7 Tips for Dealing With Controlling Parents

Whether you’re an adult child or living at home (or an adult child who lives at home!), these tips on how to deal with controlling parents will help you see your situation – and your mom and dad – differently.

I was inspired to write this article for Andy. “Growing up, my parents always had a way of making me feel crappy about myself,” he said on How to Cope With Difficult Parents. “Criticism after criticism, controlling me in different ways. Madly praising others’ kids in front of me. Always have to give me orders on what to do around the house, even when I’m right about to do a chore, they just have to tell me to do exactly what I’m about to do so it seems like ‘they won.’ My parents are controlling and childish at the maximum level. I’m now 36, they visit me once a year and yet they still do the same crap. I’m never good enough for them. Someone else’s son is always better than me. My parents are the most negative people I’ve ever known, and they dreain me of my spirit and energy. I’m trying to learn how to deal with controlling parents but it is destroying the family love. If you have tips or advice for dealing with parents who try to control adult children, I’d love to hear them.”

I can’t give personal or specific advice on how to deal with controlling parents, but I’m happy to share a few ideas. Please feel free to share your experiences and thoughts on dealing with parents below. I can almost guarantee that if you share one tip on how you’re learning to deal with parents who try to control you, you will feel better about your family situation! Just focusing on what works for you is enough to brighten your spirits just a little.

Whether you’re a teenager or an adult child living at home, the most important thing to remember is that you can’t change your parents. You can only change how you deal with their controlling parenting style.

“Giving up hope is one of the healthiest, most life-affirming things you could do for yourself,” writes Dr Laura Schlessinger in Bad Childhood – Good Life: How to Blossom and Thrive in Spite of an Unhappy Childhood. “If, of course, you accept [your controlling parents] and don’t pout.”

Giving up hope may sound negative and depressing — but after you read my explanation and tips for coping with parents who try to control you, you may feel differently. Giving up your expectations may be the healthiest thing you ever do in life.

7 Tips for Dealing With Controlling Parents

My husband and I recently attended a family dynamics workshop (it’s the fifth of seven sessions); it was all about coping with your childhood relationships. I wrote a bit about that workshop in How to Love Yourself When You Don’t Feel Good Enough.

Since all families are different there is no “one size fits all” answer when you’re looking for ways to deal with controlling parents. Every family is unique. Your parents are unique, you are unique, and your patterns of relating to each other are unique. Families have their own cultures and ways of communicating, which makes it difficult for me to give advice or specific tips. These are general ideas for dealing with parents who tend to control and manipulate their adult children….and all of my tips revolve around changing the only person you have control over: you.

1. Let go of your need to please your parents

We grow up seeking approval, affirmation, and even love from our parents. Andy referred to this when he mentioned his parents’ constant criticisms of him and praise of other kids. He may not admit it, but he really wants to make his mom and dad proud of him. This is normal and healthy; of course we want to make our parents proud! We love them, and we want to know they love us.

6 Tips for Dealing With Controlling Parents

How to Deal With Controlling Parents

So, part of why it’s so difficult to confront our parents about their controlling behavior is because we don’t want to disappoint or anger them. Even as grown adult children, we want them to keep loving us – even when we feel like we hate them! The first tip on how to deal with controlling parents (or any toxic person in your life) is to recognize your need to please them. Accepting that you really want your parents’ approval and love will help you communicate with them better.

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It’s also important to remember that every interaction with our parents is a reminder that we are their children. No matter how old we are, we are our parents’ kids. This is partly why some parents are so controlling; they see us as little babies, toddlers, 10 year olds, 14 year olds. They see us at all ages of our lives, from dirty diapers to crying in pain. They don’t just see us for who we are now…they see us at all ages and stages of our lives. Part of their need to control us comes from their need to protect and keep us safe.

2. Take power when and where you can

“Perhaps you feel that you have been wronged by a family member, a friend, or a coworker,” writes Allan Klein in You Can’t Ruin My Day: 52 Wake-Up Calls to Turn Any Situation Around. “You may even feel justified in being angry with them, and you may be right. However, what you may not realize is that holding on to your anger or carrying a grudge against someone never serves you. It closes doors on relationships. It weighs you down and holds you back from moving forward. It zaps your energy – energy that you could use more productively to fully get pleasure from your relationships and enrich your life.”

Yes, you may have every right to be angry at your controlling parents! Maybe they really are negative, horrible, critical, controlling, and abusive. They are wrong, and you are right.

But staying in that position does not give you power. It diminishes your power, in fact. Why? Because you can’t change them. It’s like your parents are a horse racing around a racetrack. You can’t stop the horse – you need to ride the horse in the direction it’s going. Ride the horse, and take back your power. How? By doing the work it takes to learn how to deal with controlling parents.

3. Cut financial ties to parents who want to control you

A reader emailed me, asking me for help with her father. She’s an adult child; her dad is making her life miserable. He’s also having a negative effect her husband and child. She said her father helped her get a mortgage loan, and he holds that over them. He’s one of those controlling parents who thinks he has the right to dictate how she spends her money, and she asked for tips on dealing with him.

My first and most obvious idea is to pay her dad the money back. Instead of staying financially beholden, she might find ways to free herself financially so she can take her life back. This might involve getting a bank loan and paying her dad back the money she borrowed – even if the money was originally a gift. It’s not a “gift” if it’s taking an emotional toll on her and her family.

Or, if everyone agrees that the money wasn’t a loan and thus isn’t owed, then she might get him to sign an informal that says she doesn’t owe him money and he has no right to lord it over her. This black-and-white evidence might help them take money out of the father-daughter relationship.

If you live at home and are financially dependent, you will find it more difficult to deal with controlling parents. “Their house, their rules”, right? Read 10 Highest Paying Jobs for College Students – even if you’re not in college yet.

4. Learn to recognize emotional blackmail

This is one of the best ways to take your life back! If you have truly critical and controlling parents, you may recognize that they disguise their criticism, try to make you feel guilty for past behavior, or constantly make you feel bad about your life. They don’t want to let you live your life. Before confronting this type of difficult parents, it’s important to recognize and learn to deal with emotional blackmail.

How to Deal With Controlling ParentsRead books like Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You by Dr Susan Forward. She defines “emotional blackmail” as a powerful form of manipulation in which people close to us (controlling parents!) threaten to punish us for not doing what they want. Emotional blackmailers know how much we value our relationships with them; they know our vulnerabilities and our deepest secrets. They are our mothers, our partners, our bosses and coworkers, our friends and our lovers. And no matter how much they care about us, they use this intimate knowledge to give themselves the payoff they want: our compliance.

I guarantee that you will NOT learn how to deal with controlling parents simply by reading one blog post! You need to learn specific ways to communicate with your mom and dad. Take a weekend workshop in assertiveness training, or talk to a counselor. If you’re an adult child of controlling parents, you need to keep reminding yourself that you’re a grownup. You’re not a child anymore, and you don’t have to succumb to emotional manipulations. A big part of this is learning to say “no” and stand up for yourself without feeling guilty or scared of your parents’ response.

If your parents are emotionally manipulative and controlling, read Surprising Examples of Verbal Abuse in Relationships. It may help if you learn how to recognize verbal abuse.

5. Recognize the difference between emotions and action plans

Emotion says, “I hate you! I want you to leave me alone forever! You are the worst most controlling parents ever and I can’t stand dealing with you! I’m sick of your attempt to control me and I don’t want to learn how to deal with you because you suck. And I’m scared/tired/frustrated/miserable!” Those are your emotions, and they are normal.

Your emotions are not an action plan. Whether you’re an adult child or a kid living at home, you need to come up with an action plan for dealing with controlling parents. An action plan says, “I want a better life, better relationships. I don’t deserve to be treated like this. To stop this from happening, I need to (insert action plan here).”

To deal with your controlling parents, you will have to do something you don’t want to do. May you’ll have to quit a job you love, move to a different city, learn how to set boundaries with family members, and force yourself to actually stick to your boundaries. You might have to talk to a family counselor, get emotionally strong and healthy, and learn how to deal with controlling parents in different situations (eg, when you live at home, when you’re an adult child, when they’re dealing with health issues, etc).

No, it is not easy to take your life back. Yes, it is possible! It’s definitely easier when you’re an adult child who lives on your own, but even when you live at home you can separate yourself emotionally.

6. Start creating your action plan

You can’t change who your parents are (or how they try to control you), and you may need to keep living at home with them for the next few months or years. Don’t let these facts get you down! There are ways you can deal with controlling parents – and most of them require creating a plan of action.

Examples of action plans:

Tips for Dealing With Controlling Parents

6 Tips for Dealing With Controlling Parents

  • Commit to learning how to deal with controlling parents by reading books or talking to a family therapist.
  • Decide in advance how you’ll calmly and rationally respond to your parents when you feel they’re trying to control you.
  • Practice what you want to say to your mom and dad when things get crazy.
  • Arrange to phone a friend or family member when you feel like you’re losing control.
  • Take care of your emotional and spiritual health. Get healthy and strong, grounded and peaceful. Decide that your parents can’t control your emotional and spiritual life.

If you’re a teen or child living at home with controlling parents, talk in person to an adult you trust. Don’t rely on the internet or forums for advice! There aren’t any quick tips on how to deal with parents who want to control you; you need to find strategies that are geared to your specific family situation.

7. Stop wishing your parents less controlling, or different, or better

These controlling parents are yours. If you’re still wishing they were different, you need to let go of your desire that you were born in a different family. Accept reality. This is your life, and the sooner you accept it, the happier you will be.

You can still hope you’ll one day have a better, healthier relationship with your parents. But, you must stop hoping and wishing they’d change. Your mom and dad have found that their controlling parenting style works for them, and they won’t give it up without a huge fight. They may continue to be critical, manipulative, overbearing and difficult to live with no matter what you do. But, luckily, you have control over your thoughts and feelings! You are free to choose to distance yourself emotionally, physically, socially, and financially.

You can choose to live your own life even if you live at home with controlling parents. You can choose to be emotionally and spiritually free even if you’re an adult child of 40, even if you’re taking care of elderly parents, even if you know they will never ever change.

Resources for Dealing With Controlling Parents

How to Deal With Controlling ParentsYou Can’t Ruin My Day: 52 Wake-Up Calls to Turn Any Situation Around by Allen Klein is awesome! What a fun book, so cheerful and light – it is guaranteed to make you feel better about your life. It’s not about learning how to deal with controlling parents; it’s about coping with any and all negative, bad, critical, unfortunate situations in life.

“The next time someone pisses you off, mentally take a half step sideways and see him or her from a different angle,” writes Klein. “See their good side. See that they have wants and needs just like you. See that they are not out to get you; they are just people with a different opinion than yours. See them as an ally instead of an enemy.”

How to Cope With Controlling ParentsIn Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your LifeDr. Susan Forward draws on case histories and the real-life voices of adult children of toxic parents to help you free yourself from the frustrating patterns of your relationship with your parents — and discover a new world of self-confidence, inner strength, and emotional independence.

I can’t offer advice on how to deal with controlling parents, but you may find it helpful to share your experience here. Sometimes writing about your family brings insight and clarity, and can help you cope.

And remember: to heal from the past – and cope with controlling parents – you need to let go of your wish that your family was different. They are who they are, and you can’t change them. Stop wishing, and start learning how to change your response so you can be happier and healthier.


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251 thoughts on “7 Tips for Dealing With Controlling Parents

  • R

    I’ve been wanting to join the Armed Forces for years now but my parents have had this life plan where I become a nurse. I thought I owed them that much. So I tried it, I’m currently disliking it. I’m also just now realizing how much they’ve made me dependent on them. They’ve refused to teach me how to drive on the grounds that it’ll drive up their insurance payments. They’ve forbidden me to take up a job on the grounds that I have to study. I’ve tried to make them understand that nursing isn’t for me and that I have other passions in life but they’re not having any of it. My stepdad constantly reminds me of my “obligation” and my “debt” to them and that I have to finish nursing because of the sacrifice they’ve made for me. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it, but I feel like I’ve been crippled as an adult. It’s hurting me mentally when I study for hours for their sake. When nursing school started, I realized how out of place I was when everyone was asking why we wanted to be nurses. I had to come up with an elaborate lie because I can’t just say “Because my parents told me so”.

    I’ve been starting my first steps. I’ve made my feelings known to them. I hope that they’d understand but they’re making me continue nursing. They’ve even convinced themselves that my desire to serve is only because I’m doing bad in terms of grades. I’m gonna start talking to a recruiter and talking to one of my professors who are sympathetic to students who are being forced to become nurses by parents.

  • frustrated teenager

    I’m a 19 year old girl who has very controlling parents, mainly my dad. They never allow me to go out with friends, I can barely go outside without them going to check up on me. It worries me, I want this cycle to break but the last time I tried putting my foot down me and my dad got into a very bad argument and it got physical. My mother stood and watched. I currently live with them because I have no where else to go without some type of stuggle. I have no car. I’m not in college because I couldn’t afford it. I have a decent part time job. I even gave my parents money to pay for our house otherwise we would’ve been kicked out, all because my dad made the stupid decision to simply not pay for it. I NEED HELP!

  • AnotherAnonymous

    my parents are wealthy, elderly, frugal, and controlling, and live in another state in their mansion while i’m struggling to pay bills. . i am an adult daughter, divorced, work full time, take care of my school aged child, have multiple sclerosis, and do not receive any financial support from my ex for reasons i won’t get into here. my parents started an account for me when i was little, and it has grown to be very huge – generating TONS of income that i do not tap into at all. I am not selfish or spoiled and don’t want to spend frivolously – all the $ generated gets reinvested. i make a moderate salary in a very expensive east coast city. i’m struggling. i have a lot of medical bills, my car is OLD, and my parents say that i can’t tap into the money in my account to help pay for my new tires, or my bills from my doctors who don’t take insurance, or my son’s tutor (he has dyslexia). not even $200/month for the physical therapy that i desperately need. nothing. i need help and i don’t feel like i should have to show them my debt or ask them to pay my bills. i just want access to my account to take $200/month or whatever dividends the investments make. If nothing is made, i won’t take anything. but it’s there, for the future, i get it.. but i’m suffering from MS today. my salary is too high (and so is my tax return thanks to the investments in my name) to qualify for reduced rent or any other charitable benefits or government subsidies. i’m stuck. my dad called and said, “i want you to know i don’t consider this my money. it’s yours. BUT you can’t use it until you’re retired in 20 years. there’s nothing stopping you, but i will not support you using any of this money for today’s expenses.” so I said OK i really need help with my bills just for a few months.. he said, “just send me the bills and i’ll pay them from my account.” but really i don’t want to. I feel like that’s even MORE controlling. so i refuse to ask anymore. meanwhile every year i owe taxes on said investments. it’s really mind boggling. these people have OCD or something.
    I can’t think of a more screwed up relationship than this one.

  • FedUpMom

    I’m a parent who is always accused of being controlling because my adult children fail to take responsibility for living free at home. As I read several responses, I noticed a lot of adult children say they “had” to move back home. No one has to go back home, that is a “choice”. If you fall down financially then that is still a life situation you have to come to terms with and find a solution. You don’t have to move back with your parents. Falling down doesn’t mean you need a kiss on the boo boo; get up and deal with life. Generation after generation, people have endured hardships that created character and backbone. I’m not saying controlling parents don’t exist but that also is a choice! You have the right to put boundaries, especially if you don’t live off your parents. Good luck young people.

  • Anonymous

    Hi, I’m 22 years old and I just recently had to move back home due to me losing my job. My mom was very controlling even when I was living on my own, she had a key made to my apartment behind my back. She would come inside my apartment when I was at work, she would also come in the middle of the night. It was ridiculous. She wasn’t paying any bills there. Since I have moved back home, it has gotten worse. If I say I’m going out with a friend, I get the third degree about it, she’ll say I’ll have to be I have to be home extremely early and if I’m not home by that time she will call the police and have me arrested for breaking curfew laws. In my state, curfew laws don’t apply to people over 18. She threatens the police on me almost everyday and I’m absolutely tired of it, I’m not doing anything illegal, I’m just leaving the house.

  • Jacqueline

    Hi,I,m a 20 years old college student.The course chosen is not exactly the one i like so i do get some bad grades.My mom has always been the controlling type ever since i was young and since my father is working overseas,everything turned even worse.When i was young,my mom would always take her anger out on me whenever she stressed by beating me,punish me by telling me to stand on top of the ices while locked in the bathroom but the worst is when she slapped in front of the whole class because i didn’t get the result she expected.The most common thing she will do is by threatening me that she won’t pay the school fees or give me money to spent,so i couldn’t talk back to her and if i still do,she will beat me and chase me out the house for hours.This has been happening to me until now,i never have the chance to confess this matter to anyone even if they’re my close friends and even until this days my dad doesn’t know anything about this.My dad went to work at overseas ever since i was born,so i’ll only get to see him once a month,therefore i seldom talk to him but we definitely are not on bad terms.I feel stressed out and depressed most of the time because my mom constantly said something negative about me such as “you’re useless”,that the common phase i heard since i was young.At some point,i really don’t know how to cope up with all this anymore.