There is a time in many healthy families where a child grows into adult and their relationship with their parents transforms into a more friendly, equal, relaxed relationship. However, this doesn’t happen for everyone. There are certain people who need to come to terms with the fact that their parents will never be able to be their friends, or to interact with them in a friendly, casual way. Some reasons for this include:
- Differences in values, e.g. different religions or political views, which preclude one or both parties from being able to get along as friends.
- Parents who have personality disorders and are mean to their children; this includes parents with narcissism or Borderline Personality Disorder.
- Children who have experienced emotional, verbal, or physical abuse by their parent have severed or severely reduced contact.
- Parents who dislike a child’s partner enough to not want to see the child/couple or who make comments that are hard to ignore.
- Parents who come from a culture or ethnicity where it is not acceptable for children and parents to ever interact in a more casual, peer-like way.
For any of these reasons, people can feel bereft and sad when they think about the fact that they will never be able to experience a “normal” parent-child relationship in adulthood.
Particularly for children who had a difficult relationship with their parents as kids, recognizing a lack of closeness with parents in adulthood can feel like another, added layer of grief. In any case, feeling a distance from one’s parents is undoubtedly difficult, but there are some strategies that you can use to cope.
It is hard to do, but the best way to deal with parents who can’t be your friends is to accept this fact for what it is. When you keep trying to change something out of your control — be it your parents, a friend, a partner, or a life situation — you set yourself up for disappointment.
If you find yourself hoping that your parents will morph into more laid-back or loving people, for example, you are likely setting yourself up to feel even worse than you may have felt to begin with. Acceptance — as an ongoing practice, much like mindfulness — can help you start to feel more at peace with your situation.
Focus on the qualities that your parents do have.
While you may never be able to confide in your mom about your relationship issues, she may be someone who truly loves you in her way and is very proud of you. Your father may not be involved in the day-to-day of your life, but he may be good at giving you financial advice. If your parents do not have much contact with you at all, focus on what good qualities they had when raising you.
Find support and solidarity.
Don’t only hang out with people whose families are enviably well-adjusted and close. Listen closely for which of your friends may feel similar frustrations with their parents and open up to them about your own struggles. In my experience as a therapist, difficulties with parents can be a source of bonding for many friends. Of course, if you have a sibling that struggles with your parents in the same way that you do, this is ideal, but many people don’t.
Create the family you want.
Speaking of friends, cultivate your relationships, and focus on deepening those connections. Many people do “Friendsgiving” or spend holidays with friends, as if they were family. If you feel that it is uncomfortable to be around your parents, look outside the box of “family” and create the relationships you want among people you’re not related to.
Be the parent you wish you had.
For many people who aren’t close to their own parents, having a child can be a powerfully healing experience. You get to be the accepting, loving, caring parent that you always would have wanted.
Of course, don’t have children only to try and heal from your own issues with your parents, but if you are already a parent or want to become one, it can be transformative particularly for those who always felt neglected or misunderstood by their own family of origin.
If you are one of the many people for whom it is hard to see pictures on social media of friends hanging out with their parents, or who is envious when you hear friends recounting stories of spending time and having fun with Mom or Dad, please keep these strategies in mind. It can make the difference between feeling resentful and depressed and feeling sad but accepting, which is a much healthier place to be.