Damaging Behaviors That Drive Adult Children Away

Damaging Behaviors That Drive Adult Children Away

The bond between a parent and child should be a source of comfort and unconditional love. However, for some adult children, the memories are less about warmth and more about emotional wounds. If you’re wondering why your relationship with your grown child feels strained, it’s time for a moment of honest reflection. Here are some of the behaviors that might be pushing them away, even if unintentional.

1. You treat your adult child like they’re still a kid.

We get it, they’ll always be your babies. Still, constantly telling your adult child what to do or making decisions for them gets old, fast. Allow them the space to be an adult, even if you don’t agree with all their choices, Psychology Today advises. They need the room to make their own mistakes and figure things out – it’s how they grow as a person.

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2. You never, ever admit you were wrong.

Even parents mess up sometimes! Owning your mistakes, even ones from years ago, shows maturity and builds trust. Acting like you’re perfect just builds resentment, and makes it hard for your adult child to come to you with real problems. Plus, admitting when you were wrong is a great way to model healthy behavior for them.

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3. You constantly criticize their life choices.

Their job, their partner, where they live – you always find something to nitpick. They don’t need your approval 24/7. Unsolicited advice and negativity just makes them want to pull away. Remember, their choices might be different from what you would do, but that doesn’t make them wrong.

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4. You constantly guilt-trip them.

“After all I’ve done for you…” is the ultimate emotional weapon. Guilt might work for a bit, but eventually, your adult child will get tired of being manipulated. Healthy relationships aren’t built on guilt. Instead of trying to make them feel bad, try expressing your feelings directly and honestly – you might be surprised by their response.

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5. You still expect them to drop everything for you.

They have their own lives now – work, partners, maybe even kids of their own. Needing help sometimes is normal, but expecting them to be at your beck and call infantilizes them. Ask, don’t demand. Plus, wouldn’t you rather they visit you out of love instead of obligation?

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6. You play favorites with your kids.

Maybe it’s subtle, maybe it’s not, but it hurts. Nothing makes a child (even a grown-up one) feel more unloved than obvious favoritism. This breeds sibling rivalry and damages your relationship with everyone. Each of your children is unique – celebrate their individuality.

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7. You give advice even when they don’t ask for it.

They know you’ve got life experience in spades, but sometimes your adult child just wants to vent, not get a lecture. Ask before dispensing wisdom. Sometimes all they need is a listening ear and a hug. And if they do want your advice, they’ll ask for it!

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8. You compare them to other people (siblings, friends, even their own kids!).

This never ends well. It just makes them feel inadequate and resentful. Focus on them as an individual, not on how they stack up next to someone else. Celebrate their strengths and support them as they work through their challenges.

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9. You meddle in their relationship or parenting choices.

Unless it’s actual abuse, keep your opinions about your child’s partner to yourself — and back off on the unsolicited parenting advice! They’re building their own family, and need the space to figure things out. Offering support is awesome, but remember, it’s their relationship/child, not yours.

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10. You talk badly about their other parent in front of them.

Even if your divorce was messy, your kids don’t need to be dragged into the drama. Trash-talking their other parent puts them in an impossible position and damages both your relationships with them. If you need to vent about your ex, do it with a friend, not your child.

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11. You always bring up old grudges or embarrassing childhood stories.

The past is the past! Dredging up old fights or teasing them about stuff from when they were ten is hurtful, not playful. It makes it seem like you’ll never let them move on or grow up. Let those childhood mishaps go – it’ll make your relationship much healthier in the present.

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12. You refuse to accept their boundaries.

When your adult child sets a boundary, respect it. Pushing back or trying to guilt them into changing it breaks their trust. Think of it as them practicing healthy self-preservation, not as a rejection of you. Showing them that you respect their boundaries actually builds a stronger bond in the long run.

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13. You don’t respect their time or privacy.

Popping over unannounced? Constantly calling when they’re at work? That’s boundary-stomping 101. Treat them like the busy adults they are. Ask before you visit, and trust them to reach out when they can. This shows that you value their time and independence.

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14. You never apologize for your own bad behavior.

You’re not perfect, just human. If you lose your temper or do something hurtful, apologize sincerely, Harvard Health suggests. Sweeping it under the rug makes it seem like your feelings matter more than theirs. Acknowledging your own mistakes shows that you’re willing to take responsibility and work on yourself.

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15. You try to live vicariously through them.

Pressuring them to fulfill your unachieved dreams is a recipe for resentment. They’re not an extension of you. Support their ambitions even if they don’t quite match your expectations. Focusing on their happiness, not just their achievements, builds a much stronger relationship.

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16. You make their love conditional.

Saying things like “I’ll only love you if…” is incredibly damaging, no matter the age. Your adult child needs to know your love is unconditional, even when you disagree with them or disapprove of their choices. Unconditional love is the foundation of a healthy parent-child relationship, at any age.

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Phoebe Mertens is a writer, speaker, and strategist who has helped dozens of female-founded and led companies reach success in areas such a finance, tech, science, and fashion. Her keen eye for detail and her innovative approach to modern womanhood makes her one of the most sought-out in her industry, and there's nothing she loves more than to see these companies shine.

With an MBA from NYU's Stern School of Business and features in Forbes and Fast Company she Phoebe has proven she knows her stuff. While she doesn't use social media, she does have a private Instagram just to look at pictures of cats.