In this article »
- Introduction: Introduction: When Your Parents Try to Control You Even When You are 40 Years Old
- Signs of Overbearing Parents and Its Effects on Adult Children
- Why Do Overbearing Parents Seek to Control Their Children
- Here’s How to Deal with Your Overbearing Parents
- Stop Looking for Approval of Your Parents
Introduction: When Your Parents Try to Control You Even When You are 40 Years Old
Does your mother constantly provide unsolicited advice on how to raise your children? Do you have memories of your dad yelling at you for missing that free throw in your basketball game, which could have won the championship? Do your mom/dad have criticisms about the upkeep of your home and your decorative style even though you are over 40? If yes, you may be the child of an overbearing parent.
Many can dismiss these scenarios as behaviors of overbearing parents and leave it at that. But to do this only places judgement and doesn’t provide viable solutions to these frequent challenges you may face. Developing a better understanding for why your mother or father behaves the way they do can help you find compassion and interact with them in a more meaningful way. Parents, overall, want the best for their children. But when does wanting the best for your children start to become detrimental to their wellbeing?
Signs of Overbearing Parents and Its Effects on Adult Children
Withholding love and affection
Withholding love and affection is one type of behavior; it can be a form of control. If your parents give you the cold shoulder when you decide you want to move to another city for better career prospects rather than living in the same city as them, this is a form of seeking control over your life. In my own work with clients, I have seen adults aged 40 struggle with feelings of guilt because of their parents reactions to their decisions.
When parents withhold love and affection from their children to try and influence their behavior, these children often feel guilty for their own attempts to develop autonomy and independence. Children will do things for the sake of appeasing their parent’s needs. If this is a consistent pattern, children will grow into adults who struggle with low self-esteem. A study published in 2013 in the Journal of Child and Family Studies show that college students who have a controlling mother or father indicate higher levels of depression and less satisfaction in life.
Bullying is another thing that is exhibited by controlling parents. Your mom may talk to your wife about how she treats you within your own marriage; your dad may minimize your feelings and opinions about various topics to persuade you to agree with his point of view. A study published in 2015 in Emerging Adulthood showed that the detrimental effects of controlling parenting styles are still present, regardless of the level of warmth a parent provides to their children.
Many overbearing parents tend to show complete disregard to your need for freedom and self-determination. They may frequently dismiss your choices and label them as immature and dumb. They may want to exert influence on every aspect of your life, and when you don’t allow that, they make their scorn apparent. This can hurt your self-esteem and cause you to have lots of self-doubt.
Excessive criticism of their children even into their adulthood is the hallmark of overbearing parents. They criticize every small mistake you make such that you come to depend on their approval for small and big decisions of life.
Controlling parents like to constantly interfere in the daily affairs of their adult children’s lives as that gives them a feeling of control and relevance. Naturally, such constant interference leads you to start feeling suffocated and can cause great anxiety too.
One of the ways such parents seek to control their adult children is by using guilt to manipulate their children into doing something such as visiting/calling them more often or seeking their permission for small and big decisions of their life. Children who are made to feel guilty by their parents become unhappy and may also develop self-loathing.
Why Do Overbearing Parents Seek to Control Their Children
So what is the driving force behind these frustrating behaviors? Anxiety is one probable cause. Individuals who struggle with anxiety often try to control things within their environment in order to feel a sense of control within themselves. The problem with this is that these individuals end up alienating the people around them. Fear could also be a potential reason why your mom or dad is overbearing. Parents sometimes see themselves in you, catching glimpses of their own personalities and challenges as they watch you live your life. They may be fearful of you making the very same mistakes they did at some point. Mental illness is also an area to consider. There have been times through my work with individuals where it was clear that their parents struggled with mental illness, which has gone untreated throughout their life. How challenging and fearful life must have been for these parents!
So with all this information, what does a person do to manage this?
Here’s How to Deal With Your Overbearing Parents
As a therapist, it’s pretty obvious that I’m going to suggest “communication” as a way to manage this issue.
Communicate your needs and expectations
Have you taken the time to clearly state to your parent what your needs are? If not, it’s time to consider having that awkward conversation with your mother, asking her to stop giving you unsolicited advice about what you should do within your marriage.
A good way to approach this conversation is to use what I call “The Sandwich Method” of communication. The following is an example: “Mom, I know you’re concerned about how my husband and I parent our children, but I would appreciate it if you can stop providing us with advice unless we ask for it. I love you very much for always being concerned for us because I know you want what’s best for our family.”
Do you see what I just did? Positive statement, introductio
n of a dilemma with a proposed solution, and ending with another positive statement. Using this method of communication acknowledges the strengths the person has, but also provides a clear statement of what you want from that person in a non-threatening manner.
Develop strong boundaries
So perhaps you’re thinking right now, “I’ve talked to my mother about this already, and she still does the same thing.” My next suggestion is to develop strong boundaries with your controlling parents.
But, be assertive, not mean
Maintaining boundaries with people in general is difficult if you are not used to doing them. I’ve heard clients say, “I don’t want to be mean.” Being clear about your needs and informing someone that they are stepping over your personal boundary is not mean; it’s assertive. You are also acknowledging that you deserve to be treated in a manner that is respectful of who you are and what you want in life.
Keep in mind, though, that you still want to be respectful to the other person. Aggressive behavior is not the same as assertiveness, nor is it respectful. Yelling and name calling only adds to the already tense relationship between you and your overbearing parents. My earlier example of communication with parents is one way of developing a boundary.
Limit what you share with your overbearing parents
If nothing else works then another way to set a boundary is by censoring the topics you share with your controlling mother or father. The bottom line is that if you’ve already spoken to your parents about their overbearing behavior and they still try to control your life, it’s up to you to create that boundary for yourself. You can’t force people to change, but you can certainly change things about yourself. So if you know that child rearing is a hot button topic that gets you and your parents started into a downward spiral of anxiety, judgment, guilt and frustration, avoid the topic and talk about the last movie you saw or the new restaurant you enjoyed.
Notice the good, not just the bad
If you’ve made a point to set those boundaries, look for the times that they have respected those wishes. It’s a lot easier to notice the annoying moments and tense exchanges, but how would you know if there was a moment when your mom held back a negative comment? Are there times you have shared something personal with your dad, expecting him to have a critical reply but instead he was encouraging? Foster those moments with your parents; share with your dad how much you appreciate those kind words and support.
Stop Looking For Approval From Your Parents
Finally, here is something to reflect on: Stop seeking approval from your parents.
Earlier I shared with you how some controlling parents withhold love and affection when you don’t do something they agree with. We all enjoy praise and approval from our parents, but if we don’t receive it, does that really define who we are?
This is your path in your life and you are the sole person who determines where that path takes you. Parents definitely have a strong influence, especially when you are young, but eventually it is your choice on what you do with what they’ve given you. You can agree with the path that parents have set for you, you can take what you like about what you’ve learned from them and forget everything else, or you can even create an entirely new path for yourself. The choice is yours; no one can take away that choice, not even the most overbearing parents.
Spot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!