By Nina Thomas

How to Relate to Parents as an Adult

This past June I turned 26,  and this year marked my fourth year living on my own and working full time. Despite being an “adult” by all intents and purposes, I’ve found over the years that merely being in close proximity with my parents triggers this innate childlike state in me. I would find myself feeling independent and mature at work and while running errands at my apartment, but the minute I would visit my parents, I felt like a kid again.

I mean, who can blame me? These were the people who held me as a baby, changed my diapers, and saw all my childish tantrums. How could I possibly relate to them as an adult?

Adding to this dynamic is an additional layer of expectations within my culture. In South Asian culture, parents often are meant to be respected without question, or at least that was how I was raised in my Indian home. As I grew older, I began to realize that regardless of how old I was, my parents would perpetually be 20 plus years older than me and thus hold 20 plus more years of knowledge. However, regardless of these very real facts as well as the truth that I am unmarried, a major symbol of “adulthood” within my culture, I have been able to relate to my parents as an adult. But with that said, it wasn’t always easy.

Everyone Deserves Respect

Not too long ago, I remember going to my mental-health counselor feeling perplexed about this topic. It felt as though I was never worthy enough to share my opinions. In my household, the markers of being worthy of respect were having a job, being married, having children and possessing money. Every time I tried to relate to my mother as an adult, I was somehow reminded of how I was “un-ready” to do so. This led to years of me trying to somehow earn my worth or the title of being an adult. And somehow, every time I thought I had inched closer, the end point seemed to move just a bit farther away.

When I lamented to my counselor about this struggle of not feeling worthy of being an adult in relation to of my parents, I was shocked by her simple but true response: You don’t need to do anything to earn respect; everyone deserves it. With that statement, years of feeling the need to prove myself and somehow earn worth crumbled. After that session, when I again tried to talk to my mother and was met by similar walls, I told her the same statement my counselor told me. And, to my surprise, she agreed.

Having Things to Teach to Them

At times when I feel tension when talking to my parents, I still try to speak. I share my thoughts, and often, it feels like my parents don’t hear me. But despite their own uneasiness of accepting that their child is an adult, I know that they are listening.

Years ago, while attending a baby shower, my mother shared some words of advice to the soon to be mother. She admitted that in her life, as her daughter, I taught her a lot and wished that the same may be true for her daughter and her one day. I remember feeling dumbfounded in that moment. I had somehow taught my mother?

Yes, my parents are the people who changed my diapers, nursed me when I was sick, and have also seen me at my worst—but we can still relate to one another as adults. I am encouraged by the message in 1 Timothy 4:12 which reads, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” It is never exactly easy, and at times it can feel weird, but I’m grateful that in the same way my parents taught me so much over the years, I too can teach them a thing or two now as an adult.

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