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Dealing with a controlling parent

Dealing with a controlling parent

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SALT LAKE CITY — Some parents may not be satisfied with the empty-nesting stage. With the desire to still have control, your parents might be overstepping the boundaries. Life Coach Kim Giles gives some advice on how to create and enforce good boundaries with parents — in a loving way.


Growing up (and still to this day), I walk on eggshells around my own mother. I have come to the realization that my mother has been trying to control me my entire life. How do I distance myself from her control, while still being a good daughter?


In these situations, I recommend you get some clarity around what drives your mother’s controlling behavior — so you can see it accurately and not take it personally — and then create some good boundaries and lovingly enforce them.

Most controlling parents love their children. They just don’t know how to stop letting their own needs and fears cloud their vision. They truly cannot see past their own issues.

Your mother may be bored or lonely. She may feel unimportant or useless if her children are grown. She may feel like her purpose for being here is gone. She may be controlling your life as a way to feel useful. She may really need to get a life of her own, but she may not know how.

Or she may have a fear of looking bad to other people. This could make her feel the need to control her children, because how they look reflects on her value as a mother. Many parents are afraid of how their children and their choices make them look. Her fear of not being good enough could be a large part of the problem.

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Or she may have a fear-of-loss issue. This means she is afraid of losing you physically or spiritually and this fear could drive her to hold on way too tight. She could also have fear around losing her reputation if you make mistakes.

Do any of those seem accurate in your situation?

Once you understand why she feels the need to control you, you can figure out which of these suggestions might help:

  • If she is lonely or feeling useless, you could help her to make some friends and find some activities to keep her busy. When she has more going on in her own life, she will have less time to worry about you.
  • If she has a fear of not being good enough, you could give her lots of positive validation that she is a good person and remind her that she has no responsibility or control over your choices. Remind her that what other people think of her is irrelevant because she is the same good person with the same value, no matter what anyone thinks. (You may have to remind her of this often.)
  • If she has a fear-of-loss issue, you can try to reassure her that you are going to be fine. You could also encourage her to trust that there are no accidents and everything happens for a reason, to help us grow and improve. Remind her to trust God, the universe and the process of life. (Having said that, do not carry responsibility to fix your mother’s fear issues. They are not your responsibility and are out of your control. Reminding her about the principles mentioned above won’t hurt, but at the end of the day, she gets to choose how she will experience her life. I do believe that reminders of truth can start someone down the path to a better perspective, though. So it’s worth a try.)
  • Work on your own self-esteem and stop being a people-pleaser. Trying to get everyone’s approval is what gives her the power to control you. You must take your power back by not needing validation from anyone, even your mother. If this is hard to do, you may want to get some professional help with it. More confidence would do wonders.


  1. Learn how to speak your truth and defend yourself in a strong but loving way. Most people think there are only two options when someone offends you. Be quiet about it — loving — or mean and speak up — strong. They are surprised to learn there is another option. You can be strong and loving at the same time, speak your truth, honor the other person, and take care of yourself, too. Get my worksheet on having validating conversations to help you do this.
  2. Set and enforce some healthy boundaries around where Mom’s input is welcome and where it’s not. Let her know, in a loving way, when you would prefer to handle situations on your own.
  3. If Mom uses drama, pouting, the silent treatment or other immature manipulation techniques to control you, do not join her in them or react to them. Do not let guilt trips or manipulation work or you will encourage more. Lovingly tell her when she can discuss things in an adult fashion you would love to talk to her. But do not talk down to her, like she’s a toddler — speak to her with respect and kindness, just stand firm in your insistence on mature behavior.
  4. If you have financial ties to mom, this is an open invitation to get in your business. Sever those ties as soon as you are able. When you are financially independent, you are even more entitled to your own decisions.
  5. Find one powerful, strong, loving statement that you can say over and over until she gets it. For example: “I appreciate your love, mom, and I also appreciate your knowing when to let go and let me run my life. I know it’s hard, but it means a lot to me — that you let me find my own way.”
  6. Limit the amount of time you spend with her. You may have to accept that you can’t have a close relationship with your parent, because it isn’t going to be healthy for you. You may need to accept that a distant relationship is just how it has to be. This doesn’t make you a bad daughter. It makes you a wise and rational adult, who knows what is best for her. I hope this helps. - - - - - -


About the Author: Kimberly Giles --------------------------------

*Kimberly Giles gives her advice in the "LIFEadvice" series every Monday on She is the founder and president of She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker who specializes in overcoming fear. She offers a free webinar every Tuesday night with info on her website.**

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