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6 Things Your Children Don’t Owe You

Updated: Mar 31

“All great truths begin as blasphemy.” - George Bernard Shaw

Woman with cane

“What do we owe other people?” This one question has been a central question in philosophy for centuries. And for good reason. There’s just something to getting clear about what we do and don’t owe our fellow humans that cuts through all the noise and propels us right to the heart of the issue. Something I’ve found is that this is especially true when it comes to issues related to parenting.

As someone who specializes in difficult parent-child relationships and who’s both an estranged adult child and a parent, a question I often ask myself is this: “What do adult children owe their parents?” The answer I keep coming back to, much to the chagrin of estranged parents everywhere, is this: adult children owe our parents the same decency and respect we owe any other person. What don’t we owe our parents? Keep reading to find out.

1. Gratitude

Children don’t owe their parents gratitude for their choice to become parents. You chose to become a parent. That was a decision you made. Your child, on the other hand, never asked to be born. Provided the basics like housing, clothing, transportation, access to education for your child? That’s just called doing what you signed up for.

2. A Relationship

When you became a parent you became a parent for life. Like Shonda Rimes says, “You can quit a job. I can’t quit being a mother. I’m a mother forever.” As parents, we owe our children a relationship with us for as long as we’re alive. Our children, on the other hand, do not. If they want to live their adult lives estranged from us then they have every right to do exactly that. Confused? Circle back to how your relationship with your child started in the first place. Hint: You’re the one who set the whole thing in motion.

3. Justification

And now let’s say your adult child decides to walk away from your relationship. Don’t they at least owe you a reasonable explanation? The simple answer: No. If your child has reached the conclusion that a life without you is less painful than a life with you, you certainly aren’t entitled to an explanation from them. Your child owes you nothing more than they owe any other human being on this planet. Now is it hard when you want to have a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to have a relationship with you? Of course. Does it mean you’re suddenly a victim who’s being abused? Nope.

4. Love

Since many parents today—especially estranged parents—are so confused, this unfortunately needs to be said: The whole entire point of being a parent is giving to your children, not expecting your children to give to you. Let’s look at it in terms of love. As the parent in the relationship, it’s your job to love your child. Your child loves you back? Awesome! Your child doesn’t love you back? Obviously this doesn’t feel awesome for you—one-sided love is never fun for us humans—but your child isn’t doing anything wrong by not loving you either. As the child in the relationship they never promised to love you, but as the parent in the relationship you certainly promised to love them.

5. Approval

Your child thinks you weren’t a good parent? Sounds like a performance review the person you parented has every right to be making. Now don’t get me wrong. You can feel however you want to feel about the fact that your child doesn’t approve of you, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing anything wrong. I don’t know who told you that you were entitled to accolades and praise just for passing on your last name or your DNA, but whoever said that was sorely mistaken.

6. Silence

“But my child is talking about me on social media! Now people are going to think I was a terrible parent!!” Here’s the deal: Your child owns everything that ever happened to them, your poor choices as their parent included. You don’t get to hurt your child and then expect your child to keep quiet so you look like the loving parent you weren’t. The problem isn’t your child speaking honestly about your bad behavior. The problem is the fact that you chose to mistreat your child. Instead of playing the victim, try looking in a mirror.


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