Dealing With Overbearing Parents of Adult Children: Expert Advice on Setting Boundaries

Do your parents continue to interfere with your life even after you’re a grown up and have children of your own?

An overbearing mother of a 40-year-old adult

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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 in Adulthood 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 Adults Can Deal With Their 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

Overbearing mother with a couple
Unless you create boundaries, your overbearing parents may continue to bully you into submission

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.

This is an revised and updated version of an article that was first published in the December 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing magazine (print edition).

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  1. My mum controlling and it gets worse as she gets older.
    I am learning to put healthy boundaries but alot of time they get ignored. As soon I express my wish to have my own life alot hostility, threats ,anger being ingored gets directed my way . The psychological warfare my mum can engage in when she wants to control something can be often distressing and leaves me quite burn out . Its eathier be all and end all or its my way or the highway. You ask for help eathier its inconvenient or she is has restatement or guilts tripping you .when you don’t ask for help you get blamed for pushing her away. I know I am not perfect and made mistakes but she never acknowledges her controlling issues to be the problem and seems to feel justify to have that control. She can be is passive aggressive at times . I feel she constantly trying to fit me in a mould of how she wants me to be and how I should be living my life
    Thing I think that’s helping is knowing that I am my own person and knowing that I don’t have to put with her dictating but still just loving her as my mum .
    She not going to change and in her way that is always going be her problem as she see herself a victum beening part of a nuclear family and anyone that sees things differently to her is dysfunctional . To the outsider she is marta, but is the matriarch of the family who excepts adults to obay and be at her beck and call . If she does not like you or disobey her you get treated like 2nd class citizen where have to earn you freedom by proving you worthy person in her eyes, which is a race you can never win with her . She is has suspicious personality which the does not give her trust easily .

    Iwant to have healthy relationship with my mum just without her need to control, I don’t think there is any simple answers . But understanding maybe why she is like that the only solution at the same time remembering I am my own person too .

  2. This is the first article I’ve read that really applies to my situation. It’s also helpful to read the comments and see I’m not the only one who deals with this. I am kind of curious from others that have commented on here, what age/s are your parents and when were they born? I’m wondering if this is more of a generational thing, or if it’s folks who only have 1 child, or parents with anxiety or bipolar symptoms. I’m 34 and was trying to pursue a music career right out of college. So I was financially dependent on my parents for awhile because they support my love of music and wanted to help me pursue this dream as much as I could. Well, needless to say, it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, so I got a lower paying 9-5 job and just do music for fun on weekends. I’ve had trouble keeping relationships because of my busy lifestyle first and foremost, but also it’s been tough for me to find a job that I have the qualifications for that pays decently. So I’m still trying to pay back bills that my parents have helped pay, and trying to make it on my own without their help but, there is still a lot of money I owe them and I feel like they hold this over my head and use it against me now. Not to mention, I’ve had some bad relationships in the past so now that I’m with someone that I personally think might be something serious, they still find every fault with this person and don’t like the fact that he’s pointing out theirs as well. He’s trying to help me get more financially stable and get my parents to back off a little when it comes to my life decisions and such. They of course see this as he’s being controlling and they have my best interest at heart, not him. I see where he’s coming from and I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I’m over it and tired of my parents trying to control everything. My mother I question if she is bipolar a lot, and I have a feeling she has anxiety but won’t get it checked out or confirmed. She interjects her opinion on everything and wants to control everything I do. My dad just seems to go along with her because it seems like he’s afraid to disagree with her. Ever since I hit puberty, she and I haven’t gotten along. I don’t think this is a mistake. I think that’s when she started to lose control over what I do and who I am, and she saw that and we started arguing and not liking each other. She’s told me over and over when I don’t look good in something I’m wearing, or she’ll try to poke at my hair if she doesn’t like it, or try to tell me how to do something because how I’m doing it isn’t good enough. She’s even commented on my weight over the years and tell me that I can’t wear certain things because they make me look fat. My dad is more easy going and I feel like I can talk to him about things. But both of my parents are very judgmental and treat me like I’m still in high school and can’t do anything myself without showing me first or telling me how. I sometimes wish I could just win a bunch of money and pay everything off, and move away from them so I can just break free. Looking back I wish I would have never let my bills rack up the way they have because I almost feel stuck now with my finances and them. I just feel like this is a never ending cycle and talking to (mainly) my mother is like a talking to a wall because she will guilt trip me into everything and make me feel like I’m the bad guy and she’s never wrong and it’s me who treats her badly for “no reason”. Then I get into a depressive state and feel like I’m a bad daughter and I just need to do whatever they say because maybe they’re right. And the vicious cycle continues.. I just don’t know what to do anymore because when I try to approach my mother about any of this, I’m just met with arguments and nasty comments about how ungrateful I am and how I don’t want them in my life. My parents were born in ’57 and ’58.

  3. I work for my parents, and I love my parents more than anyone on planet Earth. They’ve pushed me and supported me in discovering amazing aspects of myself throughout life, but their soft-pressing control on my career, future career, and success is overbearing. I am experiencing extreme anxiety and depression that I know stems from childhood. I seek to please people constantly and find myself no happier for having pleased anyone, but rather disappointed and alone. I resort to being mean sometimes, saying passive aggressive things like, “I’m not your daughter right now, I’m your employee.” SO Unhealthy for everyone, and believe me I do feel like an ungrateful ass. I sum it up to half-truth, and also unfair emotional manipulation. Also, I recently went back to school and graduated with another degree, for them! They did not like that I was a self-employed cleaning lady (5 years independent and self employed) to support my artistic aspirations, so I went back to school, putting myself into even more debt. Flash forward 2 years my Dad still has hopes and dreams for me to entire an entirely different career path than the one I just previously went back to school for! I’m at my wits end, nothing I do impresses them to the point where they’ll relinquish placing their fears, hopes, and dreams for me on my shoulders at any chance they get. I’m not their only child either! Anyways, seeking therapy once again. I guess I won’t understand until I myself am a parent, until then all I can do is take on every financial string that ties me back to them, outside of being employed…which works great when they don’t combine employee/daughter. HELP. I know I’m not the only millennial offspring losing my sense of self and self determination to overzealous baby boomers who always intended their newborn to be a world class, 6 figure earning prodigy.

  4. I am 34 years old with autism and have issues with my controlling parents. It makes me so upset when adulthood has so many ups and downs whenever I want to pursue something that I can do like music. I kept ? in my mind that I am not worthy enough as ?. Those who’re controlling my life are not the best things adult children ever experienced. I always wanted to sever ties with my parents and focus more on my life and career.

  5. my parents are very controlling also, im in fear of everything i do. Whether its in there approval or not. Im 27 years old and they still treat me as im 14. Im married now and have 3 children, They try to manipulate every aspect of my life from where i spend my money and who i do what with. They hate my wife when shes done nothing wrong to them she doesnt even talk to them. Im over them i want to move far far away but i dont have the money or resources too. My dad wants to buy me a new place and he recently just bought my car for me. I fear they will use these things to control me even farther. Please somebody help me my names Phillip Torres i live in bel air maryland.

  6. Looks like my story a bit as well, so I cut links with her and family. One mistake I did is to try to conform to what society was expecting from me : to be a good soon, listening to mama. Even so this was destroying me. So at the end of the day I was left with two choices : cut links or suffer and take abuse. I am glad I chose to cut link.

  7. I am also in the process of breaking away from my mother and her controlling ways. She always criticizes, she’s always right. I should remodel this and change that and what kind of a boyfriend is that who cannot replace my sliding door for me, what a loser. This is just a micro fraction of it all! I have my own kids and she’s got plenty to say about how I raise them. It’s embarrassing for me to be affectionate with my mother, I wasn’t raised in a household where “I Love You” was said to each other, but I do it with my kids. When I communicated to my mother that I don’t want to be treated that way, she dismissed it and threw things in my face from over 20 years ago when I was a teenager! I am done. I’m sad over it, but I either endure her constant negativity, criticism and overall disapproval or I cut her off and move on with my happy life. I choose the latter. Also, I’m angry and seeing her name in my email or on my phone sends me into high anxiety mode. If she cannot tone it down and respect me as her child and as an adult, I don’t have to stick around to take the abuse.

    • Looks like my story a bit as well, so I cut links with her and family. One mistake I did is to try to conform to what society was expecting from me : to be a good soon, listening to mama. Even so this was destroying me. So at the end of the day I was left with two choices : cut links or suffer and take abuse. I am glad I chose to cut link.

  8. Hi all,

    I have a very controlling and bullying mother and of course whatever be the argument she is always right.

    My mom is quite biased towards my brothers and me. I try but i can never meet out her expectations. Staying at home is like hell for me. She thinks i am a robot. If she summons for me and if i do not respond and stand in front of her for her orders she would start yelling at me. She expects me to be her robot or maybe a servant and do all things as she says. I do not have a me time ever in my house. Going to work and coming back from work i only keeps listening about how bad a repsonsible child I am that i am not cooking for her or doing her household chores for her. Even if i do everything for her, she would be resentful and throw back things at me that i have no sense to execute things at all. I have tried and tried very very hard to fulfill her expectations. But i fail drastically all the time. I have stopped eating at home coz maybe i hear that she cooks n i eat like a lazy ass. With work it gets hectic for me sometimes to manage household chores.

    We do not have a relationship too. Every time i talk to her she would put me down that shat u think n do is wrong. This had affected my personality. I was never a confident child I would always speak and act to please people around me. My personality didnt grew i was always trying to fit in and believe that I am wrong and I need to improve.

    This is affecting me mentally also. I get into depression sometimes.

    I have learnt to be strong and stay away from home as much as possible. I just go home with an intention of sleeping.

  9. I’m an only child and have slowly been helping my parents release control over me and my life. Over the past 10 years they have relinquished desire to control my relationships, education, and career. They still have somewhat of a hold over my financial life, which I’m still learning how to move past. I appreciate everything both of my parents have done for me. I used to take their “advice” for granted and would ignore or rebel from them. And I know some day I’ll miss their advice. But for now I’m learning how to prove my independence. I still haven’t told my parents about some important life choices (motorcycle, tattoo, etc.), because I feared they would disown or ignore me if I told them. But your article has helped encourage me to take the next step and forget my fears of disappointing them. Because I’m almost disappointing myself by not sharing my life and my independence with the people who raised me.

  10. Hi Samantha,
    I was in the same situation as you 4 years ago. I got a job through my dad and it was hell as I woke up and went to bed unhappy. We spoke about resignation and it only worsened our relationship (as most of our discussions). My dad is one super controlling parent who has an opinion about everything and of course he’s always right. One day I woke up and resigned from this job and he found out 3 weeks later from his friend who was my employer. He was furious but I had made my decision and he had no choice but to respect it. I did not get another job for 4 months but when I eventually did, it was a job that set me up for current successes. So go ahead and do what’s good for you, others will adjust. All the best!

  11. I also have very controlling parents. In fact, I am in the process of breaking away from their hold. I am now working in a job they chose for me. 3 years ago, I insisted on applying for that dream job which is less secure but where I know I have more room to grow and will help build my work ethics. But they insisted I apply for that regular job very different from the path I wanted to take. Fearing they will disown me if I do not follow them, so I did. And now, my heart’s unchanged. I still want that job so badly. I even applied now. I am just waiting for their call. And when that time comes, I plan to tell my parents that i will be resigning from my present work and pursue that dream job I had 3 years ago. I want to build autonomy and independence. I fear if I do not do this now, I will forever be dependent on them to make major decisions for me in the future. Care to give me some advice if what I am planning to do is the right thing to do?


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