It’s natural to experience tension in your relationship with your parents as you navigate your teenage years and approach young adulthood.
You’re exploring your identity and values and
- badger you about schoolwork, your grades, and college applications
- express doubt about the people you spend time with
- set endless rules and consequences
These particular expressions of parental “hate” usually represent nothing more than a desire to support you in becoming the person you want to be. As annoyingly unpleasant as these limits feel, they generally stem from love.
On the other hand, some parental actions — sibling favoritism, emotional neglect, outright disdain and contempt — might seem pointedly cruel. These behaviors can give the impression that you and your needs don’t matter, potentially straining your interactions and leaving you feeling wounded and unloved.
While your parents might not truly hate you, they could very well find it tough to show their love or communicate expectations with compassion and sensitivity. The seven strategies below offer a starting place to get more insight, bring up concerns, and overcome tensions in your family dynamic.
Your parents are responsible for your well-being until you reach adulthood. They’ll generally prioritize your health and safety and encourage you to develop into a socially responsible adult by:
- keeping you safe from potential threats
- teaching you that your actions have consequences
Most parents set limits because they don’t want to see you get hurt. They also, more than likely, want you to learn to make positive choices on your own.
They might express disappointment when you do something they disagree with, and this disappointment might come with consequences. For example:
- If they find out you’re failing two classes, they might collect your smartphone and other devices, so you can focus on studying.
- If you stay out all night, they might ground you and take away your car keys.
You might consider these actions unreasonable, unfair, or just plain mean — but they’re specific consequences of rules your parents set, not signs of hatred or abuse.
Recognizing unreasonable and unfair parental behavior can be tough, since family conflict often leads to tension and stress. Hurt and upset parents are only human, and they might lose their temper and say things they don’t mean.
Truly harmful and abusive behavior usually involves:
- putdowns, name-calling, or unkind and demeaning language
- denial of basic needs, including food, clothing, and shelter
- physical abuse
- act of ignoring boundaries, such as reasonable requests for privacy in your bedroom or the bathroom
- excessive criticism
- overly harsh or excessive punishments, such as smashing your phone because you were using it when you were supposed to be doing homework
- unwillingness to listen to your side or consider your feelings (keep in mind they can consider your feelings and still set consequences)
Even these toxic behaviors might not mean your parent hates you. But they do suggest that working with a family counselor or individual therapist might be a good option.
Talk with a trusted teacher or other adult for help finding the right kind of support.
Wanting emotional support from your parents is typical. Even during times of conflict, you still need to know you have their love. Some research suggests, in fact, that regular parental warmth can help offset the effects of conflict or disagreements.
You might feel unloved when irritation and disappointment are the only emotions they offer, or their warmth and affection seems to depend on your behavior.
Remember: Just as day-to-day events and stressful circumstances can affect your mood, they can also factor into your parents’ state of mind.
Your parents are humans — they have needs and emotions, too. They might snap at you after a rough day, or heave an enormous sigh and stalk off when they wanted to relax, but you need a last-minute ride to the store. There are absolutely better ways to express frustration, but these lapses don’t mean they hate you.
Other issues that might add tension include:
- anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns that affect mood and emotions
- stress, including job or financial concerns, health issues, and family or relationship difficulties
- communication problems
- difficulty understanding your needs
Some parents simply don’t know how to express love in recognizable ways, especially if their own parents didn’t openly show affection.
Mental health concerns and other challenges can also keep parents and children from bonding securely. These attachment issues can persist through development and also carry forward into each new generation. If your parents grew up receiving inconsistent affection, they might not know how to offer the consistent affection you need.
A surplus of restrictions or criticism can lead to frustration and resentment, no matter how lovingly your parents intend this guidance.
You might try to explain why you find specific rules or comments about your interests so annoying. Still, no matter how clearly you think you’re expressing yourself, they hear something totally different, and nearly every conversation escalates to an argument that ends in more hurt feelings.
When this keeps happening, you might start to wonder whether they’re intentionally misunderstanding you, just to make your life miserable. This generally isn’t the case. Still, practicing new communication techniques can often lead to more successful conversations.
A few helpful tips:
- Set aside time to talk. When you want to talk about something serious, asking ahead of time can help ensure they’ll have time to give you the attention you need. Try “I’d like to discuss X. Will you have time to talk tonight or tomorrow?”
- Use I-statements. This conversation technique emphasizes your emotions and thoughts and avoids accusations. For example, instead of saying “You don’t respect my style,” you might say, “When my clothing choices are criticized, I feel like my identity and personal taste aren’t valued or respected.”
- Listen. You want to share your feelings, of course, but make sure to listen when they express theirs. If you disagree with their perspective, wait until they finish speaking to ask questions or get more clarification.
- Be polite. It’s upsetting when parents seem unwilling to consider your point of view, and it’s OK to feel annoyed. Just remember to express your feelings with respect. For example: “I’m frustrated and hurt, because I didn’t do anything wrong. I deserve a chance to explain what happened.”
Your parents don’t automatically know what you’re thinking or what you need, and they might have no idea you feel unloved.
Making specific requests about your needs can always help, whether you:
- hope for concrete privileges, like borrowing the car or taking a trip with your friends
- have more abstract emotional needs, like trust, affection, and praise
Here are some examples of clear, direct requests for physical or emotional support:
- “I feel hurt and afraid when you raise your voice.”
- “I need reassurance that you still love me, even when you’re angry.”
- “I know there should be consequences when I break the rules. Can we decide on those consequences together?”
- “I work hard to keep my grades up, do my chores, and show you I’m responsible, so I feel rejected and hurt when I don’t receive any praise or trust.”
- “I’m having a hard time right now, and I’d feel a lot better knowing I have your support.”
- “I’d like to improve our relationship. Can we talk to a counselor about the communication problems we’re having?”
It usually helps to pinpoint the exact issues you’re having a hard time with before bringing them up.
Keeping a daily journal is a great way to track your interactions, express painful feelings privately, and begin exploring specific challenges you’d like to address.
During late adolescence and early adulthood, you may have very little in common with your parents. If you almost never agree and hardly do anything together, you could easily begin to feel a little rejected or unloved.
Cultivating some common ground and improving your relationship can be as simple as pursuing a shared interest. It may take time to find something you both enjoy, but the effort usually pays off.
Spending more time together can provide more opportunities for communication and help you appreciate more about each other.
- trying a new sport or exercise routine
- taking an art or cooking class
- planning a weekly activity
You don’t need to come up with this on your own, either. A simple “Hey, I’d like to find more things we can do together” can go a long way.
If your parents seem to prefer a sibling, you might begin to doubt their love for you.
They might not be playing favorites on purpose. Maybe your sibling needs some extra support, and your parents don’t realize you feel left out. They might also assume you need them less, especially if you’re the oldest, and you’ve demonstrated your responsibility.
But even when it’s unintentional, favoritism can still feel distressing and painful.
When you feel ignored or dismissed in favor of your siblings, it’s a good idea to talk with your parents about how you feel. Choose a time when you can talk privately, and practice those communication tips we touched on above.
Focusing on specific examples during your conversation can be helpful. You might say something like:
- “I’ve noticed [X] gets a lot of privileges I don’t have. We’re both in high school, and I’ve never been in trouble, so I’m wondering why I don’t have the same curfew, bedtime, and allowance.”
- “I’ve asked for help with my college applications two weekends in a row, but both times you ended up going out with [X]. It makes me feel like my needs don’t matter.”
- “I know I don’t enjoy cooking like [X] does, but I’d still like to do things together.”
Maybe you’ve tried talking with your parents, but they seem uninterested in your feelings and unwilling to change hurtful or problematic behavior. They say they don’t hate you, but their actions seem to shout quite the opposite.
It may be time to turn to another supportive adult, like a:
- guidance counselor
- religious leader
Mentors can’t replace your parents, but they can listen with compassion and offer encouragement and guidance.
If you’re experiencing abuse at home, you might feel afraid to tell anyone. That’s absolutely understandable, but keep in mind that opening up to a trusted adult can make it easier to get the help you need, access professional resources, and work on a safety plan.
You can also call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-422-4453.
You might believe your parents want the best for you, but this knowledge won’t automatically ease the sting of yet another fresh lecture.
When frequent arguments or a disregard for your needs leave you doubting their love, family therapy can help you work together to navigate conflict productively and build a stronger, healthier relationship.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.