How Parents Can Be Friends with Their Adult Children

John Elliott | October 17, 2018

How Parents Can Be Friends with Their Adult Children

Since I have three children in their thirties, I am always interested in advice about how parents and grown children can get along better. “Grown daughter” Deanna Pai discusses “how to navigate to a relationship of equals” with parents in a recent article for Medium.

Her advice is noteworthy given that she talks to her parents daily and obviously has a good relationship with them. Based on her successful transition from child to friend, she offers four guidelines to help other families do the same.    

1. Recognize Common Friendship-Type Bonds

“To help move the relationship into actual friend territory, think of your parents as you would another close friend with regards to what you talk about and what you do when you’re together.  

While you may be used to calling your mom when you’re feeling down, for instance, consider that she may need similar support once in a while. 

Give yourself time to get used to the idea that truly being friends with a parent can often mean seeing their messier side.”

2. Set Boundaries

“You might not want to hang out every night of the week with one friend, and the same goes for your parents. Start conditioning your ego to accept that, sometimes, your parents won’t want to hang out with you either.”

3. Pay Attention to Childhood Dynamics

“Since families tend to be built upon routines, it’s easy to revert to them when you return to them when you return to some semblance of it, like being at your parents’ house for the holidays. Or maybe your parents slip into serving as the authority. 

It’s the biggest point of contention between my mom and me, too. Ever since I had a liver transplant to treat cancer a few years ago, she comments on whether I drink, keeps tabs on how much I drink, and even pretends she wants to try half my beer, even though we all know she prefers wine.

There’s a fairly simple fix for this one: awareness.”

4. Create a Clean Slate

“The most important part of creating a lasting platonic bond is mutual respect. That means learning to see your parent not just as your parent, but as an individual, with flaws and interests and needs.”

She goes on to say that it’s time to let go of grudges for things your parents did in the past – that were probably beneficial in the long run: “After all, a true friendship can’t really develop if you’re still feeling bitter or resentful over old arguments.”

Given my own life experience, the fourth point - “Create a Clean Slate”-  is the most important.  If you hold a grudge against your parents, then you need to deal with it. Bitterness makes it hard to “recognize common friendship type bonds” or “set boundaries.” Pai says that her parents once chased off a bad boyfriend, but underscores that SHE is the one who needs to get over that. That shows maturity on her part, a maturity that many of today’s young millennials don’t always have. 

Pai is also not married. Based on my own experience, it’s likely that her four suggestions will need a reset once a spouse enters the picture, for a spouse’s idea of boundaries or friendship-type bonds are often entirely different. Just because you’re good friends with your mother doesn’t mean you’ll be good friends with your mother-in-law. In fact, you probably won’t.

But Pai’s four suggestions can apply to parents as well. Transitioning from less-parents to more- friends is uncertain territory for both young and old. Boundaries and childhood dynamics are probably the most challenging. Adult children – and their spouses – develop their own sets of friends and routines which may not include the parents. Being friends with your adult children will take place in a new, evolving context. And that can be difficult.

 This may seem daunting. But it can work. My children have been married for eleven, six, and five years respectively. We were friends before they married and now their spouses have joined the friend-family circle... and we are all the richer for it.


[Image Credit: MaxPixel]


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