Many parents feel that parenting is a life sentence.

They feel taken hostage by their own children. This can take the form of emotional hostage taking, financial, interpersonal, physical, or spiritual. Let’s take a look at this difficult subject.

When we give birth to a child we have already made a commitment to sustain the life of this new being. The child that grows inside the mother has a home, food, shelter, and an identifiable place to be. Birth marks one of many transitions that will take place throughout the life-span.

The father has a role in this as well. He sustains the mother and often provides the home, food, shelter, and place to be for her. Roles are often reversed due to circumstances, decisions, culture, or due to the unanticipated surprises life has in store for all of us.

We greet this new being, this child, and welcome him or her to the world. This is a newborn and everything for her is brand new. The bonds are made, the commitments are strengthened, and hopes are set into motion. Sometimes, often times, there is a change made to the plan.

Sometimes a parent may feel taken hostage by a child, their teenager, or an adult child. Sometimes it is all the these.

Let’s define the terms. In this blog hostage means being “involuntarily controlled by an outside influence”(Merriam-Webster,2012). When using this definition it may be easier to see how parents can feel controlled by their children. In childhood it may be the demands a child makes or it could be a child with special needs physically or emotionally. In adolescence the feeling of being controlled can extend into long periods of worry when your teen doesn’t come home as promised or has legal problems from the use of drugs.

What happens when the control extends into the future and your adult child continues to exert control over your life emotionally, physically, financially, or spiritually? This is becoming more and more of a problem and one that frequently presents in my clinical practice.

If you have an adult child who has legal problems, substance abuse problems, marital problems, employment problems, mental health problems, financial issues, or any number of other possibilities, you run the risk of succumbing to the second-hand smoke of their dilemma.

At what age do we cut our children loose and let them deal with the problems they created for themselves as young adults or adults? Can we ever cut them loose? Does tough love work? What does work? These are some of the questions I hear from parents of adult children everyday.

I believe in loving our children. In fact, for most parents I think it is impossible not to love them. Don’t worry, love isn’t the problem. The problem is what we are willing to do in the name of love. The problem is that love has perhaps morphed into something that really looks more like fear, rather than love.

When a parent becomes afraid of their adult child something other than love is taking place. It may be the beginning of interpersonal violence (IP) or domestic violence (DV). A parent can be abused by their children or their adult children. In the same way that children can be abused by a parent, a parent can also be abused.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Do you feel afraid of your adult child and his or her reaction?
  • Do you feel as though you are walking on eggshells trying not to upset your adult child?
  • Has your adult child blamed you for the problems in his or her life?
  • Does your adult child try to intimidate you and make you feel guilty if you try to set limits on giving them financial assistance?
  • Does your adult child humiliate or ridicule you?
  • Are their times when your adult child makes inappropriate comments about your age or how you look?
  • Do you find yourself limiting what you say in the presence of your adult child?
  • Do you feel you need to make personal phone calls or have contact with friends when the adult child is not around?
  • Has you adult child threatened you? Have you been struck by your adult child? Have you been restrained by your adult child?
  • Have you considered calling 911 on your child, but hesitated fearing the consequences for yourself?

If any of these things are true you need to talk to someone, such as a professional counselor. Domestic violence does not only apply to a married couple. Domestic violence or Interpersonal Violence can happen between any two people who are in a personal relationship. Understandably this would include a parent and their adult child or children.

As with all forms of domestic violence escalation is the rule, rather than the exception. It is important to take action on your own behalf early on. The longer you wait, the more likely the consequence can be physical injury, death, suicide, or even rape.

What your adult children do is not about you. We are responsible for our children as they grow and mature. What they will do with their lives and the good or not so good things they experienced is up to them. Don’t be held hostage by feeling you are responsible for another life. It is enough to be responsible for your own.

Be well. Stay safe.