top of page
  • Lori K Walters

Are you a rigid parent? How to become more flexible with your young adult child.

Updated: Mar 25

Rings from a pebble dropped in a lake reflecting a purple sky

When I was a kid, one of the things I loved when we took trips down the Fraser Canyon to Vancouver was my dad honking the horn as we drove through the tunnels. There was a terrific echo. And I loved breaking the rules with no way to get caught.

Later I saw a movie that presented tunnels in a completely different way – dark, lonely, dangerous and inescapable. Maybe you’ve seen one of those movies and felt that terrifying confinement. Maybe you can feel it a bit right now.

That’s the feeling teenagers describe when they’re parents are pushy and inflexible. They feel like there’s no way they can move, no direction of their own choosing that’ll be acceptable, and nothing they can say to be heard.

Oof. None of us want our child to feel like that.

I’m not talking about the times when, as parents, we must stand our ground. I’m referring to the kind of parent that creates guidelines and expects their almost-adult kids to tow the line. When their expectations aren’t met, rigid parents become angry, intolerant, confrontational or explosive.

It may sound like:

  • If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll follow the rules.

  • I have an excellent radar for BS and I cannot tolerant my kids’ dishonesty. Not. At. All.

  • It’s my job to provide the structure that protects them in this big world.

  • Being strident and forceful is the only way to motivate them.

  • I get very tense and impatient, like a powder keg, when my kids ignore my expectations and sometimes, I don’t want to, but I go off.

  • I am unlikely to back down from a fight.

If this describes a part of your personality and we could call you a sort of benevolent dictator, then take a few gentle breaths.

And then read on for some fresh perspective and practical strategies.

What’s the problem for your kids?

Your kids don’t want to follow your rules - they want to discuss them and negotiate. They see you as refusing to shift from your position or opinion. Their hearts come to believe that you don’t respect their point of view and that, if you really cared for them, you would be more open. Ouch.

Of course, you and I know that your strong approach is not due to a lack of caring. In fact, it is because you care very deeply for them that you create the structure and guidelines – to show them the way.

But for them, it feels like they’re trapped in a tunnel and can’t see out.

And seeing out is essential for teens and young adults. They are expanding their knowledge of the world and developing their perspectives. They cannot thrive in a rigid tunnel. They need to practice expressing their opinions, discussing points of contention and finding common ground.

You get that.

And, at the same time, guidelines are important to you. They provide clarity and ensure that things will be done properly and fairly. In the same way, you want your children to be able to stand up for what they believe. And that means they need to be able to practice expressing a contrary opinion in the safety of their family.

Of course, there are times when you manage your intensity, really listen to them, discuss calmly and reach beautiful understandings. How wonderful.

There are also times when you are quickly infuriated and you know that your energy is intimidating. You have seen the look in their eye when they decide they’d better not push any farther. You know that pain in your heart when they back away from you, both physically and emotionally.

This is the heartbreak: You love them deeply and truly want what’s best for them and your approach is pushing them away.

How to be more receptive

If your young adult child is experiencing you like a benevolent dictator or a concrete tunnel, what is another way of being that would be more aligned with the kind of parent you can feel in your heart that you can be?

Set your imagination free. How do you really want to be with your child? Maybe more of a welcoming concierge, a springboard or a spacious, still lake? Find an image that invites this open, receptive part of you to come through. Write about it. Put up a picture of it. Move toward it.

This image, this way of parenting – it’s already a part of you. You are a warm and generous parent. Your strength and vitality make your children feel supported, encouraged and protected. Your confidence and energy inspire and empower them. Love all of that about you.

Next Steps

And if you are ready to take a step in reconnecting with your child and building the respectful, loving bond you’re longing for, here are some practices that can help. Don’t do them all at once; read through and see what calls to you.

  • Get to know the concrete tunnel.

Notice when you feel the urge to be forceful with your child. Notice how you broaden your chest, make your voice sterner or harden your facial expression.

What are you believing about yourself as a parent in those moments?

What stories have you stored in your body about how you need to be in the world?

It can be difficult to catch an old pattern in the act of taking over because we’ve been doing it for so long. But your body knows the pattern very well, so let it inform you about what triggers it and how it operates.

  • Slow it down.

Practice giving yourself time to think things through, instead of rushing in to deal with issues at full speed. I’m sure you already know that immediacy is not your ally when it comes to communicating with the young adult in your life. When your auto-pilot takes over, it extinguishes your ability to make choices and, within a few seconds, has you unwittingly saying the same old things that have been causing the rift between you and your child.

So slow… it… down...

There is time to digest, consider and weigh the information you’ve received before acting. There is time to let your emotions rise, peak and fall away. Time to sense inward and hear the counsel of your own inner wisdom. Here lies the space to choose the action and words that will create trust and connection with your child.

  • Contain your energy.

If you have a tendency to be adamant and daunting when in disagreement with your child, you may need to hold that energy for a few minutes instead of letting it instantly surge outward. Not to deny it or repress it, but to slow down and be with it.

What do you need to just let that energy be in you without doing anything about it?

First, turn down the alarm bells.

Second, remember that this energy is not all of who you are. Take a breath and feel for where you can let it be it for a little while. Would it work for you to hold it like a soft, squishy ball in your hands? Would it feel better to separate out that part of you and let it sit beside you like a good doggie on a leash? Or do you feel more like having a blanket encircling your energy? Experiment with ways that allow your big, outward energy to exist without being discharged at anyone.

  • Consider other viewpoints.

We humans can all benefit from expanding our perspective. A simple way to improve your ability to take other points of view into consideration is to play with your vision. Take a few gentle breaths and center yourself. Choose an object and allow your gaze to rest on it for 10 seconds. Then close one eye at a time and notice what shifts. Is the object smaller or fuzzier? Move to a different spot, stand up on a chair or lay on the ground and look at the object from different angles, each time comparing it to your previous views.

What’s important is to allow yourself to really register that it’s not less accurate to see something from high or low, left or right, close or far. It’s simply another way of seeing it.

When you practice learning this in your body, it supports you to actually do it when you find ourselves in contention with your child. You can more easily resist the urge to dismiss or invalidate their perspective. Instead, you allow your way of seeing the situation to be just one of many perspectives that are true and acceptable. And you recognize the validity of your child’s angle of vision too.

  • Listen with your heart.

Roll your shoulders back and then soften them. Take a deep breath into your chest and then soften it. Allow there to be more space in you.

Here is your child in front of you. The one who ran all over the house at 10 pm or played quietly in the backyard for hours. The one who cried for half an hour when the cake was gone or the one who asked a million questions. This amazing, unique being.

Here is your invitation to know them even better – to find out more about who they are, right here and now.

Open yourself to listening without fixing, solving or judging. Be willing to hear things that are foreign to you. Discover how they see the world, how they decide, how they navigate tricky issues, how they express themselves, and how they love.

Listen without doing anything.

Just let it land in your heart.


I remember a few years ago when a mother said to me, ‘I can hardly wait until they’re past 10 and they don’t need me so much.’ It was all I could do to stifle my guffaw. My kids have needed me even more in their teens and twenties, and in much more difficult, important, life-changing situations.

In this constant river of parenting, please be self-compassionate and ensure that you are listening to your kindest internal voices.

You are a beautiful, ever-blossoming parent who has been given the amazing gift and incredible responsibility of raising a child into the world. It’s big and you’re doing it. That’s the truth – take it in.

The shift from rigidity to receptivity is gradual – full of challenges, setbacks and moments of divine grace. Let the concrete soften and liquify and, in its place, create an environment in which your child feels comfortable sharing, debating and discovering who they are.

When you allow yourself to be receptive, like a lake that has room for many pebbles and ripples, you also open your child’s capacity to also receive. You create a space between the two of you where your hearts can meet and connect.

With you on the journey,


Photo by Sami Takarautio on Unsplash



bottom of page