Parents are powerful. They look after us from the moment we’re born, ensure we stay alive and (hopefully) happy, they sacrifice a great deal to give us a great deal and they help shape our self-worth, at least initially.
Some do the best they can and do a great job, some do the best they can but don’t do such a great job, others, sadly, don’t seem to even try to do the best they could – such is the variety of parenting.
Regardless of which type of parenting you had and despite how strained that relationship feels right now, as you age you have a new opportunity to build a relationship with your parents.
Now I appreciate your internal dialogue may be saying all sorts right now, like, “But I hate how they’ve treated me” or “I would love to have a better relationship with them but I don’t think it’s possible” or “I don’t care to have a relationship with them”. The reality is, many people do care to have a better relationship with their parents but they just don’t know how to and/or have convinced themselves that they don’t care to.
However you choose to look at it, there is a power in having a good, if not fantastic, relationship with your parents, if it is possible. Nurturing that relationship can have a powerful effect on your relationship with yourself and your relationships with others. It can give you a sense of inner stability and inner peace. They too benefit and as they age you become a part of their “life source” though the effects that human relationships have on helping us to live longer.
If everyone can be a winner, what will help you to be? Use these five tips to help you gently evolve your relationship with your parent(s) from where it is now to where you want it to be.
5 Tips For Building A More Positive Relationship With Ageing Parents As Adult Children
1. Define the type of relationship you want to have with them so you know what the goal is. Be clear on what type of relationship you have with them now so that you know the starting point in your journey, too. This will help you to determine what sort of actions on your part will help bring about the desired changes to get you from where the relationship is now to where you want it to be.
2. If you are upset about something they have done (to you) in the past, find a new perspective on the matter that feels fair and realistic but at the same time feels more positive than the previous view you have held. By doing so you can begin to see them and their past behaviours in an altogether different light.
Remember that how you have stored a memory about something is not necessarily the correct view, it may be how you have interpreted things though the attitude you have adopted towards them. Attitudes shape how we view people and things. How you view your parents is not necessarily fact as much as it may simply be the perception you have held. You have the ability to change your attitude at any time.
3. Seek your parents’ help in getting closure on the matters of the past that still strain your relationship in the present. This can be helpful if you find the above suggestion difficult to do on your own. Speak to your parents about any issues you want resolved in your head for once and for all. This isn’t about making them answer for themselves or punishing them; they’re still your parents and deserve respect. This is about you seeking their help to understand them and their intentions better.
Maybe they set out to achieve a certain parenting goal but have never realised the negative consequences that had on your life or your mental well-being. For example, maybe one parent wanted you to be a “tough kid” so that you would be able to defend yourself because perhaps, unbeknown to you, they lived their childhood having to be tough. Maybe as a consequence, you grew up feeling like you had a difficult relationship with them or that you felt weak or that you felt picked on or not good enough. Just one enlightening conversation could change all that.
When you approach your parent(s) about something you want to gain clarity and closure on, start by asking them respectful questions that demonstrate your desire to understand them and their parenting choices and their life choices better. Questions like, “How was your upbringing and how did you find it?” and “What made you always push me to be a tough kid” and “When ‘X’ happened what made you respond with ‘Y’?” and “How come you always made us do…?” Done right, with open-ended questions and the intention of finding mutual understanding and helpful solutions, this is a conversation that should help you to build a relationship, even if there isn’t much of one to speak of right now.
4. Take the time to get to know your parents as mere adults rather than parents. Who are they? What motivates them? What do they enjoy? What was their childhood like? What was their relationship with their parents like? What can you each do differently to help nurture a better relationship going forward? Your parents are just people, get to know them as people – their desires, goals, intentions, regrets, epiphanies, proud moments and so on.
5. Whether your parents are still alive or passed away, speak to family members and friends of your parents to understand your parents from their perspectives to give you a more rounded picture on your parents as human beings rather than as merely your parents who have perhaps, in your mind, let you down in some way.
Maybe your parents are good people but were just unintentionally bad at being parents. Maybe they did the best that they could do with their intelligence, emotional development, finances, health and life challenges. Try to understand them with compassion rather than contempt and you can start to build a better relationship with your parent whilst you still can.