9 signs you have a complicated relationship with your parents

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What does it mean to have a complicated relationship with your parents?

Well, the opposite would be an easy relationship where there’s a lot of love and support, communication is easy, and you don’t feel hesitation before picking up their phone calls.

A complicated relationship likely stems from either a rough situation when you were a child or from tensions during your teenage years when you were developing into your own person.

And if it’s still complicated, that means there are still unresolved issues there that are keeping things uncomfortable.

So is your relationship with one or both of your parents copacetic? 

Or are there things that could be better?

Here are nine signs you have a complicated relationship with your parents and some things to work out.

1) You feel guilty.

A big sign that your relationship with one or both of your parents isn’t as wonderful as it could be is something deep down in the pit of your stomach.

I’m talking about the guilt you feel… all the time.

There could be two different reasons for this feeling.

You may have chosen a life that takes you away from them either emotionally, like not being in communication, or physically, like moving to another city or even another country.

I know I fall into this category because I live abroad and don’t see my parents very often. 

We still talk frequently and get along just fine. However, they’re starting to get older, and I feel a bit guilty that they need me more and more, but I’m not always around.

The other reason you might feel guilty is that they guilt you.

Your parents might blame you for things that are out of your control, even things like what your own birth did to their opportunities or their relationship – as though you had any say in the matter!

Or they might just make you feel guilty for not giving them as much time or attention as they’d like while, in truth, you’re just living a normal life.

If you’re feeling guilty about the relationship, it’s certainly not as smooth as it could be.

2) You don’t fight, or you do… a lot.

Some people would never, ever dream of fighting with their parents.

They defer to their parents’ age, experience, and wisdom as they always have since they were kids.

And the parents, for their part, feel that they’re always right and should always be obeyed.

The issue is that children grow up and become adults who have their own opinions, experiences, and, yes, wisdom as well.

So you’d never dream of confronting or even just debating something with your parents; you haven’t really learned to assert your independent adulthood in the relationship.

On the other hand, some people fight constantly and viciously with their parents.

In this case, there’s no feeling of deference, and the parents probably really resent that. 

Parents have plans, hopes, and dreams for their children, and when they see things going on a different and, in their eyes, wrong trajectory, they can get controlling and even aggressive.

Their children may not share their ideas or even their values, and this can cause a whole lot of fighting in many cases.

3) They never call, or you don’t.

I have a complicated relationship with my father, and one of the biggest signs is how we communicate.

He sends me emails (emails!?) a few times a year. I call him once a month or so.

When we do talk, we have decent conversations that run on and go into all sorts of topics. We don’t tend to fight or argue. We care about each other.

But he never, ever calls me.

Despite asking him why not and outright asking him to call, he still doesn’t.

He feels that while he’s retired, I’m working, and he doesn’t want to bother me. But I’m not tied down by work hours, and I can actually talk anytime.

So, while that’s an excuse, I think it’s down to something deeper in our relationship that has complicated how we talk to each other.

4) You don’t really know each other.

You might not have spent a lot of time with your parents growing up. 

My wife was shipped off to live with her aunt when she was a kid because her parents worked in remote areas. This caused them to be very different and not know each other well.

But you can also be raised and reared by your parents without really ever getting to know each other deeply.

My father and his father are a perfect example.

My dad was raised in a very strict, traditional way. 

His father was a manager at a factory and spent almost all his time there. When he came home, he wanted his meals and his quiet time, so he basically never bonded with his son in any meaningful way.

And for my father’s part, he didn’t feel any openness for him to express himself, so he never did either.

When I was growing up, my grandfather, then retired, liked to tell me stories about his life – being in the war, meeting grandma, etc.

And when I asked my dad for more details about these stories, he’d often tell me he’d never even heard them before!

5) There are no boundaries.

On the whole opposite side of things, your relationship with your parents could be complicated by the fact that it has no boundaries.

Rather than knowing nothing about each other, you know everything.

And often, that’s too much.

Do you really need to know about your parents’ sex life?

Do they need to know when you’re having a particularly rough patch with your partner?

Some things don’t need to be shared, least of all details that will make someone worry unnecessarily or just feel icky.

6) They’re competitive.

With each other, I mean.

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with partners having a bit of friendly competition in their relationship, but being competitive can also have a dark side.

Do your parents compete for your affection or even that of their grandkids?

This can make things terribly awkward, especially because, like with kids, you’re not really supposed to play favorites.

This competition is much more with parents who are divorced.

They may have gone through a messy or painful separation, and each really feels like the other is a villain.

But if they drag you into the middle and try to make you choose sides, this can really complicate things.

Even if your parents are together but trying to outdo each other all the time, it’s probably a sign that their relationship is even more complicated than yours is with them.

7) You don’t / haven’t see(n) them for years.

If you don’t see your parents for years at a time, or if you haven’t seen them for many years, it’s probably because things are complicated.

Just the other day, a friend was telling me about having gone to visit his mom for the first time in 12 years.

And guess what?

Yep, it was awkward.

In the meantime, he’d gotten married, had two kids, changed jobs about five times, gotten divorced, gotten remarried, and moved cities twice.

And yet he hadn’t gone to see his mom.

Why not?

“It’s complicated,” was the answer, as I’m sure you guessed!

8) They try to control you.

Have your parents always interfered with every aspect of your life ever since you were a kid?

If so, they were probably helicopter parents, always on standby and ready to swoop in at any time.

They could have done this because they were anxious and strict or because they were really loving but over-protective.

But the result is usually the same. 

You weren’t left to fend for yourself, to learn from your own mistakes and fight your own fights.

So, you likely didn’t learn autonomy and independence.

And if they’re still very controlling now, it’s because you can be controlled. They know they have influence over you and can lead you in the direction they want.

9) You have awkward relationships with their new partners.

Are your parents divorced and re-coupled?

You might have great relationships with them personally, but if you have awkward (or worse) relationships with their new partners, it can certainly complicate things.

That’s because their partners are obviously very important to them.

If you dislike their new partners, you’re essentially criticizing their choices.

If you fight with their partners, your parents can be stuck, not being able to express what they think.

And boy, can this make things complicated.

These nine signs you have a complicated relationship with your parents aren’t going to go anywhere unless you work on your relationship and on yourself.

In some cases, there’s little you can do.

But sometimes, you can find a way to uncomplicate things and smooth out these relationships that are so important for a happy life.

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