From the time I graduated from college up until age 25, my relationship with my parents was tumultuous at best. Where I was comfortable getting vulnerable, my parents seemed set in their ways, which made for a tricky barrier in our relationship. We were both terrible at communicating, and my attempts only made them feel like I was trying to reprimand or parent them.
These miscommunications would induce bouts of not talking, followed by a brief period of trepidation during which we hesitatingly tried to get along, only to be punctuated by another blow-out misunderstanding.
At its worst, it was an unstoppable cycle; at best, it was the relationship in my life I most wanted to change. I was content in so many areas in my life and yet, since my relationship with my family caused me the most grief and anxiety, I knew I wanted to both repair and strengthen it. So, a few months before I turned 25, I decided to move back in with my parents, into my childhood bedroom. I thought by moving home – spending more time together, learning more about them, and in turn, starting anew – we could fix things between us and end up with a stronger connection in the long run.
Wanting to repair and refine the relationship that most defines us, the one we have with our parents, is a common desire for those of us in our 20s and 30s. Now that we’re a bit older, we finally understand the everlasting effects our relationship with the ‘rents have on us. And we might even understand their viewpoints on things more than ever, now that we’re a smidgen more mature.
Now that we’re adults, it’s time to get to know our parents better. Here are some ideas for strengthening that relationship.
Cook together (when you see them)
You might not realize how important teamwork is in cooking until you find yourself face-to-face with your mom, a shared counter space, and a few serrated knives. Even if you don’t live at home, or if you only see your family on special occasions or during the holidays, cooking can be a wonderful bonding experience and moment of respite for you and your parents.
Bonding during dinner prep provides opportunities to talk, get vulnerable, and problem solve. When you’re both preparing a meal, you have a common goal forcing you to work together. After all, no one wants the meal to turn out poorly.
Write them a letter
Writing a letter can be a helpful exercise, even if you decide not to send it, especially if there are some unsaid things between you and your parents or if you unresolved hurts or issues from your childhood.
Write your parents a letter. Tell them you love them, that you’re grateful for them, that you forgive them, that you want your relationship with them to improve. When it’s all written out, you can decide what to do with the letter. Even if you don’t give it to your parents, exorcising all of those feelings you have toward them will undoubtedly strengthen your relationship.
Watch a show together (even if you’re far apart)
You don’t need to be sitting on the same couch to indulge in a binge-watching session. One of the activities that most strengthened my relationship with my parents was bonding over TV shows that we both love.
Whether it’s “Dancing With the Stars,” reruns of “Monk,” or nightly “Wheel of Fortune,” commit to watching a show every week and then calling your parents during the commercial breaks, texting while you watch, or talking to each other on the phone after it’s over.
My mom and I have had so many meaningful conversations motivated by our simultaneous binge-watching of “Lost,” and it’s an activity I’m super grateful for. (Plus, it makes gift-giving a little easier when you have a good idea of what they like. Totally got my mom “Walking Dead” socks this past Christmas.)
Go to therapy
One of the keys to strengthening your relationship with your parents is understanding that relationship. How do you feel about them? What do you appreciate about your childhood? What would you have changed?
Go to therapy alone with the intentions of delving deep into your relationship with your parents, or attend therapy together to solidify your connection now that you’re an adult and not a child. Therapy may illuminate some integral moments from your past that help you better understand your parents and the relationship you have with them.
Speak your parents’ love language
By now, you’ve likely heard of the five love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. What’s your love language? And what are your parents’ respective love languages?
Once you recognize the things or gestures that make your parents feel most loved, cherished, and appreciated, you can go out of your way to make sure you do more of them. If your parents thrive on words of affirmation, call them once a week and tell them you love them. If quality time is their thing, make time as often as possible to do an activity together. Or if physical touch is their language, always make sure to hug them before you leave.
Originally published on March 9, 2018.