How To Deal With A Controlling Parent In Adulthood?

✔ Research-backed

The parents’ constant meddling into children’s decisions and affairs can push them away. Even though controlling parents say things with good intention, it often comes across as nagging, pushy, and authoritative. For example, telling their kids to choose science over arts, deciding who they need to be friends with, or taking care of their finances can be signs of parents controlling their children’s lives.

While they have their concerns for children, controlling can create a stressful condition for the latter. Let’s discuss parents who are overbearing and controlling and tips to deal with them in the right way.

In This Article

Controlled Parenting: What Is It?

Controlled parenting is a style in which one or both parents monitor their children’s activities or keep their lives under their control. It is also referred to as authoritarian parenting, where the parents focus on discipline and are strict and unyielding about adhering to rules and regulations. Such rigid parents may be detached from the needs of their children, and their overall conduct could be damaging for the children (1).

While some parents may get over this behavior when their children grow into adults, some of them may try to control their grownup children too.

Signs Of Controlling Parents

With time, and as the child matures into an adult, the relationship between the parents and the adult child should evolve. Otherwise, the equation may disintegrate, as may be the case with controlled parenting. Some signs of controlling parents are:

1. Your parents manage your responsibilities

You are an adult now, and you can manage your responsibilities, be it commuting alone, cleaning your space, or taking care of your finances. But if your parents are always trying to do your tasks, they may be trying to control you.

2. Your parents always have an opinion on you

Your parents always have an opinion about you

Image: Shutterstock

Do your parents tell you what to eat, what to wear, or even what career you should pursue? Do they judge you, have an opinion about everything you do or say, and try to change your outlook to match theirs? Then, your parents are probably controlling and bossy.

It is good to have guidance when you are a child, but when you are a grownup, such opinions may seem overpowering and could always leave you in a state of dilemma. Eventually, you would end up becoming dependent on their approval and may have difficulty making sound decisions on your own.

3. Your parents lack kindness or empathy

Controlling parents do provide necessities to their children but may fail to understand them. They may not be empathetic to you, probably due to their busy lifestyles or not wanting to lose their authority over you.

4. Your parents don’t give you privacy

Your parents don't give you privacy

Image: Shutterstock

Give space to each other. This fundamental rule applies to a relationship between parents and adult children too. If either of your parents is invading your privacy, it could be due to their controlling nature. Some of the examples could be your parents stalking you on Facebook or other social media sites, reading your emails, or listening to your calls. Remember, there is a thin line between your parents keeping a tab on your online activities when you were a child and interfering and reading your messages after you grow up.

5. Your parents are manipulative

If your parents are pressurizing, shaming, or blaming you often, it could be a sign of controlled parenting. This behavior is a covert or passive form of parenting as the child is forced to do something that they do not want to.

They may do this through different forms of manipulation, such as personal attacks (psychological control, emotional blackmail), love withdrawal (not showing care or affection), or invalidating feelings (acting superior).

protip_icon Point to consider
Controlling parents set highly unrealistic expectations or goals for their children. Parents who appreciate their child only when they get excellent grades are domineering and demonstrate conditional affection.

6. Your parents make you feel obligated

When parents keep reminding you that they have done a lot for you, you may feel obligated to do what they ask of you. But if what they want from you is against your wishes, it could be a form of controlling parenting.

7. Your parents dominate you

Controlling parent tries to dominate you

Image: IStock

If your parents are still trying to overpower you by rejecting your ideas or by compelling you to do something against your wishes, then it is a sign of control. For instance, if your parents force you to try a cuisine that you don’t enjoy, it is a sign of dominance.

Dealing with a parent’s controlling behavior becomes necessary to prevent damage to your relationship with your parents and harm to your future relationships.

Casey, a wife and mother, explains the immense controlling nature of her family in her younger days. She shares, “My family attempted to control every aspect of who I was, from my bookish nature, to my lack of style in my clothes and hair, to the choices of boyfriends and the choice of universities I wanted to attend.”

The dominating nature of parents can also make children rebellious. Expressing how she reacted to the repressive nature, Casey says, “And since nothing I did was good enough, I really didn’t try that hard to conform (i).”

8. Your parents emotionally blackmail you

Controlling parents often resort to emotional blackmail when other methods fail to yield desired control over their children. They take you on a guilt trip whenever you fail to live up to their expectations and constantly remind you of the sacrifices that they made for you. Your efforts are never enough, and they play the victim card to gain sympathy. They give you a silent treatment when their demands are not met and disconnect from you till you give in to their demands. They may also give threats or ultimatums, constantly question your choices, and compare you with others. In addition, they often use love and emotional outbursts to manipulate you.

How To Deal With A Controlling Parent?

You don’t have to quarrel or rebel. Taking a few subtle steps can provide you the much-needed relief.

1. Determine the pattern of your parent’s behavior

Instead of reacting to your parent’s behavior, it is necessary to identify and understand the reason behind it. Are they attacking you verbally or psychologically, or being aggressive? Once you identify the behavior pattern, give a name to it. Naming it can help you connect it with the reason behind their behavior.

For instance, they may want to keep tabs on you or stay connected with you at all times because they may be feeling lonely or fear losing you. Rather than being harsh on them for that, you could assure them that you are always there for them and explain how their dominating or controlling behavior is affecting you.

2. Claim your identity

If you are in your twenties and think your parents’ controlling behavior is impacting the critical decisions of your life, then maybe you should put a stop to it soon. When your parent’s controlling behavior takes over your life, you may lose your identity.

So, think about what you want in life, what you like and dislike, and talk about it with your parents. Let them know where your happiness lies, what you want to do, and how they can support you.

3. Do not give in

Do not give in to your controlling parents

Image: Shutterstock

Emotional blackmailing or manipulation is not a healthy form of parenting. Talk to them and stop it. Let them know firmly, but gently, what you need from them. It is essential to be strong when your future and life are at stake. Act soon to avoid regretting later.

4. Keep actions above emotions

Dealing with complicated situations in life can be overwhelming. But getting emotional about such situations may not always help. When you are not happy with the controlling nature of your parents, you should talk to them instead of being silent and building resentment. So the next time your parents take over and make a decision for you against your wishes, tell them about it.

You may not want your parents to feel bad about it, but it is essential to let them know that you want to live life on your terms. Especially when you are an adult and capable of making decisions about yourself and your life, their controlling behavior could also draw an emotional wedge between you.

5. Understand that you can’t always please them

It is okay to seek love and approval from parents for things you do, but expecting the same every time may not be a good idea.

Before you know it, you could be living your life for your parents and not yourself. As an adult, you have your individual opinions, and it is okay to have differences. So don’t lose heart even if they don’t approve of everything you do.

6. Set up healthy boundaries with parents

A cheerful relationship between parents and children

Image: Shutterstock

A healthy parent and child relationship should have established boundaries, especially when you are an adult. With boundaries in place, the relationship becomes transparent and cheerful. There would be no dependency, expectations, financial tangles, or any other ill feelings. The bond would be positive without any significant hiccups.

Relationships should be handled with care, especially the most precious one with our parents. If you think your parents are controlling and that is hurting the relationship you have with them, talk to them about it.

Sometimes, the parents may not realize that their behavior is hurting the child. Not all parents become controlling because of their selfish or self-opinionated desires. There could be varied reasons behind such a possessive style of parenting.

Why Do Parents Become Controlling?

Some may stem from negative experiences, while others could be from positive situations.

  • Some parents could become controlling and intrusive because they don’t want their children to commit mistakes in life. And so, they tend to become overprotective.
  • Another reason could be the fear of losing children. They could be afraid of staying away from their children when they grow up. In such a case, they try to control and see that the child is always with them.
  • Some parents may not want to lose their ego or superiority or may not want to treat their children equally even after they grow up. They might be lonely too and might want their children to be there for them whenever they need them.
  • Unlived lives: Parents have strong ideas about their children’s lives because they are hoping that their children live out things they never did.

Sometimes, they may have a few unreasonable expectations that may turn them into controlling parents. Irrespective of the intention, the effect of controlled parenting could be unfavorable.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can strict parents cause trauma?

Overly strict parenting may have a negative impact on children. Some children may become aggressive and rebellious. While others may experience trauma and find it difficult to socialize, make their own decisions, and be confident as they grow (2). So, it is important for parents to be friendly with their kids and empathize with them.

2. What is it called when parents are controlling?

When parents are highly controlling, it is known as an authoritarian parenting style. This type of parenting focuses on the child following a set of rules without compromise. Here, obedience equals love from the child’s side (2).

3. Are there any benefits to controlling parenting?

Controlling parents may offer some benefits in terms of safety. These children may also have more academic achievements and learn self-control.

Having restrictive or controlling parents when you are an adult may affect your growth as an independent and responsible individual. Although their intentions may be good, their demanding actions may become too strong. So if your parents are constantly meddling in your personal life and displaying the above behaviors, do not hesitate to confront them. It is necessary to express your emotions and let them know where they are going wrong. Follow the subtle steps towards building a healthy relationship with your parents for a better and peaceful life.

Infographic: Effective Strategies For Dealing With A Controlling Parent

While having controlling parents during childhood can be beneficial up to a point, this parental behavior may cause conflicts and negatively impact children’s emotional and social growth in later years. Let’s take a look at the infographic below to learn some simple yet effective strategies to help you deal with your controlling parents.

strategies for dealing with a controlling parent (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Controlling parenting could leave an adverse impact on children.
  • Being manipulative, lacking empathy, and not giving them privacy are a few signs of controlling parents.
  • Know that you can’t please your controlling parents, so establish your identity and refuse to comply with their demands.

Are your parents controlling your life? Learn the 5 signs that confirm you have controlling parents in this video!

Personal Experience: Source


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

1. C. Merlin, J. R. Okerson, and P. Hess;How Parenting Style Influences Children: A Review of Controlling, Guiding, and Permitting Parenting Styles on Children’s Behavior, Risk-Taking, mental Health, and Academic Achievement; The William & Mary Educational Review (2013)
2. Authoritarian parenting style; Michigan State University

Was this article helpful?
Like buttonDislike button
The following two tabs change content below.
Scott Kouri runs a private practice in Victoria, B.C. He provides his clients with a personal space to talk and share what’s on their minds. With nine years of experience, he helps them self-discover, change themselves, and grow in their space. Scott provides general and addictive behavior counseling and CBT for anxiety and depression, among others. The early counseling full bio