3 Ways to Cope With Difficult Parents – for Adult Children

Learning how to deal with difficult parents will fill you with peace and happiness – for perhaps the first time in your life! These tips are for adult children who are ready to start moving past their unhappy or difficult childhoods.

how to deal with difficult parents

Me! Laurie 🙂

Below, I share how I survived a very difficult childhood and offer tips for dealing with your own difficult parents. Whether you’re dealing with rejecting, distant, self-involved, or controlling parents, you may find support and comfort here. I won’t be able to solve your family problems or show you how to change how your mom and dad treat you – you will need to read a book like Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents or talk to a counselor for that! But, here you’ll see you aren’t alone…especially if you read the comments section below.

One of my favorite quotes about coping with difficult parent is, “If it’s not one thing, it’s my mother.” 🙂 The good news is that you are not alone! All parents make mistakes, and they put their own needs and ambitions ahead of their childrens’. Some parents have serious mental health issues – like my mom does. Others are physically, mentally, emotionally, or sexually abusive. And still other parents are just selfish, or were emotionally damaged in their own childhoods.

The thing with parents is that they’re human. They are flawed, weak, and often unprepared for the responsibility of parenthood. They care about and love us – their children – but sometimes they don’t know how to parent us properly.

Now that I’m almost 47 years old, I know how to cut my mom some slack. I call her every Sunday, and every Sunday I want to hang up the phone in frustration and anger! And every Sunday, she asks how my estranged sister is and why she doesn’t call. My mom was hurt as a child, and she hurt me and my sister.

And I have forgiven her. Not because it was the right thing to do, but because forgiveness fills me with joy, peace, and surrender to what was. I still struggle to cope with my difficult mom, but I’m not mad at her anymore. I don’t resent or hate her anymore.

May you get to that same place in your relationship with your parents. May you learn ways to interact with them, but not let them destroy your mood or ruin your life. May you learn how to move past an unhappy childhood – and may you experience the true freedom of acceptance and surrender.

3 Most Powerful Ways to Deal With Difficult Parents

Note that my suggestions below are more psychological than practical. And, these tips for dealing with difficult parents are powerful because they involve changing the only person in your life you have any power over: you. If you’re looking for practical tips for dealing with parents who are making life difficult for your whole family, read 6 Ways to Handle Problems With Toxic Family Members.

My mom has suffered from a severe mental illness called schizophrenia my whole life, so I know firsthand what it’s like to deal with difficult parents. I love my mom anyway – but I really felt like I hated her when I was growing up. You should read my diary, it’s full of fury! Her illness was the reason I lived in three foster homes growing up, was on welfare and eating from food banks when she wasn’t hospitalized, and changed schools three or four times a year.

If you’re the adult child of an alcoholic, mentally ill, or toxic parent – these suggestions may help you connect with them and and help you move past your own unhappy childhood. And remember: even the worst, most damaging childhood can be a springboard to success – depending on your attitude and perspective. At some point, the choice is yours.

1. Take time to face your feelings of hurt, pain, and grief

powerful ways to deal with difficult parents

“When we’re not aware of what we’re feeling, the feeling becomes the master,” writes Sue Patton Thoele in The Courage to be Yourself: A Woman’s Guide to Emotional Strength and Self-Esteem. “A repressed or suppressed emotion builds up power until it’s impossible to contain and, as a result, erupts destructively.”

Thoele also says that unresolved grief is created when we don’t allow ourselves to work through feelings as they arise. If we deny having painful feelings about having difficult parents or put them on a shelf, they don’t simply evaporate. Rather, unresolved feelings gnaw at our energy, prey on our emotions, and generally debilitate us.

The painful, sad emotions you’re pushing away won’t disappear. Take resentment, for instance. Maybe you feel rejected because your mother smothers you or keeps “lending” thousands of dollars to your brother. Maybe your mom nags you to lose weight, get married, clean your house, or get your hair out of your eyes (oh, to have a normal mother!). Avoiding your feelings of anger or resentment does pay off – otherwise you wouldn’t do it. Avoiding your feelings is easier, less painful, and requires less energy – in the short run.

In the long run, however, ignoring your feelings about your unhappy childhood or your struggles to deal with difficult parents can lead to anxiety, depression, physical illnesses, and unhealthy intimate relationships. Violent and angry eruptions become more likely, such as emotional meltdowns over computer glitches and screaming fits over lost keys. If you’re coping with difficult parents as an adult child, you need to find healthy ways to express your feelings…or they will consume you.

2. Find healthy ways to express your true feelings about your parents

The pain of not getting what you need and want – and deserve – as a child is so deep and damaging. Sometimes we can’t even express how much grief we feel because our parents can’t give us what we need and want. The best way to deal with your difficult parents is to deal with your own grief and anger that they can’t give you the support or love you need. Knowing and accepting your feelings brings freedom and a stronger connection with difficult parents. As an adult child, simply saying out loud, “It infuriates me when mom tells me how to discipline my kids!” can be liberating. This is a very small example – I know you are dealing with much more than this.

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Resisting your feelings makes them stronger; accepting your feelings makes them manageable. Talk about difficult parents: when I was in high school my mother regularly visited me at lunch – she had long scraggly hair and wore dirty, baggy street-person clothes. I fought my humiliation and embarrassment for years and those feelings grew, just like compound interest.

When I couldn’t swallow my pain anymore (it was leaking out in self-destructive ways), I finally let myself simply feel my despair. And it was bad, but then the feelings became less strong. Now, it’s easier to connect with my difficult mom because…

It is what it is. My mom is sick, and she couldn’t give me the love I needed and deserved. I had to learn how to be okay with this, to accept and surrender to it.

3. Forgive your parents for not giving you the love and support you deserve

How to Deal With Difficult Parents

How to Deal With Difficult Parents

Oprah recently said that forgiveness is releasing the hope that things could have been different. True forgiveness is realizing the gift in a bad childhood – and learning from it. Every experience you’ve had makes you who you are and makes you more yourself. Your unique personality and spirit wouldn’t be yours if you had different parents or siblings – even if you got a bad deal.

Coping with difficult parents is easier when you accept and let go of the past. Sometimes that means letting go of someone you love.

Some moms are more apt to boil rabbits and stalk married men (like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction) than balance a successful white-collar job with a nurturing home life (like Claire Huxtable). Adult children of difficult parents need to know how to build good relationships with them anyway – even if we have a mother-in-law is determined to ruin marriage – or we suffer the consequences.

Forgiveness is easier when you accept that your parents did the best they could. You need to accept them for who they are, and remember that you can’t change them. The only person you can change is yourself. Sometimes, accepting this can be a great way to deal with difficult parents.

What do you think about my tips on how to cope with difficult parents? If you have thoughts on coping with difficult parents, please comment below. I can’t offer advice, but it may help you to share your experience.

Help Coping With Difficult Parents

If you grew up with an emotionally immature, unavailable, or selfish mom or dad, you may have lingering feelings of anger, loneliness, betrayal, or abandonment. You may remember your childhood as a time when your emotional needs were not met, when your feelings were dismissed, or when you took on adult levels of responsibility in an effort to compensate for your parent’s behavior.

dealing with difficult parentsIn Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal, Donna Jackson Nakazawa describes how the emotional trauma we suffer as children not only shapes our emotional lives as adults, but it also affects our physical health, longevity, and overall wellbeing.

Scientists now know on a bio-chemical level exactly how parents’ chronic fights, divorce, death in the family, being bullied or hazed, and growing up with a hypercritical, alcoholic, or mentally ill parent can leave permanent, physical “fingerprints” on our brains.

It’s not just about dealing with difficult parents…when you as a child encountered adversity, the stress hormones caused powerful changes in your body and changed your body’s chemistry. Your developing immune system and brain reacted to this chemical barrage by permanently resetting children’s stress response to “high,” which in turn can have a devastating impact on your mental and physical health as they grow up. In Childhood Disrupted, Nakazawa shares stories from people who have recognized and overcome their adverse experiences, shows why some children are more immune to stress than others, and explains why women are at particular risk.

how to deal with difficult parentsIn Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, Lindsay C. Gibson describes how to handle the destructive nature of parents who are emotionally immature or unavailable. 

She describes the four types of difficult parents:

  • The emotional parent instills feelings of instability and anxiety
  • The driven parent stays busy trying to perfect everything and everyone
  • The passive parent avoids dealing with anything upsetting
  • The rejecting parent is withdrawn, dismissive, and derogatory

You will see how these difficult types of parents create a sense of neglect, and discover ways to heal from the pain and confusion caused by your childhood. By freeing yourself from your parents’ emotional immaturity, you can recover your true nature, control how you react to them, and avoid disappointment. You’ll also learn how to create positive, new relationships so you can build a better life.

Your childhood wounds can be healed, and you can move forward in your life. May you find healthy ways to deal with your difficult parents, and remain close to them – and may you find peace and joy in your adult life.

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245 thoughts on “3 Ways to Cope With Difficult Parents – for Adult Children

  • Liz

    I’m 21 and my mother is breathing down my neck. I’ve been begging her to give me space to breathe, but I receive tantrums and guilt tripping in return. I love her. She’s a kind and loving person but when it comes to me, her care for me somehow takes a negative turn. She has been prioritising my career over my mental and physical health. She believes that one false step would send me tumbling down and I would never get back up again. I try to calmly talk to her about things but she screams and cries and comes up with the worst possible solutions with an extra shot or two of more guilt tripping. I’ve been so hurt that I’ve started considering harming myself to escape this.
    My anxiety levels peak up the moment I see her name on the ringing phone screen. She keeps twisting other people’s words and advices to make me feel guilty and scared. She’s been specifically told to not hurt me mentally, yet she chooses to do the opposite. She screams and cries and throws tantrums like a child!
    I do not have any siblings and although my father is a bit more sane, he has his own fair share of problems. I don’t how to survive her. She’s all I ever had and now we’re at each other’s throats except I try so hard to be on her team yet she’s playing offence.
    I feel so burdened by everything I do not understand what to do or where to go. Due to her remarks, I have come to believe firmly that I am so flawed that I am unworthy of being loved.

  • Les

    I do not know where to start. I’m in my mind 50s and torn to bits. I have to call him my father, but just saying that leaves me emotionally drained. He has been verbally and physically abusive towards me all my life. It has destroyed me to the point where I believe I have mental health issues. He done it again in Saturday. The emotional abuse and that put me in a bad place over the weekend. Causing me emotional carnage to the point that my thought processes went haywire. I would never commit suicide but I can’t deny that he has and does push me to think about it when my head is in emotional meltdown. I really do not know what to do. He has caused the emotional damage. How do i repair it.

  • Sarah Gee

    Hi there, my name is Sarah and i am in my early 20’s. Like another commenter, I have a younger brother with severe autism, and because of this both of my parents have suffered immensely for as long as I can remember. From a young age to when I was about 15, both of my parents experienced extreme depression and anger. My mom would constantly be accusing me of me making her my servant, would stay in bed all day, and would scream and yell at my dad, brother and I. She would also be extremely manipulative, and try to make me look terrible in front of my friends and my dad as well, which stripped me of a lot of self esteem. My dad on the other hand had his hands full with chores and trying to keep things together, but would also yell and scream at my mom and I out of frustration. In addition, both of my parents would gang up on me for certain things, and would try to shove their religion down my throat. So the situation now is, I’ve been away from them for 6 years and as a young adult, I’m independently going to school and living on my own. They have come to a place where they want my forgiveness, however, they will not support me because my boyfriend doesn’t follow their religion and neither do I quite frankly. I have cut all contact with them and feel quite bittersweet about it. I know I will eventually want a somewhat amicable relationship with them.. but I still am struggling myself with a bit of depression and with terrible flashbacks and nightmares that I have of the past. Before I cut ties, they wanted me to move back into their house and break up with my boyfriend completely, but that just felt so wrong to me. So my problem is, how do I start to talk with them eventually when they won’t try to see or accept my point of view in terms of staying with my boyfriend and not being a part of their religion? And how can I work through my leftover turmoil and anger towards them from the past? Thanks

  • Lisa

    So, I vacillate between being at my wits-end, with depression, despair, anger and thinking that I need to just lighten up.
    I am 47 and take care of my mother and have been taking care of her for nearly ten years. She has always had a temper: yelling, screaming, throwing things. Even more than that, she cannot ever take responsibility; it is always my fault, something I am doing to her. If I try to express my upset, she accuses me of being sensitive or of hurting her, picking on her, etc. She had an interesting upbringing–was both intensely spoiled, adored by her family and also severely sexually and physically abused to the point of torture. She has been my sole parent. I work out of town and always dread going back home. Numerous people have told me to leave her but she is handicapped now and completely dependent on me. Tonight, she used my credit card to make a purchase on Amazon. Apparently, she didn’t know that she was using my account. When the charge showed up on my debit, I told her and was upset because it was money that I needed. I did not get angry; I rarely ever express anger to her but I quietly told her the situation. Her response: “What the f– do you want me to do? Why are you f–ing mixing your card up with mine….f–ing deal with it…” followed by: “Now, look at how upset I am….my blood pressure is skyrocketing. You’re going to give me a heart attack.” I periodically rage inside about my mother and become cold with her and then feel guilty. The guilt, anger, depression, despair are, I feel, making me sick. Am not young anymore. She used to throw large objects at me and threaten to murder me, when I was a kid, so have been dealing with this for a lifetime.

  • Laura

    Mel, I want to thank you once again for responding to my recent post. I was in agreement to everything you said about your mother. I cannot believe how we both go through what we put up with when it comes to our mother. I also understand what you meant when you go out some place and how your mom wants to know where what time. Or when she constantly calls you or texts too I am sure. My mother does the same! I rarely go out these days like I used to and have stopped seeing friends because of my mother constantly wanting to know how I am getting somewhere. Mostly its just going to work and home. Like she seems happy when I am not out. Like I don’t really go out and party and allow myself to have any fun. I am forever worrying about my mom calling me if I am out. Then I have to explain myself. I can clearly understand why you want to take those long drives to just get away! Your mom does not need to know everything either. I feel so much better after hearing from you that I am not alone! You are not alone either! We have to make life livable not miserable. That is my saying to myself. I remind myself this even if I feel just slightly guilty for lying. But I know like you said I am doing this for protecting myself and avoiding conflict that will never be resolved. The other night when my mom got me so mad I faked a text like I was typing out Fuck you ! LMAO! Pardon my profanity but I came so close to sending that text! You know how sometimes you say in your head what you really want to say to your mother? But then like you said you don’t want to because I don’t want to hurt my mom. I would regret that. She just makes my blood boil and instead I yelled out loud swearing saying words I didn’t expect to come out of my mouth lol. I laugh now but at the time and when it happens again its just total meltdown for me. Do you feel like that? I bet at times you want to really go off on your mom. No matter how upset she gets me I love her and I know like your mom’s health and her being in her 80’s. My mom is in her mid 70’s lives alone and because of my disadvantages in life I cannot help her like most adult children can. The only thing I can do is listen and try to give her advice. But I know with my mom’s health declining I don’t know how long I have with her. I don’t want to get mad at her acting like she does with me. But I am also a human being and we can only take so much from our mother. It just really feels good to vent out. And I am so glad I found this site and came across seeing your comments. You honestly Mel have helped me get through these past days being able to see that I am not alone. People like you also suffer with the pain our parent puts us through. I am so sorry that you have to put up with your mother acting the way does with you. You also are doing the right thing. And its just such a relief to know that someone like yourself deals with your mom the same way I deal with mine. I have always been honest with my mom. But I have come to realize that honesty is not the best policy with my mother. So she has left me no choice but to lie. So many people have even told me that I am a grown adult that my mother does not need to know everything. I used to think that was wrong and thinking I would be a horrible person or daughter if I lied to her. But not when it comes to my own life. Also I never know from day to day just how my mother is going to treat me. I wake up each morning and send her a text. Hi I love you have a great day. And then do the same before going to bed. Its at times I feel like oh crap what now? What is she going to bitch at me for now? Or oh God here we go again as I roll my eyes and she repeats herself to me what I am doing wrong and how I am hurting her. Oh and one more thing to add. The times I go by her and have visited her she would blame me for touching something in her house putting it back the wrong way or blame me for breaking something. Year ago she blamed me for breaking her faucet and that she said she had to fix it because I used it. That sort of thing always gets me so upset! That I tried to tell her I never broke it. Its also that kind of thing that I put up with. So yeah I completely understand you Mel. Keep doing what your doing to cope with your mom. Stay strong! Hugs to you! Thanks again for your support! You have helped me a lot!

  • Clair

    Hi, I’ll be 30 this year I’m married and have two boys. My mom lives less than 5 minutes from me she loves picking my boys up from school a few days a week and and is VERY involved in their lives to the point that it becomes a competition against the other grandparents. My mom has never been married and has no hobbies or interests other than my children! My whole life my mom has always been there for me but is well known for bad immature decisions, her family has nothing to do with her my father can’t stand her and all these people have nothing to with me because she is the way she is but I’ve learned to accept that. My mom continues to make bad decisions that pour over to my family she doesn’t like to be told no or if I don’t include her. My mom with fly off on me in a heart beat yelling and screaming if she’s not happy with me no holds back! She’s so unpredictable! I’m a very quiet and reserved person I try to have a good image in the community but I feel like I’m constantly being held down by my mom! She try’s to socialize and hang out with the parents of my children’s friends and then when she gets upset with me she talks about me too those parents!!!! I just feel like I’m going crazy!!!

  • bianca

    Im 30 years old living with my mother i love her but i just can’t stand her she likes to moan and complain she wakes up in the mornings ask met for coffee.

    She doesn’t want to help with housr chores we live in a one bedroom place im sleeping in the living room i have to dust mop move all the furniture to mob the floor and put everything back in their places i have to do the dishes aswell sometimes cooking to

    She doesn’t do anything accept cooking when she feels like it if i don’t do something right she yells at me like this morning she complaint about the sink in the kitchen i clean it every time i uses it she uses the sink aswell but doesn’t clean it when she is finished when i tried to tell her im not the only one that use it im not only one yhat should keep the sink clean she hit me in my face and on my arm with a cloth in the kitchen she the said i shouldn’t raise my voice to her witch i didn’t when i tried to tell het about the sink i well known did raise my voice when she hit me in my face and arm she didn’t even said sorry nothing how do i cope with this she doesn’t want me to work or to move out of her house i can’t take screaming and moaning any more

    • Shannon

      Bianca, if you want to get a job and move out you should. Don’t let what your mother wants stop you from living your own life. It won’t be easy and she will probably treat you worse when she realizes what you’re doing, but you don’t want to let her control you for the rest of your life. You need to set some boundaries with her. I am learning to set boundaries myself – not easy but important.

  • Smarty engineer

    This is a good forum where I can share about my feelings & thoughts about my mother. Let me first of all start off by saying that I love my parents, & I am very thankful for them for raising me & for all their help whether its cooking for me, helping me raise my child.
    But its also a fact that especially my mother is a very difficult parent. My brother has autism & because of his condition it has made her a very negative person, who has extreme anger problems, mental problems, is an abusive screamer, does verbal abuse & shouts at me for every little thing. She herself has depression which she does not want to get treated, she is in constant denial & thinks that she is always right & I am always wrong. She things that she has an excuse to scream, be negative & abuse because she has to go through sadness that her son his autistic, she takes her sadness & depression out by verbally abusing, fighting & screaming at me.
    My father realizes her problem, but is scared of her, therefore he never ever negates her or argues with her. She also abuses him, shouts at him & fights with him. My mother helps me out, but she has all these negatives that is hurting me, gives me extreme stress & lowers my self esteem. I also fight back with her, give her back her abuses, but this does not go anywhere. She never realizes that she needs to correct her behavior.
    My father tells me to ignore her because she is a mad crazy person with mental illness. I am trying to do that & trying to forgive her, but all the fights, her verbal abuse & her shouting & screaming at me keeps on lingering in my mind.
    So I am trying to ignore her bad behavior & telling myself that like an alcoholic, she is an abusive screamer, has mental illness who will never change, its me who will have to change cause I don’t want to ruin my life like she has ruined hers.
    Any suggestions are appreciated. Thank you!

    • Rob

      This sounds Incredibly familiar to my mother , exactly the same actually, excluding the depression (I think k she is , but nobody in my family is brave enough to approach it and she will deny it (I think this because she’s constantly saying shes bored)).

      Now, im 16 and my mother is just like you describe but it seems to get worse every few months. Do you have any , and I mean ANY tips on handling it , because I just want to scream at her. She says no kdy does anything , when were the only ones who do something. And she doesn’t work (when she’s perfectly able) so my dad provided a brand new car for her (because she would drive anything else) but now she’s got it , she complains about it being impractical for dogs and o my uses it once a week (not even that if she gets the shopping delivered). So , that’s barely anything , but I was thinking about talking to her, what do you think?

  • Adela

    Thank you to all the comments and the article I just read. I am 38 and thanks for making me see I am not alone. I actually come from an orthodox Hindu family and as you know women need to be married by 24, have like 3 kids and live in India with their in laws. I actually chose to get my masters and focus on friendships, a career and some freedom. My dad went nuts when I did not accept the arranged marriage he set up for me. I saw what my mom went through as an Indian wife and it has not been the loving marriage I always dreamed of.

    He was bossy, arrogant and verbally abusive with her and me. He has always been gender biased and even needed financial assistance from me when his many businesses went down the drain and he just kept opening more. The shock has been my mom though. For several years we got along and were close friends. However in front of my dad she acts different, is a hypocrite and just wants to dress up and be with my dad’s ridiculous friends.

    In March my dad and I had one of the worst fights and he was so insulting and verbally demeaning. I ended up answering him just as equally degrading. He lies and manipulates people and my mom is just his regular minion. I am tired of trying constantly with them and being afraid of being alone since I am not yet married. But this constant mindlessness is driving me insane. I am tired of their lies, verbal abuse and blaming the world for their constant mistakes. They can have each other.

    • Laura

      I am so sorry your going through the verbal abuse and knowing your mother now acts differently around your father. This is a very difficult situation for you. You dont need that negativaty in your life. You need to move on and focus on yourself. Be strong for yourself. Hard for me to say that really it is. Because I am coping with a over protecting mother. You have to find a way to make your life liveable and tune your parents out. So many times my mom is saying things horrible things to me and all I can do is tell myself let it go in one ear out the other. I suffer so much with anxiety each time I know I am going to visit her. I prepare myself for the worst. I pray to God to get me through the weekend when I visit her. I love my mom and would do anything for her. I know she would for me too. But her contolling me does not help our relationship. The only way I can move on and make her happy by doing what she wants me too. Is for me to tell her what she wants to hear. By that I mean to lie. I hate to do that! But what she dosnt know wont hurt her. I will be the one hurt constantly if being honest as I have been. Gets me no where! So I know its hard but you have to do whats in your best interest for yourself. If I did everything my mom told me to do then I am never going to be my own person! I am not suggesting that lying is the way to go. Might not be right thing for other people when dealing with controlling parents. But in my situation I made up my mind and know that talking to her will never resolve issues. She is always right I am always wrong. That is how its always been. I feel so relieved that I can unload here knowing people like you go through quite a lot of difficulties dealing with parents. I have friends that know about my situation but telling them is not always helpful. They dont go through what I am going through. But so many people like yourself know and I know what its really like. Stay strong!