Linda Pevnick – Psychotherapy in St. Louis, Missouri

Individual, Couples, and Group Psychotherapy


After you give so much to your children growing up and on into their adulthood, it may seem unimaginable that an adult child decides to distance themselves from their parents. And yet, we all probably know someone who has felt like they needed to do that or parents whose adult children have become estranged.

Let’s take a look at some reasons why Adult Children would feel the need to remove themselves from a relationship with their parents. Basically, I think it comes down to an issue of control. If there is some way in which parents seek to have influence or control of any kind over adult children, this is a prescription for problems in the relationship.

Of course, the parents who seek influence or control have probably no idea that this is what they are doing. Their view may be that they are merely loving their adult children and what could be wrong with that? That is what parents do, they love their children for as long as they live. But, sometimes, some parents’ love comes with unseen manipulation. “Like if you loved me you would see it my way.” or “You’ll have to admit that I know better because I have lived longer than you.” or “I just don’t want to see you make mistakes.” or “What you are doing with your life is making me unhappy and it is your job to make sure I am happy, after all, I have spent years of my life making sure that you were happy.” or “I only tell you about how I feel about your choices because I love you and want the best for you!”

So you can see from some of these ideas how some parents in their love for their adult children may be inadvertently be trying to exercise control. Let’s look at some more specific ways this can happen and the pitfalls you can watch out for as a parent or an adult child.

Here is a nice article for you to read called “Five Reasons Why Adult Children Estrange from Parents” by Kim Bryan. Ms. Bryan has reasons that she lists from her experience. Here are some that I have witnessed from my over 40 years of work as a therapist.

Crossing Boundaries: One of the hardest things I think for parents to do is to recognize that our children have become adults and need to and must make their own way in this world. This means making their decisions about finances, careers, spouses, how to raise the grandchildren, what to wear, where to live, how to take care of their health, and many more. I have often talked with adults whose parents have told them what major to have in college, what career to pursue, disapproved of the choice of spouse, constantly criticized choices of clothing, hairstyle, and many more. I think it comes down to if you really love your child you let them live their own lives and make their own mistakes so they can learn from them. Do we give our children a life so they can live it or so that we can continue telling them what to do. If it is the latter I would argue that telling your kids what to do in however subtle a way is more about gratifying ourselves than about doing what is in the best interest of our adult children.

Now, I don’t mean that you don’t give advise if you are asked, not at all. Or one can even ask, “Would you like some advice?” But, manipulation comes in if your feelings are hurt if your opinion was not asked for or listened to.

So, here are some things you might try not to do:

Don’t make your adult kids responsible for making you happy.

Don’t have expectations or try to make them feel guilty about how often they include you in their lives. When you have adult kids, you are still responsible for your own social life and well-being, not them.

Don’t guilt them because they don’t do what you want them to do.

Let them pick their own careers, their own spouses, their own names for their kids, and whether or not the grand-kids get to eat sugary treats, for example.

Don’t criticize anything they do or choose. If your advice isn’t asked for, don’t give it. If your advice isn’t followed, don’t comment on that. Never say, “I told you so”.

Always apologize if your adult child says they feel hurt by something you have done. Be honored that your adult child wants to work something out with you. Listen and take responsibility for having hurt their feelings. Avoid being defensive.

I have learned that we parents of adult children serve at our children’s pleasure. It is a gift if our adult children want to have a relationship with them and we should learn to do it on their terms not ours. I guess you could say that you deserve a relationship with your adult children because you have given so much. But, I have learned from my own experience and that of my clients, that it just doesn’t work that way. These are the kinds of ideas that create distance with our adult kids. They don’t owe us for what we did for them. We decided to bring them into the world or take the risk to do the things that bring children into our world. It is our responsibility as parents to take good care of our children and not to expect to be paid back. I have never seen that work to create a loving relationship.

I hope I have said something here for adult parents to think about. It is worth some examination of your own behavior if your relationship with your adult kids isn’t a happy one. It may not be them who needs to change. Again and lastly, I know that this is one of the hardest things to do, to let our children go be the adults that they want and need to be. I get it. It is very, very hard.