Communicating with Our Parents

Communicating with Our Parents

No matter how good our relationships are with our parents, we must understand and accept that there will always be a power imbalance between us.  Parents, by their very nature, exist in a position of authority over their children, and that doesn’t change just because the child reaches adulthood.

            In that kind of environment, it can be difficult to have frank and honest conversations with parents—but those discussions are necessary for the maintenance of any relationship, and whether or not such a duty should fall to them, it is often on the child to navigate those social bonds and create a space where both parent and child feel comfortable speaking truthfully to one another.  If you do find yourself with such a burden, here are some tips on how to better communicate with your parents.


Create the Time and Space

            One of the biggest challenges to good communication between parents and children is generational divides with regards to communication styles.  Baby Boomers and Gen Xers see in-person communication to be best whenever possible, with speaking on the phone to be a close second.  Having a live conversation to them demonstrates that you care about the topic as well as the ability for both sides of the conversation to contribute to it in real time.  Millennials, on the other hand, have noted anxiety about making phone calls, and also feel like texting and emailing is a more polite form of communication, as it doesn’t put a burden on anyone’s time; your conversation partner can respond when they have the time and space to do so.

            Despite the reluctance to do so, communicating face-to-face still is the best way to have important conversation, if only for one simple reason: it’s much easier to interpret tone and mood.  It may be out of your comfort zone, but older generations will see talking in-person as a more personal interaction, and they’ll appreciate the effort on your part to facilitate that kind of intimate communication.


Concentrate on the Conversation, Not the Outcome

            Sometimes people disagree with one another.  You won’t always see eye-to-eye with your parents and that’s okay.  Accepting that a conversation may not result in the outcome you desire is part of coming to terms with reality. 

            You can communicate with your parents until you’re blue in the face, but if you’re not being honest about it, what good will it do you?  As much as you may hope your parents will see things from your perspective, you can’t stake the entire value of a discussion on its potential positive outcome.  Your parents may end up taking umbrage with your words, but trying to curtail your thoughts and opinions to make sure they’re amenable to what you have to say will only do you more damage in the long run.


Ease into It

            These conversations are important to have, but that doesn’t mean you need to have them all at once, especially if you’re not used to holding such frank and open discussions with your parents.  Making small talk may not get you far when it comes to solving serious issues, but it can grow a sense of comfort and familiarity and help them adjust and work their way up to more serious topics of conversation.


Plan to Follow Up

            Heavy conversations are difficult to have, and that doesn’t get easier just with age.  Broaching a serious topic with your parents, even as an adult yourself, may catch them off-guard.  Be patient with your parents and acknowledge that they may need time to process the information you’re sharing.  Just because an answer takes some time to get to, it doesn’t mean it will be a negative one.

            When you next speak with your parents, start off by checking in with their reactions to your previous discussion.  Don’t leave conversations unresolved just because your parents don’t know how to immediately reply.  Following up—and following through—will show your parents that you are dedicated to resolving your issues and expect them to show a similar commitment.  It may take several talks to fully solve a problem; don’t give up if it takes more time and effort to find solutions than you originally expected!


Concentrate on What is in Your Power

            When we struggle to talk with our parents, we tend to focus on what we wish they would do better: be smarter, more flexible, less controlling.  Although you can make suggestions and provide feedback, it is ultimately up to others to make changes in themselves, so why not instead concentrate on what you can control—yourself?

            How can you, as a child, be better to your parents?  Remember when you talk with them that they have needs as well and be sensitive to them.  You don’t have to change yourself to fit some ideal of a child that they have in their minds—I cannot emphasize enough how important honesty and openness is to effectively communicating with your parents—but you can, and should, be mindful of ways you can make difficult conversation less, well, difficult for them.


Keep Talking

            This goes back to a couple of the previous points made here, but the most important part of effectively communicating with your parents is keeping the conversation alive.  If your first attempt at trying to have heavy discussions with them doesn’t shake out, you can’t just give up the ghost.  Try it from another direction and keep trying it until something connects.

            I won’t lie, it will probably take some real amount of trial and error before you are able to find a communication style that works well both for you and your parents.  The pay off, though—being able to relate to your parents, even as you grow into having a family of your own—is well worth the effort.

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