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Adult Children of Difficult Parents
Emotional Freedom © Martyn Carruthers

Online Coaching & Counseling for Parent Issues

Our most challenging clients are people who are not motivated to change. They are often dependent or stuck in emotional states concerning their parents. While many such adult children medicate themselves - we help them change themselves.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose
our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Viktor Frankl

Do you have Parent Problems?

When you were a child, you likely viewed your parents as special and wanted their love and attention. You probably wanted to be like them when you grew up. As an adult you may perceive your parents quite differently. Perhaps you have changed more than them. See Parent Coaching and Sibling Coaching.

Do you still feel trapped and frustrated by emotional blackmail, rejection,
manipulation, constant demands, guilt, jealousy or criticism?
Do you want to manage such problems in mature ways?

Adults who obsess about their parents may be unable to enjoy healthy lives!

Some people lie easily and often. They do not trust each another ... they do not trust themselves. Truth is often most valued by people who had little of it in their family. We help people share feelings and discuss experiences with words and metaphors instead of with stress, compulsions and psychosomatic symptoms.

It may help to remember that:

  • Your difficult parents gave you life!
  • How you respond can help or hurt them!
  • Your difficult parents may be quite like you!
  • Your parents probably did the best that they could do
  • !
  • Difficult parents have issues that you may not have recognized
  • !
  • Few parents intend to be difficult - they respond to their own trauma!

Maturity: Seeing Parents as Ordinary Human Beings

Parents may complain about their children as they justify their own behavior. Very few say that they want to change themselves. Even if they agree that they create problems for their children - they may say, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks", or something equally dull.

Here are descriptions of parent behaviors that you may consider difficult, and tips for surviving or tolerating them. Many parents cannot imagine that change is possible or desirable ... and they are likely fulfilling or repeating the training or conditioning given to them by their own parents.

What Makes Parents Difficult?

1. Withdrawn parents may seem to have little to contribute and wait passively. They may answer questions with "I don't know", withhold information or refuse contact. They may be in a real or imagined crisis, or they may have lost sense of self (identity loss) in some trauma, through drugs or in a cult.

  • Be patient!
  • Avoid nagging them to tell you more.
  • Ask open-ended questions that require more than yes or no answers.

2. Aggressive or sarcastic parents may try to force their viewpoint on you and may attack verbally. They may feel angry because they feel helpless in situations such as a hospital or an old folks home. Angry parents may be responding to some perceived injustice, be bonded to a parent, or have identified with a victim.

  • Avoid attacking them.
  • Try not to blame them, nor to defend or justify yourself.
  • Ask them to relax and explain calmly what they want to say. (Listening peacefully can provide a calm space for discussing priorities and goals.)

3. Know-it-all parents may consider themselves experts and show little patience for your ideas. They may be expressing their own entanglements or they may feel superior (or inferior) to their children.

  • Avoid feeling intimidated - just watch the show.
  • If they must take over all talks - why not let them?
  • Listen to them carefully and consider their points of view.

4. Victim parents may complain that they are being treated unfairly. They may blame and justify ... endlessly. They may be responding to past victimization or they may accuse you of victimizing them.

  • Avoid trying to parent them.
  • Sympathy won't help - compassion may
  • Ask them for specific suggestions to improve their situation.

5. Melancholic and “negative" parents may say little good about you (or anybody else) and try to convince you that you cannot help them or that their problems are your fault. They may be codependent or have identified with a dead person.

  • Avoid trying to reform them.
  • Avoid blaming them for your emotional reactions!
  • Invite them to suggest alternatives. (They may withdraw if you ask them to be constructive.)

6. Passive-aggressive and “Yes-parents” may pretend to agree with you to gain your approval ... and later tell people how terrible you are. They may have suffered abuse or betrayal, or have been damaged by a mentor.

  • Ask them what they want ... plan some goals.
  • Coach them to follow through on what they agree to do.
  • Discourage them from agreeing to more commitments than they can handle.

Responsibilities of Adult Children

If you try to parent your parents, or if you want them to take responsibility for you as an adult, you are likely to create problems. The responsibilities of adult children often include accepting your parents' decisions, providing them with appropriate information, discussing individual and family goals and some ways those goals can be achieved.

You need not accept responsibility for your parents lives - that's their job! If you do, and if your parents fail to achieve their goals, you may suffer guilt and they may punish you! And if your parents only achieve their goals with your help, they may become more dependent on you!

Help your parents set their own goals, solve their own blocks, create strategies for accomplishing their goals and testing their results, and identify areas where they need help. Ask your parents to own their emotions, health and consequences.

You and your parents can intentionally develop mature adult relationships. Such relationships are one of the goals of our work, based on dissolving emotional and relationship issues. We help motivated adults to choose, define and achieve goals, while they are responsible for remembering their goals, for taking steps to attain them and for enjoying their success.

Do you want to respond to difficult parents in ways that make sense?

Online Help for Adult Children of Difficult Parents

Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers 2009-2018
All rights reserved.

If you like our work, please link to us. If you know someone who might benefit,
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For online help, email us at:

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Have You Suffered Enough?

 Where are you now? Understand your emotions, fixations and enmeshments
What do you hope for? Know your goals and stop sabotaging yourself
Do you feel resourceful? Learn to develop your inner resources
Do emotions block you? Relationship problems and mentor damage
Do your beliefs limit you? Change limiting beliefs and end dependence
Do you feel connected? Resolve identity issues to recover lost resources
Is your partner happy? Build healthy partnership (or separate peacefully)
Are your children healthy? Happy parents better manage family problems
Do you want team success? Team leaders and their teams develop together
Do you have complex goals? Specialty coaching, counseling & therapy

Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers 1996-2018  All rights reserved. Soulwork Systemic Coaching was primarily developed by Martyn Carruthers to help people solve emotional problems and relationship conflicts to achieve their goals. These concepts and strategies are for general knowledge only. Consult a physician about medical conditions and before changing medical treatment. Don't steal intellectual property ... get permission to post, publish or teach Martyn's work - email