Do I know you?

Before we get started today, I want to preface this episode with I love my parents and I know they love me. I’m one of the lucky ones that grew up with two parents, while they weren’t always in the same household, they were always around to support me emotionally and sometimes financially. I will be the first one to recognize that I have benefited having both parents in my life and I am so appreciative of this because I know so many people grow up without that same support.

Your 20’s and 30’s are flooded with change. You’re going to school, you’re starting a career. You’re dealing with relationship changes, you’re making big life decisions. You are also in a period where you are creating a sense of self. You are figuring out who you and who you want to be as your adult self. There’s a lot going on and as Lindsay Pratt, a Psychotherapist states in the article “Viewing Your Parents as People” your family system is actually changing too.

This is something that I’ve been dealing with for the last couple of years in particular. I’ve noticed my relationship with my parents also changing. Sometimes for the better as we’ve become more friends and I have started get to know them as adults. As a man and a woman, not just my parents. This is partially because as I’ve gotten older, we’ve talked about more adult topics and shared our values and views on the world. But getting to know them as adults, has also been really challenging. I’ve struggled a lot with not only how our dynamics have changed but also my perception of my parents as people.

Over the past year in particular, with all of the things going on from the global pandemic to shifting our wedding to the political environment, 2020 was particularly challenging between my parents and I to the point I have been reaching out more to third parties like a therapist or reading articles and studies on my own to try to navigate the shifts in our relationship and turn some of the negative shifts into positive opportunities. And I don’t have it figured out. Things are not all peaches. But there are small wins here or there that I can hold onto when I’m struggling to see the progress.

The more in dig into this topic, the more research I find that makes me feel better in knowing the challenges I’m facing are normal.

In Dr. Pratts’ article, one of the shifts that has a big impact in our adult parent/child relationships is what she calls the changing hierarchal structure of the family. So basically, growing up there is a hierarchy in the family. Your parents are at the top and you and your siblings are beneath them. Essentially, your parents are the boss and they know best. They make most of the decisions for us, they have a big say in our day to day life and we accept this because of that family structure. Growing up we believe that our parents have more knowledge than us and know better, but no one knows us like they do. They are experts in us.

But as an adult, that hierarchy changes and the child starts to increase their status in the family and becomes their parents equal. Now I’m not saying that adult children stop respecting their elders, which parents are included in that. There is still a sense of knowledge that comes with being older than us that is respectable. However, when it comes to making life choices and deciding what is best, we develop the ability to make these decisions independently, as adults. And that is the hierarchal shift. We no longer need them to make decisions. And like other adults in our lives, they can express their opinions or give us advice, but ultimately it’s our decision.

This notion of our parents as our peers is interesting to me. At work, some of my colleagues are closer to my parents age than mine. Some of my colleagues that I consider friends could be just as much my parent’s friends. They are, my all accounts, my peers. And I consider myself their equal. So why is it so hard to shift my own thinking with my parents?

I am an Independent Woman. Like when Destiny’s Child was singing about paying their own bills and don’t need no man – that’s me. I am financially independent and emotionally independent. I have worked hard to create a successful career. I’ve successfully navigated dating to ultimately find someone that I consider my partner and with whom I have a very healthy relationship. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve gotten myself out of those mistakes.

I have also been through my own journey of self-discovery. I pride myself in my ability to evolve and grow. To acknowledge that I’m definitely not perfect, but no one is. I am not ashamed to reach out for help when I need it, seek out therapy if that seems needed, read self-help books, or even sign up for leadership classes  – whatever! It’s all in the goal of being the best version of myself and turning mistakes into lessons that will help me just become better tomorrow than I was today.

Because of this journey of self-discovery and growth, my parents are no longer experts in me. They no longer know me better than I know myself. I know me best. And because of that, I am the best person to make decisions that impact me. But in saying all of that, what my parents think about my decisions still matter so much to me. And one would argue, too much.

A recent example of this is this podcast. This podcast is a passion project of mine. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I honestly put a lot of work into it from not only coming up with episode ideas and social content on a weekly basis, but also the backend stuff. Before doing this podcast, the last time I edited content was in college in my TV Production class. These are all new platforms for me, new technology – all of it. And I’m learning it on my own. Watching videos and reading articles. It’s important to me. It’s a creative outlet, it’s a way to connect with others with what I’m going through, it’s me sharing a piece of myself every week.

It’s a weekly opportunity to share my authentic thoughts on a subject. And it’s an opportunity to get to know my views and thoughts on things my parents have never taken. Now I’m not doing this podcast for my parents. But I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me that they show zero interest in it. It’s like when you’re a kid and you draw a picture. Your parents couldn’t tell what you drew, but that’s not what mattered. You put effort into it and were proud of it and therefore they were proud of you. And they proudly displayed that picture of who knows what on the fridge for all to see. Like a Picasso painting in the art museum.

But as an adult, my parents show this pride only for things they value. When I graduated college, they told all their friends. When I got a job – they bragged to their friends. When I bought a condo, or got engaged etc – they will post these achievements up on the digital fridge of Facebook. Because that’s what they think I should be doing and what they find important. Neither of them listen to podcasts, so it’s not “their thing” as so I’ve been told. They don’t get it.

So unlike my drawing as a kid, they don’t value it. And while that’s not going to change my decision to do this podcast, and it releases me from having to worry about pissing them off by what I say cuz they’re never going to hear it, not getting their approval or interest in something that matters to me hurts.

But am I going to tell them? Maybe. Probably not. Which brings me to the next point as we get know our parents as adults, Dr. Hal Shorey in Psychology Today states adult children are resistant to tell their parents how they affect them. Essentially, while we are getting to know our parents as adults, we don’t treat them like adults and this is what causes issues in adult child/parent relationships.

If anyone else in my life were to upset me or disappoint me, I would talk to them about it. I would tell them how I feel and we would work through it and our relationship would be better because of it. But with my parents? I say I just let it go, but instead it just sits there and festers and then I get easily triggered by a simple comment. I don’t just deal with it. I don’t set boundaries. I don’t hold them accountable to their faces yet just get disappointed when they continue a course I never even told them affected me.

Part of me is just engaging in some good old-fashioned conflict avoidance. A lot of people are surprised to hear how I hate conflict. They assume that because I am outspoken I don’t have a problem with conflict, but this isn’t true. Every time I have to have a difficult conversation whether at work or in my personal life, I dread it. I play it out in my head a million times and all the scenarios that could ensue. I plan for the worst case and then usually am surprised when it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

But the difference between my having difficult conversations with others vs. my parents is with others they see me as their equal. But with my parents, I’m not an adult. I’m still their child. And they still know best. They haven’t come on this journey with me.

They also aren’t great at communication during difficult conversation. In my family, either you let it go and never speak about it again, or it’s an argument. It’s not a calm discussion. And while I hate calm, difficult discussions, I loathe heated arguments. I know myself enough to know I won’t fare well in a heated argument. I am a very emotional person. And the more deep rooted an issue is, the more emotional I get. And the harder it is for me to control those emotions in the heat of an argument.

So when I know I need to address something with my parents, that worst case scenario is usually pretty accurate. Basically, it’s me sharing my feelings, them turning it back on me, me getting frustrated and hurt, them getting more frustrated and both of us saying things we wish we didn’t and lastly me crying. I’m an angry crier. I don’t really yell but because I don’t yell, I cry. It’s one or the other.

It’s scary to have those conversations when the likelihood of it going smoothly is small. Also the potential lasting negative impact of these conversations is greater than with others in my life. While my parents may drive me crazy, I can’t imagine my life without them. If bob at work (fake person the way) leaves the conversation mad at me, it doesn’t have the same personal impact my parents would have. So there’s fear there. Fear of their reaction and fear of further rejection.

But if I am to have a healthy relationship with my parents as an adult, then I do need to get better at treating them as I would other adults in my life. I have tried here or there. I’ve recently had to set some boundaries around political conversations with my mom. I’ve deemed politics a topic that is not currently allowed. As much as I’d love to talk about our views on world events, those conversations are horrible. Because part of growing up and getting to know your parents is getting to know how they really view the world and sometimes realizing that our views are polar opposites.

And that’s also hard. Because you grew up with these people. The taught you right and wrong and how to treat people. But then as adults, you start noticing they aren’t following some of their own advice. Like a lot of adults right? People say one thing and do another all the time. That’s not just our parents. Because our parents are people. They are adults. They aren’t perfect. They make mistakes. Just like us.

As I get older, I’ve expanded my support system outside of my parents and cultivated a group of people around me that each play a role in my life. As I’ve gone through my own growth journey to figure out who I am as an adult woman, I’ve surrounded myself with people that support this version of myself. Throughout the years, that support system has evolved in conjunction with my own personal evolution. I’ve learned you can’t expect one person to be everything. I’ve learned sometimes relationships don’t end on a bad note, you just grow out of them, and that’s ok. And I’ve learned that my parents are on their own journey and I can’t expect them to always have the same role in my life as they did when I was a child. Their role in my life will evolve as well, but unlike relationships that have subsided in the past, they will always have a role. I will always make room for them. And I will always try to remember that just like me, they’re just trying their best. And that is all I can truly ask of them.  

Until next time.

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