How Do Childless Adult People Interact With Their Parents?

Am I alone in the ever-evolving guilty feeling that I'm not communicating with my parents enough?
Publish date:
June 27, 2012
parents, guilt, phone calls

Call your parents!

I love the hell out of my folks, and I am lucky to have two parents who are alive, healthy and still married. They're smart, irreverent, open-minded and lovely people, but they're still my parents, and it sometimes amuses me to think of whether or not I'd befriend this dude and lady in their 60s if they weren't my related to me.

When I was younger, they were my protectors, my safety net, my everything. As a teenager, they were my sworn enemies, constantly trying to squelch my creativity and fun (I'm rolling my eyes just thinking about how obnoxious I was).

As a married but childless adult, we're just three grown people who have known each other for a long time… and so I wonder: how does one interact with parents as grownups?

I was fairly dependent on them through college (I went to school nearby) and grad school (again, I went to school nearby and also lived down the street from them). We'd have dinner once a week (they paid), they still paid my cell phone bill, and hanging out with them, I felt fake.

We'd still goof off like normal, but I felt like I had to prove that I was making something of myself, and the pants just didn't fit. I felt like a child, and a guilty child for still getting any financial support from them. Once I moved out of state, I stopped getting that support and gained the advantage of being the exotic, cultured daughter no longer on the dole.

No one in my family lives outside of the state but me. Suddenly, I was both fascinating and a traitor, and thus I had a new thing to feel guilty about. Questions about riding the train were interspersed with comments about how I should come home more often, because no one does guilt like parents.

We see each other every three months or so, when I fly home or they fly here, and we talk probably once a week. In between that we text each other random jokes or thoughts, play Draw Something online, or email each other. The phone calls happen on the weekends, and when I call, they talk for 45 straight minutes about their lives and then say "We know you're busy so we'll let you go. We sure do miss you. OK, love you, bye." The end.

I kept stocking up on fun, things-are-going-great conversation points to drop on them, but more and more I notice that they're not interested in that. What they want to do is hear my voice to know that I'm OK, and then they want to tell me about the drama with their circle of friends. And the drama, I might add, is juicy.

As much as I love hearing them talk, it feels weird to have such a one-sided conversation. Plus, because it's 2012, I don't really talk to anyone on the phone anymore other than them. I'd rather email/Facetime/text/hang out.

For all of these reasons combined, I sometimes put off calling them, and then I feel entirely guilty for feeling that way. Hearing their voices is such a comfort, but I'd much rather hang out with my family in person, relaxing around a picnic table like olden times.

I guessed I wasn't alone in that ever-evolving guilty feeling, so I decided to take to Twitter to ask my brethren and sistren how often they talk to their parents. Here's a basic breakdown of what they said:

Online only- 2%

Every day- 5%

2-3 times a week- 12%

Once a week- 40%

Twice a month- 20%

A few times a year- 9%

Never- 5%

Never enough for them- 7%

What I found interesting about this was that no matter how often people spoke to their parents, they had strong emotions about it.

Some that don't talk to their parents often do it as a means of taking a stance on an issue. A "You can't accept how I live my life, you don't get to be in it" kinda thing. Some who have regular contact with their parents say that they only call because their parents are still supporting them and they feel like they owe it to them. Some people want to talk to their parents more often, but aren't sure what they would talk about, or how to even broach the idea.

The people who talk to their parents daily often would like to take it down a notch but don't know how to break the habit. So I'm curious to hear from xoJaners out there -- how often do you speak to your parents? Are you happy with how often you talk with them, or are there other emotions involved? If you had it your way, how often would you talk to them instead?

I've been trying to think of my parents as my equals now, but perhaps that's not right either. When I have the rare experience of talking to my best friends on the phone, we take turns dishing about our lives and doling out advice.

But my parents? They've been listening to my bullshit my whole life. So I'm trying to shift my expectations and start going into our weekend calls with the understanding that this is 30-odd years of "you owe me."