For many of us, our parents are our ultimate sources of love and familial support. They cheer us on in our victories, hang our macaroni art on the fridge, and swear up and down that “no, seriously, you were absolutely the best singer up there” at our childhood recitals.
But for some of us, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Sometimes, parents aren’t loving. Sometimes, they’re downright hostile.
But how can you tell if your parents are just funny about showing their love or if they actually don’t care about you.
Follow along to figure out 15 signs your parents don’t care about you, and then what you can do about it.
1) They never make time for you
It doesn’t matter if it’s as small as picking you up from the airport or as big as being there for your birthday; if it’s an inconvenience, they won’t show up.
Sure, sometimes they’ll show for you, but haven’t you noticed how all of those instances are when they get something out of it? They don’t make it to your soccer practice, but they’re always there when you get that soccer award, so that they can brag “that’s my kid!”
That’s not making time for you.
When a parent doesn’t make time for you, they signify that they care about their own time way more than yours.
2) They criticize all of your life’s choices
There is a real difference between an over-involved parent who wants what’s best for you and a parent who is trying to control you. Sometimes, our parents who love us may insert themselves into our lives a little too aggressively.
I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about a parent who puts down all of your choices.
“Why would you ever do that? That’s ridiculous.”
You see, when a parent criticizes all of your life’s choices, that’s because they don’t care about your wants. Instead, they only care about what they want for you, so that you can fulfill a societal expectation.
3) They only reach out when they need something
Do you dread when you get an out-of-the-blue call from your mother because you just know that when she calls, she’ll ask you for some outlandish favor? Mmm. Major sign that your parent doesn’t really care about you.
In this case, if your parents only reach out when they need something, that means that they view you as an asset — a way to get what they want — rather than someone who they love and respect. Relationships should be balanced, with both parties sacrificing for the other.
When only one party gives and the other takes, it isn’t an equal relationship; it’s parasitic.
4) They verbally abuse you
Do your parents insult you? Call you a series of unacceptable names? Perhaps they degrade you, trying to make you feel shame for some imaginary fault.
These are not signs of a loving relationship. These are symptoms of verbal abuse. Verbal abusers may have many complicated reasons (all unacceptable) they try and use to justify their abuse, but the stone cold reality is that it is unacceptable. Verbal abusers do not truly care about those they abuse.
Instead, they simply use their victims as verbal punching bags to manipulate and control.
5) They blame you for everything
No matter what goes wrong, it’s somehow your fault. Bad traffic? You should have checked ways before you left! Your mother forgot to buy milk at the grocery store? It’s because you distracted her.
This can escalate to be as horrible as saying, “my life would have been so much better if you hadn’t been born.”
These words are brutal. They’re cutting. They also reveal that your family can’t take responsibility for their own actions. They’re using you as their scapegoat.
Don’t accept this behavior as normal and loving. It’s not. It’s abuse.
6) They don’t include you
This is one of the more insidious signs that your parents don’t care about you.
If anytime there is a family get-together — maybe something as innocuous as a movie or as serious as a holiday — and you’re not invited, then this is a strong chance that your parents don’t really care about you.
We include the people we care about because we want to spend time with them, share memories with them, and grow closer with them. When you choose not to do these things, it signifies that you do not care about the person you are leaving out.
7) They keep canceling on you
One of the surest signs someone doesn’t care about you is when they cancel plans, leaving you holding the bag. I had a friend who promised (up and down) to help me move (I was even going to pay and buy him lunch!), only for him to cancel that morning.
Turns out, he wasn’t really my friend.
The same can be said of your family. If they continue to cancel on you, especially at inopportune times, then they definitely do not care about you.
8) They try to control you
They tell you what you need to study in school. They restrict the colleges you can apply to. They say, “don’t apply for that job. That’s a terrible job. Here, my friend has an opening at his company, I’ll get you an interview.”
What they’re doing here is forcing you to live a life they’ve created for you. They do not care about your wants, needs, or aspirations — only what they think is best for you. In childhood and adolescence, this can manifest as insistence that you wear what they choose, have the haircut they decide. In short, all avenues of self-expression are cut off.
That’s because they are trying to remove the “self” from “self-expression.” In their idealized view of you, your expression should be what they decide. It’s toxic. It’s unhealthy. It’s not loving.
9) They keep breaking your boundaries
So maybe you’ve started to figure out that your family isn’t always the best for you. You know that, for your own health and sanity, you need to establish some boundaries to give yourself space and ground for your identity to flourish.
Trouble is, your family keeps breaking your boundaries. Maybe you’ve told your parents that you’ll see them on Fridays for dinner, only for them to pull up in front of your house on Sunday without calling, expecting you to join them for church.
Actions like these, where your parents break the boundaries you’ve created, signify that they don’t value your needs and are looking to undermine your individuality. It’s another key sign that your parents don’t care about you.
10) Your parents don’t acknowledge your achievements
Got that big promotion at work? Mom acknowledges that only with a grunt. Dad says, “when I was your age, I already had made director.”
Nothing is good enough, and the achievements you make aren’t lauded at all, but somehow end up actually being shortcomings. You find yourself apologizing for your successes!
This type of backwards behavior is completely unloving, another key sign that your parents do not care about you.
11) They insult you
Would you accept insults from a friend? From your boyfriend or girlfriend? If your best friend came to you and said, “Hey, my mom keeps calling me a stupid bitch,” would you tell her “oh that’s not a big deal.” NO! You’d say, “Jesus Christ, your mom is acting awful.”
When our family treats us poorly, we often try to rationalize away the abuse. A good trick is to imagine that the abuse is happening to someone else. Would that be ok? If it’s unacceptable, then you know that you’re in an abusive situation.
12) They gaslight you
You finally worked up the courage to explain to your parents that they have crossed the line with their behavior, only for them to twist your words around, and contort it so that somehow you believe that oh, it was actually my fault the whole time.
This is called gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where the abuser will manipulate your recollection of events to make you question your own sanity. They’ll accuse you of lying (while lying to you), shift the blame onto you for their abuses (you made me do that), or even go so far as to rewrite history.
Their end goal is to make you feel helpless and hopeless, allowing them to get away with their abuse without any fear that you’ll try and put a stop to it.
13) They bring out the worst in you
“The worst” varies from person to person. It might be that they enable your bad habits — getting you to blow way too much money on things you cannot afford. It may be that, whenever you’re around them, you find yourself entering into a shouting match with your mom about anything.
No matter what “the worst” is, they know it, and they choose to trigger it. Why they do this is a bit of a mystery, but I believe they choose do bring out the worst in you so that they can make you feel small, weak, and out of control.
14) They pit you against your siblings
Siblings naturally compete.
A little healthy sibling rivalry can inspire brothers and sisters to bring out the best in each other. Where it tips the scales into toxicity is when parents fan the flames of this rivalry. If you’re single, they may keep mentioning that your brother is getting married soon (and why can’t you settle down).
If your sister is having a hard time finding work, they may say “why can’t she be more like you — you’re the responsible one.” No matter how it is crafted, the result is the same: they’re trying to break apart the bonds between siblings in an effort to control and subjugate you all.
15) You don’t feel loved
Sometimes, you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you just know that, when you’re around your parents, you don’t feel loved.
If you feel this emotion, you should pause, and think about if your family has exhibited any of the previous signs we’ve talked about in this article. If there is a persistent pattern of neglect and abuse, then the odds are that your parents don’t care about you.
It’s a really hard pill to swallow, but the good news is that there are things you can do about it to alleviate your suffering.
What to do if your parents don’t care about you
Understanding that your parents don’t care about you is a sobering experience. Luckily, there are steps that you can take to bring yourself some sanity and safety, while also helping build stronger and more stable relationships with your parents.
1) Let yourself grieve
When you find out that your parents don’t really care about you, give yourself some time to grieve. This is a painful thing to realize, as it runs counter to the idealized parent-child relationship.
Give yourself space, understand that you are not the cause of their misery, and accept that you are a valid person — regardless of their approval.
2) Build up your friendships
Family ties are a powerful bond that can help you weather some of the hardest storms of your life.
When your parents don’t care about you, you’ll need to supplement these ties with new ones from friends. Reach out to your friend group, hang out more often. Open up to them about your struggles you are facing. Strengthen those ties.
3) Reach out to your siblings
If you’re struggling with your parents, odds are that your siblings are as well. While there are plenty of “Cinderella-style” family dynamics, with a favored sibling and a scapegoat, more often there are families where both siblings bear the brunt of parental abuse.
Reach out to your siblings, see if they are feeling the same way you are. Strengthen your ties to counter your parents’ grips on you.
4) Create boundaries — and stick to them
Setting boundaries is a great way to prevent your parents from controlling your life. Agree that you’ll see them for certain holidays, but at their house, not yours. That way, you can drive away when you’ve had enough. If they live far away, perhaps stay in a hotel when you come to visit — another great way to carve out space for yourself.
When your parents break your boundaries, you need to be firm with them. Communicate that this violates your boundaries.
Then, take immediate steps to rectify this breach. For example, if your dad insists on explaining why you should take this job he wants for you, remind him that you have made your decision, and you are happy with your job. Follow this up with, “I will let you know if I ever need help with a job.”
This way, you have changed the dynamics. Now, it is understood that you will initiate when you need advice.
5) Focus on the good
Most relationships aren’t all terrible. Often, there are plenty of good things. Maybe you and your mom always get along when you watch sports. Or maybe you and your dad never fight when you go on hikes. Figure out what those activities are, and make those the center of your relationship.
In this way, you refuse to allow the abuse to define your relationship, and you remove the abuse from the relationship. Now, you have redesigned the relationship to be a positive one — just one that you control.
6) Be honest
This can be a little tricky, especially when family members are prone to gaslighting. However, if your parents are selfish but not abusive, being upfront about how their actions affect you negatively can be eye-opening for them. It helps to focus on I statements: I feel angry when you tell me my job is pointless.
I get upset when you say “why can’t you be more like your sister?”.
A word of advice, come in with a plan of attack. Practice what you’re going to say ahead of time. Leave room for them to speak as well. Be polite, acknowledge their feelings, but remain firm.
7) Seek therapy
Finding out that your parents don’t care about you can be devastating. Even with a great friend support group, excellent communication skills, and a great plan for going forward; you still may feel emotionally devastated.
Having a mental health professional on your side will help you process this trauma and give you the extra support you need to get through this trying time.
Your parents don’t define you
No matter what your abusive parents have attempted to instill in you, you are your own person.
You have your own personality, needs, wants, and opinions. Processing that your parents don’t care about you is a difficult journey, but it involves centering your own wants and needs, and showing them that they need to respect you as your own unique person.
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