Learning to be friends with my parents is one of the most beneficial lessons I have learnt to date. After all, these 2 people probably know me better than anyone else. Who better to help you out when you’re down than those who are already well-versed in picking you up.
When I look around me, I see many adult children that maintain relationships with their parents more out of a sense of duty than out of any real interest in their personal lives. What a shame to miss out on a beautifully deep friendship. It seems that lots of people don’t readdress their relationship with their parents until they have children of their own. Why wait until then??
I am lucky enough to be friends with my mum and dad, friendships we have been fostering since my teenage years. Seeing the disparity between my peers’ situations and my own, I started thinking about what happened in the past to evoke our blossoming friendships.
What contributing factors got us from parent-child to friends?
1. Divorce / Hardship
As a child, your parents are so idealised they practically cease to be human. Mummy and Daddy know everything, they are unbreakable, they obviously know how the worlds works since they’re grown-ups. But when they are faced with serious hardships – from divorce to the death of a loved one – it tests their limits. They will break down and question the big stuff. They’re only human. Emotion, particularly grief and heartbreak, is the great equaliser. We all feel it, we all struggle with it – children and adults alike.
When I was 11, my parents divorced and I saw them experience intense emotions for the first time I could remember. They weren’t just my mum and dad anymore, they were real people with real emotions. Seeing how they experienced emotions just like I did shattered the illusion that they were on some other level. It surprised my 11-year-old self to find out that even adults didn’t always know what to do. Grown-ups needed to have a cry too sometimes.
I began to realise that we’re all just doing the best we can with the cards we’ve been dealt. Sure, as you age you learn better coping mechanisms, you learn important life lessons and better understand how the world works. But there’s a certain equalising quality in knowing that even a 70-year-old man will experience the same heartbreak, grief and anger as I did as an 11-year-old girl. It becomes easier to build relationships with people of any age; most importantly, it get easier to establish a friendship with your parents when you realise age is but a number.
2. Infrequent Visits
This one is more for how my friendship with my father grew. He travels a lot for work and oftentimes we would go months without seeing each other. I missed him at times, but this infrequency made it so that when we did see one another we genuinely wanted to know the latest updates in our respective lives. It made me appreciate his company, not just as a father, but as a friend.
I believe this new discourse with my dad sophisticated my understanding of him as an individual person beyond his parental role in my life. It was paramount in bridging the gap between parent-child and equals. Many people don’t catch up with their parents in such a way until they leave home in early adulthood; we definitely got a head-start on it!
In recent years I have also been able to engage in a similar discourse with my mum as I’ve spent most of my time thousands of kilometres away from home. I feel that we’re now more able to advise each other; we can remain more objective as we’re not wrapped up in the other’s emotional turmoil, while maintaining subjectivity because we know each other so well.
The fact that my parents are and were dating and establishing new romantic connections around the same time as me gave us a lot of common ground. My mum and I especially are able to speak openly about dates, flirty texts, boyfriends and break-ups – just like any other girlfriend. Somehow, as much as we change over time and as different as we might be, love remains the same.
Friendship certainly thrives on shared stories, tears, hugs and experiences. Romantic loves may come and go but the bonds we formed through talking over matters of the heart will always endure.
Furthermore, I feel their words of wisdom about love are easier for me to accept and understand because I know that they’re currently navigating the same waters. Likewise, I feel able to share my advice with them.
Of course these are only my experiences. The roads we all take to reach these friendships will be different, but I think there are a few key markers on the way…
- Understanding each other as human beings, not just parents/children.
- Communication that accurately reflects your new understandings of one another.
- Bonding over common experiences, lifestyles or hobbies.
- Loving each other all along the way.