As kids, we put our parents on a pedestal. When we were growing up, they could heal every wound, solve every problem and fix anything that was broken.
As adults, we realize they don’t actually know everything and also have shortcomings. Sometimes, the tables turn — our parents begin to come to us for financial help, relationship advice, or career guidance. We may start to feel like we are their parents and have come into a role of supporting them much sooner than we expected.
Here are some ways to help you cope with this newfound responsibility and deal with difficult parents.
- Remember how much they did for you.
Our parents birthed us, bathed us, changed our diapers, helped us with countless hours of homework, college applications, and advised us on friendship and relationship problems throughout our childhood and adolescent years. Did I mention they changed many diapers? They have done so much for us, and yet it is easy to forget all of the sacrifices they made on our behalf. When you are feeling frustrated with them, remind yourself of all the love, care, and time they have poured into you over the years.
- Set appropriate boundaries.Establishing appropriate boundaries with your parents can have a positive impact on your relationship. Start by setting small boundaries and do so in a tactful, non-shaming way. Stress your love for them and set parameters by simply offering an alternative.
For example, when your parents give you a hard time about not making it to Christmas Eve dinner, let them know you and your spouse can’t make it because you will be with your partner’s family. But you would love to come over for Christmas Day dinner. It is possible to set proper limits with while still showing them love and respect.
- Get in their heads.Does your mother come over and try to rearrange your furniture? Does your father come over and offer you tips on how to better care for your yard? It may seem like they are pestering or judging you, but in reality it could be something else. Try to think of why your mom or dad is still trying to hang onto you so tenaciously. Understanding where they could be coming from can help you have a more honest, loving response.
- Confide in siblings.Your siblings may be the only people in the world who completely understand and share the same frustrations about your parents. Talking with siblings about your parents can offer solutions you may not have considered. If nothing else, it can bring comic relief to discuss together your mother’s audacity or ridiculousness.
- Lower your expectations. We may never change how our parents behave, but we can control how we respond. By changing or lowering our expectations, we can find their behavior less irritating or disappointing.
- Go to therapy together.If you feel like your relationship with one or both parents is particularly toxic, seeing a counselor together can help. Having an objective third party to hash out the details with and help explain different perspectives can be extremely productive and refreshing for everyone involved. Most parents want to maintain healthy relationships with their children and should be willing to do what they need in order to do so.
In the end, you decide how to respond to your difficult parents. If the relationship is worth keeping, maybe you need to do a better job of loving them despite their faults. In any relationship, love is a choice. However, love also has boundaries and mutual respect, so do not settle for a relationship with your parents that is driven more by guilt and obligation than genuine affection.