Haven’t found the perfect gift for Mom? Don’t sweat it. Mother’s Day is around the corner, but there’s likely something far more meaningful you can give your mom this year: intentionality.
In the experience of Minnesota-based marriage and family therapist Kerry McIntyre-Lee, most people tend to treat their relationship to their parents as something that will always be there, no matter what (although, obviously, everyone’s relationship to their parents is different).
“I think it’s kind of this running relationship in the background and it’s always there,” she said. “There’s some beautiful safety and security there. You should know that you can always go back to Mom and go back to Dad.
“And at the same time if one of the things that you really want is to be treated and respected as an adult, then show up that way and make it an equal footing.”
Early adulthood, when you’re out on your own for the first time, can be a difficult time for parents and for their adult children. Dynamics and roles are changing—maybe you’re moving out, maybe even far away, becoming financially independent, telling your parents less about what’s going on with you.
What you need from them at this stage is likely different than what you needed from them in the past. But, a lot of the time, adult children struggle to change their behaviors when it comes to their parents, McIntyre-Lee said. And parents do, too. For a lot of people, “it’s sort of almost an extension of their adolescent years.”
But, with a little intentional effort on your effort, your relationship with your parents can be better than ever, and you can establish yourself as an adult on equal footing.
“It can be a really beautiful thing when the adult child relationship goes beyond… ‘This is just my mom,’ when it can grow into a stronger foundation (and) can also have that element of a real friendship to it, too,” she said.
What does being intentional look like? It’s like the difference between sitting next to your significant other while you both look at your own phones in silence and when you sit down to have an important conversation. In both cases, you’re spending time together. But in only one situation are you actively shaping your relationship.
The same can be said about your parents.
A lot of people make a point to call their parents regularly, but what are you talking about when you call? In McIntyre-Lee’s opinion, it’s about quality, not quantity.
“So it’s not just about calling Mom every week,” McIntyre-Lee said. It’s more about “giving her that insight into what’s going on for you, and what’s going on in your life. You’re showing her, ‘Hey, you really matter to me. I’m sharing something that’s vulnerable and that’s important to me, and in doing that… I care about your opinion.'”
It’s even better if you can video chat your parents rather than calling them.
“There really is something different that happens when you’re looking someone in the eye, even if it’s via screens,” McIntyre-Lee said.
Another example: When you visit your hometown, “it’s sort of assumed that you’re going to see a lot of (your parents),” she said.
It can be easy to treat your house like an AirBnB while you’re there.
“But if you really want that relationship to grow into something different, treat it the way you treat the other people you’re going to see in town, not just be, ‘I’m sleeping in your house for six days.'”
Set aside some time to do something fun as a family. You could even offer to take them out to lunch or dinner, for a change.
“Say, ‘Let’s really make something of our time together,’ and treat it the way you would any other close relationship that you care about,” McIntyre-Lee said.
Being intentional in your relationship with your mom doesn’t have to include “big grand gestures.”
“You don’t have to buy Mom the biggest bouquet on Mother’s Day,” McIntyre-Lee said. The “small deposits we make throughout our lives that honor her,” like having a meaningful conversation or sharing a special meal, can mean just as much or more.
Another piece of the puzzle is communicating what you need from your parents in this new stage in your life, McIntyre-Lee said. This can be tricky—you want to be clear but kind. But having these conversations can help you reset your relationship as you become an adult in your own right.
“It’s not about cutting anybody out of your life, it’s about recognizing that my life is in a different place now, and I still need you in my life, but I need you in a different way,” McIntyre-Lee said. “There’s a really beautiful relationship that can grow from that, because… you’re able to sort of say, ‘Hey, this is what I need from you right now.'”
You can set expectations and boundaries for your parents around communication, your love life, and whatever else is right for you.
“The clearer and more explicit you can be about that while still doing it in a way that doesn’t turn them away, then they can really begin to see you as an adult as well and begin to treat you and respect you in such a way,” McIntyre-Lee said.
“Just like you have to put effort into any one of your friendships, if you want this relationship to be good and mutual and respectful, then put some energy and intention into that.”
Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.