While cleaning to move my home office last week, I packed boxes and thought how my dad would do it -- "Towels together but leave one out for my first night. Tools here but leave out a screwdriver, drill, wrench, etc."
Later that day, I was cutting fresh vegetables and placing them into a special container my mom had given me for Christmas. I heard in my head, "Now be sure to rinse those carrots first..." It was -- of course -- my mom's voice repeating instructions she'd given me that I've put into regular practice.
As I continued to chop, I muttered to myself, I have become my parents. How many of us have said that before? Especially now, after recently turning 50 years old, it's even more apparent.
Yes, it is true -- I have become my parents. But in this case, it's a very good thing, because my parents, Tom and Yvonne:
• Live their lives in honesty and integrity
• Have a genuine interest in other people and their needs
• Take care of themselves through diet, exercise, and spirituality so they are strong enough to help others
• Have brought love and support to so many people from their hearts of service
• Feed me with words of wisdom and listen with ears of compassion
• Love me, support me, inspire me, and encourage me to be my best at all times
How do I know these things are true? Because I see my parents -- and I see not only who they are, I see what they do. Perhaps when I was growing up, I wasn't always able to see them in this light, but now I do. In fact, I see it on a regular basis because my parents are two of my best friends.
"You can actually be friends with your parents?" a puzzled friend once asked. Yes, you can! In fact, I believe that the people closest to us have the potential to be our best friends. They are the ones who know the most about us -- good and bad -- and love us anyway. I even devoted a chapter to befriending your family in my book 21 Steps to Better Relationships.
However, creating a friendship with a parent doesn't happen by itself -- it must be deliberate; you both have to choose it and it takes work. But it's worth the effort if you're willing to try.
In my case, developing a friendship with my parents required the following:
We had to learn to accept each other. Even though they're my parents, we are still individuals -- and once we learned to love and accept each other as we are right now, we were on the road to friendship. When we understand that all healthy relationships are based in freedom, the need to control anyone else's behavior disappears -- actions and behaviors belong to each individual and we respond according to our own boundaries.
The decision was mutual. In order for this friendship to work, my parents needed to want it as much as I did. Since we have a long history together, this relationship required a large amount of patience and flexibility. We've all grown over the years and we don't always agree on the same things, but that's okay. In fact, our differences have become our strengths. We teach and learn from each other.
Respect is essential. The relationship with my parents is successful because we respect each other. We can keep our differences; we don't feel the need to pressure or persuade one another; and we truly seek the best for one another. We also appreciate the role that each of us has in the friendship. These are core values in all relationships.
Who knows you better? Once you have established respect and appreciation, this mutual "fan club" can create a positive and consistent support network. My parents are my biggest cheerleaders! And who better to have in my corner than the people who know me, love me, and want the best for me.
They still get to be parents. Once a parent, always a parent -- even if we're friends. This comes in really handy when I need advice: If I have a mechanical question, Dad comes to my rescue; when I'm having a bad day and need a little lift, Mom is always there to pick me up; and when I go home to visit, my parents are always there with open arms. Home is definitely where the heart is.
I cherish our relationship. I learned early on that life hangs in a delicate balance and that none of us gets out alive. So while we are living, I savor my time with Tom and Yvonne: I have coffee with Mom; go for motorcycle rides with Dad; and challenge them both to spirited card games as much as we can. Most of all, I am thankful for the friendship we've created, as I know that they will always be a part of me - -and that, by far, is the greatest gift of all.
Michael Thomas Sunnarborg helps people to find better balance in their work, relationships, and life--especially during transitions. He blogs regularly for The Huffington Post and is a featured speaker at national and international venues. Want occasional nuggets of inspiration sent to your inbox? Then subscribe to Michael's Balance Bits at http://michaelsunnarborg.com/contact
Image: Me with Tom & Yvonne at my birthday dinner