by Anne Freier
The days where parents would arrange your marriage and pick your profession are over (for most of us). And yet overbearing parents are on the rise.
Why is this, and what can you do if you are stuck with parents wanting to micro-manage your adult life?
The rise of overbearing parents
The modern reasons for overbearing seem economic. For some socioeconomic brackets we see a growing financial dependence on parents. For others, there is helicopter parenting to contend with — controlling children to ensure said children overcome economic inequalities.
Financial dependence on parents as young adults
If we stay dependent on our parents for longer, they become more involved in our lives.
Amid rising housing costs and stagnating wages, an increasing number of young adults are staying at home with their parents rather than move out and start their own household.
A 2019 study found that the share of UK adults aged 20 to 34 living with their parents rose from 19.5% in 1997 to 26% in 2017. (1)
Obviously, in the UK this trend is most pronounced in high-rent cities like London.
But it can also be observed in other western countries. The American Census records show that the share of adults between age 25 and 29 living with their parents initially fell from 40% in 1932 to 13% in 1980, but then shot up again to 33% by 2016. (2)
When you live with your parents, they also tend to cook for you, wash your clothes, and care for you in a myriad other ways.
But if you remain dependent on your parents, letting them make you dinner every day, or supplement your pay check? They will continue — whether intentionally or unconsciously — to see you as their “child”. And with this viewpoint comes continued parental guidance.
Helicopter parenting easily becomes a lifelong habit
A trend toward fewer children per family and growing economic inequality in recent decades have encouraged the rise of helicopter parenting. (3) This sees parents not only spend more time, effort, and money to make sure their children get ahead in life, but manage every facet of their children’s lives and set detailed goals for them.
Research on the subject has shown that helicopter parenting correlates with higher inequalities of income and education. Egalitarian countries with strong social safety nets, like Sweden or Denmark, do not see a lot of over-parenting, as parents can be much more relaxed about their children’s futures. (4)
photo by Emile Guillemot
An extensive body of research suggests that helicopter parenting can be detrimental to children’s development. It can lead to such thing as academic burnout and social anxiety, both during childhood and later on in life. (5,6)
And after years of over-parenting, even when children become young adults? Helicopter parents can find it difficult to break the habit.
Social media and parental engagement
The role of social media and 24/7 communication connectivity also deserves a special mention in any talk of over-parenting.
In the 1980s, when you went to college or started a new job in another city, your parents had no idea whom you’d hang out with, or where you’d party.
Today, thanks to the likes of Facebook and WhatsApp, they can stay involved in your life even from hundreds of miles away, know who boyfriend is, and where your friends are from.
When does caring turn into overbearing?
The difference between caring and overbearing parenting is somewhat fluid. But overbearing parental behaviour typically starts when parents:
- keep going on about the same issues
- completely ignore your privacy
- try to pressure you to make certain decisions
- use soft power to pressure you (emotional hostage taking)
- or hard power to pressure you (withholding material support)
- use “infantilisation”, discounting your opinions and ideas as “immature”.
How to gain freedom from overbearing parents?
1. Take ownership of your own life.
You may not be able to rent your own place right away, or repay college debts without your parents’ help. But try to take care of life’s small and big things yourself as much as possible. Yes, it might need effort. It might mean learning how to cook, or doing your own insurance paperwork.
2. Set clear boundaries.
Set clear boundaries to protect your privacy, both in the physical and virtual world. Parents shouldn’t visit your room or flat without your pre-approval.
If you live together in one home, it may be worth staking out your own designated space in public places, like the living room and fridge.
Parents also don’t need to be your Facebook friend.
3. Establish your own routines.
When you live with parents, establish your own routines and buy your own stuff, as if you were living in a separate household.
4. Demonstrate to your parents that you are fine on your own.
Over-parenting isn’t an evil plot to control your life, but tends to stem from genuine concern, and a feeling that as parents they know what’s best for you.
Try to identify the things they worry about most (that you probably already know perfectly well) and then be honest to yourself. Do they have a point on some issues?
This isn’t asking you to ditch your girlfriend because mom doesn’t like her. But there will be some things where your parents’ concerns are justified.
Addressing and improving some of these things will go a long way to show your parents that can you manage well on your own.
5. Clearly communicate your expectations.
It’s time to have a frank discussion with your parents about what you, as a young adult, expect out of the relationship, and how it’s different from when you were a kid. Let them know you appreciate their concern and love, but they have to allow you to lead an independent life.
Be calm and non-confrontational about it, not saying “You always…, you never…” but rather focusing on an approach of, “I feel — when you do/say this”, “I expect…” or “I would like to see more of…” .
6. Limit your availability.
This is only an issue if your parents take your 24/7 availability for granted, such as when mom checks in on you too frequently, or when dad presumes you need to accompany him every time he goes to IKEA.
Set guidelines for when it’s ok to call you for anything other than emergencies — for example between 8-10pm on certain weekdays. And let them know if you want a Saturday to yourself.
7. Encourage your parents to take on hobbies or find new friends.
The more time your parents spend doing something else, the less they’ll be focused on worrying about your life.
‘Can therapy help me be more independent?’
Struggling to break free of family? Can’t seem to ever succeed at a job, or still don’t know what you want from life?
Talk therapy isn’t just for when life is going really badly. It’s also excellent for when we feel a bit lost, aren’t sure of our own resources, or are lacking the resilience needed to get ahead. A therapist can help you recognise what you want, set goals, and actually achieve them this time.
Need help breaking free of overbearing parents? We connect you with top London talk therapists. Or use our booking site to find a UK-wide registered therapist near you as well as online talk therapists you can work with from wherever you live.
Still have a question about overbearing parents? Want to share your story with our readers? Use the comment box below.
Anne Freier is a medical and science writer. She has an MRes in Biomedical Research and a MSc in Neuroscience & Neuropsychology.
- “One Million More Young Adults Living with Their Parents than Two Decades Ago.” Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society, 8 Feb. 2019.
- D’Vera Cohn, and Jeffrey S Passel. “A Record 64 Million Americans Live in Multigenerational Households.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 5 Apr. 2018.
- Matthias Doepke, and Fabrizio Zilibotti. Love, Money & Parenting : How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids. Princeton, New Jersey ; Oxford, Oxfordshire, Princeton University Press, 2019.
- Matthias Doepke, and Fabrizio Zilibotti. “The Economics of Parenting | VOX, CEPR Policy Portal.” Voxeu.Org, 2014.
- Love, Hayley, et al. “Helicopter Parenting, Self-Control, and School Burnout among Emerging Adults.” Journal of Child and Family Studies, 21 Sept. 2019.
- Asbrand, Julia, et al. “Maternal Parenting and Child Behaviour: An Observational Study of Childhood Social Anxiety Disorder.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, vol. 41, no. 4, 18 Jan. 2017, pp. 562–575, 10.1007/s10608-016-9828-3.