A funny thing happens when you become an adult. You finally start to realize that your parents are real humans, flaws and all. Also, just because you’re not a kid anymore doesn’t mean that there won’t be any challenges in your relationship with your aging parents. Family is family, and there is always opportunity for conflict as well as growth.

Perhaps your parents still treat you like a child, assuming you need assistance when you don’t. Maybe they need their own support as they age, and you find it challenging to be the caretaker or decision maker. Even as an adult, you might vacillate between wanting your parents to nurture and care for you and wanting them to treat you like an independent adult.

Here are some other common problems you may experience with your parents as an adult:

  • Disagreeing on how to parent your own children
  • Hearing constant complaints or criticism from your parents
  • Disagreeing about their future medical care or living arrangements
  • Feeling lingering hurt about childhood issues
  • Having different political or religious beliefs
  • Disagreeing about finances
  • Agreeing on boundaries or frequency of contact

Navigating these family roles takes time, practice, and lots of communication. You knew when you were a teenager that you and your parents were not the same people, so it’s important to remind yourself about these differences as an adult. Your parents may have different priorities, values, and goals than you do. They may have different opinions about parenting or family roles. While you don’t have to agree with any of these opinions, your parents will likely prove a lot more receptive to your choices if you treat these differences with respect. You can be honest about who you are and what’s important to you without being dismissive of their own beliefs. Let’s take a look at some other strategies for communicating this respect and building a healthier relationship with your parents.

Take Responsibility

If you want to set mature boundaries in your adult relationship with your parents, then don’t ask your parents to do things for you that you can do for yourself. They are more likely to treat you like an adult if you act like one. For example, you might feel tempted to call your mother to complain every time you have a fight with your spouse. Or you may ask to borrow money when you need some extra cash to make it through the month. But just because one action is an easy solution doesn’t mean that it’s the best for a relationship. The more responsibility you can take for adult decisions, the more your parents will treat you like the adult you are.

Don’t Assume

 Often conflict erupts in families because people make assumptions about what someone wants or how they will react to a situation. For example, don’t assume your parents don’t have plans and will want to babysit at the last minute. Don’t assume that they won’t be interested in hearing about what’s happening at work or the movie you saw last week. Share what’s important to you, and ask them to do the same. Never assume they won’t understand or can’t handle a disagreement. Avoiding the truth is only a very temporary solution, and it’s one that leads to inevitable conflict.

Stay in Contact

When things are tense with a parent, it can be all too easy to not return a phone call or not fly home for Thanksgiving. When you were a kid, you couldn’t escape your parents, but cutting off contact is a choice many adults make. Unless the relationship is abusive and dangerous to your mental or physical health, cutting off contact is never an effective solution. Not speaking might feel good in the short term, but having an adult relationship with your parents, even a relationship that has conflict, is an opportunity to grow and mature as a human. If you can develop healthy communication with your parents, you can do it with almost anyone. If you have children, you’re also modeling the kind of relationship you’d like to have with them someday.

Honor Their Legacy

Take the time to honor your parents’ stories, because you don’t want to wait until it’s too late to learn about your family history. You might see your parents in a different light if you know more about how they grew up or where they came from. Often people find themselves more forgiving of their parents’ mistakes when they learn about the bigger picture. Above all, helping your parents preserve their memories can help them feel valued and respected in their later years, a time when many aging adult may feel forgotten or dismissed by younger people.

If you’re not sure where to start in improving your relationship with your parents, think about how you manage challenges with any other adult that you respect, like a good friend or a colleague. Give your parents the same patience and understanding that you would give to anyone you care about. When you see challenges as an opportunity for growth, everyone benefits. You can’t change yours parents, but you can change yourself. So consider what it would take to start building a relationship with them that you’ll treasure for life.

Last Updated: Jun 24, 2019