Siblings and a horrid parent

Unfortunately there is no escape from a horrid parent whether you are their only child or one of several.  The only thing that changes is how they demean you.  

A difficult parent can single out one child, within the family, belittle them and constantly find fault with whatever they do.  They may manipulate one or all the children to set them up against each other.  Or keep changing the child they pick on as the mood takes them.  This is particularly undermining as none of the children know where they stand and they may all feel vulnerable and insecure.   Or they might pick on all the siblings except for one ‘star’ child who in their eyes can do no wrong. Whatever the situation, it is unbearably unfair to see others favoured and it leads to intense feelings of rivalry and jealousy.

Just as no two families are the same, siblings react to each other in many different ways.  They can be tremendously supportive and soften the pain that a horrid parent can cause. A kind older sibling might be tender and caring for a younger sibling, read them stories and comfort them when they cry.


Or they can gang up and bully the sibling in question, making that sibling’s childhood even more unhappy. They might call that sibling unkind names, put them down by laughing at their efforts and sneering at their failures.

Followers of our website have revealed some shocking but true stories of how their parent behaved.  For example in one family three of the four children were sent to private schools while the fourth was not. The reason she was given was: ‘you’ll never amount to anything.’ 

Another parent let two of their daughters learn to drive when they were seventeen, but left out the third who was told ‘you are so stupid you will probably kill someone.’

These examples and countless more help reinforce the truth that it is not a child’s fault that he or she has a horrid parent.

If you are the one singled out for endless criticism, one way to cope is to try and share positive times with your siblings, but it only works if they are sympathetic towards you.  If instead they gang up against you, as hard as it is you need to drawfrom yourself the determination to build up your self-esteem and confidence.  Try talking, carefully at first, to a trusted adult. It may also help if you can develop an emotional distance from the family while also reminding yourself that what you are experiencing as a child will not last forever. 

See our What Makes a Horrid Parent and the Coping pages on the website for more suggestions.    


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Only Child and a Horrid Parent


1.  An only child holds all the hopes and dreams of a horrid parent and their one chance for vicarious fulfillment second time around.  There is no sibling to help relieve the pressure.  

The nasty parent might insist you follow a career they hankered for but never achieved,  regardless of whether you have the talent or interest to pursue it.   They might nag you to be slim when they themselves are overweight,  marry someone rich when they are financially struggling and anything else from doing well in exams to keeping the family name going.  Being permanently under the watchful penetrating eye of  horrid parent is very stressful. 



Try not to get involved in such arguments however annoying they are.   Instead  listen quietly, nod wisely or say something neutral like:  ‘Yes, I understand how you feel.  I’ll seriously think about it.’  It’s a way to mark time until you can leave home.

At the same time keep reassuring yourself that like your parent you have just one life, and you have the right to choosehow to live it. 

Once you are independent you can follow your own path.  This doesn’t mean the criticisms and insults will cease, just that the parent’s  power over you will diminish.    

2.  A single child can only share their thoughts about their difficult parent outside the immediate family. 

Keeping your feelings to yourself, either because of loyalty to the family or because it is difficult to trust anyone with such a sensitive subject, can make you feel lonely.  Look at our Coping page.   

A positive aspect is that you learn to rely on yourself from an earlier age than most, learn to make your own decisions work through problems.  Spending a lot of time at home on your own will also help you learn to entertain yourself. 

3.  An only child is likely to be responsible for their parents as they grow older,  make major decisions about their welfare and deal with the practicalities.  This  can be especially difficult as the nasty parent is ungrateful and rude.


Think about this demanding and tricky issue from time to time so you develop a general idea of how to cope and the responsibility involved.   Try not to abandon your parent when they become dependent as managing the situation in ahumane way helps you avoid a guilty conscience once they have died.  Doing the right thing also means you are less likely to pass on their bad behaviour to the next generation.   But there are limits.  Do what you feel is necessary, but don’t let your obligations intrude too much into your own life.  If looking out for them is a problem, it can help to think of them as a cantankerous old person you have chosen to visitrather than a parent.  The advantage of not having any siblings is that although you get to do all the work, you don’t have anyone arguing about your view. 

4.  If as a child you associated mainly with adults be prepared for it to  take practice to interact with your own age group.  It can also be difficult to relate to small children until you have your own.


Try to get involved with group activities, anything from sport, charity work, following a hobby.  It gives you something in common to talk about.  It is also a good learning space to watch how others interact and learn from that.  

5.   Your home environment is one where your horrid parent’s view is the only one possible on world issues, personal matters and behaviour.  


Outside your home you might need to learn how to negotiate disagreements without resorting to being unpleasant:  that there is more than one way to solve a problem and that other people’s viewpoints are as valid as your own.

Listen to what others have to say, then present your view calmly.  Don’t copy your horrid parent and verbally destroy the person you are talking to because you disagree with them.   

Disagreeing with someone doesn’t mean your can’t have a relationship with them.  Don’t cut off friends automatically after an argument.  Every worthwhile relationship has its ups and down.  Write a list of the good things about any friendship before ending it.  Try to be a peacemaker outside of the home even if this isn’t possible with your parent. 

Learning how to argue with confidence while respecting another’s view ismore rewarding than  an uncontrolled, irrational outburst and far less draining.    


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