11 signs you have an unhealthy relationship with your parents

In the eyes of children, parents can suck.

There are few adults who can look back upon their relationships with their parents as teenagers and not pick up a point at which they were at each other’s throats or something was amiss.

For many, this peters off when we grow and mature, easing into our own adulthood.

But for some, unhealthy relationships with parents don’t suddenly up and leave when you turn 18. Or 21. Or 30.

These toxic attachments continue – although they might evolve and change.

Wondering whether you fit the bill of having a not-so-healthy parental relationship?

Check out these 11 signs:

1) One cannot exist without the other

Starting out, codependency can go both ways.

It’s nice to know that you can always rely on a parent.

But if you feel like you need your parents’ help to function, or feel yourself constantly being pulled in their direction (without your help, they simply wouldn’t be able to cope), it’s not a good sign.

2) You’re not really connected

On the other side of the scale is complete detachment.

You haven’t seen your parents in 5 years.

Or maybe you see them sporadically, perhaps over the Winter break, but otherwise have for whatever reason cut yourselves off from one another.

Sometimes, this can be for the better. 

For parents and children who experience conflict and aggression, who tend to set off each other’s triggers, less is sometimes more.

3) You share way too much 

Do you know every little detail about your parent’s current life?

Down to intimate details you’d maybe rather not know (like their sex life…)

Do they barrage you with calls daily and leave you feeling guilty should you not have the time for a 2-hour-call with your mother, discussing the best apple pie-making tips?

Or do you feel like you couldn’t possibly ever spend a weekend away as your father insists on a joint Sunday lunch, and would probably take your lack of attendance as reason to disown you?

Whilst being involved in one another’s lives is a blessing, a constant overload of communication and oversharing can be incredibly unhealthy.

For many parents, this comes from a place of loneliness and being unable to let their children fly the nest.

Still, oversharing and being too involved in the lives of others isn’t healthy and prevents you from forming your own family, branching off from your parents.

4) You have absolutely no idea about each other’s lives

Maybe you do see and spend time with each other.

But you still have no idea what your parents get up to or how they’re feeling.

Nor do they really have any idea about your thoughts or feelings. 

Whilst present for one another, you lack anything deeper than surface level conversations and polite encounters.

5) Boundaries don’t exist

Your parents popping up uninvited is not an unusual occurrence.

Perhaps you grew up with this lack of personal space.

Or maybe it became more obvious as you grew older and your parents found themselves unable to accept that you, a grown adult, should be allowed to make their own decisions and run their own household.

Either way, expect personal space invasions, unsolicited advice, and general intrusion on anything you’d consider a boundary.

6) They love embarrassing you

11 signs you have an unhealthy relationship with your parents 2 11 signs you have an unhealthy relationship with your parents

The odd, “remember when you were little and liked to run around naked and tried to spank the cat with your barbies” gets a pass.

But a parent who always manages to slide in a belittling comment that in some way undermines your character – either in front of other people or alone with you – probably has some ulterior resentment or issues at hand.

Shaming your child isn’t ever healthy, regardless of their age.

7) They tend to get competitive

Who is the better parent?

Who is the better cook?

Who has the nicer house?

If your parent instills a weird need to always one-up you and seems unable to allow for your accomplishments, chances are your relationship isn’t quite right.

Feeling the need to compete with a parent or a child is incredibly toxic and quite narcissistic, although not uncommon.

Some parents will never see joy in seeing their children succeed, but instead feel this envy or feel jealous of the opportunities their child still has available to them. 

8) Nothing is good enough

Beyond rivalry or embarrassing you, unhealthy parental relations can also involve being made to feel like you’re never good enough.

Many parent/child relationships involve a great deal of pressure to perform, be it to reach financial stress, start a big family, or study a certain subject.

An overly toxic and unhealthy parental relationship will involve an element wherein you try your best yet never seem to be able to please them.

And the idea of them being happy for you chasing your own dreams is totally off the cards.

9) They cannot be wrong

Ideally, parents act as role models in teaching us about how to take accountability for our actions and how to say sorry when it’s needed.

When parents themselves cannot take responsibility for their actions, this leads to a very difficult situation whereby their children often do not learn how to take accountability themselves.

 They either have to educate themselves on how to resolve conflict, or end up burdening a great amount of shame.

Or both.

10) You ruined everything

This might not always come out to play, but when it does, it stings.

Your parents sacrificed so much for you, but no doubt about it – you’re the reason their life sucks.

It’s your fault that your mother had to drop out of pursuing her passion of becoming a film star and take up the tedious role of motherhood.

You’re the reason why Aunt Julia never calls anymore.

The dog’s depression is definitively, most certainly, your fault.

Seeing the wider picture of family dysfunction doesn’t work in these unhealthy family ties.

Instead, all the blame gets shifted on to one person.

11) “You think I’m such a bad parent”

And if you’re not the scapegoat, your parent starts playing the victim card and getting all teary-eyed.

They accuse you of thinking them a bad parent.

In the same way teenage girls will poke at their stomach and call themselves ‘fat’ only to draw a reaction out of their friends where they gasp and tell them they’re far from it, toxic parents will try to evoke pity from their children.

Often, this is from a deep-rooted place of guilt.

They probably know they did wrong in some areas.

But the truth is, all parents make mistakes when parenting.

It’s just part of the process.

The unhealthy part is when they start victimizing themselves and begging for you to tell them they’re wrong, that they were the best parent in the world.


The relationship you have with your parents as an adult is often complicated.

But it need not be unhealthy.

I for one would say I’ve come miles from the toxic relationship I shared with my mother in my teens.

Still, I can relate to a few points on this list.

The point is, these behaviors are often more common than you think and nothing to be ashamed of.

We grow up idolizing our parents and thinking them wise, omniscient creatures, before one day the bubble pops and we realize that they’re just as human, just as prone to making mistakes as we are.

But if you think that you share a particularly toxic attachment to a parent, consider communicating this to them.

Even if they’re your parents, you’re all adults – and it’s never too late for relationships to change and improve. 

Picture of Liv Walde

Liv Walde

London-based writer with big thoughts, big dreams, and a passion for helping others.

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