How to have a life long close relationship with your kids ?
December 12, 2013 4:00 AM   Subscribe

Recently seeing a lot of disappointment from parents/ grown children regarding their parents/ grown children. Both sides disillusioned with the difference between who they want/ need the other to be/do and who they actually are/ do. What has kept you close to your parents/ children?

Recently being receiving comments such as "Enjoy them while they are young!" which got me thinking that I'd like to enjoy them forever thank you very much and that I don't know anyone (!) with a good lasting relationship with their parents (including me) or with their grown children. Good being defined as mutual enjoyment (what else?) and no trauma from history.

Um. So. Hope this makes sense. I'm very new to parenting. Thank you.
posted by oink to Human Relations (44 answers total) 133 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My parents have never expressed disappointment in me. Simple as that. I mean, they've been disappointed or angry about plenty of things that I've done, but not who I am. Even when I was fucking things up left and right and they didn't know what to do with me, they made it clear that they loved me and believed in me and thought I was a good person.

I was a pretty quirky kid (very shy, very smart) and they never tried to force me into something I was not. They'd encourage me, and subtly arrange things to give me opportunities to boost my strengths or overcome my weaknesses ("Look, acting classes! Does that sound fun?") but I never got the sense that they were comparing me to any other kid, real or idealized.

Enjoy parenting! Most of the people I know have relationships with their parents that are between "pleasant" and "close" so I don't think you have that much to worry about.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:23 AM on December 12, 2013 [38 favorites]

My parents trust me. We disagree about a lot of things, but all my life they have trusted me to make the right and honest decision as I saw it at the time, and been there to help, without reproach, if the decision turned out to be wrong. There are many, many things wrong with their parenting; my family is deeply dysfunctional, but their complete, unconditional trust and confidence in their children has kept us together.
posted by sockofdreams at 4:42 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

You have no idea how your kids will turn out, and you don't have as much control over it as you think you do. Kids with crappy parents grow up to be wonderful adults, and kids from great families grow up to narcissistic assholes. You do your best and what happens, happens.

Also, parents of older kids or adults have serious selective memory issues. By that time we've mostly forgot about the colicky baby that almost drove us to substance abuse, or the ornery 2 year old that made us swear we were done having kids.

So you can't control what happens, and most of us that say stuff like, "Enjoy them when they are young" are full of shit anyway. Also, conformation bias. Nobody posts on Ask MeFi about their wonderful relationship with the parents.
posted by COD at 4:45 AM on December 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

I am very close to my parents.

Metroid Baby is right - the key is to be happy with the kid you've got. My parents were careful to never push me into doing or being anything I didn't want to do - they let me self-motivate.

They have always maintained a great sense of humor towards parenting, that toed the line really well between joking around with me and knowing when to stop so they wouldn't hurt my feelings.

I have never, ever felt like they were disappointed in me or that they didn't love me. In fact, I have always known that they were thrilled to get me as a child - and they showed that while also never comparing me to anyone else.

As I've become an adult, I've also appreciated that they really gave me the skills to become a functioning member of society (something that seems rare among my age group (20s)). They have always given me healthy opportunities to fuck things up - and I have! - and they have always been there to lend an ear or a shoulder afterwards.

We are a small family - neither of my parents is especially close with their siblings or parents - but the four of us are very close. They both vowed to never take the hardline approach to parenting that their parents did, and they've always valued my opinion and feelings (and, well, me).

Just the fact that you're asking this question makes me think you're a terrific parent, as well.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:46 AM on December 12, 2013 [19 favorites]

Be supportive of their choices, even if you disagree with them. Never be judgemental or disapproving. Try to take an interest in the things they are interested but don't hover or interfere. Listen when they tell you things, even if it seems trivial or unimportant to you, if you want them to tell you the important things in their life you have to take the unimportant too. Talk to them about what's going on in your life - that's how you're going to teach them to have an open dialogue with you (in other words, model the behaviour you want to see in them yourself, instead of "do as I say, not as I do".

The only things that are really important is that your child is happy and healthy. So long as what they want to do isn't going to have a long term impact on either of those things, let them do it and when it turns out to be a bad idea, be there for them without saying "I told you so".
posted by missmagenta at 4:53 AM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm 25 and my parents and I have a great relationship. They aren't religious, but they really took this attitude toward raising me and my brother and sister.

"...our children don’t belong to us. They are both a loan and a gift from God, and the gift has strings attached. Our job is to raise our children to leave us. The children’s job is to find their own path in life."

I could always tell they believed it. They were universally supportive of every interest I had, whether they shared it or not. Any criticism stemmed from concern that I was limiting my own options or putting myself in danger.

My father, bless him, always talked to be about the concerns in his life like I was capable of understanding his worry (I was) and maybe even helping him with advice (less often).

My mother said yes all the time. Can I hang out with my friends? Yes. Can I dye my hair pink in 5th grade? Yes (coolest mom ever). One time on a fieldtrip she was chaperoning, she took me and the other kids in our car to get ice cream instead of straight back to school. She always believed that many rules in our lives are silly, and trusted my judgement to respect the worthwhile ones.

But they weren't pushovers. They kept time for themselves. They had a clearly-articulated no tolerance policy for drugs, sex, and being deliberately mean to others. They made sure I knew that if I was arrested, I would spend the night in jail. They also didn't helicopter like many of my friends parents. They offered advice and occastionally laid down the law, but generally my decisions were my own and they were there to help if I asked.

I now have a "glamorous" job, and people ask them how they did it (I wasn't the most impressive child). They always just sort of shrug and say I worked hard. Unlike a lot of parents, they don't seem to think what I do or don't do reflects on them as parents. They have their own goals and accomplishments. They are proud of me, but they were just as proud when I was a struggling C student as when I was a valdictorian.

Now that I live alone and have my own job and house and life, I am happy to call them and talk because they also have their own lives. They don't hang on my every action like some of my friends parents. They share their hopes, and fears, and when the conversation lulls they said, "Whelp, we'll talk to you later." And then they go do fun things.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 5:00 AM on December 12, 2013 [53 favorites]

I do not think there is a single general answer. The relationships have to be sorted out mutually in every case according to the personalities involved.

Moreover some people get dealt an easier hand than others. I know people who happen to be relaxed and easygoing who have relaxed and easy-going kids, and for them parenting is a walk in the park.

I know one other case where the kid and the mother have exactly the same small personality trait and the same inability to put up with it in other people (no doubt through heredity). The inevitable result was a total and acrimonious severance when the kid was 21, and no contact whatever since, bar a few short screaming matches in the early days. It's tragic; neither of them is a bad person, but nothing can be done about it.
posted by Segundus at 5:11 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing everyone above. I'm super close to my parents, and they always treated me as an individual and held off on their expectations of what a daughter of theirs should be. They also didn't indulge us: they would call us out when we were rude or obnoxious, and even though they had money they wouldn't give us extravagant treats outside of Christmas.

The irony is, the less they encouraged me and my brother to be like them, the more we aspired to be exactly like them. I value the same things they value, I vote the way they vote, I donate to the same causes, I share the same things they do on Twitter... However, when I started to follow a career they weren't too familiar with, they started to GET interested and now they always present me with clippings and links that they think I'd be interested in.

It helps that my parents are very self-reliant. They call me when they want to chat to me, not just when they want to nag me to call my Grandma or fix their computer. I certainly don't roll my eyes they way my friends sometimes do when 'Mum' pops up on their phone.

Also, even though I am an adult my parents still help me out financially from time to time, and are very generous with offering to pay for things I can't afford (such as driving lessons or therapy for arachnophobia, to name but 2 recent examples). Not all parents have that luxury, and I know others who are close to their parents while supporting them financially (rather than the other way around) - it is certainly not necessary for a lasting relationship. However, on the whole it does feel good to be supported in more ways than one.
posted by dumdidumdum at 5:12 AM on December 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

You have no idea how your kids will turn out

This is very true. My mother and I have a . . . fraught . . . relationship. I think that, growing up, she had no idea what to do with a child who was so sensitive and had the anxiety issues that I did. She also didn't know what to do with the fact that such a gregarious person had had such an introverted child. Her being confused/disappointed at me is a big part of why I struggle to have a good relationship with her.

For my part, looking at my mom from my point of view, I try to give her a little grace. She loves me and she did good by me. I was physically and mentally cared for in a stable environment full of love. I just had different emotional needs, which she did her best with. That grace has kept us close despite not being close, if you know what I mean. I don't know what she does on her part to help, but I am sure our relationship could be SO much worse, so whatever it is, she's doing great!

FWIW, that sort of emotional understanding came more naturally to my dad, and he and I have an effortless relationship.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:25 AM on December 12, 2013 [10 favorites]

One thing that's made my mother and I really, truly close friends (and I have to give her credit for making the first move on this) is that we've both been open and communicative about acknowledging things we both wish we'd done differently in the past, and offering sincere apologies.

The old saying goes that you'll appreciate your parents when you have children of your own, but I can testify to the fact that just getting older has a similar effect. Not a day goes by when I don;t gain some new insight into what my mother must have been going through when I was growing up, and some new respect for how she dealt with the challenges as best she could with what she had to work with. I try not to waste a chance to tell her when that happens.

For her part, whenever Mom sees some parenting idea she likes that just wasn't done back then, or reads an article on some psychological discovery, she doesn't hesitate to say, "I wish I'd known about this when you were younger; you might have had a happier childhood."

She had a stormy relationship with her own mother, but ended up being her primary caretaker in the last year of her life. They were able to mend a lot of fences, and my sister and I watched them do it, and I think it just drove the point home to all of us that you don't want to leave all the good things things unsaid until you have to cram them all in at the end. You still argue and annoy each other, of course. You can't really love someone without doing that, IMO. But the key for us seems to be always making the effort to balance that out with sincere appreciation of the things, both large and smallm that we like about each other. You can't repeat those things too often.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:40 AM on December 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I'm within 2 days of having my first child, so this has been on my mind. I'm fortunate to have a great relationship with my parents.

-They really had fun bringing up children. Of COURSE it was difficult and challenging, but since they actually enjoyed it they don't feel that it's our job as adult children to "pay them back". My Dad actually said, "my children are an adornment to my life in every way". It's nice to be thought of like that.

-They seem to genuinely enjoy spending time with their kids, doing whatever, talking and hanging out. We have all kinds of things to discuss and chat about; we enjoy hearing about each others' lives.

-We had no pressure whatsoever to go a certain direction in life. They are proud of and pleased with the people we turned out to be. They continue not to pressure us in terms of life choices or any decisions, big or small.

-Now that I am an adult, my parents do not feel that they have to give me advice. They often express that they consider me fully mature, competent and capable of handling whatever comes my way. They certainly don't mind being ASKED for advice but, for example, they haven't told me how to handle my marriage, my pregnancy, my job, my social life or anything else. They don't call me to nag. They don't tell me I'm doing things wrong.

-There are no expectations for fancy gifts, calling on certain days or at the right time, etc. We do nice things for each other, but there's no pressure. They don't feel hurt or mope if I don't call at the right time, and I don't either. I don't expect expensive gifts. There's no resentment whatsoever.
posted by Cygnet at 5:43 AM on December 12, 2013 [12 favorites]

She also didn't know what to do with the fact that such a gregarious person had had such an introverted child. Her being confused/disappointed at me is a big part of why I struggle to have a good relationship with her.

Holy crud, are you me?

I can't (and probably don't need to) tell you the feelings of inadequacy I suffered for years, seeing the hurt and rejection in her eyes as she'd recount stories of our youth and she'd say, "TUM didn't even want me to pick her up and cuddle her. She was just, *wicked witch voice* 'Feed me, change me, and leave me alone.'" I just knew that was why she preferred my extroverted sister, as much of a fuss as she'd make about, "And then there was [Sister], *eye roll and barely suppressed grin* who just HAD to be where all the action was!"

But she's since said that she understandds how horrible hearing things like that must have made me feel. And on my part, I now understand (as I didn't then) that she was dealing with worse spousal abuse than I knew, and several severely-undertreated chronic illnesses, at the time.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:52 AM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I am close with my parents. I didn't always think growing up that I would be but I am. There are a few things that come to mind that I think contribute to our closeness.

They (for the most part) allow me to make my own decisions and carve my own path. I know what they would prefer I do, but they don't push the point (usually). For example, everyone in my family went to the same university. I know they would have preferred me to go there as well, but I didn't. There was never any message of disappointment in me or pressure to change my mind. When I decided I was going to go to my different university they fully supported me. I never heard a single word of "Are you sure you don't want to go to [family university]?" nor did I ever hear any disappointment. They just accepted it and embraced it fully with enthusiasm. My dad even drove me out there to get a tour of the university before I accepted.

Point #1 - giving their input but allowing me to still make my own choices

I still, today, feel like my parents have my back. I still feel that if i called home crying right now to my mom saying that I needed her she would drop what she was doing and come. Actually, she did exactly that a few years ago. I tripped over a sidewalk on the way to work and severely injured my foot. I managed to crawl on my hands and knees back to my house but couldn't go any further. I called my mom (who lives 2 hours away), crying, and said I was hurt. She was there within an hour and a half, and on the drive she arranged for someone to go get me and bring me to the hospital.

Point #2 - always feeling like when things get really bad they will be there for me

They also are careful not to rescue me from stupid things that I have done to myself. One time I got myself stranded at a gas station in a city with no transportation because I decided that getting a ride to a city to visit a friend without warning, without their phone number, and without any clue where they lived was a good idea. I was never in danger, I was totally safe. I was just sort of stuck there until morning when another friend would be able to come get me and drive me home. I called my dad. His answer was "Gee, you sure got yourself in a bit of a pickle! Well, good luck! Let me know tomorrow how you made out!" and then hung up. At the time I was pissed that he didn't come rescue me, but looking back I'm glad he didn't. I needed to feel the consequences of my idiocy. I did eventually make it home that night, safe and sound, but it was one giant face palm of an event that I learned a lot from.

Point #3 - Forcing me to solve my own problems, suffer the consequences of stupid ass decisions.

Growing up my parents made sure to have specific mommy/daughter activities and daddy/daughter activities. Specific things we connect on. With my mom it is sewing and movies. With my dad it is Scrabble. They are things we can always go back to and bond over. We always have that to fall back on in times when we aren't maybe finding all that much to talk about or bond over.

Point #4 - have an activity that can carry you through the duration of your relationship that is something just for the two of you.

A final key way that we stay close is that we maintain regular contact that isn't intrusive. In my family we have "The Sunday Call". Every sunday morning my parents call me and each of my siblings, just to catch up and touch base. It is a very easy, controllable, non-intrusive, non-imposing way for them to stay connected and up to date in our lives without being annoying about it. They allow each of us to determine the level of contact that we're comfortable with.

Point #5 - They care, they want to know, but they don't get in the way of us having our own lives.

The thing is, for us this is how WE have developed and maintained closeness. What works for us may not work for others. It entirely depends upon the individuals.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:53 AM on December 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

I agree with Cygnet in that my mom and I actually like hanging out together, talking. And also, she never calls me up to give me unsolicited advice, because she knows she raised me to do the right thing. In fact, she calls me up and asks ME for advice, she is always telling me that she respects me and is proud of me. Now, all of this is probably due to the fact that I turned out SO SIMILAR to her, so it was easy. How do you get your kids to be similar to you, or how do you connect with your kids if they turn out very different from you in personality? I don't know.
posted by at 5:53 AM on December 12, 2013

Well,, my mom and I are pretty different - she's an extraverted artist who believes in all kinds of spiritual things and goes about life with very few plans and lots of spur-of-the-moment decisions... and I'm an introverted, practical, "sensible" scientist. But we have the same type of relationship you describe. So it's possible!
posted by Cygnet at 5:57 AM on December 12, 2013

I just realized I didn't really answer your question as asked.

You were asking how to start a relationship from the very beginning that would lead to life-long closeness, and I answered about creating a life-long close relationship as adults after a relationship that didn't promise to be life-long close from the beginning.

So, I guess, consider my contributions a Plan B.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:58 AM on December 12, 2013

My mom and I went through a "rough patch" when I was a teenager, but got through it. Now I'm 32 and have a family of my own and the first thing I do every morning is call my mom. We're super close mostly because we like each other as people. We're interested in each other beyond just being family - we have similar interests and sense of humor. Of course, that's part of living together for decades, but it's also just luck that we're so much alike. Even if we weren't, we have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. That I've always known that my mom not only loved me, but *respected* me as well helped me feel close to her from early on - even when I was pushing away, I knew that she didn't respect me any less for it.

My stepdads (one past, one current) and I are reasonably close now that I'm an adult, though there were some rocky patches. That they've been able to admit that they didn't do the greatest job of parenting when I was a kid helps, but more than that, they respect who I am as an adult and don't try to force their own expectations on me.

So, out of four parents that I have, I'm close with three. My biological father and I aren't on speaking terms for a variety of reasons - most of which can be traced to his being an unbalanced narcissist who demands that all interactions be on his terms with no regard to the needs of anyone else. I didn't grow up living with him, and that's really for the best. I put a lot of effort into our relationship as an adult, but in the end, it just wasn't healthy and I elected to cut ties for my own sanity. If you want an example of what NOT to do as a parent, he'd be a textbook case.

Now I have kid(s) (a two year old son and I'm pregnant with a daughter due next spring) and my long term hope is that they'll want to talk to me when they're 30. My husband is also super, super close with his parents, which helps feel like we have good examples to work from. I love my son infinitely, and I know he's not "mine" - he's his own person and I'm just lucky enough to be his mother and help him grow up. More than anything, I do everything I can to make sure he knows he's loved. I don't mean letting him watch cartoons all day - but things like putting down this comment I'm writing to give him my full attention while he wanted me to give his bear "smooches" or lying on the floor of his room when he was having separation anxiety and was afraid to sleep alone. I'm not a pushover as a parent, but I also try to never raise my voice at my son or make him feel like he's disappointed me - which is a balancing act for sure.

It's certainly one of the toughest parts of parenting - I won't know for decades if I've succeeded. I hope my son doesn't have too many things to take up with his future therapist about how we're raising him, but we're just doing our best. I do hope that he (and his impending sister) *likes* us as parents - but even if he doesn't, as long as he grows up to be a happy and fulfilled in his life, I will have done my job.
posted by sonika at 6:03 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am an adult. I am close to one of my parents, who is one of my best friends. I'm currently not speaking to the other (they are divorced). The parent I am not close with is a very cruel and negative person when drunk, which is unfortunately a lot of the time. I would get multiple drunk calls/emails a night blaming me for their problems (and talking about the "good old days" when I was a child) which caused me undue emotional stress and is the reason I cannot keep in touch to this day. I'm sure I would still be getting them if I hadn't blocked the number/address.

Please do not abuse alcohol, and please don't guilt-trip your kid for becoming an adult.
posted by Kamelot123 at 6:11 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

We're trying to get pregnant over here, and this is heavy on my mind as well. My mother and I have a difficult relationship, and when I called her last week to tell her that I'm getting married and we want a baby right away, I realized like halfway through the call that there really is no there there. We have none of the closeness that other people in this thread are describing, and the reality is that I've felt that way all my life. My mother has always been very detached from us; my sister is better at begging for her affection but I have a panic attack every time I call her. As a child I chose to be close to my grandmother to get the love and attention and validation that I didn't get from my mother, so I knew exactly what was missing. My mother had children too young and struggled too much -- instead of being interested in me as a person, she paid the bills and bought the groceries and expected me to take care of myself and stay out of the way.

She had no mother and no one taught her how to do it, no one taught her how important it is to show love and encouragement. (I remember her hugging me when I graduated from high school and how weird it felt because she never hugged us.) So instead she taught me to expect violence and disaster at any moment, and I am still so, so angry about that.

I thank God that times have changed since I was a kid - for example I'm well aware of my anxiety disorder and I will not inflict it upon my children, I refuse. She did a lot of things right, when she cared to, and I certainly have happy memories. But I am 33 and she makes me feel bad about myself and it's truly time to let it go. My husband's mom is AWESOME and we live in the same city with her, and I am so looking forward to her help and guidance with this baby.

They will always need nurturing. They will always need you, even once they are self-sufficient. No child should have to beg for affection or encouragement from their parents. Good on you for asking the question.

*Sigh* I love AskMe.
posted by polly_dactyl at 6:46 AM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

My mom and I have a pretty good relationship. A telling detail is that her favorite stories, told with delight and fondness, are those in which I did a thing that she never would have expected. These are not bungee-jumping stories, just little things like preferring to feed myself at a very young age, or going to college and grad school in places far from home and friends. When she describes these events from her point of view, the main theme is "Of course I was terrified that [ridiculous thing] would happen, but I put on my brave face, and of course you loved [utterly predictable outcome]!"

They add up to a narrative that says "You are your own person, and do an excellent job of making choices that are best for you. I enjoy being along for the ride, and helping when I can." It's a thing I try to model with my own son, who is shaping up to be as jockish and extraverted as his parents are nerdy and awkward. Another nut falling very far from the tree! Delightful.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:58 AM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think one thing that really helps is to be progressive in many aspects of your life. Be up on the latest technology, don't shy away from change or new ideas, be open to people from different walks of life. I mean, don't try to be like this, but be willing to grow and change with the times. Your willingness to try new things and not rely on old habits will give your kids comfort that they can do the same, and can leave the nest without feeling like they're leaving the family.

Among friends who had non-tumultuous upbringings (i.e. grew up not in poverty, with no physical/emotional/substance abuse), the ones that are closest with their parents are the ones whose parents are:
(a) socially liberal (pro-gay-rights, not 'weirded out' or whatever by trans issues, rarely make racial/homophobic/etc generalizations, and are willing to listen to why a comment may be insensitive and then change their behavior as a result),
(b) willing to accept, as perfectly legitimate, lifestyles other than the one they chose for themselves (vs. "well, I wouldn't want to do that, so clearly anyone who does is just fooling themselves/manipulated/wrong"),
(c) are able to communicate calmly about current events/issues,
(d) recognize when their children have matured to a certain level (that is, do not treat them as a child forever - acknowledge and support their increasing maturity), and
(e) can communicate using the methods that are convenient/common to their kids (Facetime, email, text, Facebook, online photo sharing, whatever future technology arises).....without the kids having to play IT Helpdesk

You don't have to be your kid's friend, but you have to be a person that they would want to be friends with if you weren't their parent.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:08 AM on December 12, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: My relationship with my mother is complicated. We like each other, and have shared interests, but we act like a couple of teenage girls around each other--and my childhood was rocky and she was sometimes abusive.

But my father-in-law . . . he is just a darling of a person, incredibly easy to love, and like. In thinking about their differences, I'd say that a huge one is that my mother operates from a position of emotional insecurity. She expects others to meet her emotional needs and can be a bit of an attention-starved black hole. There was very little parenting in my life; if anyone was the "grown-up" it was me and my sister, doing the care taking for my mother. She could be stingy with gifts and make us feel guilty about them, and also very demanding about us giving us her things. She never hesitated to tell us how much money we were costing her or if she didn't like taking part in some activity we did. There would be pride, but it was often tempered by disappointment that we weren't doing enough, or the right things.

My father-in-law, on the other hand, loves the children he's got and their spouses. He never hesitates to tell us how much he likes us as people. He shares his passions with us, but doesn't expect us to validate him. He's generous in surprising and unasked for ways, and doesn't expect to be paid back, reciprocated, or praised for his generosity. To him, that's just what you do for your children--he makes me excited to pay it forward with my own kids.

He just seems really, really happy to be a parent, and comfortable with all that entails. And it's kinda sorta a beautiful thing, to have someone who is just a force of positivity and giving (but not martyrdom) in my life.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:20 AM on December 12, 2013 [16 favorites]

First understand that they are not you. Having them dependent on you when they are grown is a power dynamic, not a close relationship. This applies to money, emotional needs, all manner of reinforcers. It's better to help them improve their capacity for independent action.

You do not have absolute control over how they turn out. Nature/nurture studies come out around half-&-half. Aspects like variations in dopamine response mean that how they interact with their environment (including you) is not a one-size-fits-all situation.

I'll suggest this book:

Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World

Glenn is working to strengthen the following abilities:

"I am confident of my personal capability when faced with challenges.
I believe I am personally significant and make meaningful contributions.
I have a positive influence over my life; I take responsibility for my choices.
I have strong intrapersonal skills and I manage my emotions through self-awareness and self-discipline.
I have strong interpersonal skills and I am able to effectively communicate, negotiate, and empathize with others.
I am able to adapt with flexibility and integrity, I have strong systemic skills.
I have well developed judgment skills and able to make decisions with integrity."

I am suggesting that when your child becomes an adult, love and respect are less inhibited if they are independent and capable in themselves. Then the relationship can become mutual, having grown from the hierarchical authority necessary when they are still children.
posted by dragonsi55 at 7:56 AM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm 32 and I love my Mum with all my heart, however, when we spend time together we invariably end up arguing because, even though I'm a grown woman, she won't. stop. mothering. me.

It seems to get worse as I get older, and I'ved lived in a different country for 5 years and travelled the world on my own, and yet - she still seems to think I'm incapable of making the simplest decision.

This greatly impedes our ability to have a closer relationship. Ultimately she still views me as a child and therefore, she views herself as the adult who needs to make the decisions. She frowns upon me when I have a glass of wine ("You'll get sloshed!!!!") and she treats me like a baby ("Make sure you call me when you get home! What if the taxi man is a rapist! I've written down his number plate, just in case! MAKE SURE YOU CALL ME WHEN YOU GET HOME!!!!)

The sad thing is, she did an excellent, excellent job of raising me and as such, I'm a well adjusted, hard working, conscienscious girl with her feet on the ground, no massive issues etc. and I just wish we could enjoy each others company more now that we are both older.

So really, my message to you is, when your children are grown up, treat them as such. You don't need to parent them when they are adults, you CAN be their friends. They will still come to you when they need you, but they will cherish the relationship more (I think) if they can hang out with you like a friend and talk "friend" subjects without being criticized.
posted by JenThePro at 8:04 AM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think there are a lot of really fantastic answers here and I think, reading what everyone is saying and thinking about my great relationship with my own parents, that it boils down to respect. They respect my personhood and I respect them and that is the foundation of our relationship. Even though we disagree on some big issues like religion, that basic respect of my decisions and my beliefs is still there.

Of course, it helps a lot that we three have very similar personalities. My brother is the odd one out in the family and they have a more strained relationship with him, in part, I think, because that mutual respect is so much harder to come by. So in order to have a good relationship with your children as they get older, I guess you have to work on respecting them no matter how they turn out.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 8:07 AM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't have kids but I read this book about respectful communication with children and it sounds like the method for laying a good foundation.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:18 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm the mother of three adult sons, ages 43, 40, 38. I was by no means a perfect mom but they all still like me and I like them, they're wonderful people and quite different from each other. Two of them have children and they are great dads, all three are great uncles. And they are good friends to each other and to each other's partners. At this point I am confident that we will all continue to have a strong life-long connection.

I grew up in an extremely dysfunctional family (schizophrenic mother, brutally abusive father) and was dragged from country to country, city to city. I ran away from home as a teenager and found living on the streets of NYC more comfortable than living with my parents. Considering the lack of decent parenting in my own childhood, the lack of a stable home, the lack of community, and my early exposure to and use of alcohol and various other drugs most people would have predicted I would be a terrible parent. My own parents were so difficult that I have had minimal contact with them since I first left home- I've had no contact with my father in 25+ years and my mother is dead.

So, what did I do right?

It definitely wasn't choosing a good partner: he left when the youngest was 3, never paid child support, and sometimes went for months without seeing them. But I did have wonderful friends and created with them an alternative family of choice. As children my sons had close relationships with some of their friends' mothers, women who were often, or who became through our kids, good friends of mine. They were the surrogate aunts, and there were some uncles too. My kids and I are still close to many of these people, parents and kids alike.

I raised my kids on very little money but, thanks to a good friend who sold me a rundown farmhouse for peanuts, we did have a home for most of their childhood. We lived in a good school district, that helped too. We always had enough food- often thanks to Food Stamps-, plenty of books, and the great outdoors. For the most part we lived without television. They have all, as adults, thanked me for this.I taught them that money was less important than relationships, and that consumerism would destroy the planet. Yes, they sometimes balked at this. (My oldest son and I laugh now at the times he insisted I drop him off two blocks from high school so that no one would see my rusty old car.)

I dragged them along to antiwar, antinuke, and women's rights meetings and demonstrations. I did my best to instill in them a commitment to social justice and respect for people unlike us. They all had dolls when they were little and I taught them to be good to younger children and babies.

I would like to say I was always there for them, but sometimes I was too wrapped up in my own pursuit of education or other things. But that safety net of brothers, surrogate aunts, uncles, cousins was there when I wasn't. They always knew I loved them, they always knew I would help them to the best of my ability in any real crisis.

Sometimes I feel so lucky to have these wonderful people in my life. And sometimes they remind me that it wasn't all luck.
posted by mareli at 8:39 AM on December 12, 2013 [24 favorites]

"Enjoy them while they are young!"

I have wonderful relationships with my mom and grandparents, who have both said the above phrase. I've always understood it to mean that each phase of growing up from infancy to adulthood is a unique, precious window that will end. Rather than "enjoy them while they are young because when they are older they are unenjoyable," for me, this phrase has always encapsulated "enjoy them while they are infants, and enjoy them while they are toddlers," and so forth. My mom and grandparents felt a joy that was unique for each phase of my youth.

My understanding of the phrase is probably due to my awesome, loving, supportive mom and grandparents. It sounds like you're on your way to being the same, and that your kid will be lucky enough to have the same perspective on the phrase that I do.
posted by nicodine at 8:43 AM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: One thing to think about with grown children especially is -- how do you react when they tell you something about themselves or their lives? Do you respond in a way that will make them not want to do it again? This isn't just about the big things, but the small things as well.

I've observed that my partner's mom, whenever he shares some detail of his life with her, immediately transitions into "worrying" mode. For example: he tells her he's planning a road trip, and the conversation immediately shifts to her worries about the road conditions, where he'll stay, the price of gas, how much it will cost, etc. and her stress is palpable.

The effect is that, even though he loves her dearly, he shares less and less with her as time goes on, because he doesn't want to worry her or cause her stress over minor things. So she's in the dark about big parts of his life, and he only tells her what he thinks she can "handle." I am close to my mom but do this with her too, to some extent, because I don't want her to dwell on her worries.

So, make it easy for them to tell you things. Even responses that feel like they come from a place of love, like excessive worry or advice-giving, can make children feel like they're better off not sharing. This doesn't mean that you can never show pain or fear, but try to save it for the things that matter.
posted by beatrice rex at 8:45 AM on December 12, 2013 [26 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in my twenties and still close with my parents. I agree with many of the points mentioned above, and I'm going to add my thoughts on advice in parent-child relationships. Advice is a big part of that relationship, I think, and I know many people who find it really contentious. It's not a problem for me and my parents for two reasons:

1. Advice goes both ways. My parents give me unsolicited advice, but I also give them unsolicited advice. (And they ask me for advice, just as I ask them for advice.)

2. It's okay not to take advice. When my parents offer advice to me, it's okay for me to say "Uh, no, mom, I don't think I'm going to do that." This holds whether the advice was unsolicited, or whether I asked for it--in other words, I feel comfortable asking for my mom's opinion, but then once I've heard it I can also tell her I don't think it applies to my situation, or it's a bad idea, or whatever. I know she won't be upset by my refusal of her advice, and we can talk about that or not. Sometimes we have interesting conversations that way (and sometimes it's just a matter of personal opinion and there's nothing to talk about, and that's fine too).

And more importantly, my parents have approached advice this way since I was in my early teens. They asked me for my opinion sometimes, or at least were interested in listening when I offered it. And they were fine with me not agreeing with their advice, and willing to discuss my thoughts about it. Now, of course, I just carry on and do whatever I decide, but it's nice to be able to say "Ok, thanks for your thoughts, but I'm going to do X instead". When I was 13, it was really really great to be able to say "I don't know, mom, I don't want to do that because X, Y, and Z" and know that we could have a conversation about it. We were usually able to come to some kind of agreement or compromise; and as a result, I both learned to be independent in a good way, and also never had a big period of conflict with my parents as a teenager.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:20 AM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a great relationship with my parents. I will say that I didn't call them much in college, when I was an hour away, but somehow going halfway around the world for study abroad and being mostly cut off from them changed this. We usually talk on the phone once or twice a week now, and I actually look forward to visiting them.

They raised me to be allowed to make my own decisions. They told me I didn't have to go to college if I didn't want to, they let me dye my hair blue, they let me choose my extracurriculars and jobs even when I was at home, they had no objections to me travelling to China... there was really no pressure on me to do anything. I always did well in school, but the occasional C only resulted in a non-judgmental "how can you do better next time" talk.

They will also admit mistakes to me- infrequent though they may be. For example I recently called my mom out on teaching me abstinence as a kid when I knew she hadn't exactly followed that rule herself... and she responded that she didn't really know what to say so she just repeated what she'd been told as a kid, and that it wasn't really realistic advice in retrospect. It really made me feel like she respected me. Similarly, when I had a really nasty fight in college with my dad over something he'd said that I thought was super offensive- this is the only time this ever happened, but we're talking screaming fight for an hour- the next morning, he came to me and apologized immediately, and we both hugged, and I think it actually made me closer to him, because it showed me he was human but also that he was man enough, and respected me enough, to apologize.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:24 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have you seen these previous questions? Some really great answers there.
posted by yawper at 9:24 AM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

I dunno, it depends so so much on the "how" of the two people involved. My bf's mom worries like how the poster above described (although her anxiety doesn't sound quite that high), and he he still treats her with lots of love & they have a good relationship. He comes from a close family and when I met his parents I could see how he's just comfortable to be himself around them, and they love him for who he is.

I'm reluctant to post this, since it it is more theoretical than anecdotal and all the stories above are nuanced and touching. The common theme I hear is that secure attachment is key, and that's what I see in my bf's family. You read a child's emotional cues via body language, and you respond to that just as you would if they had said something, and you respond appropriately. That part is key. You read the cues accurately.

I don't have kids but I know a really really good parent. I stopped by her house one day and her kid was crawling on the floor trying to reach the kitchen. I said "you can do it!" and he immediately burst into tears. She picked him up and said "aww, feeling made fun of?" And she was totally right. I had misread his cues - instead of seeing his desire to see & be with mom in the kitchen and then, I dunno, picking him up and giving him to his mom, I had placed on top of it goal-oriented bullshit which made him cry. Add up a lifetime of those misread cues and you have a pattern of communication that just hurts both sides.

Years later I stopped by again and her 5-yo son was acting a little squirmy and I just sensed that he didn't know me and didn't trust me. So I said, "I'm a friend of your mom, we know each other from work, when she's gone working all day while you're at school, she's sitting next to me!" He calmed down right away and she said "ok you've passed the kid test" and we laughed.

No surprise she has a great relationship with her mother and can tell her anything.

It's a very subtle thing at the adult level, and you almost can't tell in adults except when push comes to shove. But dammit are kids ever sensitive.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:29 AM on December 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

You cannot guarantee this, just as you cannot guarantee a close life-long relationship with anyone else. But the "enjoy them while they're young" types are typically enjoying the child's cuteness, dependance and lack of individuation, not experiencing a genuine closeness born of respect for their personality or authentic sharing.
posted by windykites at 9:31 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also a final note (I hope)... the happy families I know seem to have love that flows freely & consistently & unconditionally between people, they are not stingy tit-for-tat types.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:34 AM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

My parents started treating me like a respected adult only after I changed my attitudes and behavior toward them. I had to learn how to let their criticism and suggestions float by me, and to tell them that I'd heard them and decided to do things my way. My changes started happening when I was about 30, and things improved over time. They actually did stop being critical, and eventually their opinions just felt like information, not insults.

Ironically, some horrible events made them realize that they should quit trying to control things and people -- my brother's drug addiction devastated them and also made them realize they had no power over how their kids live. That's improved their relationship with all of us siblings. Of course I don't believe it takes a harrowing experience to learn to let go. If some parents would make more of an effort to concentrate on their own lives instead of those of their children, it could help foster closeness.
posted by wryly at 10:01 AM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

My relationship with my dad is a trainwreck right now which I've posted about/alluded to here before, and my relationship with my mom is good enough. I wouldn't call us best friends, but we can talk to each other about stuff, and we send each other links and things, and despite the fact that she is a strong Methodist and highly involved with the church, she very rarely gives me any shit for being an atheist and even when she does it's kind of a gentle ribbing rather than a "fire and brimstone" kind of thing.

To make it very very short, a big big reason why I am good with my mom and not with my dad is that my mom has always given me the impression that she trusted me to do the right thing, and my dad never has. (I am now 30 with a 3-year-old son so this is a very food for thought kind of thread for me, thank you for posting it!)
posted by agress at 10:01 AM on December 12, 2013

My sister and I both have very close relationships with our parents. I only have my own experience to speak from, but I would credit it to a few things:

1. Strong emphasis on family rather than parents vs. kids. For example, we always ate dinner as a family (not kids early and parents after kids had gone to bed). Same with vacations and other special events -- everyone was included in deciding on the trips and everyone did things together (i.e. no going to a resort where the kids basically go to daycare or daycamp and the parents do their own thing). When my parents would make decisions, they would always ask my sister's and my opinion and take it seriously -- not to say that what we wanted always won (especially in the teen years, there were times with a lot of tension, which I'm sure is true for most families!) but we always got the sense that our preferences were taken seriously and not deemed irrelevant just because we were kids.

2. My mom stayed home until I was in middle school, and then had a job in our school district where she got all the same holidays as we did. I realize this is not possible for every family (and probably won't be possible for me when I have kids!) but I do think it was really wonderful and gave us a close relationship.

3. Giving us space when we need it. My parents have always had a strict policy of not calling us unless it's an emergency/trying to dictate where we live or when we come home, etc. I have only now (at age 31!) semi-convinced my mom that it is okay for her to call me just to chat! Because my parents have never 'pushed' in this regard, I WANT to initiate calling, visiting, etc. and it's never a stress or obligation. I do live on the other side of the country (which I know is not what they would prefer!), but they've never pressured me about it and know it is my choice to live where I have the best educational/career opportunities. Because there's no pressure, I WANT to call, visit, etc. and I think we have a much closer relationship.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:43 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think the way to interpret "Enjoy them while they are young!" is to mean "enjoy them while you have the chance to spend a lot of time with them", as they grow up their lives will get busy with school and then work etc
posted by Lanark at 10:56 AM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My mom spent a lot of time trying to change me, force me to be something other than an introvert. Anything I did not want to do, she would try to force me to do. If she thought I could not do something, she would tell me not to bother or would not help me learn.

My dad tells me he thinks I'm neat. He has been visibly impressed when I could do something he did not expect, but while teaching me how to do it he assumed I would learn and learn well. Just because he thought I maybe would not be good at it did not mean it was something I should not try to learn.

When it came to matters of spirituality, my mom wanted to force me to go to church because I did not want to go. My dad said, well, when she is older she will figure out what works for her. And I did, and my dad has embraced it. My dad goes into my garden and says, it feels friendly in here. My mom goes in and assumes she will be cursed by something ("harm none" is completely foreign to my mother).

When I was little, I asked how high the sky was. My mom gave me a weird look and sent me away. My dad said, it starts on the ground and goes all the way up. Then he and I stood there looking up for awhile, impressed with this thought. My dad, an introvert like me, is full of cool stuff like this.

I said I wanted to learn telekinesis. My mother burst into laughter. My dad said, well, you have to practice and sometimes it might take your whole life to learn, and then admitted he himself had not learned how yet.

I think that in any case, a kid might get along better with one parent than another. But it is important that the one who feels they do not click best with the child put serious effort into APPRECIATION of this whole person rather than forcing the kid to be more like what they want or think the kid should be.

And, please, do not crush dreams or curiosity.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 12:08 PM on December 12, 2013 [12 favorites]

As a poster above said, your reaction to what your children tell you is hugely significant. I have a profound memory of my mother's reaction to something aged six. Her reaction made me feel as if I was not good enough and as such must be unloveable. Keeping events in my daily life, questions and feelings from her, that could highlight further flaws and were therefore sure to cause her to stop loving me, became the main focus of my interactions with her. As a result my mother generally didn't have the slightest idea what was going on in my life until she died. It baffles me that she swallowed my evasive answers and lies the way she did or let me get away with them.

To put this into context - my mother was a good person, she loved me and wasn't abusive but empathy and open, nonjudgmental communication were not her strong points.

She did realise that we communicated badly as family but by then I was in my early teens and all her attempts to initiate more open dialogue were stonewalled by me. She died when I was 14 and my father was rather overwhelmed with the emotional aspects of bringing up children so he decided to let me get on with it.

She'd be absolutely horrified to hear all of this. She tried to be a good mother but she nevertheless, with the best intentions, made it impossible for me to feel that I could be myself with her. Had she lived I very much doubt that things would have improved much as most of my life choices would have invited criticism.

I remember sitting in the sun having a coffee very pleased to be about to hand in my undergraduate dissertation and finish my degree and wondering what she'd make of it all. And then I almost burst into tears because all I could do was anticipate her criticism for leaving it too late and needing to make do with like 6 hrs of sleep in the last 3 days before the deadline and how that was sure to mean I'd not get the grades I needed to get into my master program of choice. My achievements over the last three years would not have been acknowledged.

So I'd say moderating your responses to allow your children to feel safe when they talk to you probably goes a long way to being close to your children both while they are young and once they grow up.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:33 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Always have unconditional positive regard for your kid, and validate their basic goodness: "I love you just as you are, kid, and I will never stop loving you."

Become an excellent listener. This is a bit hard for most adults to do well, so luckily there is a fantastic book (with a crappy title) to help us out: Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) by award-winning psychologist and three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Dr. Thomas Gordon.

Respect the different needs of introverts and extroverts in the family.

Manage your expectations. The expectation that you'll be "super close" or "best friends" with your child someday is often unrealistic. I mean, how many real friends do you have who truly understand you and are also 25 to 40+ years older than you? Anyone can be your kid's friend, but you're the only mother or father they'll ever have.

Expect that they'll keep some secrets from you (and vice versa), and that they will probably only want their spouse in the delivery room, and that's ok!

Give them roots and wings, as the saying goes.
posted by hush at 12:48 PM on December 12, 2013

I am/was very close with both my parents; I live away but still talk to my mum all the time on the phone, and I used to with my dear dad who died this year.

My parents were not saints, and made their share of parenting mistakes - as we all do, I think. I also had the benefit of being the youngest of four, and they definitely learnt from their parenting of the others.

A critical thing for our successful relationships as adults was their ability to let our relationship change and mature as I did. As I got older and older, our relationship changed into something more and more like a friendship. A wonderful, deep, enduring friendship. And friendships can weather more changes and differences and disagreements than parent/child relationships at times, I think. Someone up thread mentioned respect, and I always felt there has been a lot of respect between my parents and myself.
posted by smoke at 2:59 PM on December 12, 2013

Best answer: I am not a parent, but I am close to my parents. My siblings (males) are less close to my parents (well, my mom and I have talked about this, so I know she feels this way; I assume my Dad agrees). So I wonder a bit if gender plays a role. Not to stereotype too much, but I think women tend to share details of their lives more readily than men. I would say I'm pretty close to one of my brother's, but he rarely offers information. I have to do a lot of probing.

In terms of ideas for setting a foundation for life-long closeness:
1. You might, from a youngish age, try to have some kind of special routine or thing that is just between you and your kid, a time when secrets are shared. For example, as I got older (visiting home during college, grad school, etc.) I would often go grocery shopping with my Mom very early, a time I hated to be up, but when she insisted on doing her shopping. Those rides in the car often wound up being times when we could share with each other. So running errands with my Mom wasn't just about running the errands, it was kind of a special time together. Dad always drove me to my soccer games, and we always listened to the same song when we got close to the fields.

2. Related to 1, it could be important to give as much as you get. Obviously, there are some age-appropriate things, or things that might be going on in your life that would be inappropriate or scary for your child to hear, but I think having your child know you as a person, not just as their parent, could help. I don't know exactly what this would look like, but I can imagine scenarios--if your kid is in to music, you play them your favorite songs from when you were a kid; tell them about the first time you went to a concert, or whatever.

I tried to think about what makes me feel close to people, or distant from people that I was once close with. I think it helps to be able to picture them (i.e., where do they work, are they in front of a computer, a group of people, behind a counter, what is their house like, do they have a yard, whatever), so things like Skyping or visiting or sending pictures are important. Also, knowing the characters in each others' lives (knowing the names of coworkers & good friends, even enemies), so when your kid says "oh Matt did this really annoying thing that still has me stirred up" you know that Matt is the one from Nebraska who talks kinda loud but gave your kid a ride to the airport last Christmas.

Lastly, I think asking questions is the best way to get close. It may not always work, but I would guess your odds are higher if you go ahead and ask whatever it is that would help make you feel closer. And when your child answers, they have to come away with the main message that you recognize them for their true self, accept them, and love them (even if you also express frustration, anger, or offer contradictory advice or whatever).
posted by kochenta at 3:36 PM on December 12, 2013

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