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16 Things Grown Children Say To Manipulate Their Parents

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As parents, we often spend our lives sacrificing for our children. We give them our time, our energy, and our love, all in the hopes of raising them to be happy, healthy, and successful adults.

But what happens when those same children turn around and use our love against us? When they use manipulative tactics to get what they want, leaving us feeling hurt, confused, and powerless?

It’s a heart-wrenching experience that many parents face, as their grown children use words like weapons to guilt-trip, shame, and coerce them into doing their bidding.

In this article, we’ll explore 16 of the most common phrases that grown children use to manipulate their parents. Let’s dive in!

1. Don’t you love me?

Ouch! That’s gotta hurt.

I mean, are they seriously questioning your love for them? Well, no, probably not. But by tugging on your heartstrings, they are hoping to sway you in some way.

They are using your love as leverage to get what they want by hoping you’ll feel obligated to agree to their demands, even if it goes against your wishes or values.

2. Don’t you want me to be happy?

Of course you want your child to be happy—you’re not a monster! But that is exactly what they are painting you as in this case.

Maybe you denied their request because you either can’t or won’t do what they want you to do.

Perhaps you feel unable to support them in something because you see some major flaws in their plan…and have tried to highlight these.

Whatever it may be, they are trying to make you responsible for their happiness (or lack thereof). But nobody is responsible for the happiness of others. Period. Yes, you may be able to contribute to it and rejoice with them, but you cannot create it for them, nor take it away.

They have to forge their own happiness, because it begins and ends within each person.

3. If you do this, I’ll never speak to you again.

Or, alternatively, if you don’t do this, I’ll never forgive you.

Whatever variation they use, your grown child is essentially saying that you must do as they say or be forever punished for it.

That’s a whole heap of disrespect right there.

It is highly unlikely that they will ever follow through on these threats, but as a parent, you may not want to take the risk of never seeing or hearing from your offspring again.

The finality of the statement is designed to bend the parent’s will and force them to act. It is a phrase that is extremely controlling.

4. You made me this way.

This is a classic example of something an adult child may say to justify their poor behavior. It’s effectively passing responsibility for something they did, a problem they have, or a personality trait of theirs onto you, their parent.

Their aim is to make you feel guilty so that you A) don’t tell them off and B) help them fix whatever the issue is.

While parents do have a profound influence on the way their children grow up, they are not solely responsible for the resulting adult. So many things play a role in a child’s development, and the choices they make as adults cannot be blamed on the parents.

5. I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment to you.

This may sometimes be accompanied by “I guess I’ll never be good enough” for added effect.

The grown child plays the role of a victim in order to elicit sympathy and attention from the parents. The aim is to make the parent responsible for the child’s feelings of inadequacy or failure—whether those feelings are real or fabricated.

The grown child hopes to receive reassurance from their parent and potentially some form of help—maybe as financial assistance—to improve themselves or their lives.

Of course, the child likely has no intention of trying to improve themselves. They are manipulating their parents to get something from them.

6. You’re always taking their side.

If there are siblings, you can bet you’ll hear this more than a few times—most frequently by one sibling, but both might use it on occasion.

This comes down to the perception of unfairness and how the child feels neglected because you favor the other sibling(s).

It’s almost saying that the child feels betrayed by you and that you “owe them” because their sibling(s) have always been given more—love, attention, money, support.

If you spot absolute statements that include “always” or “never” or similar, there’s a chance they are being used intentionally to manipulate your feelings.

7. I can’t believe you’re doing this to me. You’re supposed to be my parent.

You’ll most likely hear this one when you put your foot down and enforce a boundary. The grown child will complain that you are not treating them as a parent should.

The underlying message is that you are not fulfilling your role as a parent, even if the child’s demands or behavior are entirely unreasonable.

Maybe you are insisting that they move out of your home and find a place of their own because you know full well that they can afford it. Or perhaps you have refused to give them money so that they can go on vacation with their friends.

They feel hard done by and they’re going to make that abundantly clear to you.

8. You’re ruining my life.

It’s hard to be told that you are ruining your child’s life. No parent wants to believe that they are making their child’s life harder, because let’s face it, life is hard enough as it is.

Much like many of the phrases in this list, it is designed to make you buckle, change your mind, and go back on something you have said.

Once again, it allows the grown child to shift responsibility for their life and their well-being onto their parents. It says: “If you don’t do what I say, you are horrible people and terrible parents.”

9. I thought you were supposed to love me no matter what.

You might hear this if you try to pull back from the relationship with your grown child because of the damage it is doing to you.

Maybe they treat you poorly, use you, and expect you to take it because it is your duty as parents.

But that’s not true. There may come a time when you have to use a bit of tough love, and that may mean cutting them off entirely, or at the very least forcing them to stand on their own two feet.

They may resent you for this and lash out by claiming you no longer love them. That is probably not true—you may possibly dislike your grown child, but you probably still hold space for them in your heart.

10. Can’t you ever say something nice?

Oh god, you’re destroying your child’s self-esteem!

That’s what they want you to think when these words pass their lips. It suggests that you only ever say negative or critical things about them (hopefully not true!) and that you could be a little more…you know…supportive of them.

What’s their angle? To make you feel guilty, to get you to shower them with compliments, and maybe to gain some leverage over you to make you do something.

It’s a dirty trick, but it’s easy to fall for.

11. I can’t believe you’re being so unreasonable.

If you say no to your grown child, you may come against the “reason” card in the sense that you have none.

They want to paint you as being inflexible, obstinate, and unwilling to compromise. Of course, the compromise they want from you is nothing of the sort—it is you bending over backward to accommodate them.

They may call you stubborn, they may wail at the injustice being brought against them, and they may resort to anger to make their message clear.

All in the hope that you might choose “the easy road” (that is anything but easy) by doing as they wish.

12. I’m sorry I’m not perfect like you.

Much like #5 on our list, this manipulative phrase is designed to make you feel responsible for their shortcomings and feelings of inadequacy. After all, they have not lived up to the model citizen of society that is you.

Of course, you know you’re not perfect. Nobody is without flaws. But by making the comparison between you and them, your grown child is hoping you’ll say something nice about them or do something for them to make it clear that you think they’re great.

They may be fishing for reassurance or validation—and that’s something you can and should give as a parent—but this phrase is not a healthy way for your child to go about getting it.

13. I can’t believe you’re putting your own needs ahead of mine.

Sometimes as a parent, you do put your child’s needs ahead of your own. In fact, you do a LOT of that when they are young and you are nurturing them and making sacrifices to ensure they receive the care they need.

But as they grow older—and especially once they have matured into adults—it’s healthy to start putting yourself first again.

But does your grown child want to accept that? Not if they are using a phrase like this!

It’s them saying “I should always come first because you spawned me and owe me all that you have.”

Sorry, but it doesn’t work like that.

14. You never let me do anything. You’re so controlling.

You might often face this if your grown child still lives with you. While they are under your roof, it’s your right to set whatever rules you see fit, so long as they are fair and provide some level of freedom and independence.

But rules can feel restrictive. And rules are there to be broken or bent—at least in your child’s eyes.

Whether you are enforcing your wishes or cautioning them for breaking your rules, you may face a backlash. Their stance is designed to weaken what they see as your power over them.

15. I’m just trying to make you happy. Why can’t you see that?

What kid doesn’t want their parents to be proud of them? What kid doesn’t want their parents to be happy?

Well, it’s not so simple. An adult child may act in ways that the parents find confusing or even upsetting and then claim that they are simply trying to be a good child and please their parents.

The child is implying that whatever they are doing is in their parents’ best interests but often it’s just an excuse they make for their toxic behavior or unwise life choices.

It’s them saying: “Why can’t you be happy with what I’m doing?” when what they are doing is hurting themselves or you.

This phrase may even have a more sinister use when parents become elderly and the adult child decides to make decisions for them which are actually for the benefit of the child, not the parents.

16. I guess I’m just not important to you anymore.

We’ll end where we began: with a big old dose of guilt.

I mean, who wants to hear that their child doesn’t feel cared for? It hurts to think that your child believes this.

So, what might you do? You might give as much reassurance as you can, sure, but you may also make gestures that prove how important they are to you. Or, at least, this is what the child is secretly hoping for.

And if you do as they hope, you can be sure that they’ll use this or any of the other phrases on this list again in future to manipulate your feelings further.

What can you do when your adult child tries to manipulate you?

In truth, that’s a whole book on its own. But we can help! Here are two articles you may want to read that go into some detail about the best ways to handle a grown child who uses phrases such as those in this list to lean on you and make you do their bidding:

About The Author

Steve Phillips-Waller is the founder and editor of A Conscious Rethink. He has written extensively on the topics of life, relationships, and mental health for more than 8 years.