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How to Act Like An Adult Around Your Parents


Day in and day out I explain to clients that, as adults, they have the ability (and duty to self) to live without their parents’ love and approval. And day in and day out they have difficulty internalizing this truth. Granted that yearning for parental approbation and attention is different than yearning for these things from anyone else. However, adulthood means detaching from believing you need parents emotionally and interacting with them in a way that serves you.

For example, my client Bella’s widowed mother constantly wants to spend time with her, ignoring the fact that her daughter is married, works full-time and has a toddler. When Bella declines invitations to get together, her mother either cries or gives her the cold shoulder and won’t speak to her for weeks. Now, please stop and consider what you think and feel about her mom.

My thoughts (in no particular order) are as follows: Poor Mom, she sure has issues; Boy, she’s manipulative; It’s time for Bella to set Mom straight about spending time together and let her feel whatever she feels. I feel compassion for both parties and see that something is very amiss (and has been for a long time) between them. It’s clear as day to me what’s happening and how the situation needs to be handled.

Then, why can’t Bella do the adult thing? The answer is that she feels badly for mom but, more than that, is stuck in recall when she truly couldn’t live without her mother as a child. The fact is that if her mother died tomorrow, Bella would be fine emotionally (other than being sad and grieving). That is, she does not need her mother’s love to live her best life. In adulthood, friends, lovers and relatives are the replacement for what we received from our parents.

Once you understand that you don’t need your parents emotionally as an adult, you’ll be able to set better boundaries with them. While recall is saying, “I can’t hurt them,” the truth is that you can and you must in order to be an emotionally healthy adult. It doesn’t feel good to hurt them, but it feels freeing and empowering to know you can live without them and get to make choices to suit yourself. So, they cry, pout, retaliate, and won’t talk to you. So, what? You’ll grow from this experience just like the rest of us have. 

I’m talking about emotional separation, and if you want the freedom and self-confidence that other people have, then you have to go through it, wrenching as it is, and come out the other side. You don’t need the love or approval of parents’ to survive and thrive. You need a full, mature self that refuses to let others hurt you no matter who they are.