(In case it matters this question is made on behalf another person)

I have a parent who seemingly lacks the ability to empathize with me. They'll never say things like "I understand you" or "I am sorry to hear that" instead they'll jump in to solve a problem (even if there isn't anything to solve) usually by pointing out a mistake in what I did, even if that's a mistake existing only in their head. They never extort any effort to understand my position and immediately go to criticism.

For example they criticize me for not going out much, saying "you sit at home all day". Failing to note a young baby at my home which due to being fussy makes any escapade longer than half an hour at best huge pain to go through requiring very specific timing and behavior, at worst a completely devastated evening spent on listening to a crying soul unhappy about his destroyed sleep schedule.

They're also overly negative, their first instinct to any situation is imagine the worst possible scenario and act is if it was the truth. Case in point, when after a hot day my kid had sweaty feet they said the baby must have heart problems.

I am in my late twenties, living nearby said parent and moving away as well as reducing the time spent interacting with them is currently impossible. The baby is demanding, my partner is working full-time and I need someone to take care of the baby during the day to be able to do chores or catch a breath. Also finances make moving rather impossible.

My goal is not to change them nor destroy any relation we might have right, time and time again any attempt has shown that they're completely unaware of their behavior even overtly criticizing other parents who behave the same.

Trying to tell them their remarks hurt usually ends up with either one of those scenarios:

  1. They inquire why then criticize the stated reasons effectively making the situation worse.
  2. They take it as a personal attack and criticize me for hurting them, maybe start crying, effectively making the situation worse.

How can I respond to hurtful remarks from a parent to make them realize I am genuinely hurt but in such a way that it won't escalate?

4 Answers 4


Having a new baby of your own, it is time that you become aware of the fact that you do not need to feel 'hurt' by the advice that anyone, even your parent gives you.
This must be a family dynamic that you've had since you were a child. I get the feeling that whenever this parent starts to talk in a specific tone of voice, your shoulders will droop and you will automatically start to feel deflated, as if you're feeling 'I can't do anything right in your eyes'. Perhaps you have been reacting like this for so long, that it never occurred to you that YOU actually have other options on how you can react.

As soon as you start changing the way you react, the stronger you will feel.

Viktor E. Frankl (holocaust survivor) said, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
In googling that quote I came across this article in Psychology today. Here is an excerpt.

"In (the above quote), he (Dr. Frankl) implies that people often react without thinking. We frequently don’t choose our behaviors so much as just act them out. But he observes that we don’t need to accept such reflexive reactions. Instead, we can learn to notice that there is a “space” before we react. He suggests that we can grow and change and be different if we can learn to recognize, increase, and make use of this ‘space.’ With such awareness, we can find freedom from the dictates of both external and internal pressures. And with that, we can find inner happiness."


It is good to remember that (most) parental interference into the lives of their adult children is done out of love, however misguided. Your parent surely loves you, cares about your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your baby, and wants "the best" for both of you.

I have some experience of this myself, well-meaning parents full of love, but hopelessly out of date and always fearing the worst, especially on health matters (eg a headache = meningitis).

Although your parent already has a "parent role" that they may well be lapsing back into, it is well-known in psychology that when one adult adopts a "child" role it can prompt someone else to adopt a "parent" role.

My point is that your parent may have a natural tendency to be "mothering" (or fathering if you prefer, you don't say which parent it is). But equally, you are asking for their help - you mention in your question that you have no choice because your partner is working full time. Don't take this the wrong way, because I'm not suggesting for a minute you are acting like a child by doing so - but you are asking for their help, your parent is responding to that, they may see you as "in need", and they are adopting a role to support that need.

Without realising, you may be communicating to your parent that you are "struggling" and that may be exacerbating their natural inclination to "parent" you. It is worth considering if you could make adjustments of your own and demonstrate to them that you are capable, and that you welcome their help but are not completely helpless. Taking on some of their advice and getting out a bit more might be a start.

Paradoxically, although older generations of parents seem to worry about things like heart defects and diseases, on the whole they don't seem to have had as many worries as we do today (I'm a parent myself, by the way). Our parents raised us at a time when there were tales of pandemics, and they are just carrying these worries on; but we have all sorts of new (and sometimes conflicting) information about child raising that causes us anxieties. Parents today worry about having the right travel system, which end of the cot to place their baby, have we got enough hooded towels, regimented nap times, are vaccinations really safe, and have we got the right bottle temperature to the precise degree. Our parents didn't have thermometers to check our bathwater temperature, they just used their elbows. Your parent has made comments about you staying in and not getting out - while this may be irritating, could it be that you are letting some of these modern anxieties get on top of you, preventing you from being less dependent on help from your parent?

In response to hurtful remarks, you could say:

Please don't criticise me. I am doing my best. A lot has changed since you raised me. I really appreciate your support, but I would like you to support me in raising my child the way I see best. I'm the parent now.

I personally found reminding parents that you are now in the same role they once were is really effective in engendering empathy in them. If they can see themselves in your shoes, they will be more supportive than critical. They may even recall struggling themselves.


Some people are problem-solvers. If you tell them a problem you're having, they automatically jump into "let's try to fix this" mode. People with this mindset oftentimes don't realize that the person talking to them is looking for compassion rather than a solution. (source: I am this sort of person, and it took me a really long time to realize this).

If you know that you want to vent about some problem in your life to a person like this for a few minutes and that you want their response to be "that sounds really tough, I'm sorry for you" rather than "this is how you could fix this," it's okay to ask for that up front. What if the next time you talk to this parent you started with something like this: "I'm not looking for solutions right now, I'd just really like to vent for a few minutes. Can you just listen and then commiserate?"

If the person you're talking to cares about you, they're just a problem-solver so it doesn't always occur to them that conversations have other purposes, then this reminder should help.

However, this parent also criticizes and is overly negative. They might not respect this request even if you make it at the beginning. In this case, is there someone else you can vent to or discuss difficult life stuff with? Friends, other family members, partner, therapist, online community? This particular parent is probably not the right person for you to have these sorts of conversations with.

I'm not suggesting cutting the parent out (as you mention, you can't do this), I'm suggesting changing the type of conversations you have with them and getting your emotional support elsewhere. Talk to them about the local sports team, or a TV show you both watch, or something that really interests them. This should help keep up a workable relationship with them without having to rely on this person for emotional or deep conversations.

If there are issues in your life that this person already knows about it's okay to really dial down how many details you're giving them. You're allowed to only volunteer positive milestone or nothing at all. If they ask for details, non-answers are fine, "that's still in progress + subject change," or "I'm still thinking about it + subject change."

Because this person is helping you with childcare, I'm sure some more important conversations will inevitably come up surrounding the child, parenting, etc. Hopefully if you decrease the other bad conversations you're having, you'll have more energy for these ones, but there are still good tactics.

With negativity and criticism, it's okay to return it back to them with something like: "Wow. Why would you suggest that?" or "that sounds like the worst of many possible options, all of which are more likely." Keeping tone of voice even and stating things like dry facts, or even going for a light-hearted jokey tone (depending on the person) helps statements like these not to be the start of "why are you attacking me?" responses. For criticism that's actually unsolicited advice, there is always "That's interesting. I'll think about it." You've acknowledged their input, but given them nothing back to work with to further an argument or advice-giving session. This is also something that's easy to repeat like a broken record.

Is it sad if you are not getting emotional support from a parent? Yes. Is continuing to try to get support from someone who actively makes you unhappy healthy? Probably not. It can be difficult to reconcile our idea of what a parent should be with the parents we sometimes have, but it can also be liberating to realize that you're not the one who's causing a problem in this relationship. It's not on you to make the parent-child relationship work by continually sacrificing your piece of mind to their negativity, criticism, and disrespect of boundaries.


To set a boundary say something like:

Mom/dad, I appreciate the criticism you've given me over the years. It's helped me grow. However don't give it me anymore unless I ask.

You don't have to give any details (that will likely turn into an argument/them criticizing). Repeat yourself as necessary:

"Why the sudden change?" "I don't want it anymore unless I ask."

(Now, if they say something like "we're not trying to change your mind, we just want to understand" then it might be okay to give some details - use your judgment on whether or not you should explain.)

In the future if they criticize you, say:

I didn't ask for criticism.

And change the topic.

If they criticize again in that conversation you could say:

I already reminded you once, so I'm stopping this conversation.

Now you didn't ask this but I'll go ahead and say it:

As you've observed your parents are completely unaware of their behavior. In fact, in their mind, they're probably good parents by doing this. In some sense, this is how they say "I love you".

I'm not saying they're right. But if you can understand where they're coming from, then you can let go of any resentment you might have toward them.

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