What are some of the difficult conversations one might need to have with their parents? Here are some topics: Career decisions; moving to another city; relationship problems; your sexual orientation; health issues.
And it doesn’t have to be your issues alone. Sometimes parents are immature and you need to talk to them about: Their health situation; their opinion of your career; their opinion about your relationship partner; their say in your decision to marry someone; you discussing your next family vacation; etc.
Sometimes, talking to parents can be difficult. Some conversations are difficult, some parents are difficult, some kids are difficult and sometimes, it is all very complicated. But you know the biggest problem?
We Indians do not know how to talk to our parents. We do not know how to properly communicate with them. As kids, we are taught to keep our heads down and just go with what our parents decide. But as we grow, we develop a voice. It has reason and logic, too, but that’s not enough. You need to learn how to start talking to your parents not just emotionally but also logically, with solutions and practical points. Otherwise, they are never going to listen to you. For parents are used to thinking about what’s best for you and deciding themselves. They are not wrong. And that’s what you need to show them.
Even if you are not talking to your parents, but perhaps to a client, you need to know how to talk your points through, right?
This essay is about how to talk to parents about difficult things. You should also be able to use the tips for your communication with other family members, clients, colleagues, and friends.
1. Think it through
Plan your conversation. We are masters of having conversations with ourselves when we daydream about talking to our crushes, right?
So, whatever your difficult topic is, think about everything that you would want to say. You should even consider writing it down. Planning the conversation ahead will give you an opportunity to have your answers ready for when they question you. Because they will question you.
It will reduce your chances of getting thrown off by their objections. And while you plan, you think of practical points, logical solutions and examples. When you have a direction to your conversation, it will help you be more clear and direct. If you go in impromptu, you may meander about your situation, which would be of little help.
A friend of mine shared with me his story of coming out of the closet. He pretty much rehearsed his whole conversation because it was completely new territory for him and his family, especially in India. It took him two attempts to be able to talk. Knowing what he was going to say was a small but important comfort he had.
2. Be brave and be honest
If it is a difficult topic but important nonetheless, do not keep beating around the bush or putting it off. Gather your courage and talk to your parents. Because as scary as it is to talk to them, it is equally relieving once you have them on your side.
For the most part, parents simply need to be convinced that the plan that their kids have is not random or whimsical. They need to be sure that the kids have thought it through properly and are confident about their various possibilities and consequences, and that they are strong enough to live with those consequences.
And that’s where honesty comes in. As mentioned in the first point, you keep all your cards in place. But you honestly also tell them the truth. If it is something you need, you tell them how and why you need it. Don’t lie or exaggerate. Just respect the position they hold in your life and be honest. Your innocence is more likely to win them over than haughty arguments.
If it is a mistake you want to talk about, be genuine in your apologies. They might get angry at first but they will understand and love you more.
Here’s a small story from “My Experiments with Truth” by Mahatma Gandhi:
In this childhood days, Gandhi ji had taken to the bad habit of smoking. He often had to steal from his family members to sustain the habit. Once he had to steal some gold to repay the debts he had started incurring. However, the guilt was eating into him. So he decided to confess to his father. But he couldn’t bring up the courage to speak to him. So he wrote it down in a letter and gave to him. His father was very sick at the moment. When he read the letter, tears fell from his eyes. He tore the letter and never spoke a word about it to Bapu. That was the day Bapu decided never to lie again.
Honesty is difficult. But when you have a genuine relationship with your parents, it makes life so much simpler. And when your parents know you for your honesty, you gain respect in their eyes. That respect is very crucial when there are difficult things to be discussed in a family.
3. Decide who you want to speak to
Some conversations are not meant for both parents. If it is the kind of topic that you are more comfortable sharing with your mother, you talk to her first. And if it’s something you discuss with your father, you go to him first. In either cases, plan it first though.
Your choice could also depend on who is more logical among the two. Or who has more say. And if it is difficult to approach any of them, you can also think of talking to someone else in the family who your parents are more likely to listen to. It could be your grandparents, your uncle or aunt, some close relative or family friend—anyone you trust. It depends on how sensitive the issue is. If you do not want them to speak to your parents, you can always seek their help regarding how to approach your parents.
If it is a difficult conversation for you, it might be difficult for them to understand too. And you will need your wits and logic to approach it.
4. Pick a good time
It is important to know – that not every situation is conducive to every kind of communication.
For example: You want to tell them about your boyfriend who you know they won’t immediately approve of, perhaps because of their caste or religion, or because of financial issues. If you choose to tell them right after someone in your family has gone ahead and married someone against their parents’ wishes, do you really think they would lend a good ear to your situation?
Pick a time when they are happy and in a good mood. The time after family get-togethers are usually good. For children who usually live apart from their parents, festivals are a good time when you all sit together and talk. Catching them in a good mood would mean they would be more receptive to your part of the story and hear you out better.
If it is a situation that you have no idea how your parents would react to, then you need to do a “sensitivity check” before you broach the topic. If you look at the example right above, before talking to your parents about your inter-caste relationship, you will need to know how open they are to these situations. Some families are really cool with it but some are not. It does not mean you have to mock them, berate them or be enraged at how you think they do not have “progressive” thoughts.
Perhaps they haven’t had the exposure to evolve their thoughts. And that’s when they need you most. You need to help them grow and see that they might be wrong. It is okay for parents to be wrong and it is okay for kids to tell them that their parents might be wrong. But you need to do it the right way, and especially at the right time.
5. Don’t Infuriate Them.
These difficult conversations can often get infuriating. Your anger will only make it worse.
If you think your parents are wrong, stand up to them. But not by infuriating them, arguing with them and shouting at them. No matter what happens, do not lose your calm or your stance. You need to be assertive, not aggressive. You need to show them that you are keeping a cool head and that you are really growing up. If they are the ones who are getting agitated, you need to tell them the conversation will continue when they have calmed down and can talk in a more civil manner.
Tough communications do not happen all at once. If it is unfamiliar territory, you need to test the waters thoroughly before getting into it. A part of being a Motivational Speaker is also being a Career Counselor. I get many parents talking about their kids’ careers and vice versa. I always recommend that these conversations be done in stages.
If your parents seem to be hostile to the idea, you slowly change their mind. Taking the example of inter-caste relationships again: If you know they are slightly averse to the idea then you first start talking to them about how you think it is okay. You tell them that there are other important qualities to be looked for in a life partner than just the geographical location of birth or their parental lineage. Unless you have chosen a completely worthless person for yourself, chances are they would listen to you when you finally broach the actual topic. Just prepare them.
Parents are not your enemies. They are your biggest support system. We Indians are family people. We live and love and breathe our family.
It is important that we include them in the decisions of our lives, as much as we can. Because they deserve it. They don’t need our anger, our frustrations or our extra emotions. They need our genuine presence in their lives. So let’s just give them that. Let’s be honest and be inclusive as much as we can. For we won’t know what it feels like to raise one, till we become one!
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