When you head home to visit family, tons of childhood memories will come rushing back, along with some old family dynamics too. Some dynamics, like inside jokes or age-old traditions, are comforting and great. But others, like teasing, babying, or people not taking you seriously — not so much. You may be a full-grown adult now, but parents and siblings can make you feel like you're eight-years-old all over again. Over the years you've probably changed a lot, and there's a good chance you've worked hard to grow into the person you are today. Going home to see your family shouldn't mean denying who you've become, but when you're surrounded by the people you grew up with, it's hard not to fall back into your old patterns and family role. It might not seem so bad to be treated like a kid at first, but all it takes is one thing to remind you that there were plenty of things you didn't like about being a kid too. Perhaps you're the youngest or middle child who was constantly ragged on by the other siblings growing up. Or maybe a parent has just never bothered trying to see eye-to-eye with you or taking you seriously on certain things. Whatever it may be, if you'd like to be treated like an adult at home, there's plenty you can do.
Decide What Version of You to Be Before You Go Home
We asked Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Lifehacker contributor, Vanessa Marin where you should start, and she suggested you should decide how you want to approach things before you go home to visit. You need to identify how you want to act, and consider how that differs from the way you normally act when you're at home. Have a game plan ready, and be prepared to follow through with it.
For example, say you've long been pegged the bitter, sarcastic kid in your family, but you've softened up over the years and want to show that you've become a much kinder adult. Marin suggests you keep that goal in mind the entire time you're home, and when you catch yourself slipping into old patterns, take notice:
It can help to remind yourself of that in the moment, by saying things like, "am I getting sucked into old dynamics again?" or "what version of me is responding here?"
So for our example, make the theme for your whole trip being nicer than usual. Or maybe you've always been known as an inappropriate jokester, and you make your goal to keep raunchy jokes to a minimum. If you can highlight the big changes you've made in your life, your family will take notice.
Act Like an Adult and Tackle Problems Early
Sometimes feeling like an adult is more important than being perceived as one. The same that way acting confident can make you feel more confident, consciously acting like an adult can make you feel more like an adult. Helping out around the house without being told, talking the way you normally talk with others, sharing your honest thoughts and opinions, being assertive, and answering the questions they ask you without acting like a shy child who's afraid of their own grandpa will make you feel grown-up, regardless of how they are treating you. Meredith Redding, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), also suggests that committing to an adult posture will help as well:
Sit up tall, plant your feet on the floor, notice when you start to shrink. Also, become aware if your voice starts to regress into a childlike tone. Gently catch yourself, breathe into your center, and speak your truth with adult resonance.
If you look and sound like an adult, it will be harder for your family members to ignore it. They might give you grief at first, but over time they will see that's just who you are now. It also helps to keep in mind how your family visualises you so you can keep their expectations from changing your ways. You may be "little Timmy pee-pants" to them, but that's not who you are in your head anymore, so don't let that be what governs your thoughts and actions. Be aware of how they see you so you can carefully navigate their perception of you to a different place.
If you can't get your parents to stop babying you, for example, Marin suggests you differentiate situations as best as possible so it's a win-win for both parties:
Some parents have a hard time letting you be an adult because they miss being the caretakers (this can be particularly true for empty nesters). Give them a task to do! So for example, you might be tell your mum something like, "I appreciate that you still want to do my laundry after all these years, but it would mean a lot more to me if you would make that old hot chocolate recipe you used to make for me."
Let them have what they want while continuing your crusade toward being your adult self. If you know specific family members will give you trouble, Marin recommends you address major problems early so they don't even have time to start putting you back in your old place. Take your politically-charged, argumentative brother aside, for example, and acknowledge that you guys always end up making jabs at each other. Then agree to make a "no politics talk" pact for the time you're both there. They may not go for it, or break the pact down the line, but it's worth at least trying to address issues before they get out of hand.
Be Persistent and Train Your Family Members Over Time
Keep in mind, however, that these strategies won't work instantaneously. You have to be persistent and unrelenting in showing them how you want to be seen. Dr Daniel Shaw, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Psychology, explains:
So, for instance, if you've always been the cooperative one at home, for you to say, 'Actually, I don't really think that's good for me to do that,' you'd probably get a look back of surprise — but then they'd probably say, 'Oh, she's having a bad day, don't worry about it. But then to do it again…
Basically, you have to train your family on how you'd like to be treated. If you don't repeat your lessons, they won't learn.
Treat Your Family Like You'd Treat Your Friends
Sometimes breaking out of your normal family formula is as easy as treating them a little differently. Katherine Conger, professor of human development and family studies at UC Davis, recommends a very simple tip: pretend your family is just a group of your friends. When you think of them as your friends, normal conversation comes easier, and you'll lower your guard a bit. That will lower their guard as well, and get them communicating on a completely different level.
This tactic is especially useful with siblings. They may be a little surprised at first, but keep at it. It doesn't hurt to actually show interest in your family's lives either. Jaime Lutz at Bustle points out that your family might seem boring, but that's because you spent a lot of time around them as a self-absorbed little kid. If you take some time to ask them about their opinions or the details of their lives, they will probably start to respect you a bit more. They will think of you less as a child, and you might learn some interesting things you never knew about.
Find Some Time to Get Away and Regroup
When all else fails, you should have an escape plan so you can reevaluate things and remind yourself how you normally act. Marin explains that self-care is extremely helpful in situations like this, so try to get out of the house and exercise or go see some friends. If you normally get time to yourself to read, find that time at home or a nearby coffee shop. If you like to binge-watch your favourite shows to recuperate, duck into a room and pop in your Friends DVDs (my own personal strategy). Whatever you do normally to take care of yourself and keep yourself sane in your adult life, don't forget about it just because you're back with the family. Be careful not to shut yourself out completely, but at least have a plan for when the going gets tough.