Flash Friday: How Do Family Relationships Change As You Get Older? (Part 2)

Today I’m sharing Part 2 of January’s Flash Friday – when 40:20 Vision tackles an issue from both the 40-something and 20-something perspective. Joining me on this mission is Molly Ford of Smart Pretty and Awkward. Last Friday we had the 20-something response (here) to the topic of how family relationships change from 20 to 40. Today I’m sharing the 40-something perspective.

The Forty-Something Perspective by Christina Vuleta

Just as we evolve from out twenties to forties…so too does our relationship with our families. Many women find as they get to know themselves they also learn to accept more give and take in all their relationships.

Our family relationships are constantly evolving. Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in your family role (the little sister, the black sheep, the baby). Allowing that role to evolve can help you get out of a box when it comes to your family. This 40-something marketing exec from Washington DC found this evolution takes shape in our thirties when we start expanding who we are (depth) rather than exploring who we are:

“I believe everyone has a specific role they play in their family. In our twenties we are exploring who we are and proving ourselves to our families. In our 30s our role with our families is crystallizing and by our forties we have seen the crystal ball.

We now own the paths our lives are on. We are more confident about our choices and the knowledge that we want to impart on others. All of this manifests when we interact with our families. Our role is clearly defined and by now has been put to the test on a regular basis. And that’s okay because we’ve figured out most of the “work-arounds” or “resets” and can stand up for ourselves even to our family.”

Women who have children find that the experience of becoming a parent marks a significant shift in the relationship. As we shift from daughter to mother, a new dimension emerges, as this 40-something event business owner shares:

“What has changed is that we have a common understanding on being parents.  I’m now a mother and understand what it takes to be a parent – both the joy and worries. It is definitely not easy.”

Similarly, this woman found it opened up new conversations:

“When grand-kids enter the picture, a truly new bond is formed.  You can now relate to each other as parents, which allows for new dialog, discussion, and support.”

For the most part, women find that their parental relationships become more enriching with or without children.

“There is a wonderful shift from them constantly telling what to do or worrying about you to watching you grow and flourish into a truly mature individual.  The conversation changes, and usually for the better.” – 40-something, San Diego

The relationship evolves from a source of tension to a realization that time is too short to let tensions get in the way. That is what this 40-something woman who recently lost her father found:

“When you are in your 20’s and struggling to be independent, your family takes a back seat to friends, college, work and your own life.  If you move away from home, the distance can be both liberating and painful.  When visiting, it can be difficult for your parents to understand the “new you” and for you to respect that it’s your parent’s home.  Much of this leads to tension and a greater desire to be your own boss. 

All of this changes at some point, often triggered by marriage, children, health issues or just realizing your own and your parent’s mortality.   You start seeing your parents in yourself, and in your actions.  Spending time becomes more important and the arguments and differences less important.  Losing my father recently really put things into perspective.  I find myself calling my mom for no reason, just to say a quick hello or laugh about something that happened.  It’s no longer about my independence. I have that.  It is about me needing and wanting to be around my family.”

The changes don’t stop with your parents. Many women find that sibling relationships become more complex as brothers and sisters mate, marry and have children. We get a smaller piece of the family pie as we move from sister to aunt. This fashion exec from a large family with a new family of her own realizes that no matter how complicated it gets, staying connected is worth it:

“When your siblings start to have families of their own it adds a tremendous amount of joy but can create issues as well.  Do you like your siblings’ mates?  Do you spend less time as a family now that new members have joined and they are sharing their time with their mate’s family?  Do you enjoy their children or are they brats? 

There’s also a different dynamic depending on how close you were as children.  Brothers tend to go the way of their mate, while sisters tend to stay close.  This becomes particularly evident during the holidays when time is limited.  

In the end, try to maintain a relationship, even if it’s just yearly get-togethers, because when your parents pass and friends move around (and sometimes on) you’ll want that close family connection that can’t compare.  It can take work but, it’s worth it in the end.”

Of course some people do face toxic family relationships and find the only route to self-growth is cutting the ties or at least cutting back. But more oft we hear the quote that you “can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family”.  For many that means if you can’t choose them, join them…meaning love them unconditionally. It makes you wonder, which comes first, unconditional love or strong family ties.

This woman, a managing director in business development and married mom, falls on the side of unconditional love. Here is her advice on how to keep the ties strong and what she has learned to appreciate in her family:

I think to have strong family ties you need a family that loves you unconditionally.  Love your family because they love you despite all their annoying quirks.  If you truly love people, they know it and your relationships will be strong. 

I know this because I am not a particularly great daughter or sister in the sense that I don’t call or keep in contact often.  My family is spread throughout the country and until recently, we were an Air Force family who lived overseas 3X.  I am rotten at staying in touch and rely solely on visits from my family to show them my love. 

I also suggest not criticize your family once you become adults. Just love and support them.  I really appreciate my mother putting me on the right path now and again because there are very few people that give you constructive criticism when you are adult and you still really need it.  However, my mom is very gentle and loving when she offers me ways to improve and I really appreciate it.  There are not a lot of people who do this well so tread lightly.

On the other hand, I often dread visits from my mother-in-law because she is constantly giving me suggestions on what I should do.  I have a work and personal “to do” list that is a mile long and I don’t want any additional tips from my mother-in-law.  I guess that is my biggest point – treat your relatives like you treat your friends – don’t judge and criticize them because they are family.  Love them.”

Thank you to all who responded for sharing your stories!  Reader, feel free to chime in with your own experience.

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