Even when you are all grown up, parents have the ability to get under your skin. Part of the reason your mother and father continue to interfere in your life is that they care very much about you. But part of the problem may also be that you continue to allow them to treat you like a child by responding the same way you always did—perhaps, flying off the handle, quietly simmering, or sulking and feeling guilty.
By taking control of how you respond to situations that cause friction and by setting reasonable boundaries, you can markedly improve your relationship with your parents. Before you say, “Oh, you don’t know my parent,” consider a new approach. Appropriate responses, adapted from my book, Nobody’s Baby Now: Reinventing Your Adult Relationship With Your Mother and Father, to common problems you may face with your parents will help ease tensions and foster a more caring relationship. When making alterations in how you relate, always let parents know you love them.
When parents tell you what to do or how to act…
No matter how hard you try to change your parent’s approach, he or she may still refuse to acknowledge your age, maturity, or independence. Some parents excuse their transgressions, criticism, or control by believing you will “always be their baby.” When their interference crosses a line that makes you feel unhappy or ten-years-old again, put into words how their actions or comments affect you.
You might say: “It hurts my feelings and makes me think I can’t do anything right; it makes me doubt my own judgment.
When parents are unhelpful…
Parents may not realize you want their help and go about doing whatever they think best. Rather than being upset by their annoying or useless assistance, be straightforward. In the future, it’s far more likely they will pay attention to your predicaments or stress.
Try saying: “It’s great that you want to do _____, but what I really need is _____. Can you do it? It would save me so much time/anxiety.”
When parents are too distant…
Your parents may not know who you’ve become and what you need from them unless you tell them. You may have to give your parents permission to probe so they can share your life. Be specific about where you would welcome their input, from child rearing to investment advice.
Say: “I would love if you would be more involved in _____ area of my life.”
When parents drop by or call at inconvenient times…
As an adult, you now have a say in how and when you spend time together. Tell parents your schedule and set the guidelines for when and where you can be reached. When your parent calls or wants to visit at times that are hectic or disruptive, you can help them adjust to your busy life without them feeling neglected or abandoned.
Respond with: “It would be better for me to talk at another time so I can give you my full attention; I’ll call you at ____time on ____ day when we can discuss things without being rushed.” Be sure to do so. If they want to visit at the “wrong” time, say: “I really want to see you, and so do the children. That time isn’t good for us, we’ll be too distracted. How is ______ for you? We would be able to spend more time with you.”
When parents ask too many questions…
Tell your too-inquisitive parent that you understand the questions are based on concern for your well being, but instead of making you feel cared for, the interrogation makes you feel as if he or she doesn’t trust you to make your own decisions.
What to say: “All these questions make me feel like you are judging me,” may help a parent realize that bombarding you with questions can hurt your sense of independence and/or is inappropriate prying.
Offering candid responses, presenting guidelines, and looking for compromises will go a long way in curbing your parents’ irksome behaviors leaving everyone more time to focus on tightening the bond and getting to know each other as people. In this way you can forge a relationship that only the best and most intimate of peers usually have.