31 Jan 2023

How to relate to your parents

They were everything to you once, and – if you’re lucky – they will still be central to your life. But there’s no doubt that one of the more painful aspects of growing up is disentangling yourself from your parents in order to be able to strike out on your own.

Adolescence aside (a period where feelings run amok and rejection is in the air), you want to strike a balance between respect for your parents and their way of doing things and recasting yourself an independent human being. This delicate balance is hard to maintain, and inevitably there will be times when parents get on your nerves, interfere excessively in your life, and make their disapproval palpable. Similarly, there will be times when your parents find you cold, confrontational and relentlessly self-interested.

There are many ways in which you can improve your relationship with your parents and vice versa. Being aware that your parents are separate human beings, with their own problems and priorities, refusing to take them for granted and treating them with civility will all go a long way towards constructing a satisfying adult relationship:

Golden Rules for Dealing with Parents

• Put the casual grumpiness of adolescence behind you and always treat your parents with courtesy and respect. Good manners, consideration and gratitude will reassure your parents that you are not taking them for granted.

• When you go back to your parents’ house, remember that it is no longer your home, and don’t treat it as such. This means tidying up, helping with the washing up and other chores, and asking permission to use the washing machine, switch on the television, help yourself to food from the fridge.

• Don’t treat the parental home as somewhere to go for a bout of pampering. While many parents would be happy to look after you during a period of genuine convalescence, just being completely exhausted because of an over-active social life and demanding job isn’t a good enough reason to expect them to be at your beck and call.

• Turn the tables and show some interest in your parents. Ask them questions about their past, their friendships, jobs, holidays and so on. Try and see them as people with their own stories to tell, not just part of the background furniture.

• Wherever possible, involve your parents in your life. Tell them about your friends, and from time to time incorporate your parents into your social life. Send them photos or emails, or communicate with them via social media, or set up a family WhatsApp group. Even if you live a long way away, don’t make them feel that you’ve distance has obliterated them from your life – you can always organise a regular video call to reassure them that all is well.

• Keep in touch. Establish a regular pattern of emails, phone calls, meetings etc. and keep to it. There’s no rule about how often you should be in contact with your parents, but – whatever the pattern – you should stick to it.

• From time to time your parents may disapprove of your choices – of partner, job, house, pet, children’s names etc. etc.  Disapproval, especially if is vocally expressed, can be very hard to tolerate. Try not to fly off the handle and instead accept that your parents have a unique relationship with you, which may make them feel entitled to articulate their feelings. Keep calm and consider their objections rationally. It’s very likely that you won’t agree, in which case you should state firmly and politely that this is your own choice, and you feel strongly that decisions about running your own life are nobody else’s business.

• Admit your own mistakes. This is very difficult to do, but remember you have a lifetime with your parents, and it’s good to clear the air from time to time. Owning up to your errors will also pre-empt any tendency to indulge in ‘I told you so…’ gloating.

• If you’re ready to listen, try eliciting your parents’ opinion. It will demonstrate that you respect them and there’s every chance that some of their advice will be invaluable – growing up and becoming independent doesn’t necessarily mean rejecting their good counsel.

• Your parents are vulnerable too. As you grow older the tables may turn, and you might find yourself in the situation where you’re looking after them, and they can no longer look after you. Adjust your image of your parents as they get older – don’t persist in seeing them as the invulnerable titans of childhood. Accept that age will bring frailty and uncertainty and recognise the changes that maturity will bring.

• Compliment your parents. They have showered love and affection on you (if you’re lucky), but they need to hear good things about themselves, especially as they get older. So, give them some positive feedback. Compliments on more trivial things, such as their appearance, garden or cooking, will make them feel like ‘real’ people in your eyes. More profound gratitude – for sacrifices made, money spent, support given – will make it all seem worthwhile.


MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Get In Touch
Subscription Enquiries
+44 (0)330 3339699
General Enquiries
+44 (0)20 3950 5240
Join our weekly newsletter
Subscription Form
MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Designed by Anna Ocipinska. Developed by BuiltByGo. © 2022 Debrett’s. All Rights Reserved
My cart
Your cart is empty.

Looks like you haven't made a choice yet.