Skip to main content

How to Handle Controling Parents

M. D. Jackson has studied psychology since 1989. While her specialty is family relations, she also loves neuroscience and behaviorism.


My Parents Won’t Let Me Live My Life

You are over 18, but your parent(s) continue to badger you about your choices. You have had it with their constant meddling. What do you do? How do you handle them? Welcome to my office, have a seat. This is where we speak truthfully about becoming an adult. We are going to start with the fact that although the age of adulthood is 18, many people are not mature enough at 18 to handle life on their own. While we all have those momentary slips in judgment, you can still be an adult if you are handling your life.

What Is An Adult?

This brings us to the point of “what does it really mean to be an adult?”

An Adult:

  1. Can financially support themselves (without their parents' money).
  2. Can take criticism
  3. Takes responsibility for their own actions (does not blame parents or others for their mistakes).
  4. Is emotionally responsible in relationships (does not use others and holds up to family obligations).
  5. Has gainful employment.
  6. Can solve their own problems (without simply calling parents to do it for them.)

We will go through these briefly. To be an adult you must be able to financially support yourself. This means you do not rely on your parents to pay rent, car payments, or utilities. You do all those things yourself. If you are still calling your parents for money, then you are not an adult. If you are spending your money on things you don’t need and then not paying your bills then you should not call your parents to help. Don’t go get a tattoo and not pay your rent.

To be an adult you should be able to take criticism. If your employer tells you that you need to change how you are doing something and you lose your cool, you are not an adult. Adults know they are not alone in the universe and they try to be better people including taking criticism from others.

Taking responsibility for your own actions is an adult trait. As kids, we tend to blame others when we do something wrong. When you are a kid, your friend comes up with a bad idea and you follow them, later you blame them when you get caught. As an adult you take responsibility. If you hang out with drug addicts and they get busted while you were with them, it was your bad decision. If you can’t take responsibility, you are not an adult.

Emotional responsibility in relationships means you don’t use people’s emotions against them. This includes your parents. When you were growing up you may have had horrible parents. If you are still talking to them, you cannot blame them or emotionally blackmail them for money. To have adult relationships you have to be respectful of those around you even the people you don’t like. Adults don’t have pretend relationships where they use people for sex. If you know you are never going to marry someone, then you are just toying with them for sex or housing assistance. Growing up means; being honest in relationships. If you are not being honest, you are not an adult.

If you do not work, you are not an adult. We all have to pay our own way. Sitting on someone’s couch playing “call of duty” all day is not being an adult. You cannot expect other people to take you seriously when you are couch surfing and your life plan includes buying a tent to live in the park. Adults pay their own bills. Living in mom’s basement is not adult life.

If you have to call your parents every time a life problem arises, then you are not an adult. Adults handle their business. You should have reasonable problem-solving skills. Calling your parents is reserved for “Hi how are you” and emergencies. You can tell your parents what you are doing just don’t call them to fix everything for you.

I’m Independent But, My Parents Still Want to Parent Me

You read through the list and you are an independent adult. Your parents have not let go and they still treat you like a kid. Being a parent works like this; you start out with a helpless being that can’t do anything for itself, then it grows learning skills until finally, that baby doesn’t need the parent anymore. The problem is that in the eyes of a parent the time goes by too quickly. Having a child gives a person a sense that they are needed. When that child is grown, it no longer needs the parent. Since most adult kids initially assert their independence by temporarily breaking parental ties, this leaves parents with a sense of loss. If your parent still hovers over you, they are missing being needed. Be sensitive to this and call your parents. Know that their behavior is a sign of them not transitioning well into being empty nesters.

Tell your parent you appreciate their advice, but you can handle it! Because you can handle it, they raised you to handle it. One day I was folding laundry and my oldest son called. He said “Mom I am so thankful that I had you as a parent, you taught us how to live and experience new things. Not sit around playing video games.” You should at some point call your parents and thank them too. Thank them for all the nights they stayed up washing that T-ball outfit, the extra jobs they took so you could do dance recitals, the worry over you when you were sick, the times they taught you how to do things for yourself. These times were important. It doesn’t hurt to remind your parents that they did a good job so you’ve got this.

I Need My Parents to Pay

Often in controlling situations, the child will do just enough of what the parent asks to get the parent to pay for something. I tell parents all the time to write out a contract with their adult kids, I’m telling you the same thing. If your deal with your parent is that they will pay for your college, get it in writing. I’ve had parents contact me about everything from a kid getting a C grade to a kid who changes majors two years into college. Get it in writing and whatever your end of the bargain is, do what you say you are going to do.

Know that if you depend on another person for a car, housing, or school, it gives them power. The best thing you can do is get your own car, housing and pay for your own school. If you don’t want a parent to have monetary power to hold over you, make your own money. There is nothing wrong with being poor, there is something wrong with being dirty. A studio apartment may not be ideal, but you have the pride in knowing it’s yours.

As a side note, if you parked your tiny house in your parent's backyard, this does not mean you are on your own. That extension cord draining their electric might as well be an umbilical cord. Cut the cord, put your tiny house in a pay to park area. Then maybe you can make your own decisions.

My Parents Are Controlling

Some people are controlling. I had a parent contact me because her married son would not move back into the town he grew up in, even though she insisted he does this immediately. She wanted me to tell her how to get him back there. Parents should want to be around their children. However, the controlling parent will want you to be there for them all the time. It is best to be straightforward with your controlling parent and assert yourself. Whether it is the choice in a spouse or the choice in the town you live in, this is your life. The son should have told the mom a long time ago that he was never moving back. Be honest with your parents especially the controlling ones. Honesty means sometimes telling that parent that you are an adult and you are making your own decisions.

Govern your own life decisions. What do YOU want? This is your life and you should not spend it living the way someone else wants you to live. If you don’t want kids, don’t have them. Date who you want and marry who you want. Live how you want. One life is all you get. Realize that your parents are only seeing little pieces of your life, they are not with you 24/7, that means they have no idea what you are really living through. Make your own decisions.

Scroll to Continue

Toxic Parents (Skip This Section If You Have Good Parents)

I know people who have cut off contact with what they consider to be a toxic parent. Toxic parents are easy to spot because their lives are always a mess (bad relationships, housing issues etc). They use their kids as “friends” to help them through their issues. A sign that you have a toxic parent is that when you see their number come up on your cell phone, you cringe and often do not answer.

Not everyone was a good parent. In fact, some parents are horrible. They are abusive both verbally and physically. These parents tend to have substance issues, rarely hold down jobs, or they simply lie about everything. I would also put women who move from man to man letting men abuse their kids, in this category as well. We are all born with a downside. No one is perfect. Some people choose not to control their downside. Their children become the collateral damage of their bad decisions. Often adult children are angry with this parent who never should have had children.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t love your parent. You can love a bad parent without allowing them to drag you into their problems. The first step is getting a reasonable physical distance from them. Next, you lay down the law about contact. Let the parent know you are not going to bail them out of jail, come save them from significant others, or help them handle debts. Next, if the parent calls in hysterics, or being dramatic, tell them you are not talking to them until they calm down.

There is another type of toxic parent that has a way of belittling everyone around them. If you bring someone home, they are trash. If you want to be a mechanic it’s a “bad decision”. Nothing is ever good enough for them, leaving you constantly feeling like you do not measure up. Often they will even make remarks about your spouse in front of your spouse or use negative connotations. To me, these are some of the worst people. Protect your spouse and yourself from this person. If that means not showing up for the family dinner, so be it.

Bad Decisions

Some of you are known for your poor decision making. There are some of you who have couch surfed too much, freeloaded on friends or family, used up all your chances by being irresponsible and yet you wonder why your parents are on top of your life and irritated with you. If you are camping out and smoking weed instead of getting a job, shoplifting, spending money when you can’t pay bills, and getting pregnant with the person you just met, yes, your parents are going to have a problem with you. If you wreck their cars, fail in college, and don’t pay your rent, your parents are going to have problems with you. Once you make a mistake the only thing you can do to redeem yourself is to make it right. I’m sure you have all heard the stories of your own parent's mistakes (if you haven’t, call your grandparents they know). Sometimes a bad decision is the turning point for someone becoming an adult. Make this your triumph, not your downfall. Grow and become an adult from this experience

Last Words

Anything you do after you turn 18 is your “adult life.” Choose wisely. Know that most parents want the best for you. Sometimes their words are coming from a place of fear for your future, and sometimes their words are coming from a place of fear for their future. Most parents would take a bullet for their children, knowing that, go easy on your parents. Know that they love you so much. Know that you are their world and act accordingly. I hope this has helped you.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 MD Jackson MSIOP


Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on April 27, 2018:

This is great! It should be required reading for every high school graduate!

MD Jackson MSIOP (author) from Western United States on April 26, 2018:

Well said. I was the same way, I worked my tail off to get out of my parents house. A lot of kids are still that way. I've known teens who graduate early and get jobs to leave home before they are 18. It really depends on how they are raised.

dashingscorpio from Chicago on April 26, 2018:

Excellent points.

As a "baby boomer" I couldn't wait to be free of parental control!

When I went away to college I didn't rely on my parents to pay. I got a grant, scholarship money, and also worked. When I left college I moved 2000 miles away to Southern California and never looked back. I embraced responsibility because it meant freedom! Can't nobody tell you what to do when you're paying your own way. Young adults need to realize their parents aren't going to ever see them as being "adults" until they are financially independent of them and taking care of their own issues in life.

A lot of today's "kids" don't really want to be an adult when it comes to being truly independent. They see their parents as being human ATM machines and domestic servants whose sole purpose is to wait on them and rescue them whenever they are in a bind.

However they don't want their parents giving them advice or attaching conditions to the help they're requesting. On the flip side there are parents who want to be their children's "best friend" rather than their parents. They have been spoiling and caving in to their children since early childhood. No one should be "surprised" when their teens and early 20s "adult children" want them to continue to pay their tab while they run around doing whatever they want.

Related Articles