Emily is disappointed because she cannot get mother-daughter time anymore since her mother’s new partner moved in with her. Her mother is concerned about the reactions of the new boyfriend who tends to feel excluded.
Paul is frustrated with his father because he does not listen well, is often critical, never says he is proud of him, but instead gives unsolicited advice. It triggers the feeling of never being “good enough” in Paul.
Cora is feeling rejected because her daughter Amy is still resentful about things from her childhood. Even though Amy wants her mother to be the grandmother to her children, she does not want to have a relationship with her mother.
Antonia is feeling invaded upon because her in-laws live only five minutes away and show up unannounced, expecting that the young family drops everything and changes their plans to accommodate or include them.
Some of my clients are struggling with their relationships with their mothers or their fathers. Other clients are parents themselves who are grieving the change in the relationship with their adult children. Moving from living with your children to them transitioning into their own independent lives, having their own families, and fulfilling their personal dreams is not always easy.
When I planned to write this blog about the relationship between parents and their adult children, I had a hard time making up my mind whether to shine the light on this topic from the perspective of the parent or the child. Usually, both parties need to contribute and take a step towards each other. As parents, we need to accept different interactions with the adults who used to be our children. As adult children, we often need to let go of our ideas of what a good mother or good father should be. In the end, our parents are simply human beings with their own flaws, insecurities, and fears.
I have two grown-up daughters myself and as much as I have always taken them seriously even when they were much younger, I can relate to the need to shift from what the relationship was in the past to what is possible now. It included moments of grief that the contact is less frequent when we don’t share the same living space anymore, and that I am less needed than I used to be.
If your relationship with your adult children leaves you feeling sad, disappointed, or upset, here are 6 ways to create a stronger relationship:
- Is your son or daughter annoyed by what you say or do? Or do you find yourself judging them? Realize that what we judge in each other is often what we don’t accept or even hate in ourselves or what we don’t allow ourselves to be. Parents and children reflect each others’ “shadows”. We mirror each other’s fears, insecurities, and/or character traits. We also often make what our family member is saying or not saying mean something negative about ourselves. You can read more about that in my blog “Why we judge our parents”. As a parent, it is your job to become comfortable with the choices your children are making and what kind of person they have turned out to be. Remember that they are adults who need to live their own lives and deserve to be respected. And when they are still triggered by you, remind yourself that this is not personal. You are simply being a mirror to them.
- Do you dislike your child’s partner? Make room for the significant others in their life. If you are the parent who is in a new relationship, also make sure you still allow for alone time if your son or daughter wants that. Don’t force the presence of your new partner on your adult child all the time. A daughter like Emily, for example, would appreciate it if she could still go shopping with her mom on her own, or a father and his daughter should still be able to have private phone conversations without the significant other always being a part of it. If you are struggling with the new girlfriend or boyfriend of your child, keep an open mind. Do your best to welcome the person your adult child loves. Accept that it is natural and healthy for them to put that person first. For them to establish a strong love relationship or marriage, it is necessary and important for young people to focus on each other.
- Do you fall into the old roles of parent and child? Examine how you speak to your children and treat them like grown-up friends. Do your best to communicate with each other in a respectful way from adult to adult. Trust each other to be mature and capable enough to not need unsolicited advice. It is lovely to be supportive of each other and help each other. “Acts of Service” is one of the 5 Love Languages. However, if your child is still behaving like a helpless child, maybe even still living with you while you do their cooking, laundry, and cleaning, even though they are in their twenties or thirties, you might be too invested in your parent role and not allowing them to grow up.
- Is your child still blaming you for something that happened in the past? If we haven’t forgiven and let go, we are still bound to the past through those feelings of anger, resentment, hurt or blame. Trust your child to eventually work through this and come to terms with their feelings. You need to support this process by taking responsibility for your part in all events that happened. Be open to speaking about the past if your child wants this and clearly make amends for what you might have done or not done. It can help to have these conversations with a professional present. If they are not ready to speak with you, do your part and keep the faith that they will need time. Meanwhile, look for openings to slowly rebuild a connection. Cora’s daughter welcoming her mother babysitting and having a relationship with her grandchildren is an example of such an opening.
- Are you struggling to accept your children’s professional or private choices? Has your son or daughter decided to choose a different profession or a different way of life than you had envisioned for them? Do they have a different sexual identity or sexual orientation than what you expected? Listen even when you feel scared for them or disagree with their lifestyle and strive to understand their choices. Don’t be critical or compare them to others. As one of my clients said so beautifully: “A lot of what I wanted for my children was what I was comfortable with, but what they wanted for their lives was quite different. I decided to be curious, watch it, and even enjoy what I see.” That can be scary when our children are more adventurous or more risk-friendly than we are. Or perhaps it is the opposite, and you feel they are not dreaming big enough. Trust them to learn from their choices, their successes, and failures, and to grow stronger with each experience. Do your best to support and encourage them. Paul’s father, for example, is forgetting that adult children still want and need our acceptance and approval. Tell them that you are proud of them. Offer to be there, no matter what, but don’t push your advice on them. Let them find their own way.
- Do your children and/or their partners feel uncomfortable due to the frequency or quality of your interactions? Boundaries are a necessary and important part of all relationships. Once your child has their own household, just “dropping by” is in most cases not going to be welcome. Antonia’s in-laws are risking a big fallout down the road because they are unaware of respectful boundaries. Just as you as parents might want to make sure your children are respectful and your help is not taken for granted, give your children the same respect. Have an open conversation about the quality and frequency of your interactions, and for example, about how much notice your children and children-in-law feel comfortable with. Call and ask if it is okay to visit.
I have seen parents and children make wonderful changes to their relationships when they are willing to do the work. If you want to improve your relationship with your parent, or with your child, reach out for a free phone consultation. We can clear out triggers by working with the reflections and projections. You can heal from the past and create the best possible relationship in the present.