The Awkward Power Dynamics of Being Friends With Your Parents
How to navigate the transition to a relationship of equals
The other night, I was in the middle of an argument with my boyfriend when my mom called. I picked up, because if I don’t, she’ll keep leaving voicemails until my phone explodes.
“What are you two up to?” she asked.
“Oh, uh, nothing. Just talking.”
“Are you two fighting?”
“Yep,” I answered, mostly relieved that she’d guessed correctly so I didn’t have to dance around the truth with my boyfriend nearby, listening.
“Uh-uh,” said my mom. “Well, call me back afterwards and let me know what happens.”
“And be nice!”
My mom knows me really well. No surprise there as I talk to both my parents every day. My dad calls in the morning, while he’s driving to work, and I talk to my mom at night, sometimes featuring round two of dad, if they’re out together. I see them nearly every weekend.
Because you know each other so well — what makes you tick, what drives you nuts — a small comment can easily turn into a bigger falling-out.
While I used to worry that this meant I was in some failure to launch scenario, it’s only recently that I’ve begun to consider that it might actually be the opposite: that my parents and I have reached a phase in our relationship where we’re more like friends, and maybe even like equals.
It felt nice to realize that. But it also felt a little strange. In any close relationship, blood relative or not, there’s potential for conflict. That’s especially true when you’re transitioning from a parent-child relationship to a friendship-based one. Because you and your parents know one another so well — what makes you happy, what drives you nuts — a small comment can easily turn into a bigger falling-out. And then there’s the fact that you’re not exactly starting from a level playing field; for most of your relationship with your parents, the power dynamics were in their court.