How Parents Drive Their Adult Children Crazy

"Dad, I'm not really into underground rock anymore."

Some parents struggle to keep up with who their children have become. They hold onto memories of their child's past interests and preferences and try to impose those onto their adult offspring. This creates tension. Adult children express frustration in wanting to be acknowledged and understood for who they are now, not who they used to be. They feel pressured to maintain opinions they no longer hold, to conform to past tastes, or to be treated as if they are still adolescents. Ultimately, this struggle stems from a desire to be recognized. We crave validation from the people closest to us, and when our parents fail to see us for who we are, it creates a sense of profound disconnect.

This situation, where a parent fails to recognize or adapt to their adult child's identity, can occur for various reasons. At its worst, some parents label their child and stick to that characterization rigidly, ignoring any nuances or growth. "This could be phrased as "Alice tends to be dramatic" or "Cody's passion lies solely in sports." It might be easier for the parent to see their child in this one-dimensional way. Some parents fail to update their perception, add complexity, or adjust their view when their child's interests and personality evolve. They may carry these labels into adulthood, leaving adult children feeling stifled, like wearing clothes that never fit properly. In these cases, adult children feel misunderstood, trapped in a mold that no longer fits or never did, and stubbornly labeled despite their protests.

On the other hand, some parents simply get stuck and either don't make an effort to update their perception or find it challenging to do so. These parents may have interacted with their child enough to know that they are no longer 15 years old but struggle to incorporate new information about their child's character and interests. Some moms and dads struggle to accept their growing child's changes and hold onto their younger selves, even as the child matures beyond those stages. forget to make the effort, even when asked by their child to stop buying them cat figurines because they loved cats at age seven. This stagnation can feel alienating to children, who may feel frustrated constantly correcting their parents or breaking through persistent misconceptions. Parents, in turn, may bristle at the suggestion that they don't know their children. Together, parents and children can work to shift this dynamic by communicating openly about their needs and desired perceptions.

Some parents fail to recognize or acknowledge their child's growth to the point of not updating their internal perception. A college sophomore may return home one winter break only to find that their parent has no idea they've adopted new political views and culinary preferences. It happens! When family members don't see each other regularly, it becomes easy to freeze-frame the latest version of them in their minds. Children may do the same to their parents. Having known their parent a certain way for most of their lives, they, too, may struggle to integrate new aspects of their parents' identity if the parent takes up a new hobby, gets a new job, or develops a new interest. This information gap can be bridged if both parents and children remain curious and open with each other.

As kids mature, they cherish their parents noticing and acknowledging their development. When a parent fails to see that their child has evolved, developed new interests and identities, and grown into a different version of themselves, children may feel disconnected from that parent. We all want to feel seen and understood, perhaps never more so than by people as significant as our parents.

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