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Did You Have Controlling Parents? Make Your Peace with the Past and Take Your Place in the World.
Tue, Feb 29 7pm ET
Did You Have Controlling Parents? Make Your Peace with the Past and Take Your Place in the World.
If you were raised with unhealthy parental control you may still be paying the price. Learn to recognize the signs and free yourself. Join family therapist Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., author of the bestseller If You Had Controlling Parents for a Yahoo! Author Series Chat.

yahoomusic: Please welcome author, Dan Neuharth, Ph.D. Hi Dr. Dan!
author_dan_neuharth: Hello everybody.

yahoomusic: Can you give us a little background about the book?
author_dan_neuharth: The book is primarily for adults who grew up with controlling parents and who find that their upbringing still affects them today.

child_free asks: Why do parents "control"? Is it because they're overprotective?
author_dan_neuharth: That's one reason. But mostly I think people control because of their own hopes or fears. Some parents may want to live out their lives through their children. Or they might want to distract themselves from their own problems. And that's why it's important to remember that when people control you, it's really about them, not you, so you don't have to take it personally. Even though that can be hard to do sometimes when it is your parents.

yahoomusic: How can you differentiate between discipline and overcontrol?
author_dan_neuharth: When I talk about unhealthy control, I'm talking about a micromanaging of many aspects of your life, such as how you eat, when and what you eat, what you wear, who you have for friends, and even down to how you are allowed to speak, feel, and act around the house. For example, one woman I interviewed for the book, when she was five her mom put a sign on her back whenever she was out in public that said "Don't Feed Me." That is extreme control. Another person I interviewed had to preface every statement with the exact words, "Mother may I speak," or "Father, may I speak." If he didn't use those words, his parents would ignore him and pretend he said nothing.

yahoomusic: So are you taking about very extreme cases?
author_dan_neuharth: There are also many subtle forms of control, like the dad who says to his son, "You've got to stand up for yourself like a man," and in the next breath says, "but don't ever question my authority." Those mixed messages over time can be very controlling.

fionaapplefan18 asks: How do you know if your parent is controlling?
author_dan_neuharth: If you came from a family with unhealthy control you might find that your life feels out of balance. You might feel driven or perfectionistic. You might find that your relationships with other people are control battles. And you might find that you are very self critical, because your parents were very critical and controlling.

lizardgirl_2000_ca asks: What should I do about parents who won't let me date when I'm ready for dating?
author_dan_neuharth: A lot of that depends on your age. When you are less than 18, you don't hold all the cards. Hopefully you can pick and choose your battles. Maybe there are some really important events you can get your parents to let you attend, and, in return, you may have to give up other ones.

shoptoday asks: My Mother still checks my gas gauge in my car, has never thought I could handle anything. She is 82. Is that normal?
author_dan_neuharth: Well, if she's 82, then you're obviously an adult, and I would say that is not totally normal, no. The question is whether it's a problem for you, whether it bugs you, and whether it may be too intrusive for you.

dont_stop_believing asks: How can past dating restrictions affect my future and present relationships?
author_dan_neuharth: They cannot affect the quality of your relationships unless you let them. You can still have a good relationship even with much less contact than you want. People do it all the time with long-distance relationships.

miss_niles asks: My mom always made me have "preventative" surgery. And it has made me not like the doctor now that I live on my own. How do you deal with that?
author_dan_neuharth: I don't know exactly what that "preventative surgery" means, but if you are 18 years or older, you have the legal right to pick your doctor. Whether it makes your mom happy or not, it's your body. I think it's important to find doctors who are willing to spend a little more time with you and understand that you might be nervous with them. You may have to try a few different doctors until you find one who you are more comfortable with.

onecoolhepcat asks: How do we learn to love ourselves in spite of our parents?
author_dan_neuharth: That's a great question. One thing you can do is pay attention to the way that you talk to yourself. Do you criticize yourself, call yourself names, and mentally tell yourself that you're no good? These are things we wouldn't let anyone else say to us, nor would we say these things to another person, but we have little critics in our heads who say these things to us all the time. And if you can recognize that that's not really you, that it may be a remnant of mom's or dad's control, and that it's just a voice, you can be more nurturing to yourself and try and tune out that voice.

Princess_Robyn_35 asks: Dan.........How can I get my 16 year old to understand I am only trying to guide her in a direction of good morals...and not control ?
author_dan_neuharth: Obviously you've probably told her that that's your intention. In my view, few children are dramatically effected by any one incident for the rest of their life, except for traumatic incidents. Rather, it's the daily things that you do and the way you treat your child day to day that really make a difference. If you are using healthy control, but to her it seems too much, in 3 or 4 or 5 years she may realize that you were trying to do your best, even if she can't realize it now.

portuguese_wahine asks: At the age of 29, divorced, 4 young kids and living at home with parents.......how do I not let them control some percentage of my life?
author_dan_neuharth: It's hard when you live in someone else's house because they have a certain sort of control over you. Pick your battles. Figure out what's the most important area that you want to have independence in and stand firm on that. And that may mean that you compromise in other areas that are important to your parents in return.

Sommer117 asks: I am 17 and I have a 2-year-old daughter but my dad still wants to control me. How do I make him understand that I'm no longer a kid?
author_dan_neuharth: I think that may take some time. Your dad may ease up if, over time, he sees you handling more and more adult situations and realizes that you are capable and doing well. If your dad supports you financially, unfortunately his opinion and control may go with the territory for awhile until you're financially independent.

yahoomusic: Can you actually convince parents that you are no longer a child?
author_dan_neuharth: I think the most important thing is to realize that you are an adult now, that you are equal to your parents, and that you want an adult-to-adult relationship. When you do that, it's far less important whether your parents see you that way or not, because YOU see yourself that way. One thing that sometimes helps is to shift the focus of conversations to your parents instead of you. If your parents are asking a lot about why you are not married, or who you are dating, or how you are handling your money, you can simply say, "Well, Mom (or Dad), when you were my age, what were your hopes and fears and dreams about relationships or money? Because that may be what they really want to talk about anyway, and it shifts the focus off you.

miss_niles asks: Can someone explain overbearing mothers or, as tppp17 said, Jewish Mom Syndrome...
author_dan_neuharth: In my book I talk about eight types of controlling parents, one of which I call a Smothering Parent. For example, one man I interviewed, his mother picked out his school clothes for him every day until he was 16 years old. The "Jewish Mom Syndrome" is a kind of a Smothering Parent who may love you very much but who may not be able to tell the difference between her own needs and your needs. So as a result she can be a little too intrusive in your life.

toaqui_02906 asks: I am 21. My mother is controlling, my father is irresponsible. I am caught in the middle. What do I do?
author_dan_neuharth: It may be that your parents are fighting each other through you. Which is unfair to you; it's not your battle. It may be that you are the one who feels like you are the adult in the family; that you are more grown up than your parents. Now that you're an adult, if your parents try to put you in the middle, you can do all the things you couldn't do as a child. You can tell them "No." You can say to them, "I'm sure there are areas that are very private for you, and this is an area that I don't want to talk about. I'm sure you can understand that, and please honor that." You can always put the focus back on them. Or, you can say, "I'm sorry, your marriage isn't my business and I really don't want to talk to you about that. Maybe you should go see a counselor who could help you both." Because it's not fair to you to take on your parents' problems.

tawonda_2000 asks: Are there any parents here? What do you do you do to keep from being controlling?
author_dan_neuharth: One thing parents can ask themselves is this: As a parent, are the rules that I have and the roles that I want my child to play truly in my child's best interests, or are they primarily designed to simply make my life easier or protect me from something that I'm afraid of? Controlling parents, though not necessarily consciously or deliberately, tend to have their own agendas for their children. This may result from the way the parents themselves were raised. Unhealthy control tends to get passed down through the generations until somebody stops it.

shetalkstoangelz asks: I am 25 years old and my mother and I do not speak anymore because she still insists on trying to control my life, including how I raise my children and my marriage. I miss her very much but I am afraid to go back around her because she gets so persistent that it causes us to argue and I can not handle the pain and stress. What should I do?
author_dan_neuharth: That is a very good question. It sometimes happens that the healthiest choice is to reduce contact, or maybe even stop all contact for a while with a parent who still tries to control you. That doesn't mean it's an easy choice. It may just be the best choice you have among several difficult, unattractive choices. This may change over time. But if it doesn't, you may not ever have the kind of relationship you want with your mother, and that can be very sad. One thing that can help is for you to find other older people, say friends or relatives, who you can have a good relationship with. While they're not your actual mother or father, they can be an "honorary" mother or father. And both you and they can benefit from such a relationship. You have to decide at what price you want to re-establish contact with a controlling parent. If it hurts more to have no contact than it would to have some contact with a parent that is critical and controlling, then you have to settle for the lesser of two evils. I don't mean to sound grim or defeatist, but sometimes if someone has been controlling you your whole life, they may never change. And your only choice and power is what you will accept and tolerate, because you can't control them either.

toaqui_02906 asks: What if my mother believes that there is no such thing as "not her business?"
author_dan_neuharth: Well, maybe you can help your mother find other things that will interest her in life besides your life. She may be trying to distract from problems in her own life by focusing on your life. And ultimately it's in her best interest to face and solve her own problems and let you live your own life as well.

bamacutie99 asks: I have controlling parents (mostly my mom) and she always gets into my business. Especially into my love life. She continuously "checks up on me" by asking people about me that know me here at college. I am 22 and she cannot leave me alone. What should I do? I was engaged and my fiancé couldn't stand her getting into our business. That is one of the main reasons we are not engaged today.
author_dan_neuharth: You've got a tough situation because it sounds as if your mother isn't going to be the one who is going to change. So you are going to have to choose how much of a price you are willing to pay to play your mother's game. It's easier to make your own way if you are self supporting.  But even if you still rely on your parents for financial support, you can emotionally leave home. Cut the apron strings, remind yourself that you are an adult now, and remember that you are the final authority on your own life, no matter what anyone else thinks.

footballbabe_99 asks: How controlling were your parents?
author_dan_neuharth: On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, I'd say my dad was about an 8. And my mom was about a 2.

yahoomusic: Did it take you a long time to realize that this was a problem?
author_dan_neuharth: I didn't realize until I went away to college that not everybody grew up the way I did. Because when you are a child, you think what your parents do is normal, even when it isn't. I have a number of people as clients who come in to therapy in their 30's, 40's, or even 50's and are just beginning to realize how growing up controlled has affected them. Everyone has their own pace. What's important is that you keep growing intellectually and emotionally -- not how fast you get over something in the past.

onecoolhepcat asks: How do we stop ourselves from turning into our parents?
author_dan_neuharth: It's a great question; it's a universal question unless you had truly ideal parents, and then, of course, the question is "How can I be more like my parents?"  Research has shown that people who come from difficult or abusing families are not destined to be an abusing parents, by any means. What seems to make the difference is how aware you are about why you do the things you do as a parent.

the_chia_pet_ate_my_lab_report asks: How can you deal with strict and controlling parents when it's typical of their culture to look out for their children in such a manner? (My parents are Asian)
author_dan_neuharth: There are many cultural differences in what's considered "normal" control and love in parenting. And it's important to recognize those differences and honor that what might be too much or too little control in a Caucasian family might be considered perfectly normal in some other culture. The problem is that you are a generation apart and maybe a culture apart from your parents, and it's hard to bridge that gap. The answer is to keep trying to talk about it and communicate about it.

angie_bangie_99 asks: My sister tells my mom my business and my mom complains to me every day. She does not understand that I'm not a baby any more. What can I do?
author_dan_neuharth: It sounds like indirect communication is the norm in your family. Maybe you should choose more carefully what you share with your sister about your life.

author_dan_neuharth: I would say welcome it. We don't have a choice over what we feel, we only have a choice about how we express it. Remember, anger is a signal we get when our rights are violated or threatened. So that is good information. Welcome it, because it can tell you something about yourself. You still have the choice over how you express it. You can express anger in a lot of ways, both constructive and destructive, and you have the power to choose.

dpm47 asks: How do you get a USMC officer dad to lighten up??
author_dan_neuharth: I don't know if he'll ever lighten up. But it sounds like you have a sense of humor about it, and that's important. You might read the book called "Military Brats;" the author is Wertsch. I think it's an excellent book for anyone who grew up with military parents. Because you are not alone in what you are experiencing. You can find out more about that book on my website, www.controllingparents.com

yahoomusic: Is it too easy to blame your parents for the state of your own life?
author_dan_neuharth: What's I find helpful is to remember two things. First, you are not responsible for what your parents did to you when you were a child, they are. And second, your parents are not responsible for what you do as an adult, you are. And if you remember those things, you can stop blaming yourself for things in the past that weren't your fault, and at the same time stop blaming your parents for efforts to control you now that you are an adult.

oleander99 asks: Usually do dads control the son and moms control the daughter?
author_dan_neuharth: Not at all. Either parent can be controlling. But it's a different territory when the parent who controls you is of your same gender. We get so much of our identities as either a man or a woman from watching how our parents were as men or women. So it's helpful to have lots of models of men and women and pick the best of all of them as you grow up.

super_goat_boy_or_man asks:  I need help. My mom bases my whole character on my grades and it seems I can't please her.
author_dan_neuharth: Ultimately, it's most important to please yourself. But if your mom wants you to get good grades, and you get good grades, that also benefits you.

miss_niles asks: How do you start to recognize the control battles with other people you may be experiencing, and how do you find peace in other relationships?
author_dan_neuharth: You recognize control battles because the relationship feels unequal, one up/one down for example. And it also doesn't feel trusting. Either you don't trust the other person, or you don't feel trusted by them. Ideally you want an equal-to-equal relationship. One helpful exercise is to look at the most equal, healthy relationship you have in your life and ask yourself, "How do I act and how do I feel about myself when I'm around that person?" And then try to duplicate that in other relationships. But only in relationships where it's safe for you to do so. You should never be in a relationship that is emotionally or otherwise abusive.

ladystarrfire asks: I have three kids who all use drugs regularly. They are 21, 18, and 15. I have tried everything, with them. But nothing helps them.
author_dan_neuharth: I think your first priority would be to get the 15 year old in counseling. The 21 year old and the 18 year old, if they have a drug problem, they are going to have to solve it themselves. You can't do it for them. But the 15 year old, you might find the earlier you get help for him or her, the greater the chances of not becoming addicted.

yahoomusic: Looks like that's all the time we have for questions tonight chatters. Thanks for joining us tonight everybody!
author_dan_neuharth: I enjoyed it and I appreciated the questions very much. This has been my first chat! One resource you may find helpful is my website, www.controllingparents.com. There is a test that you can take to see if you grew up controlled, along with links to books and resoures you may find helpful. And you can email me from there if you like.

yahoomusic: Again the book is called "If You Had Controlling Parents." Check it out at a bookstore on or offline! Good night all!


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The above transcript of a February 29, 2000 Yahoo! Author Chat has been edited by the author for clarity, grammar and spelling.

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If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Take Your Place in the World
Published by HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © Dan Neuharth, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.