Family Matters: Communicating with Parents

Updated: Mar 1, 2019


This month we’re focusing on how to improve relationships with all the people you love, not just your official Valentine. You may have just survived the holidays with your parents, but is there more you can do to open up the lines of meaningful communication for the rest of 2019?

Luckily, our favorite couples counselors (and real life marrieds), the Kindmans return to help us deal when the parentals make us mentals. Afterall, parents know how to push our buttons because they’re the ones who installed them.


Being in a partnership often means blending your extended families together. This can be a challenge! What advice do you have for couples struggling with this?

Another great and very challenging question! Let us first start by saying that personally, we hit the jackpot with our families blending and are incredibly grateful for how warm and welcoming our families have been of each other, despite significant language and cultural differences. Of course, many people don’t have it that easy.


This is where having the secure foundation in your relationship can be such an asset and integral support. Remember that you are on the same team and conflicts within or between your families are now yours to share and navigate together. Plan for family occasions. Get clear on what’s important to each of you, particularly if conflicts or uncomfortable moments are likely to occur, and be explicit about what you need from your partner. Decide how you’ll support each other ahead of time and establish a cue (a look, a squeeze on the leg, a codeword) that will make it clear that you need support and/or an escape.


One of our mothers recently exclaimed, “What are “boundaries”, and why does everyone keep telling me I need them?!” Got an answer for her?

We LOVE boundaries and so should you! And thanks to your mom for highlighting this for us...Boundaries, for her information (and yours), are invisible lines that separate who we are and who we are not, what we are willing to put up with and what we are not, and what we can control and what we cannot.


People who struggle with setting boundaries can find themselves feeling guilt ridden, people pleasing, avoiding conflict, blaming others, spreading themselves too thin, and likely not getting their needs met. Having unhealthy boundaries can generate resentment, disconnection, passive aggressive communication, and often results in feeling disempowered, over-obligated and just plain overwhelmed! Learning to set boundaries promotes intimacy, trust, and connection in our lives. By getting our own needs met, we create the space for meeting the needs of others without feeling obligated and resentful. By learning that our value isn’t dependent on how many times we say yes or no to the demands of others, we become free to show up with more authenticity in our relationships.


One example that often comes up in our work with relationships is the concept that one partner makes the other feel something (“you made me angry”). This is so important to understand: we cannot make another person feel something. Emotions are likely a response to a situation or a stimulus, but that does not make one person responsible for the emotions of another. We often find ourselves encouraging our couples to take ownership of what each of them is bringing to the table (emotional baggage and all!), leave space for discrepancy between intention and actual impact, and to do so without being accountable for causing the other’s feelings. Partners (and individuals!) who learn to set healthy boundaries invite compassion, empowerment, and self-advocacy into their lives, and these are the building blocks of securely functioning relationships.


When communicating with our parents, it can be easy to slip into patterns from our childhood. What are some helpful ways to create new, more mature ways of communicating with parents?

This is one of the biggest challenges to navigate, even for people who’ve engaged in years of therapy (and maybe even for therapists themselves!) It doesn’t take a therapist to tell you that our earliest relationships are incredibly formative. Not only do these relationships inform how we show up in our intimate relationships as adults, but the dynamics we develop with our families of origin are some of the most deeply ingrained patterns in our lives.

We’ve all been there: we tell ourselves that we are not going to react, and before we know it, we have morphed into our teenage selves. So how do we show up differently? Our answer will sound familiar if you’ve been paying attention thus far: 1) set boundaries, 2) lean on your partner to do some of the heavy lifting, and 3) be kind to yourself when you inevitably fall into the same traps.


In setting and enforcing boundaries with our families of origin, we can shake loose some of the responsibility we’ve held for their feelings - some of which we have been carrying since we could barely walk. This is often easier said than done, but if we are successful in making clear what we will and won’t put up with, we can begin to shift these dynamics (or at least take care of ourselves). In leaning on our partners, we recruit someone who does not bear the same wounds and scars as ours, and thus can engage with our folks in a (hopefully) less sensitized way. Sometimes this means asking them to do the talking, but other times it means just having their knowing gaze in the room with you to provide comfort, security, and validation.


Our final tip is self-compassion: when communicating with our parents, it is almost inevitable that we will not show up as the well-rounded, mature adults we have grown into. After having a meltdown, or even just losing our cool for a moment, we make it even worse by kicking ourselves for it. Instead, remember that you are not alone in feeling this way, and try and treat yourself the way you would treat a dear friend. Offer yourself love, kindness, and understanding...and try to find the humor in your awkward flailing attempts at finally doing it differently. Nothing takes the sting away better than sharing a laugh at your own expense along with your partner.


Kaitlin and Paul, thank you again for your thoughtful advice! We will be re-reading this post before every family gathering coming up in 2019!


About our experts:

Kaitlin Kindman, LCSW (she/her) received her degree as a Master of Social Work from New York University and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the state of California.

Paul Kindman, LMFT (he/him) received his degree as a Master of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles and is a Licenced Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of California.

Together, Paul & Kaitlin are the lead therapists and co-owners of Kindman & Co., a group therapy practice in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood. They provide counseling for individuals, intimate relationships, and groups, and have recently started to offer co-therapy, working with partnerships together as a couple.


Want to Learn More:

If you’re interested in learning more about Paul & Kaitlin and their therapy practice, please visit their website at www.kindman.co. If you would like to book a therapy consultation, give feedback on this article, or just say “hi,” feel free to shoot them an email at kaitlin@kindman.co & paul@kindman.co.

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