The parent-child relationship is one of the most long-lasting and emotionally intense social ties. Parents continue to influence children’s well-being well into their adulthood, and although often positive and supportive, such relationships may be characterised by feelings of irritation, tension and ambivalence. The latter may be even more so, when parents continue exerting their expectations onto their adult children, even when such expectations do not match what the adult children want for themselves.
A typical bone of contention between parents and their adult children may be the latter’s relationship status. If your parents have been dreaming of your wedding day for years, the fact that you’re single or living with your partner, may cause tension between you. Parents want the best for their children – or at least, most of them do. So, although their intentions may be well-meaning, if their expectations do not match what you want for yourself, you are going to experience this as interference and unwanted pressure. You may also feel guilty that you are causing your parents distress and perhaps even ashamed that you are not in a position to make them happy. After all, all of us, to a larger or smaller degree, want to make our parents proud.
However, this is the time to search your soul, and if getting married is not what you want to do right now, then you must stick to your gut, even if that means engaging in some uncomfortable, and perhaps even painful, conversations with your parents. You cannot change them, but you can change the way you respond to them. You need to advocate for yourself and be assertive. Such conversations tend to do better if, instead of taking a blaming or accusatory tone, you use empathy, followed by a clear and direct statement of how you feel with regards to what they want from you. So, when your parents next pop the question, “So when are you going to find a nice boy and settle down?” or “You have been living together for a year now, don’t you think it’s time to get married?”, come in touch with how such remarks make you feel and calmly express them. Use ‘I-statements’ since these enable the listener to become more aware of how you are feeling, thus increasing the chances of a more favourable reaction. You may tell them, “I know you mean well and that you are concerned for me. However, I have made my position clear on this. It hurts me when my feelings are ignored as it makes me feel like I cannot be who I want to be.”
Having such conversations may not be easy for some, and the fear that they may create more tension with our parents, may block us or make us want to avoid having them. However, the responsibility to be happy lies within each and every one of us and so it is your parents’ responsibility to learn to be happy irrespective of your life choices, and your responsibility to choose the path in your life which makes you happy.
Birditt, K.S., Miller, L.M., Fingermann, K.L., Lefkowitz, E.S. (2009) Tensions in the Parent Child Relationship: Links to Solidarity and Ambivalence. Psychol Aging 24(2): 287-295
Stephanie Caruana is a counsellor at Willingness. She offers counselling services to adolescents and adults experiencing some form of distress. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.