6 Of The Most Common Arguments Adult Children Have With Their Parents

6 Of The Most Common Arguments Adult Children Have With Their Parents

Parents and children are likely to bump heads from time to time, whether the relationship is strong or strained. But the arguments between parents and their young kids are typically different from the ones between parents and adult children.

We asked therapists to share the points of contention they commonly see in the parent-adult child dynamic and how they help clients work through them in their sessions. Read on for their insights:

1. “There are things we have to address from my childhood.”

Brianne Billups Hughes, a marriage and family therapist in Santa Barbara, California, said the most common issue that arises in the parent-adult child relationship is when the grown kid wants to talk about a difficult experience or aspect of their childhood and is seeking some acknowledgment or validation.

“This could be due to the role they felt they had to play in the family, how their parents handled issues or how they or their siblings were treated,” she told HuffPost. “However, parents might be dismissive, defensive, or refuse to engage in these conversations. The result is the adult child feels shut down and distances themself from the parent, and the parent doesn’t see the problem with what happened.”

It can be difficult for parents to confront their past mistakes and acknowledge how their actions negatively impacted their child.

“Parenting is really hard, and the truth is that it is impossible to get completely right,” Hughes said. “Most often, parents are still dealing with wounds from their own childhoods and may not have examined how that impacted their parenting. Parents often want acknowledgment for the many sacrifices they made for their children and struggle to hear what their children have to say, due to their own feelings of guilt, denial or a belief that these problems should be left in the past.”

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In this case, family therapy can be “really positive” for the relationship, Hughes said.

“My therapeutic approach to this is to allow them each to share their feelings about their relationship in a supportive environment,” she said. “Many times, adult children feel relief in having their parent hear their truth. Additionally, parents can often share more context for why they made the flawed decisions they made.”

A genuine apology from the parent for the pain they may have caused, even if it was unintentional, can be “incredibly healing” to the adult child, Hughes added.

2. “We need better boundaries.”

As going to therapy becomes more common, more people are developing an awareness of what healthy boundaries are and are seeking to establish them with their families, Los Angeles marriage and family therapist Gayane Aramyan told HuffPost.

But setting boundaries with your parents can be difficult for adult children. It requires assertiveness but also a patient, loving approach, if there’s a desire to maintain the relationship, Dallas marriage and family therapist Liz Higgins, founder of Millennial Life Counseling, told HuffPost.

“Respecting elders can feel difficult if your boundaries or needs are met with resistance, judgment or contempt,” she said. “Respecting adult children’s boundaries and needs can feel challenging when the parent doesn’t agree or understand.”

Sometimes the relationship between adult child and parent is fractured because they can’t reach an understanding about a differing value or opinion, Higgins said.

“It’s unfortunate, because relationships are absolutely able to sustain different viewpoints and values practices as long as there is openness, respect and an ability to maintain curiosity toward one another,” she said.

3. “Can you stop questioning my parenting decisions?”

When adult children go on to have kids of their own, conflict with their parents about how they choose to raise their families often arises.

“Parents may criticize or undermine their adult children’s parenting decisions, leading to tension and frustration,” Hughes said. “The grandparents may also feel criticized and defensive of their own choices if their children do not raise their children the way they raised them.”

Older parents may believe their parenting approach was the right one and expect their children to follow the same path, “while adult children may adopt new approaches based on current research, personal values or what didn’t feel right about their own childhoods,” Hughes said.

“Perhaps even without directly confronting the parent, the adult child can send a clear message about an aspect of their childhood that they believed could have been better,” she continued.

“Parents may criticize or undermine their adult children’s parenting decisions, leading to tension and frustration.”

– Brianne Hughes, marriage and family therapist

Generally speaking, the best practice is for parents to respect their kids’ parenting decisions “even if they don’t agree with them,” Hughes said.

“Unless there is a legitimate safety concern or parents are being irresponsible, undermining their children’s parenting decisions about their grandchildren will only create further tension, potentially leading to estrangement and seeing their children and grandchildren less,” she said.

“Processing this with a therapist either individually or together is always a valid option to help build the relationship and soothe the conflict.”

4. “Why don’t you support my relationship?”

If parents disapprove of the person their adult child chooses to spend their life with, that can cause major rifts in the relationship.

“I’ve heard of parents refusing to attend weddings because they didn’t agree with or like the partner their child decided to marry,“ Northern California therapist Kurt Smith, who specializes in counseling men, told HuffPost. “This discord can lead to fighting later on, as parents can be too critical, quick to judge and derogatory [about] their child’s partner.”

Sometimes the conflict around the partner is related to the adult child choosing to marry someone outside of their culture.

“Some immigrant parents are more comfortable with a son-in-law or daughter-in-law of the same culture, due to shared understanding of values and belief systems, but their interests may not reflect their kid’s interests and desires,” New York City licensed mental health counselor Tracy Vadakumchery, also known as “The Bad Indian Therapist,” told HuffPost.

“Parents might feel that their kids are rejecting their culture or won’t pass down cultural values to the next generation if they marry out. Introducing your partner to your family can come with awkward clashes at first,” she said.

Regardless, adult children should be able to have difficult conversations with their parents and set boundaries between their romantic relationship and their family of origin, Vadakumchery said.

“These two worlds can come together like a Venn diagram, but do not have to be a complete circle,” she added.

5. “Whether or not I get married or have kids, I need you to respect my choices.”

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It’s becoming increasingly common for adults to be single and/or child-free by choice, for a number of reasons. They may place a higher value on their freedom and independence, choose to channel their energy into other areas of their life or feel they lacked good relationship role models growing up, just to name a few.

But these decisions often challenge parents’ belief systems and our societal norms, Vadakumchery said.

“Some parents want to make sure there is someone to take care of their kids when [their kids] get older. Parents might be worried about who’s going to look after [their kids] when they’re gone and are afraid of them being alone,” she explained.

“For parents who come from cultural communities where reputation matters, getting their kids hitched or pregnant can be a cause for community celebration or a bragging point,” she added.

“For parents who come from cultural communities where reputation matters, getting their kids hitched or pregnant can be a cause for community celebration or a bragging point.”

– Tracy Vadakumchery, licensed mental health counselor

If a parent tries to pressure you into getting married or having kids, you can try responding with something along the lines of what therapist Lynn Somerstein wrote in an advice column for GoodTherapy:

“I know those words come from a place of concern for me, but I have made my position on this clear. It hurts me when my feelings are ignored. It makes me feel like I can’t be who I am.”

6. “Stop lecturing me on my career.”

Conflict around careers might be related to the adult child’s lack of a job, inconsistent employment or a career the parents don’t approve of for one reason or another.

“Most people don’t have a simple linear progression to a career; i.e. they go to school and then have a great job for the rest of their life,” said Smith.

“For many of us, it’s a bumpy, curvy road, and sometimes ends up being a life of employment in different jobs, as opposed to a career.” Many men, in particular, struggle with this, he said.

Parents are understandably concerned about their kids’ futures and want what’s best for them, making it hard not to meddle when they feel their child lacks clear direction, Smith said. At the same time, this puts a lot of pressure on the adult child and may make them doubt their own ability to make the right decision for themself.

“This can lead to a lot of conflict as adult children want to make their own choices and parents want to see them make better ones,” Smith said. “Helping parents and their adult children have better communication can lead to better understanding, and better understanding can lead to more respectful interaction.”

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