Dysfunctional Relationship; My Parents Treat Me Like a Child


recovery from depression

When someone says that they are sick of being treated like a child, what comes to your mind? One of the commenter’s on my blog post Mother Daughter Relationship Lies said that she was sick of being treated like a child, and caused me to think about the meaning behind that statement. Such a familiar expression. What is being treated like a child like? What do we adults mean when we say that? Is it how a parent wipes your chin when you are eating a soft ice cream cone? Is it holding your hand when you cross the street? Is it being told to brush your teeth and get ready for bed? It would be pretty weird if our parents did that stuff when we were adults. So when an adult says that he is sick of being treated like a child, I get a whole different idea about what this statement means.

I have teen agers. My youngest teen doesn’t like it when I suggest things off the menu to her. She likes to read it for herself and make her own choice. My older teen says that I am treating her like a child when she feels like I am not giving her enough choice or freedom. My oldest teenager (who is legally and adult in Canada) doesn’t use this expression.

In my experience, when adults use this expression it means that a parent is treating an adult in similar ways to the way that both my daughters express this dislike above.  Using voice infliction and innuendo, parents can make adult children feel like we are not capable or too stupid to make our own decisions ~ still having the mind of a child.

Consider some of the following statements; these are meant to make you wonder about your thoughts and decisions. They are meant to make you question yourself.

~ You are not really going to do that, are you?

~ You don’t really believe that, do you?

~ You aren’t really thinking that are you?

~ You are not really going to wear that, are you?

~What were you thinking when you bought that?

~What were you thinking when you said that?

What were you thinking when you DID that?

The unspoken message is “are you nuts” or “you must be stupid”.

These questions are not designed to get you to think about what you did or said, they are meant to make you feel stupid. They are meant to make you question yourself. When we were children we depended on our parents to help us decide, to make good choices. This is what I think some of us mean when we say they are sick of being treated like a child.

My mother in law had a different way of trying to get me to do things her way. She would say “Well, you will most likely be ready to buy that next year. Well you will most likely breastfeed (my son) for six months. She seemed to have an issue with how long I was intending to nurse, and finally I told her that I would MOST LIKELY NURSE HIM until he or I was ready to stop. But I was really conflicted about it, and her words echoed in my head for years because I just didn’t understand her motive for trying to make me stop and I didn’t realize that she was constantly insinuating that I couldn’t decide, like I wasn’t capable of deciding what would be best.

Other questions are designed to control but even these still indicate a suggestion that you couldn’t possibly know what is best. Here are a few:

~ You aren’t going to eat that are you?” (I am talking about when someone thinks they are helping you with your diet, or insinuating that you need to lose weight.)

~You aren’t going to go there are you?

~ You aren’t really interested in HIM or HER are you?

~ Why would you want to do that?

~ Why would you want to go there?

If our adult / child relationships were conducted like this when we were children, we become accustomed to this kind of innuendo and control. It becomes part of how we do relationship. It is so familiar that we don’t really think about it. We don’t realize how devaluing it is. It has become part of our belief system, our false definition of relationship, respect and love.

When we fight this without really understanding what we are fighting, is it any wonder why we end up struggling with depression and other mental health issues?

Please feel free to contribute to this post with comments or share how this post impacted you.

Breaking out of familiar;

Darlene Ouimet

40 response to "Dysfunctional Relationship; My Parents Treat Me Like a Child"

  1. By: Melinda Posted: 17th December

    @Crystal…I understand. I moved out and married at 24 (I am now 34). I finished college much later than average too, because of severe depression brought on by how I was being treated at home.

    I can also relate to the part about being accused of things you aren’t doing.
    I went on a few dates with this guy in college…just casual dates, he wasn’t my boyfriend or anything serious.
    Anyway, one night he dropped me off at home and after we said “good night” I started going upstairs to my room, when the door bell rang.

    My date said that he was returning an item I had left behind in his car. I thanked him, said good night again, and closed the door. Suddenly my stepfather came out of his room screaming that I was a whore and accusing me of letting my date sleep with me up in my room, etc.

    My mother joined in with the accusations, despite the fact that I showed a movie ticket as proof that all we did was go to the movies that night and eat ice cream.
    There was NO apology from my stepfather or from my mother. I was about 22 then, and it was just another way to control me, to hurt me, to destroy my self-esteem and keep me from having a life.

    I feel your pain. I have also been made to feel like there is something wrong with me for not graduating school at the same time my peers did, for not getting some impressive job, for not being the way other people think I should be.
    You have the right to be happy and to live YOUR life YOUR way.

  2. By: Melinda Posted: 17th December

    I believe they refer to this type of treatment as “infantilizing” (I think that’s what it is).

    Talking down to you, interacting with others in a way that is noticeably different from how they interact with you, treating you like you are incapable of doing anything right, not trusting your decisions, not trying to understand that harmful decisions THEY make also affect your life, etc.
    And to add one more…talking about you in a negative way to other relatives or people in general, and those people believing what is said.

    My stepfather told my aunt that I wasn’t helping out with chores at home, which was a lie because I often did things without being asked.
    After that, my aunt would call me on the phone and say things like: “are you making your bed every day? Are you doing the dishes? Are you sweeping the floor?”
    It hurt and made me so angry because I WAS doing all of these things and more, yet I was being talked ABOUT and talked TO like I was a naughty child who needed discipline.
    My whole family tends to treat me like this, and then they wonder why I don’t visit them anymore.

  3. By: Melinda Posted: 17th December

    @DSXMac…I can relate. My mother does the same with the “baby talk” and I notice that she does it mostly in front of other people.
    It makes me deeply uncomfortable.

    Not only that, but there is an unfortunate nickname that has stuck with me since childhood (“Piggy”) plus another one that my stepfather calls me (“Scary”).
    These are HORRIBLE nicknames and I’ve asked them both to stop but to no avail.
    My mom looked very hurt and said: “But you liked Miss Piggy when you were a little girl”.

    Maybe, but I was a child then…I’m a grown woman now. And nicknames like “Piggy” and “Scary” not only put me at the level of a child, they also play into my self-esteem issues with my appearance, my weight, etc.

  4. By: Hali Posted: 12th December

    Though I do think this is a problem, I think my problem is a bit different with my parents. I’m twenty-years old and they’ve treated me like an adult my entire life, something we’ve even talked about with them saying they don’t know how to further treat me more like an adult, because I’ve always been treated that way. There’s just one exception – with company. When we’re around other people, I’ve worked my way to mingling with the adults, the parents. That kind of stuff. But they like to shoo me away from the adults and send me off to play with the children, whether it’s my little cousins or other kids I really don’t know. I’m going to school as a teacher and was literally sent to “play” with a thirteen-year old, the age of children I had taught in the past. On one incident, I had been actually striking up an interesting conversation about the university I attend with my dad’s work-friend (we were at his house for a pig roast) and he had to leave to run to the store for a minute. Right after he left, I was shunned with the children and spent the rest of my night there until I got fed up and just went home (I brought my own car to the event). Even then, the kid’s mother asked if I could take her daughter home with me (I just met this kid and the mother that night) because she “didn’t want her to be the only kid there”. It was frustrating, but I had been hoping the other kid she was talking about was my sixteen-year old sister, who I was also taking home with me.

    I’ve tried bringing this up to my parents, telling them I was humiliated with how I had been treated and I was expecting an apology from them. My mom apologized, but my dad said that to apologize, he would actually have to be sorry. My mom eventually convinced him to apologize. But the thing is, they’re still doing it! They still treat me like a child around company and I’m still humiliated every time we’re together and I’m put with the children. Advice from the internet hasn’t been entirely too helpful with suggestions like, “don’t complain” and “stop whining, be grateful they care” and that sort of stuff. I don’t know how to get them to treat me like an adult, but they might lose me in the future because of it.

  5. By: Crystal Posted: 11th December

    My name is Crystal. I am a recent college graduate and 24 years old. I would like for you all to give your impression of my situation…. So clearly I graduated later than my peers which my mother won’t let me live down. Despite that after 6+ months of trying to find a job, I found myself working retail like many others who have recently graduated. Took a major blow to my self esteem especially with my mother saying “Look at you! At 24 you’re working in retail full time. What a life!” Despite that, I’ve been applying to grad school and following up with my application. Just about everyday,
    My mother tells me how “If I don’t want to go to school, I should just tell her and that if I don’t get accepted, she’ll cut me off”. At this point, I’m fine with it. I don’t feel that I’m growing as an adult with her just as past therapists have said. At my age, I still fear having to ask my mother to leave the house to hang out. This past weekend, she accused me of sleeping with men after telling her I was meeting up with a friend from work to get our nails done and eat dinner. She says her reason why she gets that way is that she doesn’t trust that I am capable of making decisions for myself and felt I was up to no good because my top was an off-shoulder style. This accusatory behavior of me going to meet men has started way back in middle school so I’ve spent most of my adolescent and young adult life at home under her supervision severely depressed (reason why I finished college later). Times when I casually drink (I.e. A drink Witt dinner) she’ll say that I am an alcoholic and says that I’m a “good girl” that I shouldn’t go out and do those things. Instead, she tells me that the only way I can live a good life is to go to church and says that I need to take an active role in our local church as the children’s church teacher. This, she pushed so she can get the praise that she wants despite it not being what’s in my interest. Essentially, I feel like she doesn’t accept me for who I am and tries to control every aspect of my life whether it’s what I do for fun, what I wear (which I dress appropriately), what my interests should be, who I marry (she said she plans to take me to Africa so she can find me a husband) etc. Its really making me feel I have no control over my life and keeping be in a regressed state. She says she does it because she’s worried and when I say that I want to move out, she tells me that I can’t do it or that I shouldn’t leave because she needs me. I feel so at a loss right now because I think her overbearing nature is preventing me to live my best life as an adult.

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