Hey Clay

Letter No. 6: How Do You Make Your Parents Feel Wanted But Not Needed?

Hey, Clay.

I have always been very independent from a young age. I was the child that my parents were always proud of and boasted about. They still do to this day and tell everybody, “Our child is living the dream life, we are so proud.” Unfortunately something is missing. We have never made the transition from parent-child relationship to parent-adult relationship. I’m having issues with this.

My sibling has always needed my parents. My sister has been in trouble in the past, and had many financial blunders in her life that required them bailing her out. She is currently living in their house as they have retired to their cabin. My parents have become very close to her and spend lots of time with her, her husband, and their child. I live in a different state and my children get calls less often than my parents see my sibling’s child. Not to mention we only see them 1 to 2 times per year.

My sibling lives a 3 hour drive from our parents and I live about 10 hours away from them. I didn’t move to the other side of the country. I tell them they are always welcome to come visit us when ever they want. They never make plans to come. Say they are so busy. What is more important than me and their grandchildren? I visited them 3 times last year and they made the trip to me once.

How do I get my parents to be in my family’s lives? I understand you cant make people do something they don’t want to. My siblings relationship is still that of a child , and mine is just not one. How do you make your parents feel wanted but not needed?

Thanks,
Adult Missing Parents


Hey, Adult Missing Parents.

So that we’re both on the same page, let’s start with three working definitions.

Parents are responsible for fostering the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual development of their offspring. Theirs is a full-time job and requires that they play a myriad of roles: chef, teacher, doctor, warden, housekeeper, chauffeur, disciplinarian, cheerleader, and sometimes bail bondsman. As their offspring mature, the parents’ level of decision making on their kids’ behalf wanes. Eventually, if things go well, their adult children bestow upon them the title of friend.

Children, in my mind, are tiny people who are the objects of their parents’ affections and are pretty much dependent upon their parents for guidance in their development. When they’re infants, their level of dependency hovers around 300%. Their very existence is contingent upon their parents’ ability to provide food, shelter, clothing, everything for them. As they grow older their dependency on their parents lessens to the point that the once little ones are able to navigate and sustain themselves in the world with much less reliance on their parents.

Siblings, offspring having one or both parents in common; also known a brother or sister, the fly in my ointment, the pain in my side, that brat, him or her (uttered with abject disdain) … you get the picture. Even when siblings have the same parents their individual personalities and needs can be as different as night and day. In my family, I’m the artsy, shy, four-feet tall son and my brother is the athletic, outgoing, six-foot-two one.

AMP, your parents are always going to see you as their child (not a child, but their child), in that respect they’ve got the upper hand and there’s no changing that. And you in turn will always see them as adults. So, by default, they have the upper hand. Game over. They win.

If you want to affect a change, it’s all on you.

Since you can’t change your parents, your only alternative is to change the way you look at the situation and the way you relate to them. If you want them to treat you like an adult, flip the script the three of you have read from and be the adult you want them to see. It’s just that simple.

I’m not saying you should call your parents by their first names. Forego that tactic for a more long-lasting and meaningful approach. Instead, try discussing adult experiences you share with your parents, like parenting. I remember when I had been living on my own for a few years, I often told them of the greater appreciation I gained for their prowess at working all day, putting food on the table, and still having time to raise kids. Unbeknownst to me at the time, those conversations clued them in to the fact that my perception of the world expanded from that of a child who needed to have things done for him to that of an adult who could attend to most of his own needs. This in turn changed the way we viewed one another and the nature of our relationship. I was still their child, but I stepped up my game.

Look, your parents get to see your sister and her family because she’s in closer proximity. That’s a no-brainer. You don’t see them as often because you chose to move farther away. And that’s not right or wrong, it’s a choice you made; but it comes with consequences. If you want to see your parents more often and have them more involved in your children’s lives, you’re going to have to put forth more effort in seeing them. With iChat, Skype, and all today’s technology, you have no excuse for not keeping your folks abreast of what their grandkids are up to.

AMP, I had a reality check a few years ago regarding my mom. In addition to physical changes (a slight increase in her weight and she’s moving a little bit slower), I also noticed changes in her personality. She hasn’t morphed into some alien-based life form, but she is a bit more wary in the way she approaches life than she used to be and she’s not so willing to travel by air. It took me a while to realize that those changes are a part of aging. I’ve tempered the image of her in my mind of when she was in her thirties with the reality of today. My point is that your parents’ reticence to visit you may not be so much about disowning your nuclear family as much as your parents may not want or have the physical stamina to endure a ten-hour drive anywhere.

You and your sister, while related, are two very different people whose personalities, choices, and circumstances have allowed for two very different lives. You both are adults, but have different needs. Your sister’s needs are material. And yours are emotional (I’m thinking terms of involvement). Most of us tend to view those who have material needs as immature in contrast to those who have emotional needs; but needs is needs and they aren’t an issue unless you’re the one in need.

All of this comes down to the last question in your letter: how do you make your parents feel wanted but not needed?

Everyone likes to feel needed. When people know they’re the only ones who can fill a certain void in a relationship, it’s a wonderful thing. It makes us feel special. Think about it. While your kids aren’t able to put it into words just yet, at some point they’ll be able to say that their father fills a singular role in their lives. The fact that you can relate to them as no one else makes that relationship one of a kind. You and your kids are particular to one another, and that’s a key ingredient in any relationship.

Maybe part of the reason your parents don’t go out of their way to make themselves available is that they sense they’re not genuinely needed, but wanted for some perfunctory purpose.

Inviting you to show and tell your parents how much you love and still need them,
Clay.


If you have a situation that you’re currently dealing with that you’d like me to address, send an email (with a clever pen name instead of your real name) to me at heyclay@clayrivers.com, and tell me all about it. I’ll read through the submissions, pick one, and on Thursdays I’ll post the chosen letter along with my response here on my blog, my Facebook author page, and my Twitter account. Rest assured, I will not publish email addresses. Ever.

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One thought on “Letter No. 6: How Do You Make Your Parents Feel Wanted But Not Needed?”

  1. Lydia Winkeller says:

    ok, all I have to say to this is THANK GOD I HAVEN’T HAD TO BE A BAIL BONDSMAN YET!!!! that made me laugh! 🙂

    This answer was PERFECT, Clay. I am glad you put the part about the parents not being able to travel as much because that’s something my sister never understood. I lived 350 miles from them, and she moved 3000 miles away. We went to visit them often because it was harder for them to drive to us. My sister never did (even when my parents offered to pay their way). Although she needed them financially and always got it help from them – hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years I think. but she still thinks I was the favorite. I didn’t need them financially, but I needed their love and support. And although they couldn’t provide the childcare for my younger kids that they had for my older kids (because they were older and winding down), I still let them know that their advice was needed and wanted. Clay is right on the money about calling and Skyping with your kids so your parents DO know all the little things in their lives – the scored goal at the soccer game, the talent show, the new outfit. They want to know your kids as much as you want it – trust me, it KILLED my parents not to know my sister’s kids. But they couldn’t travel to her and she refused to come out here.

    One thing I would add, because my parents are gone now, is that you really do want to make the effort to go see them. (I was fortunate that when my parents finally moved to a retirement home, it was three miles from me so I could see them almost daily). Because suddenly the roles will be reversed – it will happen in a heartbeat where you are the one taking them to the doctor, and cooking treats for them and making sure they eat. And it’s worth every second – even when it’s hard, and time consuming – because when they are gone, you will know you were there for them. You will never regret an instant.

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