I took a poll of 50 adults and asked them to write down and indicate what’s the one thing they would want their parent to know. They had an opportunity to have either one or both parents in mind and could write whatever they felt – whether it be positive or negative. What I found was that sentiments were equally split between positive and negative statements. I used the feedback to formulate a letter written to a parent from their adult child that I have used in my sessions with adults.
Dear Mom and/or Dad,
I love you. I don’t always like you but I always love you. As an adult, I’m aware of my judgments of you and your judgments toward me. Some of my judgments are remnants of the past and some of them circle back to behaviors in the present. Just as you want to be proud of me, it’s also important for me to be proud of you. I want a parent I could look up to and respect.
It hurts when you react out of frustration and anger toward me. Even as an adult I need your acceptance and approval. I just want to make you proud of me. That feeling never goes away. Please take notice of my strengths and positive characteristics. Speak of those too, rather than mostly focusing on what’s wrong or not right with me.
When you criticize me, out of love you say, because you worry about me, want to protect me or want better for me, it chips away at my core and makes me feel useless and worthless. Instead of resulting in me changing, it does the opposite and makes me want to rebel and fight back.
You sometimes have preconceived ideas about the way I should think, feel and act. It’s disappointing when you compare me to other people. I am my own person. I worked so hard at getting here. I continue to change everyday. Ask me about what I take pride in, what I strive for and what compels me. Please commit to getting to know and understand me as I evolve.
Please respect my individuality and independence and enable me to find my own way -- whether or not you approve of me, share my values or agree with my decisions. If I fail or fumble, trust that I’ll learn from it and will be all the better for it. Have confidence in me and convey that you do by letting me make my own decisions and mistakes.
I need to hear you express how much you love and care about me. Just thinking it or assuming I know it, just isn’t enough. It’s important that you’re explicit about why you’re proud of me, making note about what I accomplished and why you care about me. I still need the acknowledgment and admiration as an adult, I have the inherent need to be noticed and adored by you. I want to feel like I’m a major priority in your life. That most of the time, that I come first and that your love for me is unconditional and enduring.
As an example, you used to buy me birthday presents and now you just buy them for my children. I don’t want those cherished traditions to change because it feels just as good getting a birthday present as an adult as it did as a child. It’s more about you taking the time to think of me and going out of your way to do something special for me. These sentiments mean the world to me.
I need for you to periodically check in on me and intently listen to me even if you don’t agree with or have negative feelings about what I’m saying. It really hurts when you discount my feelings or tell me what I’m feeling. I think how I think and feel how I feel. It just is. I’m different than you. I wish you were more open to seeing and thinking about things differently.
Please notice when I’m not feeling and acting myself. At times, when I come home or visit with you, I automatically regress and feel like my old child self. Also, as an adult, I have many responsibilities that I’m juggling. I sometimes get overwhelmed and feel befuddled. There’s usually a very good reason for my reactions. Instead of judging and instantly reacting to me, ask me if I’m okay. If you’re caring and patient with me, I’m more likely to return back to my genuine self and open up to you instead of pulling away.
I need for you to take personal responsibility for the mistakes you made. I know no one is perfect but I was negatively impacted by some of those mistakes. When you get defensive, it makes me feel invalidated and that you’re dismissive of me and my feelings. I know we can’t redo the past but I need to feel safe and secure that I won’t be hurt in the same way again and that you’ll do whatever is in your power to ensure my security.
I know I have made mistakes too. Please don’t throw those in my face. We’re both growing and evolving and need to take personal responsibility but it’s not helpful for us to stay stuck in the past. It doesn’t help us personally and further creates distance in our relationship.
Thank you for teaching me valuable life lessons. I learned through modeling your behavior, through what you personally taught me and through seeing and experiencing what didn’t work for you and deciding to do things differently for myself. I have gratitude for all of these lessons because it formed me into the person I am today. Thank you for influencing my life and for your willingness to read this letter so that our relationship can continue to evolve and grow.