When you look at your relationship with your parents today, how would you best describe it?
Is it a state you are happy with? Would you rate it 10/10? Is it one where you’ll say “this is the best, most ideal state I can ever be with my parents”?
If your answer is “no,” then you’re not alone. One of my deepest wishes for my parents for a long time was for them to be my best friends. That beyond them being parental figures to me, I could connect openly and emotionally with them, share all my deepest thoughts, and have meaningful discussions.
However, this wasn’t the case. If anything, it was the direct opposite — I would classify my relationship with my parents as more dysfunctional than anything, and pretty much irreparable. While normal families would have conversations, we wouldn’t do that. We would talk, and no sooner start snapping, yelling or screaming at each other – sometimes even with expletives. While normal families would talk to one another at least once a day, I could go for months without ever talking to my parents, because there was nothing to be communicated.
For 15 years from my adolescent years till my late 20s, this was the kind of relationship I had with my parents. But then, gradually I began to overcome my issues with my parents, one at a time. Today, I’m 30, and I can’t be happier about my relationship with my parents. We are able to talk normally, without anyone losing temper or snapping. We are able to express concern for each other openly, without feeling weirded out by it.
And it wasn’t so much about having a heart-to-heart with them as much as it was about addressing my inner misalignments about our relationship.
Whatever the difficulty you’re facing with your parents today, I’d like to let you know that you’re not alone. Here are some crucial steps to help you get along better with your parents:
See it as a journey
The first thing I want to point out is that improving your relationship with your parents isn’t a “follow X-step and Y-step, then you can see results right away” goal. In fact, you may not even see any changes for a while for that matter. To improve your relationship with your parents is an ongoing, work-in-progress goal — an end point does not exist.
While I was working on my relationship with my parents in the past, one of my biggest challenges was that my efforts often seemed futile. When I tried to hug my parents, my mom violently pushed me away, much to my shock and horror. My dad didn’t return the hug. When I wrote cards to tell them how much I loved them, there was no direct response from my dad or mom. When I tried to start conversations with them, my mom would snap back and ask me why I was asking so many questions, while my dad would give his usual mono-syllabic responses.
That was when I realized my relationship with my parents wasn’t one that could be mended overnight. We’re not talking about mending a one-time conflict. We’re talking about mending a lifetime of arguments, miscommunication, conflicts, and misunderstandings. To think that I could resolve all past grievances with just a few “nice” actions was incredibly naive on my part.
It was then my responsibility to let them know that things were truly different, that I had grown into a different person, and that I was serious about improving our relationship. How? Not through saying it, but through consistent effort. Through consistent effort on my part, they slowly became more receptive to my actions.
Remember these things take time. The rebuilding of trust is a delicate process.
If you want to improve your relationship with your parents, be ready to commit to this as a journey, and not some X step, X thing you execute in one week or one month. Let them know you’re truly sincere in changing the situation. Let them know that you’re not just doing this as a one-off fluke. Anticipate negativity in their reactions at first, because your changed behavior is probably new to them and they’re trying to adjust. Consistent effort is the key.
Release the parent-child ideal in your mind
Many of us have a parent-child ideal etched in our mind — be it from when we were a child, or as a teenager. This ideal probably formed when we were watching TV, when we witnessed interactions between our friends and their parents, when we read about parent-child relationships in books, and the like.
My past parent-child relationship ideal was for my parents to be my best friends. I yearned for us to communicate openly and share anything and everything with each other. I yearned for us to be able to express our care and concern for each other, without reservation.
When I worked on our relationship with this ideal in mind, I faced resistance the whole time – from them to me, from me to them, and from me to myself. Ironically, it was only when I dropped the ideal that our relationship was finally able to grow. It was then that I realized, to my shock, that my parents had been trying so hard to improve our relationship (via their own way) the entire time. I was unfortunately unable to “see” that because I was so fixated on my own ideal.
When you approach your relationship with your parents with a fixed ideal, you suffocate the relationship. Stop expecting them to be someone/something they are not. Instead, accept them as who they are today. This will allow your relationship with them to blossom and come into its own.
Appreciate what they can offer in their capacity
A lot of times we get frustrated with our parents at all the things they don’t do or can’t do. For example, we may be frustrated at how they are so traditional. We may be frustrated at how close-minded they are. We may be frustrated at how slow they are with things.
Rather than get hung up over how your parents aren’t doing X or Y, learn to appreciate what they can offer in their capacity instead.
For me, I used to be frustrated at how my parents can’t fulfill my need to share and relate. After I realized it was just not in their natural disposition to talk about themselves or their feelings, I learned to let go of this expectation, and instead have learned to appreciate what they can offer.
For example, my dad cooks, so when I’m at home, I will eat out less often so that he can cook for me. My mom is a meticulous housemaker and she prides herself at keeping herself up to speed with the needs of the household. Hence, I will let her know if I want any groceries/vegetables/fruits so she can get them. Doing so makes them happy, because it is their way of making a difference in my life.
Understand what you are looking for underneath the ideal
The parent-child ideal we create in our mind is usually a projection of an underlying need that yearns to be fulfilled. The sooner you can identify what you’re looking underneath the ideal, the sooner you can tackle that, as opposed to using the ideal as a proxy of achieving the need, because one may not equate to another.
Let me give an example. A while back, I worked with a client who wanted her dad to be a strong mentor figure. For her dad had always been busy with his work, and was often out of the picture in her life. Despite having several mentors in her life, be it her professors, her bosses, or her pastors, she still longed for her dad to step in as her mentor.
Was the problem because she lacked guidance? No, it wasn’t. She had more smart, highly capable and successful figures giving her support and advice than anyone else. Truth is, she longed for her dad to be her mentor figure because she associated mentorship as love. To her, love meant being watched over, getting guidance and advice, being cared for, and so on. Even though her dad would talk to her occasionally, ferry her to work, participate in family dinners, and spend time with the family when he was not working, these did not register as love to her.
Mentorship, on the other hand, did.
How about you? What is your ideal for your relationship with your parents?
If you look underneath this ideal, what is it you’re looking for?
Is achieving this ideal indicative of that need being met? Or is it just in your head?
Chances are, what you’re seeking with your ideal (be it love from your parents, acceptance by your parents, self-validation, affirmation, etc) is already right there before you, before your very eyes. Don’t fixate yourself so much with your ideal that you miss the very thing you’re looking for — only to see it when it’s too late. The moment you release yourself of this ideal is when the healing between you and your parents begin.
Think about how you can be a better child to them
A lot of times we pinpoint faults in our parents, wondering why they can’t be smarter/richer/more open-minded/less stubborn/more positive/less naggy/quieter/more supportive/etc.
Instead of that, try a different tack — get along better with your parents by thinking about how you can be a better child to them.
Ways to start
- Start by being sensitive to their needs.
- Speak to them in their language of love (see next point).
- Don’t make things difficult for them. Let them have their way if it’s not a life or death situation.
- Pre-empt things they need help in (usually technology-related stuff if your parents are not tech-savvy), as parents can be quite unwilling to ask for help unless they’re pushed to the wall.
- Visit them often (if you don’t live with your parents).
- Take them out for a meal – make it a weekly or biweekly occasion if possible.
- Give them a call just so they know you’re thinking of them right now.
In being a better child to them, note it’s not about molding yourself to become their ideal of what a son/daughter should be (assuming they have an ideal). You want to stay true to yourself and improve how you treat your parents in your own way.
Speak to them in their language of love
Language of love refers to the way someone expresses love. Different people have different ways of expressing love – some via physical touch, via words, via actions, etc. In the book 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman states the 5 key love languages people use are: (1) Words of affirmation (2) Quality time (spent together) (3) Receiving gifts (4) Acts of service (5) Physical touch.
Being brought up in different generations, it is likely that your language of love is different from your parents’. Rather than “speak” to your parents in your language of love, speak to them in their language of love. This means if their language of love is quality time together, then spend more time with them. If their language of love is receiving gifts, then buy a small gift that means something to both of you. If their language of love is words of affirmation, give them a compliment and/or tell them I love you. They will be able to recognize your intentions more easily that way, and accept them more readily.
Start from existing channels that are already open
If your relationship with your parents is very sour, start from the channels that are already open.
For example, what are the points of contact between you and your parents today? Monthly family dinners? Occasional email exchanges? Sporadic phone calls? Start from there. And work your way up.
My relationship with my parents went downhill during my preadolescent years. Countless arguments, doors slammed in faces mid-way during our verbal fights, shouting, yelling at each other, etc. Because of that, by the time I tried to improve the relationship (when I was 24 or so — that’s about six years ago), many doors between us had been shut close.
This was why when I tried to start our relationship on a fresh slate, I faced an immense amount of resistance.
I figured that it was easier to start from existing channels. For example, occasionally my parents would ask me for help in reading their English mail (which they can’t understand; they are Chinese educated). In the past, I found it burdensome and would push their requests to later in the evening. But then I realized these requests probably meant a lot to my parents, so I became more helpful and patient whenever they sought my help.
No matter how dire your relationship is with your parents today, there are openings you can start off with. If there aren’t (i.e. your connection with your parent(s) has been severed), try the last mode of communication – where you guys left off. Then work from there.
Share in the comments: What is your relationship with your parents like? What is one baby step you can take to get along better with your parents? Remember, this is a journey, not a sprint. Every baby step you take every day will count towards creating a better relationship with your parents.
Read the original article: How To Improve Your Relationship With Your Parents: A Delicate Guide | Personal Excellence
Featured photo credit: Spirit-Fire via flickr.com