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8 reasons why parents may resent their grown children, according to psychology

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Family relationships can be a source of great love and support, but they also come with their share of challenges.

One such challenge is when parents feel resentment toward their adult children.

Parental resentment is a complex, emotional issue that strains family bonds.

But why do parents sometimes resent their adult children?

Growing up and becoming independent is a natural part of life. But, sometimes, the choices made by adult children create tension in the family.

Understanding the underlying causes of that tension will help you take the first step toward healing and building a healthier family.

1. The parent may resent their adult child’s autonomy and independence, or lack thereof.

The pursuit of autonomy and independence is a normal part of a child’s life, but they aren’t always smooth.

The feeling of parental resentment may come from two different directions, and may not come from a healthy place.

On the one hand, the parent may be controlling or even abusive. They are used to getting their way and having their child be at their beck and call.

As their child transitions to adulthood or starts building their own life, the parent will find that the child has less time for them or may rebel against the parent’s control.

The parent resents their child’s independence and disobedience.

On the other hand, a “failure to launch,” that is, a young adult not trying to transition to adulthood may also cause resentment. That may be reasonable or not.

It could be that the young adult is trying to launch but can’t find a decent job or know what to do for higher learning.

But it could also be that the young adult is just avoiding their new responsibilities and not trying.

2. The parent may resent their adult child’s success or lack of success.

Success may cause tension in the relationship in one of two ways.

The parent may be overly competitive with their adult child, resenting their child’s success instead of celebrating it.

They see their child’s success not as a victory for their child or the family, but as an attack on their own sense of self-worth.

A lack of success may breed the same feelings of resentment. The parent may feel like they did everything possible to set their child up for success and the child just didn’t do anything with it.

That may cause resentment due to the adult child’s dependence on their parent.

3. Parent and child may have different beliefs, opinions, and values.

Values tend to shift from generation to generation. What many people considered normal in the 70s, like homophobia, are no longer socially acceptable behaviors today. That is an extreme example but a relevant one.

However, different beliefs, opinions, and values may cause resentment because the parent thinks their child should have similar values.

People often have a difficult time accepting different values and beliefs because they can only see the world through their own eyes.

Politics is a good example. Many political beliefs stem from how and where a person was raised because they see the influence of politics on their immediate social lives, for better or worse.

The parent may expect that their adult child will see the same world that they do, even though they are growing up in entirely different worlds. They may not be able to see the same problems or benefits that their children do, and vice versa.

Rose-tinted glasses often cause people to see the past as better than it was because they tend to only focus on the good things.

4. The parent may feel they deserve to be treated with greater respect.

It’s not unreasonable to want respect from your family members. Both parents and their adult children deserve an equal amount of respect.

However, respect isn’t always balanced, and some people believe they deserve more respect due to their perceived superiority.

If a parent believes they are superior to their adult child, no amount of respect is ever going to be good enough.

They don’t want respect. They want a docile, compliant servant to feed their ego so they can feel good about themselves at their adult child’s expense.

Respect is a healthy thing when it goes both ways. It means you hold one another in high esteem, which is great to have in a relationship. You both end up feeding into each other’s emotional health and well-being.

Resentment starts to fester when that respect is one-sided or unfairly demanded.

5. The adult child may be controlling or over-critical.

Sometimes an adult child forgets that their parents are adults, or they think they can take advantage of their parents as they get older.

The child may interfere with their parent’s life, insist on unfair control, and be over-critical of their choices.

That can be a fine line to walk because the parent’s mental faculties may start to slip as they get older. Slipping mental faculties is the main reason why scammers and con artists target the elderly. They may not know any better or fall for scams that they never would have when younger.

Of course, scammers aren’t always coming from a call center far away. Sometimes they are relatives or friends that see a vulnerable person and think they can capitalize on their vulnerability to their own benefit.

6. The parent may believe they have been abandoned or neglected by their adult child.

A child is eventually going to want to have their own life. That is just a normal part of growing up.

Some parents can’t handle that. They feel they are owed more of their adult child’s life or time because they are the parent.

Even if the adult child wants to, they may not have the time or ability to give their parents more attention.

Life gets busy, and sometimes, people don’t put the time into maintaining their relationships that they would like.

The parent may have wanted a friendship with their child that just never materialized, so they don’t spend enough time together.

It could also be that the parent was abusive which drove their adult child away from them as soon as possible. After all, children don’t tend to go no-contact with their parents for superficial reasons.

The reason may also be that the family members are just too different. The adult child may not be able to relate to their parent as a friend or want to be around them due to their differences.

7. Other relationships may interfere with the parent-child relationship.

Not all relationships are healthy. An enmeshed relationship happens when there are poor, inappropriate boundaries for a particular kind of relationship.

A parent-child relationship should be different than a friend-friend relationship, for example.

However, a more common issue is the interference of a romantic relationship with the parent-child relationship.

Typically, the parent feels jealous and resentful of the adult child giving their time and attention to a romantic interest. They may not feel as though their own emotional needs are being met because they have an unhealthy expectation of the support their adult child should be providing.

The parent might be expecting their adult child to provide the same kind of mental support and friendship they would expect from a good friend or romantic partner.

They may use their adult child as a confidante or view them as someone who should always be there.

That’s an unhealthy dynamic for both parties.

8. The parent may feel entitled to repayment for their sacrifices.

Parents sacrifice a lot for their children—time, money, emotional energy.

While most parents are glad to do this so their children can be happy and healthy, others don’t view it that way.

Some believe their parenthood is transactional in nature. They have provided for their child and they expect their child to repay that as they reach adulthood.

But entitled parents haven’t always provided either. Entitlement typically comes from a place of selfishness, and selfish parents often provide little to nothing for their children.

They don’t give their children their time and energy. Sometimes, they don’t even give their children the minimum standard of care you’re supposed to give your child—like clean clothes, a meal, and a safe place to be.

Other times they may only give to the child as a means to exert control over them.

The entitled parent may feel like their child should sacrifice their time, money, and resources for them as they get older.

They may have done no planning at all for their own future and find themselves in a position where they require additional help, so “repayment” and the guilt that goes along with it becomes convenient leverage.

The truth of the matter is that an adult child doesn’t owe any kind of repayment to their parent.

If you struggle as either the parent or the grown child…

Parental resentment is a complicated subject. It’s often rooted in unhealthy expectations that are forced onto the adult child as they get older. The best solution is going to be therapy for one or both parties. 

The parent will likely need to explore why they feel the way that they do so they can develop healthier expectations.

The adult child may need help setting boundaries or separating themselves from an enmeshed relationship.

Of course, the challenge is that the parent may not see anything wrong with their behavior, which is another reason that the adult child may need the support that therapy can provide.

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About The Author

Jack Nollan is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspectives from the side of the mental health consumer. Jack has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.