Why Does My Family See Me As A Child? I’m Fed Up With Infantilization!

Last updated by Lauren Hart

I’m turning 32 soon, and yet my family still treats me like a child. They infantilize me by criticizing my choices, whether they’re important or insignificant... But they also tell me what to do, without it being a suggestion, it’s really a step to follow. Nevertheless, I consider myself old enough to be able to make my own choices and act as I wish! Why am I being treated like this? How do we avoid infantilization by our parents, our family, and even our in-laws? Here are some answers.

Why Does My Family See Me As A Child? I’m Fed Up With Infantilization!

Infantilizing words

“It’s cold, put a jumper on!”, “I bet you forgot to declare your taxes”, “that new haircut doesn’t suit you at all”, “you know, I preferred your ex to your new partner”, “you don’t do your laundry properly, and let’s not even talk about your ironing”, “you should eat better”, “I hope you remembered to say thank you”...

These kinds of sentences are typical of infantilization 😖. Personally, I’m fed up with hearing them at my age, sometimes it even brings up a lot of resentment and negative emotions. In my 20s I asked my parents for a lot of help and I can understand why I was infantilized during that time. I still sometimes ask for advice, and it’s normal to ask our parents for advice, but I do it without wanting help. That’s what makes me feel like an adult, finally! However, this must be misconstrued as the infantilizing behaviors continue 🙄...

There’s no such thing as parents of adults

We’d like the parent-child relationship to be simple and natural, but unfortunately, it’s like any other relationship! We need to rethink our vision of parenthood and our relationship with our parents, once we’re adults. In fact, there’s no such thing as parents of adults, as the psychologist Béatrice Cooper-Royer explains 🧐. What she means is that the role of a parent is to accompany us during the process of emancipation until we become independent. From then on, parents should consider us as free people to make our own choices.

Nevertheless, it’s the emotional ties that disrupt the exchanges and the relationship we have between adults. We’re afraid of rejecting our parents by telling them not to infantilise us anymore, even though it’s just a matter of setting out our limits 😦!

The parent-(adult) child relationship can be learned

Setting limits, I say it’s “just” that, but in reality, it’s much easier said than done 😅! We need to learn to act differently in the parent-child relationship to free ourselves from infantilization. It’s not intuitive, neither for them nor for us, to enter this new phase of the relationship. They will always want to treat us differently because we’re “there” because of them! Nevertheless, as psychologist Marie Lafond has analyzed, we need to be able to put this new dynamic into words:

“Seeing parents infantilizing us can create a feeling of frustration or misunderstanding. But if we don’t tell them, they may be inclined not to change their behavior, to ‘do as they always have done’. It’s important to remind them that things have changed.”

👉 The psychologist also emphasizes the slow pace of the process. I realized this when I tried to talk to my father and grandmother about their behavior. A habit can’t be changed overnight, but it’s done step by step.

How to stop being infantilized by your parents?

We now know that putting it into words is the first step to getting rid of infantilization. However, we mustn’t forget that we should use non-violent communication and avoid yelling “leave me alone, I’m an adult now!” to our parents (even if it’s very tempting 🤭). No, it’s better to do some introspection to determine how you feel. We, therefore, proceed as follows:

👉 Express your emotions, say what you need to say, and make a request: “It’s hurtful that you don’t consider me adult enough to do this. I need you to believe in me and treat me as a responsible and independent person.”

As I said, this takes time, so don’t hesitate to repeat it every time you feel you’re being infantilized. But above all, you need to keep in mind that there are two things to do beyond communication to finally be treated like an adult.

Anticipate sensitive issues

There are times when we feel more infantilized than others. I’d say this is particularly the case during big family reunions, especially at Christmas 🎄. I’ve managed to get rid of my cognitive dissonance, and I’m now a vegetarian. However, not all my family members see it as a good thing... Comments about my eating habits just keep coming during the holidays, which makes them very unpleasant.

We need to take a step back from all this. We know the issues that are problematic and that may hurt us. Likewise, we, therefore, need to learn to detach ourselves from all this so as not to be hurt by these remarks. Anticipating is the key, we’ll be mentally prepared and what’s more, we’ll be able to have quick responses to our parents and our family!

Avoid regression

No matter what we say about our parents, sometimes we’re no better 😅. I have to admit that for a long time, I loved regressing when I went to my parents’ house. Returning to the family cradle made me behave like a teenager. I did nothing and expected to be waited on hand and foot. What a pleasure to do nothing and be pampered! Yes, but how can you ask not to be infantilized anymore if you behave like a child 🫥?

We need to be aware of our own behavior to know if we’re playing the game of infantilization. Of course, regressing can be comforting, especially if you’re afraid of being away from your parents. We’re allowed to need them, no matter how old we are! Nevertheless, we should also act like adults when we’re in their company 😬.

Protecting yourself, above all

Even if it’s a long process, not everyone is able to get out of infantilization because of toxic parents. Even if we want to change our family relationships, we may face resentment, misunderstandings and even refusals, as Marie Lafond says:

“When the family system is a bit more brutal, or the parents aren’t ready to consider their child as an adult with their own particularities, it can be useful to have non-negotiable refusal points. Criticism about physical appearance, for example, can be very violent. When you’re trying to accept yourself and your family is judging your weight, you can say: “I don’t want to hear any more comments about my appearance”, without any need to explain why. Even within your family, you have the right to say clearly what some people refuse to hear.”

Try several solutions

It’s important to protect yourself so that you’re not in perpetual suffering. Some people manage to cut ties, but there are less brutal solutions. You can tell yourself that you’ll visit your family and your parents less often to gain some distance. If the end-of-year celebrations are a difficult time for you, then why not consider celebrating alone or with your partner?

I don’t consider those around me as harmful, but the latter suggestion is one of the solutions I’m thinking about to make it clear that I’m truly adult, that I’m independent and that I have my own life now. But what will work for me isn’t the solution for everyone. The family is such a unique ecosystem that you have to try many different things. It’s also important to bear in mind that trying to change an invasive mother or a domineering father is impossible. It’s up to us to work on our position as adults and extracting ourselves from this family core if it makes us suffer.

Editor’s note: Complex relationships

If you’ve read this article, it’s probably because your family treats you like a kid, too. As you’ll have understood, it isn’t easy, and you may even participate in the process if you play the game of gentle regression... Each family and each relationship is unique, with its own history and traumas, and we can only advise you to make an appointment with a psychologist to talk about it. Together, you’ll be able to understand the workings of your relationships and implement new habits that will allow you to be happier.

🤗 Understanding yourself, accepting yourself, being happy... It’s here and now!


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Article presented by Lauren Hart

Writing is a beautiful means of expression that I cannot do without. It has allowed me to channel my hypersensitivity, plus I love writing about psychology and personal development. For me, self-understanding is the best way to move forward!

It was nice to read something that showed a bit more understanding toward the nuances of family relationships! Everything else I had read seemed far too ready to paint my Mum as a narcissistic monster, which I know is absolutely not the case. Like you say, a lot of the solutions offered out there can seem far too brutal for what really could just be a case of having an honest but empathetic conversation where you set your boundaries. Really I knew this already, but at nearly 30 it still seems too overwhelming to have this conversation, so thank you for putting this out there and helping me to make sense of my own feelings!

Jack a year ago

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