12 Life Events That Can Push Parent-Child Relationships Beyond Breaking Point

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One of the deepest connections most people experience in their lifetime is the parent-child relationship.

Bonds formed in childhood create a foundation for a lifetime of love, trust, and support.

However, life isn’t always smooth. Life events, both expected and unexpected, can sometimes place great strain on this relationship.

Some things can push a parent-child relationship past a breaking point.

Understanding the way these life-changing events affect family dynamics is essential to keep them from harming your relationship with your parent or child.

Here are 12 such major life events.

1. Divorce, separation, or an important relationship ending.

No one gets into a relationship with the hope that it will go wrong. But many do.

Life circumstances change, incompatibilities come to the surface, or sometimes things just don’t work out no matter how much you want them to.

Still, the ending of any relationship will have a ripple effect on the people around it.

A divorce between Mom and Dad can be heartbreaking to young and adult children alike. They may not know what to expect with the change in family dynamic; plus the unknown is often scary.

A child’s long-term relationship ending may be similarly heartbreaking for the parent. It could be that the parent loves the partner too, or viewed them like a child of their own.

2. Marriage that leads to the blending of families.

Marriage is a major step for any couple, but it’s doubly meaningful when it leads to the blending of families.

Everyone may get along great, or maybe everyone knows that certain members of the new family don’t get along.

The blending of families—that is, acquiring stepparents or stepsiblings—creates new family dynamics that need to be worked through.

The stepparent may begin to influence the parent about how they perceive and treat their child. There may be preferential treatment that creates anger or conflict.

The child may not be over the change in the original family dynamic, such as if one parent left the other to be with this new person.

3. Job losses and financial problems.

Financial problems are one of the leading causes of conflict. That may be disagreements over money, how it’s spent, inheritance, or financial support that someone in the relationship is giving.

A parent with poor boundaries may enable their child by providing them too much financial support which can cause fights and strain the relationships of everyone in the family.

Job losses introduce a whole different problem into the mix. With job loss comes fear, uncertainty, and possibly anger at the new unknown.

The parent or child may be incredibly stressed about the unknown that comes with job loss. “How will I pay my bills? Can I afford food? When will I get a new job? What’s going to happen tomorrow?”

4. Relocation to a new area.

Moving is another incredibly stressful experience. The logistics of the move aside, moving can be a stressor because of the change in environment.

The parent may be moving because they don’t have a choice. Maybe a relationship ended, a job was lost, or they need to move home to help take care of an older relative. They may be leaving their entire old life behind.

For a child, they may be leaving behind school or friends that are important to them. That loss is difficult to handle.

Then the child will be worried about what comes after the move. Will they fit into this new place? Make new friends? Be okay in whatever new environment they find themselves in?

The child may resent their parent for making the change.

5. Puberty.

Puberty brings new challenges, including a burst of hormones that affect one’s emotions.

The child is learning new things about themselves, possibly starting to have sexual thoughts, seeing their body change, and experiencing the awkwardness of evolving into a new person.

Understandably, conflict may arise from the child’s gradual transformation into an adult.

The child may experience emotional outbursts that they struggle to control. They may push against the wishes or demands of their parent. They may do things that the parent doesn’t condone.

The parent may have a difficult time seeing their child transitioning to adulthood. That could be due to healthy reasons such as just being overwhelmed by the emotions of seeing their child grow up.

It could also be due to unhealthy reasons, like feeling as though they are losing control over their child.

6. Realizing sexual or gender identity.

Sexual and gender identity is sometimes a difficult topic to talk about within families.

Many people just don’t know how to handle it, they don’t understand it, and people tend to fear what they don’t understand.

Either the parent or child may fear the identification of a different sexual or gender identity. Either may feel like they can’t relate to or understand what’s going on.

It could also be that they’re afraid of the repercussions of the realization.

For example, if Dad finally realizes that he identifies as a woman and wants to transition, what does that mean for the family? Will there be a divorce? Will Mom still love Dad in her new identity? How is it going to affect Mom to have such a drastic change in her partner?

7. The child is seeking independence.

The pursuit of independence often causes conflict between parent and child.

The child is seeking to establish their boundaries and trying to figure out who they are, while the parent may be trying to guide them.

Guiding isn’t so bad, but sometimes it looks a lot like forcing the child down a particular path they don’t want for themselves. Sometimes that’s reasonable, sometimes that’s not.

An adult child leaving home may be a cause for conflict. The parent may not be ready to see the child leave. That can be for positive or negative reasons.

On the positive side, they may just love their child and hate to see them go. On the negative side, they may be controlling or a helicopter parent who has kept their child under their thumb their whole life.

Positive reasons may cause some upset and tears. Negative reasons are more likely to cause anger and fighting.

8. Opposing life choices and lifestyle differences.

A parent may have certain expectations about how their children conduct their lives.

Divisions in families can happen as the child gets older and starts to form their own opinions about the world.

Society, for its good and ills, typically sets the tone for cultural beliefs and perceptions. The world of today is much different than the world of the 1990s, which was much different than the world of the 1960s.

Attitudes and perceptions change. Along with it, one might expect changes in education, career, or lifestyle choices that better align with what the child wants over what the parent wants.

In a healthy parent-child relationship, these differences would be celebrated and encouraged. In an unhealthy relationship, the response may be anger or conflict.

9. Mental or physical illness.

Illness is taxing on the person with the illness as well as the people around them. Chronic illnesses take a hard toll on parent-child relationships.

Mental illness disrupts so many lives because it’s never pleasant. At a minimum, it’ll be in the background. At its worst? Then you get into things like in-patient stays, jail, and extended treatments.

Physical illness is similar with additional considerations. The person with the physical illness may not be able to get around, take care of themselves, or need a lot of care. That can breed resentment.

In either case, it damages the relationship and can push people to their breaking point.

10. Substance abuse and addiction.

Substance abuse and addiction take a terrible toll on relationships. Addiction can cause people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t. Often, those things are incredibly hurtful and harmful.

Some people experience dramatic personality shifts when they are under the influence. Some get angry, others become unreliable, and in the worst-case scenarios, even family members are not shielded from the awful things that can happen.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the parent or the child. Sometimes, the substance abuse gets so bad that hard, no-contact boundaries need to be set which drives them apart.

11. Aging of parents.

Aging brings with it numerous benefits and obstacles.

The challenges that aging presents can be enough to break a relationship. Some people lose their mental faculties. They may become far more unpleasant to be around.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are both terrible, difficult diseases to experience both personally and from the outside looking in.

The adult child may feel obligated to provide care for their parents that they aren’t qualified or equipped to provide. That, of course, causes a lot of stress.

The parents may also find themselves in a difficult financial position. Poor future planning or just life happening may leave them financially insecure. The child may feel like they need to support the parent, and they may resent them for it.

12. Death.

Death always brings changes, rarely for the better.

Deaths in the family or among friends can alter relationships significantly. Some pull together, some push apart, and others drift apart.

Along with death comes the logistical difficulties behind it like the inheritance, estate, funeral planning, paperwork, and notifications that need to happen.

A sibling or parent dying can both cause relationships within the family to break apart. Long-term illness may be something you can somewhat prepare for. But then you have unexpected deaths like suicide, accidents, or overdoses that just blast a crater in the lives of everyone involved.

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All the things on this list (and more!) can severely harm or destroy familial relationships.

Life is hard, and it hits you with things at times that you’d never expect.

If you’ve found yourself in a tough spot with your parent or child, it would be worthwhile looking into family counseling to try to resolve it.

Of course, not every problem can be resolved, nor should they be, but it’s a good place to start if you want to try.

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About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. 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.