The problem is as old as time. It’s the stuff of which Greek myths, novels and screen plays are made. I’m referring to the love/hate relationship between parents and their adult daughters. Our Mistake: We continue to insist that our parents meet our emotional needs, while granting us our independence. Their Mistake: They unwittingly attempt to preserve the same relationship they had with us when we were little girls, yet can’t understand why we don’t just “grow up”!
The Good News: In the vast majority of cases, parent/adult daughter relationships can be greatly improved, and here’s how:
Step I: Get Your Own House in Order
- Acknowledge that you are different from your parents and that it is OK.
- If you haven’t already done so, begin to separate emotionally from your parents. Take the risk of defining yourself, and stop trying to win their approval.
- Accept that your parents aren’t perfect (and neither are you).
- Take responsibility for who you are today. Acknowledge what was troublesome about your growing up experience, accept it, and move on.
- Realize that your parents are a product of their own growing up and life experiences.
- Know that as an adult you are entitled to your own choices, opinions and decisions, even if they turn out to be mistakes. How else can you learn?
- Understand that today you have the power to influence your relationship with your parents, even though you’re still “the kid.”
Step II: Avoid the Same Old Traps: Do Something Different
- Stop trying to change your parents. Instead, think about how you can change your behavior so as to create better interactions with them.
- Although you can’t change Mom and Dad, you can establish limits with them. You can let them know if they have overstepped your boundaries. Be clear about what is acceptable or unacceptable when they are dealing with you in the future.
- Avoid old, toxic topics that are never resolved, and which only bring you pain.
- Gently remind your parents that you are an adult now, capable of making your own decisions — and sometimes those decisions may be wrong.
- Develop and enjoy interests and activities together, where you can participate as equals.
- When issues come between you, treat them as problems external to you both, not as character flaws or as a battle to be won.
- Do not expect Mom and Dad to do things for you, such as pick up your dry-cleaning or take care of the kids. This is part of the old parent/child relationship.
- Refrain from asking for their advice unless you really want it.
- Notice and acknowledge the good things they have done, and continue to do for you. Thank them for these things.
- Even if relations are strained, try to remain in contact, if only through notes, e-mail or voicemail.
And If the Best-Laid Plans Don’t Work
In rare cases even these steps won’t be enough. The pain you experience as a result of continued contact with your parents may be greater than any benefit you receive. In such instances it is OK to say enough is enough. No relationship is worth sacrificing your personal sense of well-being.
Ultimately it is to your advantage to work on developing a healthy relationship with your parents. Upbeat interactions with Mom and Dad can add a wonderful dimension to your life. And at the end of the day, it is rewarding to feel good about the kind of daughter you’ve been.