Some people are fortunate enough to have parents who love them unconditionally, encourage their pursuits, and respect (and support!) their life choices.
Others aren’t so lucky, and instead have parents who criticize and demean everything they do, or else insist that they know what’s best for their offspring and expect to be listened to… even when said “children” are well into their middling years.
Most people with controlling parents have learned how to sidestep or diffuse their attempts at meddling and manipulation, or else just nod and smile politely and carry on with their lives in their own way.
Those are all well and good, but there are times when controlling parents can cross the line, and need to have it made crystal clear to them that their words and actions are unacceptable.
Here are three things you should never tolerate from a controlling parent.
Disrespect, Especially In Public
Your parents may not agree with some of your life choices, but they damned well better respect the fact that they are, in fact, your choices.
A lot of parents seem to forget that their children are not extensions of themselves, but rather autonomous beings who deserve just as much courtesy and respect as anyone else.
Things can get even uglier if you have the sort of parent who likes to belittle you in public, whether for their own amusement, or because they think that getting their peers on their side against you will strengthen their stance toward you and force you to change your mind to align with theirs.
It’s one thing if your parent tells you that they don’t like the décor in your home, your choice of career, your hair color, or your wardrobe.
But it’s another thing entirely if they mock or belittle you in front of other people.
If you have enough strength to tell them – in front of friends or relatives – that their behavior is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated, then do so.
Just be prepared that they might make an attempt to laugh it off, and their cronies may then step up to be supportive and gang up against you like a bunch of flying monkeys.
A more effective approach, albeit a “fighting dirty” one, is to bring up some heinous family secret that they wouldn’t want aired in order to shut them the hell up.
Parent – “Are you sure you really need dessert? You’re already fatter than you should be at your height. Am I right? Wouldn’t he/she look so much better if he/she lost weight? Just put the fork down, dear.”
You – “Well, you didn’t NEED to cheat on (other parent) with X, but you did it anyway. Wow, this chocolate mousse is delicious…”
This approach may cause some damage, but it will be effective in silencing them from this kind of crap in future.
Besides, if you already have a horrible relationship with an emotionally abusive, controlling parent, how much worse can it get?
Sometimes, extremes are needed to ensure that they never, ever repeat this kind of behavior toward you again.
Please note: if you have identified your parent as a narcissist (and it’s important to point out that being controlling doesn’t automatically make one a narcissist), this approach is not advised.
When dealing with a narcissist, if you can’t go no contact with them, then your best bet is to adopt the gray rock method and be emotionally unresponsive to their jibes.
Threats, Both Against You, Or Toward Themselves
There was once a man whose sickly mother kept him completely under her thumb by threatening to harm herself if he didn’t do what she wanted, when she wanted.
She was disabled, and if he didn’t come home immediately when she wanted him to, she’d text him something like “I’m going to do X thing, and if I fall down and hurt myself or DIE because you weren’t here to take care of me, then it’ll be YOUR fault.”
Being a rather sensitive sort, he knew damned well that he would blame himself if anything did happen, so he just sighed and complied every time, hating himself for allowing her to manipulate him so badly.
This kind of controlling behavior is incredibly unhealthy, and is just as unacceptable as a parent who may threaten to cut you out of their will if you don’t make the life choices that they want from you.
If this kind of thing has been tolerated in the past, it needs to stop, now.
Be well aware that people rarely (if ever) make good on these kinds of threats – they’ve just learned that they can rule other people through fear and cruelty, so they use what’s already in their repertoire to get what they want.
Calling them out on their empty threats and telling them to go right ahead usually stuns them because it’s not what they expected, and can give you the opportunity for self-empowerment and assertiveness.
Basically, you have to be prepared to walk away, even though there’s just the slimmest chance that you may actually have to do so.
Awareness that you can do that, thus ending their reign of terror over you, is usually enough to get them to amend their actions.
Now, it’s bad enough if your parent(s) treat you like crap, but it’s another level of heinous if they turn their bile toward your life partner.
Your parents may not love the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with, but that issue falls under the whole “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” situation.
Some people have even dealt with situations in which their parents have encouraged them to cheat on their spouses, or leave them for partners whom the parent(s) have deemed more acceptable/appealing in their eyes.
Sadly enough, those whom the parent(s) prefer are often those whom they personally find more physically attractive, or who have careers (and incomes…) that suit their own preferences.
Basically, they’re trying to live vicariously through their children, and if their adult “kids” don’t make the choices they want, then they feel cheated, somehow.
They can get particularly scathing if they’re racist, homophobic or transphobic and you’re in a relationship with someone whose ethnic background or gender they disapprove of, or if your partner has a disability, or even just isn’t as attractive as they’d want them to be.
They might make snide comments when you’re all together – whether passive-aggressive or overt – or even attack your partner outright, demanding that they defend aspects of themselves in order to make them somehow “worthy” in your parents’ eyes.
When and if this type of situation occurs, there are really only two acceptable responses: call out the parent immediately and make it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated again, or leave the situation, also making it clear why you’re doing so.
You’ve chosen your partner for a reason, and if your parents are being disrespectful and cruel to them, then you need to be able to step up and defend the person you love.
If you’ve been dealing with horribly controlling actions from your parents for years, it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to change any time soon.
By the time a person reaches their late 20s, their attitudes and behavior become pretty inflexible, so you can rest assured that people in their 50s, 60s, and beyond are already fiercely set in their ways.
Sometimes, the only thing a person can do to end controlling abuse is to create distance from the abuser.
The whole “blood is thicker than water” crap has been used far too often when it comes to tolerating and accepting horrible behavior, which just ends up causing damage that could very well be irreparable.
Your parents aren’t going to be around forever, but the legacy that they have been permitted to inflict upon you will be, unless you take action to protect yourself.
They’ve proven that they’re not going to make you a priority or show true love and care toward you, so you have to show yourself the unconditional love and care that you never received, and put an end to their cruelty by any means necessary.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.