Just Tell Me What I Need to Know: Relating to My Parents After College
Family relationships can be complicated even at the best of times. But when you’ve just graduated and are trying to find your feet in the midst of transition, figuring out how to relate to your parents can be especially confusing. How do you build an adult relationship with them? As someone who went through this transition three years ago, here are some things I’ve learned.
1. It’ll probably be weird.
Honestly, this is true of just about everything that will happen to you after you graduate—stuff’s going to get weird. One minute you’re in school, taking tests and having summer vacation the same way you have all your life, and the next minute you’re trying to navigate an entirely new situation that you don't have any experience for at all. Transitions are weird. Adult life is weird. It’s okay.
This will likely be especially true of your relationship with your parents. Whether you have a good, bad, or somewhere-in-between relationship, under the pressure of transition, awkwardness, discomfort, and even arguments can arise, and things may change in ways you weren’t expecting. In my experience, putting pressure on everything to stay “normal” makes dealing with transitions harder and more painful. If you can lean into the weirdness and not let it freak you out, it’ll be easier to meet God in that place.
2. It’s okay to have boundaries.
We all know that God commands us to honor our fathers and mothers. And as children, that means submitting ourselves to our parents’ authority. But as adults, and especially after we graduate, it gets a little more complicated.
Boundaries are crucial to all adult relationships—they help us treat others as children of God and ensure we’re treated the same way in return. But it can feel really wrong to set boundaries with your parents. After all, these were the people who raised, fed, and clothed you. You owe them everything, right?
The truth is, it’s possible to respect, honor, and love your parents without rearranging your life to meet their exact specifications. It’s not a sin to tell your dad “Please don’t call me when I’m at work unless it’s an emergency,” or to get your MFA even though your mom always wanted you to be a doctor, or to not fly home for Christmas in order to save money for rent.
Depending on your family culture, setting boundaries may be very difficult, and every situation is unique and requires your individual judgment and prayer. But you’re an adult, and it’s okay to expect your parents to treat you like one.
3. It’s also okay to let your parents help you.
Western culture has this idea that graduating from college immediately makes you a fully functional adult, with a good steady job, a solid income, and the ability to handle whatever comes your way without breaking a sweat. It’s a very compelling idea—and it’s completely untrue. Transitioning from undergraduate to postgraduate life takes time. Not everyone finds a well-paying, stable job in the perfect field right away. In fact, very few people do. But because of this cultural myth about the perfect, well-adjusted college grad, there’s a lot of shame and stigma attached to not being immediately “self-sufficient.”
This shame is a lie, and it’s not from God. If you need to live with your parents because you haven’t found a job yet, or if your dad buys you groceries so you don’t have to survive on ramen, or if you call your mom every night because you’re lonely and you miss her, you are not a failure as an adult. There’s no such thing as a self-sufficient person—God has designed us to be in community with each other, to help each other out and build each other up. Accepting help from people who love you is never something to be ashamed of.
4. Don’t forget to pray.
Transitioning from college to whatever’s next—including transitioning into an adult relationship with your parents—isn’t going to be smooth and seamless. You’ll encounter some bumps in the road as you try to figure things out. When this happens, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s also an opportunity to draw closer to God.
God never changes, even when everything around us seems to be shifting and moving. His character and promises are reliable no matter our life situation. When I’m in times of transition, I like to think about the story of Abraham in Genesis 12–13. He was told to leave his hometown and his family, with no guarantees except a promise that God would make him a great nation and bring him to a new land. Throughout his wanderings, Abraham trusted that God would fulfill his promise, even when he had no idea what that would look like. The story of Abraham inspired me to rely on God’s love and faithfulness after I graduated, even when the details of my future were fuzzy.
Take comfort in the fact that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and ask him for the grace to navigate your new life in a way that’s pleasing to him. And pray for your parents too—prayer is an act of love you can always do, even if you aren’t sure how else to honor your parents.
Above all, look to God, your heavenly Father, and remember that you are his beloved child, always. He delights in watching you grow and become the person he created you to be, and is with you in every bump along the way.
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.
I grew up valuing a type of success that looked like this: a stable career, a stable family, with a good spouse and well-behaved kids, and enough money to take care of me, my offspring, and my parents for the rest of our lives. I was also raised to maximize my “status” or my “influence,” including an education at the right type of school, leading to the right kind of career and the right amount of salary.