College Bound: Building Healthy Family Relationships

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Madeleine Karydes
Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine attended UC Berkeley and double-majored in English and Media Studies. She is now an integral part of the Empowerly team.

Your parental figures raised you and put lots of time and care into you. If you feel that it is important to have a life-long healthy relationship with them, the time to start is now! Well, actually, the time to start was probably whenever you joined the program, since that’s how long they’ve been looking out for you. But now that you’re college bound, it’s never too late…

As you prepare to graduate from high school and transition to college, you enter the adult world. These changes will affect your relationship with your parents, so it would be a good idea to build a new relationship with them.

* Parental figures and parents mean the people who hopefully protected, cared for, and taught you things when you were young. They don’t have to be blood relatives; your chosen family, or lack thereof, is valid. Sometimes, you parent yourself. 

Here are some healthy ways to build a more adult relationship with your parents, whoever they may be.

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Yes, you should call:

You can do this just because you know it makes them happy to hear about your life and the lessons you’re learning. That’s enough, even if you think you don’t need it.

Because in the end, you will be glad for all those shared moments, and feel closer to your first and most important support network… especially when you feel homesick, or need to ring home to have someone tell you how to change a tire, or diagnose why your muffins always burn at the edges… and suddenly you realize how valuable it can be to have a mentor who is always in your corner.

You could even try journaling all the stories you want to share to read over later, or a scented item that reminds you of a safe space if you’re searching for homegrown, first-hand emotional support that doesn’t involve a person.

But beyond a regular phone call, here are some other pointers for how to can grow into a great, solid relationship with your parents before striking out on your own, sourced from our expert network.

Treat each other like adults:

If you would like to change your relationship with your parents, you can treat them as you would like to be treated. Imagine they are adult friends you know. Ask them questions and share things about yourself as if each was a good friend. It will take some practice to establish this, but you can’t transform a relationship without putting in effort.    

Don’t ask for advice unless you really need to:

In the past you asked your parents for advice (or they freely offered advice to you). As you grow up, you need to gain confidence that you can make good decisions. If they continue to offer advice, be kind and listen. If you don’t want to take it, just smile and explain politely that you are working to make your own good decisions.    

Take responsibility for your choices and personal problems:

Handling personal problems well requires maturity. Financial decisions are usually best handled as a personal matter because of how sensitive people are about money. It doesn’t all have to be sorted out overnight, and that’s okay. Becoming a good decision maker takes some education, and some trial and error. Your parents can always offer emotional support instead to keep a good relationship.

Be honest and gentle about how you feel:

Our parents may continue to do things parents often do such as criticize, question excessively, or stereotype your behavior. This can lead to frustration or resentment. Explain how you feel in a gentle and respectful way to help you establish clearer communication. Clear communication is part of a healthy relationship. Learning how to respond calmly will always help you later in life when you need to stay strong and and counter or defend your perspectives. (I wish I learned this one earlier myself!)    

Express appreciation:

Communication and positivity are essential to maintaining good relationships. Take time to consider what your parents have done for you and let them know. Being grateful encourages positive feelings. Share what you are grateful for to allow them to explore good memories as well as see your maturity and insight. Put yourself in your shoes and imagine how much they have done for your well-being. (I find that this is an instant gratification of emotional boost that leaves me feeling lighter too!)       When you leave for college, your parents may act a little strange and you may be unsure about how to move forward with them. But keep in mind that you want to develop maturity and independence in yourself. Developing a healthy adult like relationship with your parental figures is an important part of growing up. Who knows, you might find yourself parenting someone else some day… and I think you’d love for them to keep in touch. Let’s pay it forward a little.  

Reach out if you have any more questions about this upcoming transition. We believe in you!

Questions? Let us know!