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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.

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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305 thoughts on “7 Tips for Dealing With Controlling Parents”

  1. I am 21 years old and my mom always controls me, I am not financially dependent on her. This week I’ve had enough of it. I have been dating my boyfriend for 7 years and my mom knows him, but since its recess I wanted to spend time with him because we barely get time together and he has been through a lot in the past few days with his dad passing away. I told her that but she got real mad and starting saying that I want to get pregnant as she always does when I want to stay with my boyfriend she even threatened to tell my father so they can come fetch me if I don’t come home and I was with them this whole time. I got really stressed and depressed that I cry every second. I love my mom but I am really tired of this.

  2. One of these days I’m actually going to heed the advice I’m given and make some real changes. I also know that moving thousands of miles away from what has been my home for the last 10 years will be a real eye opener.

    My greatest fear I guess is that my mom and I have had some really difficult times but I found the autogenic training really helped me see her side and the stuff she’s going through. She a child at heart and in times of stress and difficulty she returns to that inner child. But as I discussed with my therapist I need to be really clear about the boundaries between us. These are the same boundary issues that contributed to the demise of my relationship. Now’s the time to reform my bad habits.


  3. Hi! I am 23 and in grad school and facing all of these real worries. When I try to express that I am an adult and have the ability to be on my own, my mom often just laughs at me. I don’t have any crazy stories other than the fact that I have been manipulated my entire life, through guilt and money. It’s pretty much just been me and her forever, with a few men filtering in and out. My mom doesn’t understand how to be in a relationship and uses blame a lot of the time. She pays for my school and the majority of my expenses so I know the way out (financial independence). This will probably be one of the hardest things I will ever have to do. She was abused as a child and as an adult and when I look at the signs of verbal abuse, I see that she has carried that into the way she parents. She uses silent treatment and direct criticisms to hurt me and does it very pointedly. This means not talking to me for days at a time, calling me selfish, the center of the world, a bitch, etc. I live in another city where I attend school, but yesterday when I said I wanted to be financially independent, she said she would take away my car, take me off the insurance, and leave me completely alone. I feel like this is the beginning of the end of our relationship for a while and I guess I wonder if anyone has any stories similar to mine when you have had to leave the only person that has loved you for your entire life. Much thanks.

    1. Firstly I’m sorry to hear your story. That’s very sad for both of you. It sounds like your Mum has not been loved in her life. You can’t give what you don’t have. The level of manipulation that is aimed at you. Does that sound like love? It took me a while to realize that I am 100% responsible for my reality. For my Mother to manipulate me, I had to allow her and that I did. Until I woke up. It’s not easy as there are many threads that ties a person to their Mother. The good news is that by helping your self, by freeing your self from this toxic relationship it will all room for healing and self empowerment. Not just for you but it will also allow an opportunity for you Mum to take responsibility for her self and healing also. Please don’t think by leaving that means you’re doing something bad. It’s just means you’re leaving a bad situation to make way for a better one for you. Your Mom and in the long run for both of your relationship. Im just going from my own experience here. I can’t pretend to know what you’re going through.

  4. I am 17 years old and I want to leave even though I am a minor. My parents are control freaks and blame their actions on me. They held me at home from school on a Friday because I didn’t put a label on boxes for a food pantry at my school. I had been fighting depression, along with them involving me in their divorce. I even lost my best friend’s dad who I wish was my own dad to the horrible disease of ALS. I live with my stepdad and mother, my biological father committed suicide when I was four. They told my girlfriend that she could go to Thanksgiving with us to see my stepdad’s side of the family and four days before my girlfriend text my mom asking about what time we are leaving. My mom doesn’t text her back for two days, and I even saw her on her phone. She then has my stepdad text my gf that she can’t go because it is a family trip. 6 months before this, my parents have ran our relationship. My gf was depressed from her terrible past so she left me for a break from my crazy parents. I cry a lot of course since this is out of my reach to control. They then hold me at home for a whole week so I cannot see her. We go to school and they say it was for “my mental health” even though when we got home, my mom said she f***ing hates her guts and doesn’t want me to see her and she can do that because she is my parent. They think they are granted control over my life “because they are my parents”. They now have grounded me for two weeks and plan on moving me to a new school “for my mental health” even though it is because all the teachers think they are nut jobs. They are moving me because people see who they actually are and want me to suffer for it. I have so much more to talk about, but I have said enough I feel like.

  5. I’m 21 years of age and I still live with both my parents. I love my mum with all my heart but she tends to have a very weak personality and just goes with whatever my dad says. my da is a toxic, manipulative, controlling and emotionally abusive person. he has no hopes, dreams, and goals and is obsessed with dictating how his children should lead their lives and what they should do. my dad is a religious man with extremely high morals and pride and will not accept any form of disrespect (even something as simple as talking back). He takes it personally and that it is a form of degrading his masculinity and pride as a 50-year-old. He has hurt me so much emotionally and is clearly unhappy with himself. he has wronged many people in his life and is becoming more and more conservative each day. so yes it’s getting worse. The worst part of it all is not the fact that he cheated on mum growing up (and I had to be mums councilor because he didn’t know I knew) nor was it that he blew his children’s future savings for his own selfish reasons, nor is it the fact that no one knows about his dirty little secrets, nor is it that he hinds behind religion and tradition and pretends to be this honorable respected member of the community. it is the fact that he gets away with everything. he still thinks that I don’t know about what he did to mum and how I (a 14-year-old at the time) had to deal with it all. how can I ever love a man of such qualities?

    1. You could be in a better position to heal the relationship with your Father after you have healed you self. I would firstly leave the living arrangement youre currently in. I wouldn’t tell anyone about your plan. That will make it harder for you. I would line up a new place to live and be sure I can support myself financially. Once that’s in place. Take some time out and write them a letter expressing your feelings. They may not take kindly to your decision but don’t get involved. No need to leave with anger. From your new place, start learning how to love and empower your self. I could recommend books and practices if you like. I had to deal with something similar in my life and learnt a lot in the process. It can be a lonely place to be. Not sure if you will read this. Maybe I’ll leave it at that for now. Happy to continue if you like.

  6. I have a friend, a minor, whose mother is a control freak. She is a dependent and won’t be able to go to college for a few more years, so shes kinda stuck. My friend is honestly scared of what might happen and has even considered child protective services because she doesn’t know what she can do. Shes knows she can’t change her mother. Me and her other friends have offered a place to escape if she needs one, but it’s hard to contact her at night because her mother takes her phone away when she goes to bed. Is there any way I can help her or can get some help? I love her and I don’t want her gone from my life.

  7. I am 18, still living at home. My dad is very controlling over my life. Mainly my relationships, and is currently trying to force me out of my relationship for College because he feels that I wont focus on school while being with my boyfriend ( who is long distance but it doesn’t really affect me the way my dad thinks) he has used the threat of kicking me out, taking away my phone and computer, tracking down my boyfriend, and many others. I feel that I can focus in school and keep my relationship at the same time but he wont even let me. I have really bad depression and anxiety which my boyfriend supports me through and encourages me to do better so he wont let me fail school or get distracted. I feel that my dad is really wrong for what he is doing…what do I do?

    1. Hi Desirae
      You’re 18 and legally free to live your life the way you see fit. Not easy when your parents don’t share the same view. You wrote this a while ago. Have you managed to work it out yet?