shares five key tactics for improving your relationship with your parents...
An old proverb says we must love our parents because as we’re so busy growing up that we often forget they are also growing old. This past year or so has really driven that home for me – I’ve noticed the ways I have to repeat myself or explain things again and there have been heath scares, too. My parents are only 60, but I’m starting to realise that they won’t always be here. Life is shorter than we think and I have to love them hard whilst I can. Like Mary Oliver writes:
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
The first time I read those words I knew: I want to love my family even harder.
My relationship with my parents hasn’t always been straightforward. I was a difficult teen and in my mid-twenties went for about two years without really talking to either of them. But as I settle into my thirties and start planning a family of my own, I’m also settling into the best relationship with them I have ever had, and after a lot of trial and error, these are the cornerstones of how I navigate and deepen our bond.
To be treated like an adult, act like an adult
It is staggering to me how many of us complain that even in our thirties our parents still don’t treat us like adults… and that we express our frustration at that by acting like petulant teenagers. For me, acting like an adult with my parents means not treating their house like a hotel, doing the dishes after dinner, turning up with wine or cake when I haven’t seen them for a while, listening when they talk instead of rolling my eyes at how “old” or “out of touch” they – basically, not being a little shit, and demonstrating as much kindness and respect as I do with anybody else in my life.
Stop blaming them
J.K. Rowling said that there’s an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction - that the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. For some of us, our parents truly were abusive or neglectful and the best relationship would be to not have one at all. But for most, it’s probably that they did their flawed best, and it is absolutely time to stop harbouring anger at being refused horse riding lessons at 11, or that they didn’t quite know how to celebrate when you got your degree. At a certain point we have to accept that who we are comes from us, and to do that we have the power to take back our agency.
Know that we're all screwed up
Nobody’s family is perfect, so comparing yours and your best friend’s brood or looking at the way social media talks about family is misleading. “They fuck you up, you mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do,” wrote Philip Larkin, noting that they were fucked up in turn, too. There’s a lot of forgiveness involved in healthy family relationships, I think, and it is forgiveness that goes on over and over and over again. Family push our buttons to the point where even a joke about how you should put the kettle on can flare up old hurt – but we have a choice on how to react to that. We can take that responsibility. Sometimes we have to learn to say “Please don’t make that joke”, and sometimes we have to hear the spaces between the words where what our family says and what they mean are misaligned. Mostly, family are normally just asking to feel loved by you.
Ask them about themselves
It is staggering to me how long I went without appreciating that mum and dad had lives before me, and lives that continue to exist when I am not around, and that they have opinions and thoughts and ideas outside of this daughter they created. I like to hang out with them separately when I can, so that they’re not “my parents” but rather there’s my mum, and then my dad. I think the most hurtful thing we can do is dismiss our parents, so really digging in to say “Tell me about your clematis” or “How’s grandma?” or “What do you reckon about this Brexit stuff then?” and then listening properly is a gift. I can’t imagine how worthless I’d feel if my future children rolled their eyes at every opinion I gave or story I told.
Stop asking for permission
For me this is huge, because for a long time every opinion I asked them for, or thing I told them about, was laced with a need for approval or permission. I catch myself doing it, now, and reign it in. I tell them about the car I’m thinking of buying, I don’t simper and get their “sign off”. I tell them about work, or my love life, or my plans for the spare room, and yes, if they want to give advice I graciously accept it (see: don’t be a mardy teenager, and don’t be dismissive), but I hold my own and trust my own judgement on my life is stronger than theirs might be.
I suppose, when it comes down to it, what I’m saying is: my relationship with my parents became drenched in love the moment I stopped blaming them or expecting anything from them. My compass tells me: love hard, listen deeply, forgive them their humanness - and appreciate them whilst you can. And, put in another way: lovingly take no crap, nor give no crap.
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