For example, a few months ago my ex boyfriend and I broke up. I had to spend the night at home after the breakup due to an interview that was near my parent’s apartment (I live an hour and a half away). When my parents saw how upset I was, they started yelling at me, telling me how stupid I am for dating guys who won’t commit (i.e. haven’t proposed) and that I shouldn’t feel bad because the guy was only using me for sex anyway… it’s not like he “truly” cared about me. When I eventually had to raise my voice to tell them to stop, they told me that the reason why I get these kinds of problems is because I don’t listen to them – as I was not doing at the moment – and that I need to learn to appreciate the advice they give me. I was so upset that I actually left – and I had to apologize two days later to my dad for making HIM feel bad and unappreciated.
My parents come to clean my apartment every few weeks. I’m 28 and I don’t need them to clean my apartment. When I asked them not to come, my mom got upset that I don’t love her so I just don’t bother now. The last time they were here, my dad opened up some old boxes I had and commented on the contents. It irks me when people go through my stuff when I’m not around, so I asked them not to go through my personal stuff anymore. Then they started yelling at me because in Eastern Europe they don’t have “personal stuff” and I’m a very ungrateful child as they spend their precious time and money to help me and all I can do is complain. They told me that they know that I hate them (um, what?) but they are so loving that they will continue to help me even though I provide nothing in return.
Yea, I know – totally dysfunctional and I have no idea how to deal with it. I’ve tried everything – yelling to talking rationally to expressing my feelings to mirroring – the only thing that works is not talking. I feel like I have this big burden in my life called my parents who just refuse to change the relationship to reflect that I’m not four years old anymore. I’ve heard that, if you have a messed up relationship with your parents, your personal relationships will be messed up as well. I’m not only scared that I’ll find a husband version of my parents but this is also the only family I have in the US so I will essentially never know the love and care from any family that a normal child receives. — Parental Distraught
Wait, did you just refer to yourself as a “child”? I think you did. In the last sentence you said you worry that you’ll never know the love and care that a “normal child” receives. My dear, you are not a child. The problem here isn’t so much that your parents treat you like a kid, because you’ve decided it’s just easier that way (i.e. “I just don’t bother”). Being an adult doesn’t mean avoiding conflict or painful situations. It means dealing with them head on. If you’re sick of your parents showing up at your apartment an hour and a half from where they live so they can clean your place, don’t let them. Do they have keys to your place? Take them away. Or tell them they are not welcome in your home when you aren’t there. Will they piss and moan and call you ungrateful and say that you hate them? Yes. Deal with it.
Obviously, your parents’ lives revolve around you, especially since you’re an only child. Do you think they’re going to drop off the planet if you tell them to stop going through your private things? No! They’re going to piss and moan and then eventually they’re going to move on because they want to be in your life, in whatever way you LET them be in your life. The key here is that YOU MUST set the boundaries for what that looks like. If you don’t want them to act like you’re four, quit letting them. But if you’d rather deal with being treated like a pre-schooler than deal with the fall-out standing up to them will create, that’s your decision. Just don’t act like you don’t have that choice because you do. Of course you do.
As for getting the love and care that a “normal child” would, I have to ask you: what does that look like? I’m genuinely curious what you think normal love looks like, because I’ve known tons of children and tons of families and the love in each home looks different. Some parents, like yours, are overbearing (trust me, that is not a characteristic that is exclusive to Eastern European parents!!). Some parents fail to provide any structure, but instead “love” their kids with an excess of materialistic things. Some parents are super strict and believe that setting high expectations for success is the best way to love. Other parents love by creating a world that is all about the kids. Some parents want their kids to adapt to an adult world, believing they’re preparing them for life beyond the security of childhood. My point is, there is no normal. You may not like some of the parenting choices your own parents have made — and if you ever have kids, I bet they won’t like some of your choices either — but you can’t deny that they love and care for you. They just don’t show their love and care in a way that is appropriate toward an adult daughter.
It’s your job now to teach them how you want to be loved. You didn’t have the means to do that as a child. You didn’t have the words or the confidence or even the understanding of what you wanted. But now you do, and it’s your job to set the boundaries you crave. If you put up a fence around your yard that your neighbors can’t climb, they may not LIKE that they can’t hang out in your back yard whenever you aren’t home and it may feel uncomfortable for you to do something that makes someone else unhappy — especially if you are fond of your neighbors — but would you rather sit with that discomfort for a little bit, or keep coming home to your neighbors loitering in your yard?
I say build the fence. And then brace yourself for the pissing and moaning. And then welcome the inevitable liberation of your newfound freedom. And remember: the best way to change someone’s behavior toward you, is to change your own behavior. If you don’t like the way you’re being treated, start treating the people in question differently. Change starts with you. It’s certainly not going to start with your parents.