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Some parents are overbearing, hypersensitive, needy and temperamental, in other words high maintenance. As a child, it should not have been your responsibility to manage the dysregulated emotions acted out by your parent. Now, as an adult, it’s essential to acknowledge that your parent is self-absorbed, and may also have a mental illness diagnosis, however, he/she is also a unique human being, with flaws and quirks like everyone else. In an idyllic world, the relationship between a parent and adult child would be respectful and incredibly strong. While establishing a healthy parent-child bond should have been a central focus in your parent’s life, when you reach the age of adulthood, you have choices in how you want to respond to difficult or hurtful behavior. You now have options for setting boundaries regarding conversations and contact with your parent that you were not equipped to manage as a child.
Consider some of the following scenarios:
All of these are classic signs of a high maintenance parent, and one who typically partnered with a passive spouse who may be emotionally/physically absent and non-confrontational. To say it can be both overwhelming and frustrating to be in relationship with a high maintenance parent would be an understatement. Many times, parents form these behaviors because they are incapable of letting go of control and appropriately engaging with you as an adult. That often leads to a lack of trust and respect in the relationship that may result in you doubting yourself and/or feeling inadequate.
In some cases, the relationship you have with your high maintenance parent can go past exasperation and annoyance. It may significantly impact your mental health, as well as interpersonal relationships and your sense of self-control. An example of such a loss is when a negative phone conversation with your father interrupts your workday. How do you feel afterward? Chances are, it’s hard to concentrate or get work done, or even relax later with a video game or family time. When your mother drops by unannounced, do you feel invaded upon or dread anticipating when she may spontaneously show up? Losing control over your boundaries due to the unrealistic expectations of your parent is unnerving. Furthermore, when boundary setting is disrespected and starts to feel daunting and unmanageable, other relationships will also be negatively impacted.
In high maintenance relationships, the most practical action for personal self-preservation is to remove that person from your life. But when it comes to your parent, that concept may not be desirable or realistic. Your parent may not be aware that their controlling behavior is contributing to you avoiding and/or resenting them. In communicating your grievances with your parent, a kind but firm approach, regarding boundaries, may bring it to their attention and may be the best route for helping them realize the severity of their self-absorbed behaviors. However, if your parent is intentionally causing chaos and confusion in your life, you may have to be the adult in the room to model responsible behavior for him/her. It’s crucial to lay down your defined ground rules for maintaining boundaries in the relationship and the consequences if your boundaries are not respected.
Setting boundaries won’t be easy but remind yourself that your intention is to impress on your parent that you’re an adult now, and you deserve to be treated with the same considerations and respect as other adults. That translates into; my parent doesn’t have the right to diminish me, command my attention, or violate my privacy, and that I will no longer tolerate personal boundary violations from him/her. No matter the outcome in your efforts to communicate your now defined limits with your parent, know that you have made a genuine gesture of good will in resolving the conflict, to the best of your ability, and will not back down or engage in negative discourse. Commit to respecting and honoring yourself from this point forward.
Accepting the responsibility of becoming a parent redefines our self-image and becomes an intricate part of our identity. If you’re a parent, you might be able to understand where your own parents’ heart is…desiring more time with their adult child and cherishing those moments when you were young and needed them. But you are an adult now and that fact must be reaffirmed with a high maintenance parent at every interaction. Appropriate interactions with a parent should not make one feel unlovable or inadequate, or as though you are incapable of managing your life: but rather, an expression of mutual respect, interchanges of kindness, and supportive behavior. In truth, you are uniquely different from your parent, and very capable of having a kind and loving adult child/parent connection especially during a difficult conversation or confrontation, however, it takes two to accomplish this. Your role in this dialogue is to model appropriate behavior that is positive and affirming, but also firmly rooted in respecting yourself with the goal of evolvement from an unhealthy adult child/parent dynamic that has kept you bound to obligations that no longer serve the relationship.
For more help coping with a high maintenance parent, please reach out to me today.