise, you may resent them by creating expectations they can't live up to, says Koenig.
5. Resist Getting Defensive
When your parents give you unsolicited advice or criticism, defending yourself can give their words more power, marriage and family therapist Amy McManus, LMFT tells Bustle. "Try something different — agree with them!" she says. "It goes like this. Mom: 'Cindy, why do you wear your hair like that? It’s so much prettier when it’s longer.' Cindy: 'You might be right, Mom.' End of discussion. What you are showing here is that you don’t need her approval; you can wear your hair how you want regardless of her opinion."
6. Practice Mindfulness
When you're dealing with difficult parents, half the battle is preserving your patience. Take extra care to think before you speak if you're tired, hangry, or tipsy, says McManus. You could even do meditation and mindfulness exercises — there are apps to help with this.
And try to have as much patience with your parents as you can. After all, they're still getting used to having grown-up kids, too.