Many parents don’t have good relationships with their adult children. They are often frustrated and angry with their kids for a variety of reasons. They might not like how their children live, or approve of their jobs, or even approve of their spouses. Over time, this creates distance in the relationship. Many of my clients feel victimized by broken relationships with their children, and use it to justify feelings of anger and judgement. However, it is important to realize that all relationships are a two-way street, meaning it is not about just you. The health of the relationship depends on how both parents and children give and reciprocate love to each other. If you see that your relationship with your child is strained, it may be time to think deeply about why this might be.
Recently, my 26-year-old daughter and I had a heart-to-heart conversation. “I couldn’t tell you what I did or how I felt when I was in middle and high school,” she shared. “I didn’t think you would understand. You seemed upset with me a lot of the time, and you didn’t seem to care about my perspective”.
Her confession made me realize that I needed to reflect on my beliefs about parenting and re-evaluate what I value most in my relationship with her. When my kids were young, I didn’t know how to communicate healthily when we had conflicts. I was often upset when they didn’t meet my expectations, and blamed them for not sharing my beliefs. Although I could tell our relationship was becoming damaged, I didn’t know how to reverse the damage.
After learning life coaching concepts and tools, I realized that my dissatisfaction with my children was not because of who they were, but because I didn’t challenge whether or not my beliefs about myself or our cultures were serving me or serving us.
Growing up, I was taught that family needs were more important than individual ones. However, the stress of caring for my family rather than myself caused me to feel unhappy and lost. My personal insecurities also caused me to project my problems onto others, allowing me to assume that they were the problem. However, the root of many relationship issues is self-worth. We cannot love someone wholeheartedly when we don’t love ourselves. When we judge others, it’s because we also judge ourselves too harshly. When we have high standards for ourselves, we tend to have unrealistic expectations for our spouses and children.
Parent-child relationships can also become more complex due to cultural and generational changes. Although my kids are half Taiwanese, as American-born children, they most often subscribed to American rather than Asian culture. I used to feel lonely because I believed my kids were American, and therefore did not accept my Asian identity. I also felt torn between Eastern and Western culture. The beliefs that I grew up with like money scarcity mindsets, perfectionism, emphasizing work over play, and prioritizing community values over individual ones were not serving me. My kids also pointed out that many cultures, particularly Asian cultures, teach that children must automatically respect their parents and follow their parent’s wishes. However, this often strains the parent-child relationship, because it ignores that all relationships need respect to be reciprocated. When you demand that your child respect your wishes without respecting their own, you ultimately create imbalance that will damage your child’s trust over time.
It took me a long time to understand that old and new beliefs each have their strengths and weaknesses, and that by being honest with ourselves and respecting that our children are different from us, we can have healthier and happier relationships. Therefore, when we communicate with our adult children, we must remember to respect the differences in our belief systems. Meaningful communication requires that we treat them as equals with openness and curiosity. Our children, especially our adult children, have rich inner and outer lives that extend beyond what we know about them. This means that at some point, we must accept that they are their own people, and try to understand their individual perspectives and life experiences. When we truly listen with respect, a close bond will begin to reform.
As hard as it may be to accept that our children are growing up, we must also take care to treat our adult children like adults. For me, this means that I must not only respect their beliefs, but also trust their decisions. Of course they will make mistakes from time to time, but I would rather be there to support them rather than judge them when they fail. After all, just like my kids, I am still learning, growing, and evolving.
After deep self-coaching work, my relationships with my husband and my adult children have improved dramatically. I feel empowered and have gained much clarity and purpose for my life. Now, I accept who they are and appreciate the things they do well. When I feel frustrated with them, I take responsibility for my emotions and allow myself to process them internally. I ask myself: is this believe really serving me? Is it serving us?
Here’s my challenge to you: Ask yourself what you value most about your children. Would you rather have them fit into your idea of who they should be, or would you rather foster mutual love and respect? Are you willing to re-evaluate if your beliefs serve yourself and your children?