How to Connect with Your Parents as a Twenty-Something

With the holiday season just around the corner, families become a common occurrence. Whether it’s your extended family reunion with distant cousins and a great aunt that you have to shout to in order to carry on a conversation or an intimate gathering of siblings and parents. Often times, the holidays mean the stress of more people and knowing there aren’t enough libations in the world to make your family feel normal or functional. Maybe your family isn’t as dysfunctional as that family, but you still have your moments. With tight quarters, expectations of others, and minimal space, it is easy to dread the holidays and want to spike the eggnog a bit more than normal. However, once the extended family is gone, the wrapping paper is in the trash, and you’ve eaten more sugar coated ham than you desire, how do you go about relating to your parents as an adult child?

In our 20s and 30s, our relationships with our parents change. We no longer have the need to divulge every note of personal information in our lives. We are financially independent of our parents and are no longer the 18 year olds that left home. We have established our own ideals and have foraged a trail different than the 401Ks and steady 9-5s of our parents. Success, happiness, and the work-life balance looks far different than that of mom and dad. Our worlds are different. We don’t need money, and are pretty self-sufficient.

Herein lies the question.

How do you have healthy relationships with your parents as an adult child?  

Over the past decade, I’ve learned a lot about relationships. It hasn’t been easy, and some messes have been made, but here are a few things I’ve learned.

A lens of grace.

Your childhood probably wasn’t perfect. For some, it was probably far less than perfect. As an adult, you’ve realized the ways you are or will want to parent differently than your parents. Don’t bring up old wounds over the turkey carving. If there’s still really painful wounds go see a counselor. You parents most likely repeated the upbringing they had or tried to parent the best they knew how. Begin to see the ways they parented as the parents who truly thought they were providing for you and leading you well into adulthood.

Connection is always the goal.

Your parents and your world is different. Your mom drinks instant coffee and your dad thinks the cappuccino from the vending machine at work is great. You prefer your cup from a minimal designed coffee shop as a single-origin almond milk latte. Your dad loves target shooting and you won’t touch a gun. Never before have you loved someone for your entire life, but realize you have very little in common. Every time you meet it means finding the things you can still share together. As your parents age adventures, hiking, and climbing like your trips in national parks can’t happen anymore. It may be as simple as watching a movie you used to enjoy as kids by the fire with a bowl of popcorn. It could be going out to a fancy dinner or ice skating downtown. I’ve found that shared activity is key to connection and opening up your heart like you haven’t before.

Know your boundaries. Express them.

As you’ve grown up, you’ve come to be more self-aware. You’ve learned how you love others, how you receive love, and what you’re good at. Most likely your parents have only been apart of this process. When you find your heart and yourself being mistreated and hurt, don’t be afraid to communicate what you want and need in the relationship. If your family is one that avoids conflict, this can feel awkward and a hard trend to set.

Develop a culture of celebration.

Don’t find yourself going through your Facebook newsfeed looking at other’s family and their fun. Find ways to disconnect from screens, create new memories, and celebrate. It may not look like coordinated dancing and holiday mashup lipsync videos that proliferate YouTube. That’s perfectly ok. Embrace the season you’re in, the way your family interacts, and have some fun. Life isn’t meant to be so serious, particularly this time of year. Connect with your folks, embrace your quirks, have a few dance parties, and learn to play, whether you’re interacting with people in their 20s, 30s, or 60s.

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