GP Bridges Therapy and Continuing Education

"Building Bridges Across Relationship Barriers"

Understanding Your Relationship With Your Parent

Child/parent relationships can be complicated; influenced by decades of experiences, the ability to establish and maintain emotional boundaries and a healthy relationship where consistent and appropriate nurturing has taken place. The child/parent relationship will be different between a family where the child was forced to take on an adult role due to illness or other extenuating circumstances and the home where the child experienced emotional growth in an age appropriate manner. As we age, our relationship with our parents becomes reflective of who we have identified ourselves to be and who we believe our parents were during our childhood.

If you are a teen or young adult and are experiencing challenges in your relationship with your parent(s), understand that if you are not able to identify healthy/unhealthy behaviors and boundaries, then you will spend an inordinate amount of time experiencing "knee-jerk" reactions. Because you are not working from a foundational understanding of "why" unhealthy behaviors are being demonstrated, in these cases your reactions may exacerbate the issues. Take time to:

  • Write down frequent behaviors that are causing conflict.
  • Determine if they are based upon fact.
  • Examine your own role in the conflict.
  • Determine if these behaviors are healthy or unhealthy (make sure that there is no physical or emotional abuse.)

Contact your school counselor if issues at home are impacting you at school. If you are a young adult, make sure that you take time to "back away" if the conflict escalates. There might be times when it is necessary for you to separate yourself from your parent(s) for a period of time in order to regain a healthy outlook and balance. Keep in mind that if this is the case, you are not neglecting your parent(s), you are simply taking care of your own emotional health.

Elderly Parents 

As you approach middle age, the strain of caring for an elderly parent can create a myriad of emotions: Be cognizant that you will occasionally experience frustration, weariness, despair and helplessness. When this occurs, it is important that you:

1. Treat your parent with physical and emotional respect regardless of how you are feeling, and;

2. Understand that being overwhelmed is normal; you should not feel guilty when you experience occasional negative emotions.

Based upon a 2009 study commissioned by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, the average age of today's caregiver is 53.6 years old. She is a married, employed woman caring for a 79-year-old mother or mother-in-law. Twenty-two percent still have minor children at home.

Not long ago I was speaking to an Alzheimer's patient's caregiver who acknowledged without rancor that her sister was her mother's favorite child. It did not impact her love for her mother or her dedication to ensuring that decisions were made that kept her mother comfortable and as content as possible. While I was curious about what this manifestation of favoritism "looked like", I could also tell that this person was, at the minimum, resigned that her mother's deteriorating state of mind was also putting out of reach any way of negating this belief. In her mind, it simply "was."

The child of an aging parent will often be required to accept the fact there may not be closure on some issues even though their parent is still alive. This can be a painful realization, especially when visiting the parent and being in such close physical proximity. The important thing to remember is that there will be more than one time in life where it will be necessary to "walk away" from relationships knowing that resolution is not possible. It takes time to be fully cognizant of this; sometimes professional help and guidance are needed to navigate this process. As humans we tend to want closure in relationships, but this is simply not always possible. If you have a close, caring relationship with your aging parent you will not have to experience the same sense of loss as someone who grieves the inability to mend relationships.

If you are the caregiver of an aging parent, be kind to yourself. The role reversal can be confusing at times and you will need to understand your own emotions as you deal with day to day living as a caregiver. It could be helpful to keep a journal each day. This journal might be a collection of thoughts or it might highlight the experiences of the day. It will be important to stay connected with your feelings so that you can maintain a healthy perspective that supports your parent and you.