Parent-child relationships are the first interpersonal connections we experience in our lives, starting with our birthing mothers. These relationships - like any other - go through different stages over the course of our childhood, adolescence and adulthood. But what decides if we stay close to our parents in adulthood?
I’m only now trying to discover the answer to this myself. I try to practice some gratitude surrounding my relationships: I am lucky to have supportive parents and I am lucky they are mostly healthy, which is a privilege I don’t always recognise.
I know of people who, well into adulthood, don’t enjoy spending time with their parents, so they barely meet anymore. There are also adults who go to see their parents partially because they feel some guilt around this relationship: they know their parents are ageing and they realise their health might decline suddenly. The last thing I would want is to judge people seeing their parents, yet I can’t help but wish that the reason I go to visit mine when I am 30-40-50-something years old is not to calm conscience, but because I can enjoy quality time with them that makes all of us happier humans.
I wonder what it takes to avoid getting to such a bitter point? Is there something that I can do now to prevent that from happening?
Past experiences in parent-child relationships remain an important influence between grown-up children and older parents (1). At the age of 20, I have to face it: the past experiences of the future are happening now, so what do I want to do to keep my current relationship with my parents close, supportive and healthy? (2)
Over the past months, I came to realise a number of things that I want to work on in all my interpersonal relationships, but especially in that with my parents. This year has thrown a few too many curveballs at me, but I really think I’m coming out the other end a lot stronger than before! You can read the two things that I want to get better at in order to strengthen my relationship with my family:
Sharing emotions to avoid miscommunication:
Our relationship with our parents is “one of the most long-lasting and emotionally intense social ties” (3), but in my experience, emotionally intense doesn’t mean emotionally open. I’m trying to be more open about how I feel about certain events or things because I have a tendency to just retreat into my shell/become passive-aggressive when I feel vulnerable or hurt - especially around my parents. This happens less around my friends, but it’s almost like I have an expectation for my parents to guess my thoughts and feelings, which, of course, they can’t!
It takes some practice to get used to verbally expressing negative emotions, and it might be uncomfortable at first, but this is arguably the best way to prevent conflicts from escalating!
Staying in touch, even when it’s easy to neglect:
Being away at uni and immersed in the billion things I could/should/want to be doing, it’s way too easy to forget to phone my family. I want to practice making time for conversation more regularly, and trying to ask about how they feel instead of only focusing on what they’ve been doing. I’ve also been more mindful of paying attention to our conversation during our calls and really listening to hear what they’re saying and feeling, instead of mindlessly scrolling on my phone.
While my parents can be reached with a video call online, some of my grandparents are not on the internet. This somehow led me to rely on video calling them when my parents happened to visit them, internally justifying this with the price of international calls. I have since come to realise that this is the most absurd reasoning ever.
Do call prices matter that much compared to having a conversation with my grandparents?
I want to encourage anyone reading this to take some time and really think about what you could change on your end to improve your relationship with your parents, if you think this is a worthwhile cause!
Changing your daily routines just slightly can make a huge difference in how you connect to other people.
It is also important to establish, of course, that like any relationship, parent-child relationships also take two (three?) to work. It’s not something you can force and there are unfortunately instances when it is best to be apart for mental health’s sake.