17 Ways Parents Accidentally Make Their Adult Children Feel Inferior

17 Ways Parents Accidentally Make Their Adult Children Feel Inferior Shutterstock

Your parents love you and they’re proud of the adult you’ve become, but do they make you feel that way?

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Sadly, sometimes our parents have a knack for saying and doing things that annihilate our confidence and leave us feeling like we’ll just never be enough for them. Here are some of their most harmful behaviors that can be really hard to deal with.

1. Constantly comparing them to their siblings or cousins

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You know when your mum goes on about how your sister’s got a fancy job in the city, or your cousin’s just bought a house? Yeah, that. It’s like they think they’re being motivational, but really, it just makes you feel like an idiot. They don’t realize that every time they go on and on about how great everyone else is doing, they’re basically saying, “Why can’t you be more like them?” It’s incredibly deflating and makes you feel like you’re always coming up short, no matter what you do.

2. Giving unsolicited advice about their career

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Oh, this one’s a classic. You’re just trying to enjoy a family dinner, and suddenly your dad’s going on about how you should’ve gone into accounting or law or whatever. It’s like they think you haven’t got two brain cells to rub together when it comes to your own career. They mean well, sure, but it comes across like they don’t trust your judgment. It makes you feel like a kid again, and not in a good way — more like you can’t make your own decisions without their input.

3. Criticizing their parenting style

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This one’s absolute pain if you’ve got kids of your own. Your parents are always chiming in with, “In my day, we did it this way,” or “You’re too soft on them.” It’s like they’ve forgotten how hard parenting is, or they think the rulebook hasn’t changed since the Stone Age. Makes you doubt yourself, and you start wondering if you’re messing up your kids. As Verywell Mind acknowledges, it’s incredibly frustrating when you’re just trying to do your best.

4. Commenting on their appearance or weight

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Blimey, this one’s a minefield. They’ll say things like, “Oh, you’ve put on a bit of weight, haven’t you?” or “You look tired, are you sleeping enough?” And they reckon they’re being helpful! It’s like they don’t realize how these little comments can stick in your head for days. It makes you feel like you’re never quite good enough, doesn’t it? Like you’re always falling short of their expectations, even when it comes to how you look.

5. Questioning their financial decisions

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This one’s a right pain in the backside. You mention you’re going on holiday or buying a new car, and suddenly they’re all, “Can you really afford that?” or “Shouldn’t you be saving for a house?” It’s like they think you’re still a teenager who can’t handle your own money. Why do they think you can’t be trusted to make your own financial choices without their say-so?

6. Dismissing their problems as trivial

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You know when you’re trying to talk about something that’s really stressing you out, and they come back with, “Oh, you think that’s bad? Wait until you’re my age!” It’s like they’re in some kind of suffering competition. In the end, all this accomplishes is making you feel like your problems don’t matter. They clearly think you’re being a bit of a drama queen for being upset about things, which is extremely invalidating.

7. Pushing their own unfulfilled dreams onto them

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This is a tricky one. Your dad always wanted to be a musician, so he’s constantly bugging you about picking up an instrument. Or your mom never got to travel, so she’s always pushing you to go abroad. It’s like they’re trying to live vicariously through you, which just makes you feel like your own dreams and goals aren’t good enough. It seems like they think you’re somehow responsible for fulfilling their unmet ambitions.

8. Overstepping boundaries in their personal life

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Oh, this is a nightmare. They’re always poking their noses in where they’re not wanted, asking about your love life or why you haven’t settled down yet. They clearly think they have a right to know every little detail of your life. However, you deserve privacy. You’re not some kid living under their roof still — you’re an adult with your own life!

9. Criticizing their choice of partner

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This one can really get your goat. You bring someone home, and they’re picking them apart the minute they leave. “Are you sure they’re right for you?” or “I just think you could do better.” They clearly think you can’t be trusted to choose your own partner, which then makes you question your own judgment. Newsflash: you can make important life decisions without their approval.

10. Offering help without being asked

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Sounds nice on paper, but it can be extremely annoying. They’re always offering to do things for you, even when you’ve got it sorted. They mean well, but it can make you feel like you’re not capable of handling your own life, which then makes you feel kind of useless, doesn’t it? Again, it’s well-intentioned, but it can really undermine your confidence, CNBC notes.

11. Reminiscing about their own achievements at your age

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This one’s a real kicker. They’re always going on about how they had a house and two kids by your age, or how they were already climbing the career ladder. They clearly don’t understand how different things are now. However, you still end up feeling like you’re falling behind in life, like you’re not measuring up to some arbitrary timeline they’ve set based on their own experiences.

12. Downplaying their own struggles

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This is a sneaky one. They’ll go on about how they never had it easy, but they just “got on with it.” What they want is for you to feel like life was harder for them, so you shouldn’t complain. Makes you feel a bit soft, doesn’t it? Like you’re not tough enough to handle the challenges of adult life. It’s not a competition, but they sure make it feel like one sometimes.

13. Expecting constant communication

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You know when they’re always on at you for not calling enough? It’s like they think you’ve got nothing better to do than chat to them every day. You shouldn’t have to feel guilty for having your own life, or like you’re somehow neglecting them if you don’t check in constantly. It’s super stressful, trying to balance your own life with their expectations.

14. Giving backhanded compliments

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They’ll say things like, “Oh, you’ve finally tidied up your flat!” or “That outfit looks nice on you for a change.” They think they’re being encouraging, but it just feels like a dig. In the end, you just feel like you’re never quite meeting their standards, especially when even their compliments come with a side of criticism.

15. Questioning their lifestyle choices

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Whether it’s about your diet, your hobbies, or how you spend your free time, they’ve always got an opinion. “Are you sure that’s healthy?” or “Don’t you think you should be doing something more productive?” It’s like they think you’re not capable of making good choices for yourself. You’re perfectly capable of living your life without their input!

16. Minimizing their achievements

Father arguing teenage son sitting on campus bench, puberty age difficulties

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You share some good news, like a promotion at work, and they’re all, “Oh, that’s nice, dear.” It’s like they can’t muster up any real enthusiasm for your successes. It makes you feel like your achievements aren’t worth celebrating, doesn’t it? Like nothing you do is ever quite good enough to impress them.

17. Assuming they know best in every situation

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This one’s frustrating as heck. No matter what the situation is, they always think they know better. It’s like they can’t accept that you might actually have more knowledge or experience in some areas. It leaves you feeling like your opinions and expertise don’t count for much, doesn’t it? It’s clear you’ll always be a kid in their eyes, no matter how much you’ve grown or learned.

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.