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I'm in my mid twenties, recently graduated (2 years ago), single, living alone, and working professionally. I am not a very open person. I keep my personal life, professional life, family life, and friends-circle very separate from one another.

My parents have an empty nest now. I have four siblings, making there 5 children of my parents in total. I am one of only two that live nearby my parents. Occasionally, they like to drive over and visit with me, especially since I am one of the very few children they can easily physically meet up with.

I love the opportunity to spend time with my parents, at least in principle, and usually in practice. There is nothing overtly unhealthy about our relationship, they are very respectful parents and I believe I reciprocate that. Time doesn't stop for anyone, and after my grandparents passed away, I realized I don't want to take my parents for granted while I have them, or squander opportunities to bond with them while we share existence together. Therefore almost every time they ask if I'm open to them swinging by for dinner, I accept happily. The problem arises on these occasions, when we get together to bond and relate to one another.

The way this usually plays out, we pick a place to eat, and then eat and catch up. The problem I have is that I feel like I don't have a lot to share with them, or perhaps I don't have a lot I am willing to share with them. I can keep the conversation going for some time by querying and letting them share their lives, but when I come up with scraps in return, I think it is starting to stand out now, and it is a bit awkward. I can tell they are starting to notice it, but don't fully understand it yet, because they misunderstand. For example on the last occasion, my mom followed up the visit with an sms concerned that they chilled the conversation by offending me somehow (not the case, and I assured her so).


So what is it I'm asking?

I don't know what 'the solution' looks like.. I don't know if there is something I should say, or a behavior I should change, or there's nothing that can be done, or even something else. So overall, it is difficult to distill this into a pointed question.. Whatever it is though, the following are what I am hoping to accomplish:

  • I want to be able to relate to my parents in a casual, fun, and relaxing way. I want to be able to bond with them regularly.
  • I don't want to be the cause of any awkwardness or feelings of estrangement.
  • I want to maintain the boundaries in my life (not at all costs, but just as a strong preference I have for some reason (I am not even certain why I am this way, I just am))

What can I do?

I think the concern about estrangement is key... I'm not looking for ways to excuse discussion of topics, or even excuse the obscurity. They don't ask pointed questions that I need to explicitly decline. They don't even know what they don't know.. All I think they really know by now is, I don't share a lot, I'm not very open, and there has clearly got to be more to my life than I volunteer to them. Some people may think that unreciprocated openness is a problem... ...and I can't decide. Our relationship has been fine up to this point, but if they truly start to suspect/realize they have a very small share of me, will they feel estranged? and will it weaken our relationship in their eyes (even though it has been the same and strong as ever in my own)? Is a relationship like this fair, or is it on unequal footing? Have I been in the wrong this way, or is this normal?


Edit:

People have requested I make this a little more concrete. To elaborate on some examples of dried up or dead conversation ends:

  • My workplace is great, but the work itself is rather mundane. Work is normally a safe bet for getting a conversation off the ground among strangers, but among people I am close with, I personally just don't get any enjoyment or find any interest in going on about it. It feels to be a tedium and a drag, elaborated just for politeness.
  • In my personal time I have a number of hobbies. e.g. I game, I draw, I write... but circumstantially, each of these are either things they have an express lack of interest in (the particular games I play) or I am 100% not interested in sharing even the existence of (drawings, written works)
  • I spend time with friends and we have good fun doing things together, but again, circumstantially, the vast majority of this I'd rather maintain in a completely exclusive sphere from my parents. They do not know any of my friends, or what I do with them even if they did know them.
  • We occasionally talk about other family members during catch up, but this is kind of cheating because we all have contact with the family as much as one another, and it only serves as a (weakening) distraction from the fact I am not sharing about my own life.
  • It has occurred to me that maybe we should find some kind of activity to share instead of just a meal and conversation. We haven't talked about that in years, and it might be a viable route to reconsider, but at least the last time we considered it (years ago) we just couldn't think of anything we would all really enjoy together.
  • We have had very fun and engaging spiritual discussions before, in part because they are dedicated Christians and I fell very very much away from that. Over the years this has basically dried out though. Philosophically there is no further anyone is likely to be convinced. I have no spiritual life of my own to share. Occasionally they have an interesting bit of their own spiritual life to share, but again, it's one sided (them sharing, not me).

Hopefully this helps and I apologize for not including it in the original post.

  • 1
    This all sounds a bit abstract - don't you have any hobbies or work-related stuff that you could tell your parents about? Nothing that's remotely interesting to them and you're comfortable discussing? No books you read or sports you watched or vacation you've been on? I can't quite imagine your situation, it all sounds a bit vague in your question. – AllTheKingsHorses Feb 14 '18 at 10:45
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First of all understand that this is a very common thing with all people in the mid-20's and yes, this is normal.

First and foremost, I appreciate that you want yourself to change and in itself is a big reason for you to cheer up.

I can relate directly to with your issue because I was just like you. I used to find myself in awkward situations like the one you mentioned more often than not. I used to really get frustrated with myself whenever this happened because I never wanted, not only my parents, but also my friends and others around me, to sense something wrong about me.

I want to help you in the simplest way possible. Take a deep breath and relax, accept that it's not a crime to be the way you are. It's you so no need to fight yourself to change. If you want change, it'll come to you - you're going in the right direction.

I'll be as brief as possible. Don't think of the below steps as a strict algorithm, a test or some complex procedure.

  1. Just let it go, it's good that you meet up with your parents and have a good time. Consider yourself very lucky and grateful for this.
  2. To whom are you the most attached to: your Mom or Dad or any one of your siblings? Talk to them about this and the way you feel about this openly without hesitation, they're your family they'll never ever want to hurt you and mock you over this. I believe so because of your line "For example on the last occasion, my mom followed up the visit with an sms concerned that they chilled the conversation by offending me somehow (not the case, and I assured her so)."
  3. Look around you - your surroundings, everything is nice and you have a healthy environment. Stay positive and believe that you can be free to talk, get along and be with the ones you love and care the most about.
  4. Don't hesitate and try to hide something you badly want to share with your parents just because you assume it's not the right time and place, just say it normally without getting conscious or uncomfortable. Your parents won't hang you for what you assume is blabbering. In fact, I'm sure even they want to listen to your voice as badly as you want to theirs. They are parents, please know that the only thing they care the most about is their children.
  5. Let them know about your work and that you can't share everything that happens at the office normally. Call them at regular intervals and let them get used to the time at which you usually call. Be as open as possible when you talk, but here's the catch, try to be a patient listener. Listening is a skill which even professionals ignore and think it's the weak that listen and the bold that talk.
  6. Your parents love you and will do anything in this world to make you happy. Reciprocate. Let them know that you feel the same about them by using simple techniques like :
    1. Surprise visits to your parents' and if possible siblings.
    2. Gifting is also a really good option - doesn't have to be expensive but things like a coffee mug of their favourite colour, etc.
    3. Write occasionally if you cannot express yourself in person. I followed this approach and it brought tears of joy to my parents and we've been together since and always will be.
    4. Hugging also melts the others who are offended by you or your attitude and there's no harm in apologizing during these situations.
    5. Trust me if you follow all of this, you'll be a better person and not not only your parents but everyone around you will treat you with respect.
    6. Always remember "You get what you give - Karma". If you love your parents and let them know - express that you do, then they'll reciprocate - It's a cycle.

I know this is not at all brief but I couldn't stop myself from writing what I really felt, that I want to help you help yourself in being a better person.

Hope this helps. Cheers!

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If you have anything to share, share it right away. This will make it less likely that they feel like they need to ask all the questions. Call them if it's important enough. Share it if you see them if it's not. But make sure that if there's anything to share, you share it.

Try to organize something if your parents are coming over, where you don't have to talk too much. I would also do this with my sister when we didn't have as much to talk about and I didn't want it to be awkward. Go to a nice food market, a museum or go for a nice walk or tour through the city. Do something where you can talk a little, but you don't have to talk all the time and you can also talk about your surroundings or the thing you're doing. This will have two benefits. It's not awkward at the moment and next time you can talk about that lovely time you guys had. This probably also means that you will take more initiative, which they will appreciate.

A bit about your concerns. I think it's normal that you don't share everything with your parents. I would not share everything with my parents either. My mom did get upset about that one time. But in the end they know we have a good relationship and I share the important things with them. Just make sure they know you like to spend time with them and they will understand if you share less if your life with them. Try to built a relationship that you're both comfortable with.

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I suggest you talk to them about the issues you explained here. I think it is perfectly alright that you decided there are things you like to share and others you like to keep private.

A problem might be that your parents (and maybe also other people) think that you have some BIG secrets which you want to keep away from them. Like maybe you are trans but you don't dare to talk about that (it's just an example).

If you tell them something like: You enjoy that they visit you and you like to talk to them but you just don't want to share everything. And there is nothing really big that you want to hide.

I guess they want to know that you are alright. And if they know you are just a private person that should be fine.

The problem might be that they might think you are not alright and have problems and don't want to talk about this. Make sure you tell them this is not the case so that they don't worry.

Over time maybe you decide you want to share more. But that should be entirely up to you without pressure.

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I'm very much like this - or was in my 20s/30s. So some things I've learned might be helpful, perhaps.

One key question is whether you want privacy (to keep your stuff to yourself), or whether you genuinely find it difficult to think of things of interest and "opening" to them.

If you can update your question with a little bit more on this aspect I might be able to be more helpful in this reply. For the while, I'll comment on what happened to me, and try to pick out things that helped me, and might help you, in your similar situation.

I learned two main things later on in my life. The first was that I came to understand that there were some pretty good reasons that I had learned from early on, to keep myself to myself. Mainly, things got misunderstood, or deemed to be "said wrong" - and as a kid, I simply couldn't think of what would count as "interesting" to relatives. ("Who did you see at school?" "A friend"). Also, as a child, the best way to avoid a problem is not to be communicative about things that could lead to it, so even though I loved family and friends. I ended up simply finding it hard to see what could be interesting to them.

The second thing I learned as an adult (again for me) was that I learned to understand myself better, and learned to disclose what was going on for me. That was crucial.

The way it played out for me was, my parents, lovely as they are, would at times talk in a way that banged up against my hard limits - things I didn't feel I had a helpful reply to. So occasionally there were modest sparks - enough to deter some kinds of opening up. The changing point came when I became able to explain to them what they were doing that made it hard for me - and after some years they finally really started to "get it", very suddenly, that their manner prompted mine. That led to a positive spiral in which I learned and became more comfortable explaining what was going on for me - that I needed space or time to reflect on sudden issues, or not to speak in an accusatory time or with unfair assumptions, that some kinds of intrusion were harder to handle, and so on. They started to learn too - that if they didn't do things that were difficult for me, then they would get better dialog and less stress, and a happier more productive outcome. It kind of spiralled on that front.

So the first thing I would say is, if you don't know what to say, reassure them that its not a reflection on them, and that its just difficult to think of things, or hard under pressure, or whatever. Go up a level and describe what's going on, in the dialogue. That its not a failing on their part and over time you'd like to figure how to be more open but it might take some years. If there is anything that makes it easier or harder, try to share it. If it makes it harder if they probe, or worry, tell them so. Try to work with them at it, and educate them on what will help, if anything.

It may take time but it sounds like you have a good family and relationship, so hopefully it will work out.

The main point is, if dialogue (openness) isn't working well on one level, shift to another - be open about why its being hard to be open, that its not a reflection on them, that this is what helps/hinders, or what they inadvertantly do or act which tends to trigger you clamming down, or whatever it may be. On that level you have real matters to convey, not "smalltalk" to figure out, and it can pay dividends.

If you reply or update the OP to indicate if any of this helps and which direction is more helpful, I might be able to add more.

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(1) Prepare. First, you need some conversation topics. For example:

  • something from the news

  • a funny anecdote

  • a book or movie or podcast you found interesting (perhaps you and your parents could be consuming some of these together, or in tandem -- e.g. you could email a link to a particular podcast you think they'd find interesting, or you could preload it on a cheap mp3 player if they aren't tech savvy; you could give or lend them a book you think they'd like)

  • gossip about some mutual acquaintance

Second, you need to prepare a question for one of them. Hold it in reserve When you sense that the magic uncomfortable moment is about to arrive, when they are going to want the clamshell to open up with some personal news of yours, that's when you can unveil the question you had in reserve. It has to be something they will want to talk about. If you're not sure what question will work well, prepare several just in case the first one doesn't work.

(2) Vary your activities. Here are some ideas:

  • Cooking lesson

  • Attend something together: film, play, dance performance, puppet show, observatory, etc.

  • Assistance with shopping for clothes or household belongings

  • Sightseeing

  • Play a game or attend a games club together

  • Go for a walk in the arboretum or a neighborhood with attractive houses or gardens

(3) Take the initiative to plan some of your get-togethers. This will help shift you out of the passive role in the relationship.

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