It’s Never Too Late To Have A Good Relationship With Your Grown Children (Your Parents or Your Ex-Spouse, Too)

by Suzanne E. Harrill

It is never too late to create a good relationship with your grown children.  It begins with you, reeducating yourself about many things. You have the opportunity to improve your part of the equation regardless of whether the other person changes or not.   You may need to remind yourself that relationships are co-created and that it takes two willing people to relate. The more mature each person is, the more readily differences can be overcome. You may benefit from redefining your concept of a good relationship with this person, as well as your current patterns of thinking and behaving. As you look at the visions, wishes, hopes, and dreams that you have about your relationship with this person, remember that this is exactly what they are—the goals and potential of the relationship from your point of view. To accept the current reality with your grown child and to be able to have inner peace and enjoyment of your own life regardless of the outcome of the situation is your task. 

Choose one person with whom you would like to have a better relationship. It can be with a grown child, parent, sibling, boss, business partner, or ex-spouse. Even though I will be talking about improving the relationship between a parent and their grown child, this information applies to any important relationship in your life that has difficulties, room for improvement, or does not allow you to directly work on building a relationship at this time. We will look at ways to focus on your own life and healing rather than on the relationship as it is at this time. A good relationship can be held in your consciousness until the proper timing to manifest it with the other person. In the meantime consider healing your part in the relationship, which is the only part you have control over.  This then allows the relationship to go forward with new possibilities.

It will take some work on your part to be honest and realistic with yourself about your expectations and goals, to let go of control and attachments to certain results, to know the difference between your needs and the needs of the other person, and to forgive the past and yourself, to name a few areas.  Ask yourself such things as, what are the values, maturity level, and awareness level of your grown child, as well as how do you honor emotional boundaries, developmental stages, level of awareness, and proper timing. If you judge yourself for an earlier parenting style or communication pattern, etc., it is time to forgive yourself for “mistakes” in your unaware past. As long as this relationship does not meet your highest visions and desires it will be necessary to find appropriate ways to get your needs met and grieve your disappointment, anger, and depression about the relationship not being to your liking. Your ultimate happiness must not depend on your grown child meeting your needs or making you happy, because the ultimate goal for you as a mature parent is to allow your grown child to be an individual and to have the freedom of living her life as she chooses.  (For simplicity sake I am using the feminine pronoun.  If the relationship you wish to heal is with your son, simply substitute the appropriate pronoun.)

You might like to do this healing exercise. Close your eyes and go to your place of peace. Deep breathe and release pain and tension. Visualize a rainbow bridge between you and your daughter; see the two of you walking towards the center of the bridge. Both of you are open and receptive to each other. Express everything you wish you could say in person. Tell her what your highest values and goals are for her and the relationship. Listen as she expresses herself. See and feel this vision actualizing now. Affirm this or something better is being created. When finished, complete by hugging, shaking hands, or bowing to each other. See each of you returning to your own lives. Notice how you feel and if there is anything you feel drawn to act upon.

Know that the seeds for a good relationship with your grown child are planted and working out spiritually. In your everyday life, however, you can only work from where each of you currently is in awareness. One or both of you may need to grow and heal emotionally before this good relationship can take place. If mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, depression, rage, or an inability to look introspectively is present, it could take a very long time. Remember your grown child may have to heal their personal problems and go through their lessons to be ready for a better relationship with you.

If you have been on the journey to wholeness and have made many changes in your awareness, then you may regret some of your earlier influence that is now playing out. You may be overly critical of self, feeling guilty for some of the ways you parented and seeing where you made unaware choices, especially if your grown child has problems managing her life. We all wish at times that we were wiser and not simply repeating familial patterns without even knowing it. Really, you would have done better if you knew what you now know. Let go and grieve. Again, forgive yourself.

It is common to want to fix things and correct them, but that is not how life works. We each have to heal ourselves when we leave home. Now you have to wait for your grown child to enter the healing journey and do the inner work necessary to change and grow. You can continue to work on yourself and continue to do the inner work in order to heal more. This does get passed on to the other person, because you send out different thoughts and feelings.  You can, thus, temper your neediness or impatience, and neutralize any charge your child can evoke from you.

You must see that you only did what you could do at the time and that these patterns of dysfunction have been handed down in your family system for generations. You were only one link in the chain; an important link because you began looking at and healing some of the issues. Acknowledge yourself for the healing and awareness that you have done. Continue your process because you add healing to the family system with every new insight you receive, especially when you can live from your new place of awareness. Your grown child will eventually benefit from your process. At the very least you will know to change your part in the dance when you are together until your child takes responsibility for her own inner work.

If you are estranged from an adult child and if you have done a lot of healing within yourself, it may be appropriate to open the door for a better relationship.  It is important to know opening the door is an invitation to the other person, not a guarantee they will walk through it. You might even have to leave the door open for many years before the other person reaches a place of maturity from which they can build a positive relationship with you.

In any case, it is not necessary for you to wait until your grown child is ready before you heal together.  In fact, it really does not matter whether or not your adult child understands that you are working on improving the relationship. At some level, she will be aware that you are at total peace with the relationship, having forgiven yourself and her for any misperceptions, projections, painful actions, false judgements or thoughts, or hurtful words.

Inner healing requires no one except you to make changes. Changes in attitude, perceptions, understanding, and interpretations are an inner experience. It is a change in consciousness. Usually there are observable outer signs in a person making shifts in their consciousness: less body tension, less emotional disturbances and reactions to events and people, compassion for others, eye contact, respect, and interest in others when they are talking, to name a few.  Notice how you are doing with these qualities.

Self-inquiry must become a way of life for you, if you want to heal your relationship with your grown child. Assume you are the main character of your life much like in a movie or play. You are also the scriptwriter, director, and casting director. Through the eyes of your wise self, observe how you are doing periodically, staying aware, and remembering that you have the power to keep improving and striving for a healthier, happier life script. 

 As you live your day, you watch yourself.  Are you happy, sad, angry, hurt, giving to others, doing your job, meeting your responsibilities, over-reacting to others, and having fun? Notice what motivates you, what you need and want. When you feel an incongruency between your value system, goals, desires (which may also be transforming) and your actions and responses to the outside world, take some quiet time with yourself. Ask yourself what is going on. Be totally honest with yourself and take total responsibility for what you are feeling and doing. Vow to no longer simply live from your automatic responses conditioned from your childhood or from past trials and tribulations you have been through. In fact nothing justifies staying a victim or being offended by others; nor is hurting or victimizing another justified. You are striving to live your life from a place of wholeness, authenticity, balance, awareness, and with harmlessness.

Healing your consciousness is a life-long process. As you live from this inner place and continue to grow, it will be enough to keep you busy until your grown child is ready to have a good relationship with you. Practice all your awareness and relating skills with every other relationship in your life—the postman, the food checker, drivers on the freeway, your friends, and other family members.

If you find you are the one who has been hurtful, angry, or even toxic in your past, it is important to look for positive ways to say, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake.”  You cannot change what you did in the past; however, you can own what you did that was not right.  Do not underestimate what this can do for someone else’s healing. It is never too late to begin expressing love in the relationship. Many grown children feel wounded that their parent never was able to say, “I Love You,” or compliment them. If that was the case, then you can begin today with a resolution to begin this affirming behavior. You might be surprised how well it builds your new relationship.

Trust takes time to rebuild if one has been hurt. It is good to remember that just because you are actively healing; your grown child may not have started yet or may not be as far along in healing.  If you see your grown child carrying on the family lineage of pain, whether it is alcoholism, poor parenting, or being victimized, do not judge them.  Be like an oasis to a thirsty person in the desert. Remember the oasis cannot come to the thirsty person; the thirsty person must crawl to the oasis. Be there when your grown child cries for help and is ready for true healing. You can also be willing to talk about the past, go to some of your grown child’s therapy sessions or just listen as she works through feelings and issues. 

Remember always to stay on your path of healing when you want to have a better relationship with your grown children. Practice love and forgiveness daily. Hold your vision of a good relationship and know it is unfolding with proper timing. When possible, open communication. When topics come up about the past, be able to say, “I’m sorry,” or how did that make you feel?” or “What decisions did you make about life when you felt that way?” Focus on being open and loving and in your adult, rational self so as not to close communication by reacting to your emotional triggers.

In managing your own life, it is helpful to find people who do want a relationship with you. As you open the door to a new life, you will be so busy that you will not notice time as it passes. Then the day your grown child walks through the door wanting a good relationship with you, you will be ready.

Once you have the relationship you want with your grown children, remember you can always improve a relationship. You may want to begin talking at a deeper level about some of the topics discussed here and take a risk to express more honestly with each other. Evaluate your relationship together periodically to see where each of you are and what may be shifting and changing for one or both of you. 

In summary it is never too late to have a good relationship with your grown child or any other person in your life. Begin with yourself, healing your part of the dance in the relationship. When your grown child is ready, you will be available with the gate open.

May the following poem give you food for thought. It is from the book The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran.

On Children

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls.

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit,

not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

so He loves also the bow that is stable.




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