Parents who won’t let go

Even after you’ve left home, it might still feel like your parents are breathing over your shoulder. Whether it’s the constant phone calls or gut-punching guilt trips - you can’t seem to escape them. To help, we’ve put together a guide to help if you’re struggling to deal with parents who won’t let go.

Two young girls are talking. They are discussing parents who won't let go. This is a wide-angle image.

Parents who disapprove

No family agrees on everything. In many ways, a difference of opinion is a normal thing, healthy even. Especially between parents and their children. In many cases, however, one parent’s values can be unbending. This usually means that anything you say or do will be met with pursed lips and a heavy silence. “I had the most beautiful furniture in my bedroom,” says Zella, 20, who feels that her parents overreacted. “Admittedly it was bondage stuff, a whipping post and a bondage chair, but they just couldn’t handle it and leapt to all kinds of conclusions. They just won’t let go of it.


It doesn’t matter how many times you tell them that you can make responsible decisions for yourself. The only way they’ll understand is when you show them. If you’re living at home, it might mean toughing it out for a while. Throughout this process it’s worth remembering that they usually have your best interests at heart. Once they see that you’re in control of your life, they should begin to leave you alone.

Parents who use emotional blackmail

A parent’s love is unconditional. Unless, that is, you’re not cooperating when it comes to bending to their will. The ‘family loyalty’ card is very easy to play, and we’ve all been guilty of using it at one point. Yes, it may have you seeing red – but at least try to play it cool. They might hit you with a ‘we’ve given up everything for you’ speech or a ‘you never spend time with us’ guilt trip. Be prepared with your response.


There’s nothing more irritating than being aware of the manipulation and also feeling unable to stop it. The key is to stand up to it without escalating the problem. In this situation, it’s often best to agree to whatever you’re being asked to do. Then, when you’re both calm and collected, raise the bigger issue. If you can avoid the problem snowballing, you stand the best chance of getting results.

Parents who have a favourite

It’s easy for parents to say that they love all their children equally, but it usually isn’t true. The fact is that parental love can be displayed in ways that leave you feeling overshadowed. It might be a form of emotional blackmail, in order to get you to comply, or a way to make you feel worthless. Regardless, this type of ‘love’ can bleed into other aspects of your life and leave you feeling overwhelmed.


You might find the best person to approach about this isn’t the offending parent, but the sibling who’s earned their special attention. If they aren’t already aware of what’s happening, let them in on it and also how it’s making you feel. Hopefully you’ll get their support and understanding. What’s more, a quiet word from them could really go a long way in helping your parent understand the hurt they’re causing you.

When they sulk or make you feel guilty

Parents who won’t let go will often play on your emotions to hold onto you. 

The first time I said I had other plans for Christmas,” recalls Lise, 22, “Mum’s voice just went shrill and I knew I had messed up. She wouldn’t admit it was a problem and kept saying it was fine. But I knew it wasn’t. The whole interaction left me feeling really guilty.”


Be big about this. Swallow your pride and talk the issue through with them – preferably face-to-face. Don’t feel obliged to apologise for something that’s not your fault. Instead, ask them to look at the bigger picture. The last thing that either of you want is for things to escalate; You go from a small fallout to a long-term standoff and eventually you become divorced from your parents.

Parents who won’t leave you alone

Only you can say how often you like to stay in touch with a parent when you’re not living at home. It might be every day, once a week or less than that. What matters is that you’re both happy with the frequency, and set out some good times to call. Parents who can’t let go tend to call a little too often. If you feel like that might be your situation it’s important to be proactive. That way they don’t end up panicking if they can’t reach you.


If you’ve made it clear that calling in the morning or at work is not good for you, consider letting your phone go to voicemail for a while. Soon they’ll get the (unspoken) message. Alternatively, for repeat offenders, make the effort to call them at a convenient time during the day. Just make sure to cover every subject then.

To read about some more problematic parents, click here. 

Next Steps

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 28-Dec-2021