Why We All Revert Back To Our Teenage Selves When We Visit Our Parents — No Matter How Old We Are

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Adult Children With Parents

During the pandemic, living alone gave me lots of space and time needed to reflect and get comfortable with myself. It also gave me an idea of how I wanted to be treated in life. For me, I wanted the decisions I made about my life to be respected. 

As I set these boundaries for myself, there were and still are a lot of issues with trying to enforce these from my parents. Like many parents, they believed that I was being disrespectful and that they still had authority over my life.

Considering 52% of young adults found themselves living with the parents again during the pandemic, I'm guessing many of you struggled with reverting to childlike tendencies over the past year. 

These boundaries are difficult to create and enforce because it involves you and your parents breaking 20+-year-old habits. Yes, habits. 

Why do we act like our teenage selves around our parents?

It's common to fall back into old routines when with our parents, they treat us like the children they still think we are, we act out of frustration and struggle to communicate like adults, and the cycle continues!

“Parents can’t stop being concerned about their children by habit, and we as adults react or respond to our parents out of habit.” life and family coach Keya Murthy says. “Adult children revert to childlike habits when with parents as part of our subconscious programming.”

Murthy notes that “Each time either child or parent reacts we strengthen the old habit and history continues.”

The habits can be even stronger if trying to set up boundaries after college but you can always set boundaries no matter how old you are or what stage of life you are at.

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How to set boundaries with your parents as an adult. 

Setting boundaries requires clear communcation and mutual understanding so you understand your parents and they understand you — everything your teenage self ever dreamed of!

1. Determine what habit you would like to stop. 

These habits include any action or behavior that is unacceptable that you would like to put a halt to. These actions or behaviors will determine where you set your boundary. These boundaries can be physical or emotional.

For example, I wanted to put a halt to my parents telling me I couldn’t drive somewhere because it was too far, too late, or too dangerous. Living a state away, it was infuriating when this would happen. 

This is an emotional boundary that I decided to set for myself.

2. Determine what would be an acceptable habit.

By replacing the unacceptable habit or behavior with something acceptable, you are moving in a positive direction. 

Malka Ahern an expert in anger management and anxiety issues says, “The best way to break an old habit is to replace it with a new one.”

I decided that it was acceptable for my parents to want me to keep them updated and for me to notify them when I arrived. 

This alternative action allows my parents to still worry about me, but also allows me to be recognized as a competent adult capable of making decisions for herself. 

If there are still slip-ups of the unacceptable behavior you have also already provided an alternative so it will be easier to correct when the time comes. 

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3. Communicate those boundaries with your parents. 

One can sit their parents down for an old-fashioned talk or can even write their parents a letter — or a long-winded text. Here you can inform them of the new acceptable behavior that you would like to replace the unacceptable one with.

It's important to avoid pointing fingers during this time because you want this to be positive and centered around wanting to have a good relationship with each other.

In order to have more effective communication, I allow myself time to think over my words carefully. This allows me to respond in a way that is not a knee-jerk reaction coming from a place of emotion. 

Being mindful of what I am trying to communicate and what I say allows me to communicate my boundaries. 

“Mindfulness is a great practice to share with our parents,” Murthy says. “Instead of reacting to our parents, we can respond and include them with diligence.”

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Ciara Litchfield is a writer who works on entertainment and news article with a special interest in family topics.