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Deteriorating relationship with parents(101 Posts)
I'm mid 30s, born to East Asian immigrant parents who settled in the UK when I was little. Close to 30 years later, they remain surprisingly East Asian in culture and outlook, whilst I feel mostly British.
My parents have always had a stereotypically East Asian parenting style: controlling/overbearing, worried about everything, slow to praise but quick to criticise. Also, and I'm not sure if this is cultural or just them: they don't take any interest in the things I clearly care about. They never ask me about long-standing hobbies of mine, and when I share with them something I've made/done, the response can be pretty muted or nonexistent.
I had always just taken it, but in recent years have started to challenge them, which has caused a lot of friction. The overbearingness is annoying, but the lack of interest is hurtful. It hurt me as a child, and the hurt seems compounded now by time and repetition. I can't work out if I'm too sensitive and need to cut them some slack, or if I should stop expecting so much, or what. I constantly feel a mix of anger and also guilt towards them - angry with them for not being the parents I want, and guilt for not being the nice, patient, compliant daughter they want.
Does anyone have a perspective they can share to help me resolve my feelings? Particularly, anyone from a similar cultural background?
Have you come across the Stately Homes threads? They are probably a good place to see you’re not alone.
I know you want your parents to be different but that’s not within your control. Your own focus and reactions are within your control so I would urge you to work on coming to terms with the fact that your parents are how they are, maybe counselling or some of the books that are recommended on the stately homes thread.
I’m from a dif background with equally tricky parents. I found the Philipa Perry book ‘the book you wish your parents had read’ enlightening. Parents can think they own their kids and as we develop in our own ways that can be hard but it needs to happen to keep the relationship there. I hope you get more ideas along here soon
It is not your fault your parents are like this and you did not make them that way. They are probably doing to you what was done to them by their own families (that is a reason though not an excuse for their actions); this sort of toxic dysfunction can and does go down the generations. Abusers can and do come from all cultures and creeds and is no respecter of either.
Overbearing parents are abusive parents; their actions here are about power and control and they want absolute here over you.
Would you tolerate this from a friend, I daresay no you would not. Your parents are no different.
You are not over sensitive (a charge often levelled at the adult offspring by such parents) nor are you expecting too much. Their lack of interest in you as their daughter would be hurtful anyway regardless of where they came from. They won't change however, nor will you get any sort of meaningful apology from them; toxic people never apologise nor accept any responsibility for their actions.
What are your boundaries like with regards to your parents?. I would look at further revising these and work out exactly what is and is not acceptable to you. Read about fear, obligation and guilt because you seem mired in this; three on many unwanted legacies that such people leave their now adult offspring; look at the Out of the FOG website.
I would also post on and have a look at the "well we took you to Stately Homes May 2020" thread on these Relationships pages. You may also want to read "Toxic Parents" written by Susan Forward as a starting point.
Also a different background here but with parents who behave similarly. I've learned that they won't be able to be the sort of supportive parents that I'd like. They can't change. I've always found Phillipa Perry to be wise so perhaps try the book that the other poster recommended. Forge your own path and build your own family of like-minded friends. It's hard to be in this position, I know OP. But you are not alone.
Hi OP, different cultural background but very similar issues with my parents. It sounds like they cannot see you as a separate adult person in your own right - to them, you're just a child and an extension of them, rather than your own person. Its hurtful, weird, alienating and upsetting to have parents like this. I'm not surprised that you feel as you do
Three things I would highly recommend:
- psychotherapy. The best thing I've ever done for myself. Helped me to learn how to feel, how to see myself as separate from them, how to stand up for myself, and how to slowly and painfully learn to accept that they wont change
- the book 'Toxic Parents ' by Susan Foward. Opened my eyes to the fact that their behaviour is not ok, and not something I have to put up with, and that I am not the problem
- keep sharing on here and similar forums with people who have had similar experiences. Helps so much with the loneliness
How much do you see of them? Could you reduce it slowly to something you're more comfortable with?
You could try the 'grey rock' technique. I have to admit I didn't and continued to challenge them. It ended up with them cutting off contact with me. I found it liberating but for some people it might not be. For example extended family might cut you off too. Not so much a problem for me as the extended family keep well away from my parents!
Ultimately you will need to grieve for the relationship you should have had rather than the one you actually got.
Thank you everyone, and I've found the stately homes threads really enlightening. I just wonder if I need to look at my situation through East Asian lenses, because the cultural context is so different, maybe I need to show my parents greater understanding? Maybe it's not really my parents' fault they are the way they are, and I need to try to understand their behaviour rather than just cutting them out?
Ah more posts since I posted. Thank you all so much. I'll look up grey rock now, and the books recommended.
Maybe it's not their fault as such, but that doesn't mean you have to accept how they treat you. It doesn't have to be binary, if you know what I mean. In a way, it doesn't matter why they behave the way they do, what matters is the impact their behaviour has on you
re your comment:-
"I just wonder if I need to look at my situation through East Asian lenses, because the cultural context is so different, maybe I need to show my parents greater understanding?"
No and besides which they do not show you any understanding. I would also think that amongst your friends their parents do not act the same as yours do towards their own now adult children. This has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with them as the people they are. Again it is not your fault they are like this, you did not make them that way. They were likely raised similarly and know no different; instead of seeking the necessary help they have simply taken the low road and repeated the same old with you. Such people do not change, what you can do is change how you react to them.
I think the cultural context is important and cultural expectations of offspring can mirror what parents went through themselves and it can be helpful to understand that. But if their behaviour is making you unhappy then you need to find a way to minimise its impact on you.
What is it with some parents that when they've chosen to have you out of their own free will, they keep announcing 'after all we've done for you....' when you stray modestly off the tram tracks that they think you should be on? My two see parenthood as a burden that was imposed upon them no matter how much I tried to make them happy 🤷♀️
@Lisette1940 absolutely agree with you. Mine would definitely think to themselves 'after all I've sacrificed for you'. But I never asked for them to immigrate or make sacrifices. I want them to take an interest in me as a person, ask me questions about my life, try to get to know me. They think they know me, but they don't at all.
I was having a text conversation with my mum at the same time as this thread, and when I expressed that I'd have liked them to respond to a message I sent earlier this week (I showed them a photo of a thing I'd made that I was proud of), her initial response was, oh you don't always respond when we send you photos of things. I replied, yes I do actually. She then said, well her mum never praised her, it's not in the culture, and she never expected it of her mum either. I explained it wasn't so much the praise but just an interest. She then replied that she wasn't really interested in [the thing I shared] anymore, she's more interested in xyz. I don't think there's any point in continuing that conversation right? She's just not listening.
Ah that old chestnut, the "Look what we did for you" comment.
Many parents will attempt to counter your assertions by recalling the wonderful times you had as a child and the loving moments you and they shared. By focusing on the good things, they can avoid looking at the darker side of their behaviour. Parents will typically remind you of gifts they gave you, places they took you, sacrifices they made for you, and thoughtful things they did. They will say things like, "this is the thanks we get" or "nothing was ever enough for you."
YOUR RESPONSE: "I appreciate those things very much, but they didn't make up for ...."
They won't like the above because that will deviate from their own self written narrative. Do read "Toxic Parents" written by Susan Forward. Abusive people are unhappy anyway because they are abusive. Again it is not your fault they are like this. Stop trying to seek their approval because you do not need this from them and besides which they will never give this to you anyway.
I think you need to lower your expectations, as painful as that is. It's not you, it's them lime. My parents seem to run a 'treat em mean and keep em keen' operation, whether by accident or design. To show interest is to show weakness.
Your mother is doing to you what was done to her; its nothing to do with culture so much as what her parents were like towards your mother when she was growing up. Your mother was never praised by her own mother either. Instead of seeking the necessary help your mother merely has continued what was done to her with you. You can break the cycle if and when you have children yourself; that is another flash point for adult offspring; the realisation that they themselves would never treat their own children in the ways that they were treated.
Well culture will have been a huge influence on how they themselves were brought up.
Sounds like they never got to ask themselves questions - what do I want out of life? What's important? Because they were brought up in an environment where everyone's role was pretty set and there were few meaningful choices. That said, not questioning who you are, what you want, whether the relationship with your family is how you'd like - that's certainly not limited to families from their background! Otherwise I wouldn't comment...
I suppose you can be quite pragmatic. When do you have things in common, get on ok .. see if you can focus your interactions on that (..good luck...)... who in your family is on the same wavelength ... See a lot of them if you can ... who is interested in your doings ... go spend time with them. And tactfully dodge or minimise occasions that tend not to go so well (work or having committed to helping out with something often nice neutral reasons).
At least it sounds like you could have a civil exchange with your Mum about her, er, lack of parental interest. It is sad but if people don't feel something then often that is that - can't be changed - but if occasionally you get them to reflect on things they wished they'd had in the relationship with their own parents, some small progress might happen.
It is sad and you do mourn what you wished you had but it doesn't mean you can't fill those needs elsewhere (fwiw). Overall you can have a happy life.
Counselling might be helpful Lime to give you a little headspace to explore your relationship with them and perhaps to explore some stategies to deal with them. The one thing I've learned is that such people cannot change. As Attila says often the crunch point comes with the daughter/son having a child themselves. It was in my case but there are other triggers too. Next week it's four years since my parents walked out of my house in a huff and I've left it at that. Perhaps in another lifetime I'd have developed ways of dealing with them but it was not to be.
Also lime your lovely hobby and what you make is all down to you and not something they can hold over you. It's independence in material form. It's something outside of them. Enjoy your hobby and your creativity as expressions of the independent you.
Thank you for the really valuable advice and insight everyone
To give you a perspective from a similar culture, my PILs are Indian. I would never say they were quick to criticise, slow to praise. I think they believe DH is the most wonderful person and they are always going on about how wonderful our DCs are. They are fascinated by whatever the DC do (although without really taking it in, it's like my DC could scribble on a bit of paper and my MIL would want to treasure it forever). My MIL would be horrified if they were criticise. I mean, DH and DC are great, but they have their flaws! I think they expect a very close relationship. We are a bit older than you and it has recently changed, with my DH being seen as head of the family and telling them what to do. So I don't think these characteristics are all cultural.
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