‘I’m devastated when-ever my parents are displeased with me,” the 40-something woman confessed in my office. Although my client was accomplished and successful in every facet of her life, she became angry and defensive whenever she perceived disapproval from Mom or Dad.
This woman was quick to blame her parents for her hurt feelings. But the problem was one she had created for herself. My bright, well-meaning client had failed to reach emotional adulthood. She was psychologically tied to her folks and dependent on them for her sense of self-worth.
Many adults are engaged in a curious “I-crave-your-approval-don’t-tell-me-what-to-do” kind of tango with their folks. On the one hand they seek autonomy, on the other they long for acceptance.
As a result, their relationships are complex and tortured. They seem more like a Dostoevsky novel than a loving bond between parent and adult child.
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Complaining about their parents’ judgmental comments only makes matters worse. It reinforces the notion that grown kids are helpless victims. When people tell themselves, “I’m miserable because of my parents,” they’re perpetuating the lopsided parent-child relationship they are purportedly trying to escape.
What people in this situation fail to realize is that they are in complete control of who they are and how they behave. Once they have grown and moved out on their own, they are no longer beholden to Mom and Pop and must take charge of their destinies as adults.
Sometimes parents will agree with adult kids’ actions. At other times they may be displeased. Still, it’s up to the offspring to design their own lives and stop relying on the kudos of their folks.
Of course, all bets are off if adult children are living in their parents’ homes or are in some way financially dependent on them. Then they are under their mothers’ and fathers’ jurisdiction and must abide by the rules that have been laid out. But if Junior’s paying his bills and managing his own home, he can call shots as he sees fit.
This doesn’t mean grown kids should turn their backs on their folks. The very opposite is true. When adult children view themselves as mature, functioning people who hold the keys to their personal success, they can relate to the older generation with confidence and develop relationships that are nurturing and satisfying to both parties.
Parents can assist in the development process by keeping their opinions to themselves once kids are out on their own. If they have a serious concern they can gently say what’s on their mind. Then it’s best to watch from the sidelines as adult children take their own turns at bat.
Tips for growing up emotionally
Want to improve your relationship with your parents?
Try these sure-fire solutions:
• Accept your parents as they are. They’re never going to change. Stop wasting psychic energy trying to rebuild them. Embrace them as adults who are non-negotiable in your life and get along with them as best you can.
• Let go of past hurts. They’ve done and said things you didn’t like. They may have caused physical or psychological pain. You can’t undo what happened years ago. Make things better today.
• Steer away from contentious topics. Do you and Dad always argue about politics? Find something else to discuss. If he brings it up, simply redirect him: “What are you building in your shop these days?”
• Develop a thick skin. Don’t be overly sensitive about what your parents say. Remember, you’re an adult and you don’t need their approval.
• Focus on their strengths. Sure they have areas of weakness. But they have good qualities, too. Direct your attention toward what they do well so that you both feel good being together.
• Find fun activities. Get a pedicure with your mother. Take your father out to a baseball game. You’ll start having pleasant interactions that will strengthen your mutual bond.
• Resolve problem areas in your life. You’re more apt to get defensive about issues that are causing your grief. Conduct a personal inventory and note which areas interfere with your adult life. You may need to break up with an emotionally unstable girlfriend or get out of credit card debt. Taking positive steps to correct things will place you squarely in charge.
Then you’ll be less concerned about your parents’ opinions.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com