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Always a Child to Parent

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Mrs. Whitman: My son collected food for poor people. He helped underprivileged children learn to read.
Defense Attorney: And he participated in violent demonstrations. […]
Mrs. Whitman: Jason wasn’t like that. He was just a big-hearted boy.
Defense Attorney: A big-hearted boy with a taste for violence and for Communist rhetoric. A foolhardy boy who went to a foreign country to preach revolution.

It is a parent's job (and in most cases, pleasure) to love and care for their child from birth until they reach adulthood and are ready to make their own way in the world. As part of this job, they must guide and protect the child as they learn and grow. This bond forms from the child's first wakened moments in the world and only gets stronger with the passage of time.

Despite that, most parents understand and realize that they must make adjustments over time in how they treat their child, and what permissions and privileges they permit as their child grows up and begins to develop strengths and abilities.

Some parents have a hard time with the intermediate period when their offspring is no longer a baby or a little kid, but not quite an adult either. Some even have a hard time once the child is a full grown adult — so hard in fact that they literally cannot bring themselves to treat the offspring like anything but a small child, much to the child's dismay and frustration.

This is often portrayed through:

  • Acting toward the kid are as if they were still a small child. This means changing manner of speech, up to and including addressing the child with Baby Talk.
  • A P.O.V. Shot or Imagine Spot from the parent's perspective where their kid is depicted as a literal child, regardless of their actual age.
  • The parent continuing to treat the child as though they were much younger: giving them toys and other presents or parties suited to a much younger child.
  • Engaging in Amazingly Embarrassing Parents habits suited to a small child, such as licking a handkerchief and wiping a spot off their face, or putting a bib on them in public.

Thankfully, most parents only have brief and infrequent flashes of the urge to deny so vehemently that their child is old enough to venture away from the "nest" of home without parental oversight.

Sometimes, the trouble coping with the maturing of their child is also mixed with the unpleasant realization that they, the parents, are also getting older.

The trope is often played with in such a way that an adult whose job it is to care for multiple under-18-age kids treats them all like they're little children even when it's obvious they're older.

If the parent can't rein in their tendency to control every aspect of their child's life regardless of their having grown up, such a parent can go from simply denying their fledgling is ready to fly, and go straight on to being a Helicopter Parent or My Beloved Smother. If they have been told and told and told repeatedly to quit trying to interfere and act like they know best, this trope joins with Helicopter Parents. More insistent examples may eventually get an Anti-Smother Love Talk.

Subtrope of Doesn't Know Their Own Child. Compare The Baby of the Bunch when an individual receives this in a group where parents are not necessarily involved. See Everyone's Baby Sister for a person who has this issue with all the older people in their lives. Also compare Just a Kid.

Not to be confused with Not Allowed to Grow Up which is a meta-trope about keeping the characters the same age no matter how long the show goes on.

While it is probably tempting to describe such stories, no Real Life Examples, please.


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  • There's a commercial with a dad going over a pre-ignition checklist with his six-year-old daughter who turns out to be sixteen when he sees her with eyes that acknowledge she's growing up.
  • There's another with a boy of about four or five going through the various difficulties involved with owning a car. This one is a played with example, as the boy is still four when all is said and done, and in no hurry to grow up.
  • One UK ad featured a group of young mothers with their babies talking about the trials of early motherhood. One of the mothers however has her (roughly) nine year old son in a baby sling and using baby talk. Unsurprisingly the boy looks a little more than embarassed by his mother's antics.
  • An advertisement homaging the Monty Python example below has John Cleese as a man who is treated as a child by his parents - at the end, when they're saying what a clever little boy he is, he protests "Mother, I'm fifty-two and a High Court judge!"

  • This classic comedy routine ends this way, with the son humoring his mom's demeaning attitude.

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • A played with example. Batmanthe Batman made Robin his Sidekick when the boy was only 8 or so. His acrobatic prowess meant he mostly kept out of trouble, distracting the villains while Batman did the heavy lifting. But in The '70s continuity, a villain was sharp enough to shoot Robin and hit him. Batman's trouble coping with the idea that his Robin — his son in all but name — had nearly died — that he forbade Dick Grayson from being Robin for fear of it happening again. Dick, already used to a life of costumed crimefighting, rebelled. This caused the two of them to have an enormous fight resulting in a falling out, and the creation of Nightwing.

    Fan Works 
  • From Bajor to the Black: When Kanril Eleya's family drops her off at a shuttleport en route to boot camp, her mother Shora tells her 17-year-old daughter "You're still my little girl."

    Films — Animation 
  • In Kung Fu Panda, as Tai Lung leaps to attack his mentor and adoptive father Shifu, the kung fu master momentarily sees his renegade pupil as the adorable snow leopard cub he'd once been. The memory of baby Tai Lung makes the elderly monk hesitate and his ex-student brings him down.
  • In Hotel Transylvania 2, Dracula briefly sees his daughter Mavis as a little girl as she's walking down the aisle at her wedding.
  • In Turning Red, when Mei rages against her giant red panda form in her room, she causes the house to shake knocking a picture of her as a toddler off the wall which Ming catches underscoring how Ming sees Mei as still that little girl.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In one of the live-action GeGeGe no Kitarō movies, the older youkai have failed to understand that Kitaro and Neko-Musume are well into puberty (and played by twenty-somethings) and continue to treat them like the children they're usually portrayed as.
  • In the film The Baby, the mother and her grown daughters took her denial to an unhealthy extreme. She had her adult son who had to be in his 20s-30s, still in diapers and babbling like a baby, playing with rattles, etc. They even called him "Baby" instead of by name. The implication here is that the Baby was mentally challenged, but with treatment, might grow to behave and function closer to his correct age.
  • Father of the Bride (1991): Annie tells her parents she met a man in Rome, and they are getting married. Her father asks her what she said, and the viewer sees Annie from his POV, a girl of lower elementary school age.
  • Wolves: In the beginning, Cayden's parents respond to his Catapult Nightmare as if he's much younger than his late teens, both running into his bedroom to hug and reassure him. This trope is possibly the reason they haven't told him he's adopted.

  • Isaac Asimov's "My Son, the Physicist": Senior Physicist Gerard Cremona works in a government building, is known by everyone in the building, is introduced on-screen while talking with a general about a top secret project, and has greying hair. Despite this, his mother, the viewpoint character, still sees only her little boy. You can hear her pride in him from the title alone.
  • The text in The Cold Moons takes note that parents always worry about their children as if they're little:
    Badger parents always worried about their offspring, no matter how old they were, for the young of badgers are cubs until the parents die.
  • Deryni Rising: Early on, Queen Jehana and her ladies treat Kelson as if he were a child. One of her ladies finds Kelson conversing with Duke Alaric Morgan and chides him for going off by himself and making his mother worry over the danger, and she fails to address Kelson as king (a failure for which Morgan scolds her). After Kelson's masterful performance at Morgan's treason trial in council, Jehana bitterly reflects that he opposed her effectively, "not with childish taunts".
  • Discworld:
    • Nanny Ogg's cat Greebo is a vicious, foul-smelling, one-eyed, evil rapist of a tomcat that can scare off alligators, wolves and bears (unless they have cubs), but she sees him as the tiny kitten he was a very, very long time ago.
    • Monstrous Regiment: Polly Oliver has had to take care of her slow, Gentle Giant brother most of her life, so she ends up treating her lieutenant in the same way, telling him to spit in a handkerchief so she can wipe his face.
    • Unseen Academicals: Glenda is basically a mother hen to her friend Julia, despite their being the same age, and rules over the Night Kitchen much like her grandmother did. As lampshaded by Vetinari, who says they go through life like mothers on a playground, wiping up faces, blowing noses and otherwise treating adults like children.
  • Sherlock Holmes's The Hound of the Baskervilles has a Promotion to Parent variant. It turns out the escaped convict is the brother of Baskerville Hall's housekeeper, and she keeps smuggling him food and clothes since to him he's still her little brother who needs her constant supervision (and Watson notes that a man is truly done for when no female member of his family feels like this).
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Cersei would always baby and indulge her son, Joffrey, because he was the firstborn child, male, beautiful, and therefore first in line to the throne (although she neglects her next two children). As a result, he grows up a spoiled, cruel child, but nevertheless Cersei still acts like he is her faultless firstborn, and remains blind to his flaws. When he ascends to the throne, she seems to believe that she can use his status as king to rule the realm by proxy and attempts to control him, but he proves to be more uncontrollable than her biased view of him thought.
  • InCryptid: James's father mixes this with a fair amount of resentment for his wife's death, so doesn't bat an eye when his adult son is having cookies and milk over textbooks with a girl his own age, like they were 11 year olds.
  • Dave Barry Turns Forty has an extended take on this (you don't remember the stupid things you did as a child, but your parents do), along with the unpleasant corollary where parents get older and are no longer the all-knowing sources of learning and wisdom young children see them as.
  • Tunnel in the Sky: This is Rod's experience when he returns home from being stranded on an uninhabited planet; despite having led a colony for years, when he finally returns home his parents expect him to move back in with them and are concerned about things like whether he will have to repeat the semester in high school and if the people with whom he spent years stranded are "desirable companionship for a young boy". This is exacerbated by the fact the his parents spent most of the time that he was gone in a Year Outside, Hour Inside device, and while they've had his situation explained to them it's hard for them to even grasp even the amount of time that has passed, let alone how much he's been matured by his experiences.
  • X-Wing Series: Discussed in Isard's Revenge, with a side of Calling the Old Man Out. Booster Terrik got caught smuggling and spent five years in the spice mines of Kessel, and during that time his still underage daughter Mirax took command of her father's ship and built her own business — going from his little girl to her own person. Booster never had the chance to see that, and Mirax bluntly points out to him that she may be his daughter, but she's not his little girl anymore, along with the fact that his recent actions (sending someone to serve as backup for her when doing so may have been what tipped off their enemy to her presence, along with "joking" that he'd have tipped off the enemy if it was her husband going on the same mission) show that he still doesn't trust her or her choice in husband. Booster finally admits that she's right, she has grown up, and that he's never had the chance to really get used to the idea... but he's going to try and do better.
    Booster: "You went from being my little girl to the woman you are now, and I never got a chance to get used to that idea. Don't know if I ever will. Don't know if I would ever want to. I figured I'd delay trying until I had no choice. Delay's over."
  • In Love You Forever, a mother sings a lullaby to her son, claiming that "as long as I'm living, my baby you'll be." She sings this several times over the course of the book, always keeping the "my baby" phrasing even when he's become a grown man who lives on his own. At the end of the story, as the mother is bedridden and dying, the son shows that he feels similarly, holding her in his arms and singing the same song, this time altered to end with "as long as you're living, my mommy you'll be."
    I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living, my baby you'll be.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 30 Rock: Elderly Colleen Donaghy refuses to inform her middle age son Jack about her hospitalization, to the concern of the hospital staff. She explains that Jack was useless the last time she was at the hospital, which Jack clarifies she is referring to his birth.
  • Howard's Jewish Mother in The Big Bang Theory seemed to think her little Howie was still in middle school by the way she talks about his "little friends" coming to visit and offering them cookies and Hawaiian Punch. The fact that he continued to live in his old bedroom until he got married and indulged her when it suited him certainly didn't help.
  • The Borgias: After Juan Borgia's death, his father Rodrigo is the only person present at his burial as he had made enemies out of all his other family members. He briefly dreams that Juan, depicted as a little boy rather than his present day adult self, is about to fall into an abyss and is calling to his father for help. This illustrates that Rodrigo always had a blind spot for his Bastard Bastard.
  • In Castle, this is a recurring theme in the relationship between Rick Castle and his precocious overachiever daughter Alexis, particularly as the series continues and she graduates from high school and moves out to go to Columbia. Castle is frequently shown having to remind himself that she's not a little girl anymore, and in one episode is unpleasantly surprised to run into her at a con dressed in midriff-baring cosplay.
  • In a sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus two pepperpots talk about one of their sons, marveling at his progress growing up. Then the son enters and it turns out he's a fortysomething Government minister.
  • In one episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, an investigation into a rape and murder hinges upon the detectives convincing a mother that her "sweet little boy" is actually a cold-blooded sociopath.
  • Played with alternatively for drama, angst, and laughs in Once Upon a Time with Emma and her parents. Emma is an adult when she meets them and they are roughly the same age she is, but they still have a strong desire to parent her and struggle to find a balance between this and understanding that their daughter (who they last saw as a newborn) is an adult capable of making her own decisions. Emma, for her part, has both a desire to have parents and a lot of emotional baggage that comes from feeling abandoned and growing up in the foster care system.
  • Discussed in Young Sheldon, where Tam tells Sheldon about in Vietnamese culture, people are treated like children as long as their parents are alive.

  • In the song "Mother" from Pink Floyd's The Wall, Pink's mother's responses to her son's growing paranoia go way beyond protective and reach the point of outright smothering, as Mother promises to help her boy wall himself off from the world and carefully manage her son's love life so that nobody "dirty" will get through that wall.
    "Ooh, baby, you'll always be baby to me..."

  • Jack's mom in Into the Woods is all over this.
    "You're still a little boy in your mother's eyes!"
  • In Children of Eden, Father (the term the show gives the Judeo-Christian God) treats Adam and Eve like babies; it's implied that part of the reason he refuses to let them near the Tree of Knowledge is that he doesn't want them to gain wisdom and thus mature. It overlaps with Secretly Selfish, as Father explicitly created Adam and Eve to cure his own feelings of loneliness, and he thinks that keeping them young forever will likewise keep himself young.

    Video Games 
  • Psychonauts 2: Using Clairvoyance on Raz's mother Donatella reveals that she sees him as a baby.
    • In the first game, Milla Vodello sees Raz (and possibly the other children as well) as a bundled-up baby, due to her maternal instincts as a teacher and repressed guilt.

    Visual Novels 
  • The protagonist of Daughter for Dessert is reluctant to give Amanda more responsibility at the diner, and he doesn’t tell her that he’s thinking of selling the diner (she finds out later from Kathy).

    Web Comics 
  • Alfie (2010): As indicated by her nightmares, a good chunk of the motivation behind Vera's Stern Chase starting at the end of Chapter 7 is her difficulty internalizing that her daughter Alfie is a twenty-one year old woman living with her parents mainly because she did not wish to be married and a woman living on her own would cause undue scandal in the hamlet they lived in before the latter left on a trade caravan after an argument. When Vera offhandedly mentioned Alfie's age to the trail guide she had spent weeks confiding in and bonding with, he is shocked because the way Vera talks about her he took it as given that she was twelve at best.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: One of the last resorts from Onni to keep Tuuri and Lalli from leaving for the expedition is to claim that they aren't adults and hence shouldn't leave home. There are two problems with his statement. The first is that the home in question is a military base in which all three of them are employed. The second is that Tuuri and Lalli are twenty-one and nineteen years old respectively, while Onni got his Promotion to Parent towards them when he was sixteen.
  • Something*Positive has Jason approach his daughter about trick-or-treating that year, which she blows off as "kid's stuff" because she's 10 now - only for Aubrey to admonish her for invoking this trope as a means to play on Jason's fears about Pamjee growing up.

  • Not Always Right: One story came from a birthday planner told to plan a party appropriate for a five-year-old... for a teenager.

    Western Animation 
  • As Told by Ginger: Macie, whose parents are both psychologists and thus very hands-off, is used to neglect. But when the Drs. Lightfoot forget her thirteenth birthday, they're genuinely ashamed of themselves and decide to spend more time with her. Unfortunately, the Lightfoots starts treating her like a five-year-old: they buy her a kiddie jungle gym, dress her in juvenile clothes, and arrange for a party at a local petting zoo. In a twist on the trope, Macie actually likes being babied in this way because she missed out on being a little kid the first time around; at the end of the episode, she assures Ginger that she'll be talking with her parents about treating her like a teenager, but wants to enjoy their spoiling her while it lasts.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • "The Secret of My Excess": Twilight takes Spike to the pony pediatrician. He talks Baby Talk to an increasingly annoyed Spike (who at this particular moment is not even a baby dragon).
    • "Somepony to Watch Over Me": The Apple family has held a meeting to determine whether or not Apple Bloom is old enough to take care of the farm and the chores by herself for done day while Applejack and Big Macintosh make deliveries. Applejack can't cope with the idea of leaving Apple Bloom alone, and returns to the farm, where she commences treating Apple Bloom like she's barely any older than the baby Cake Twins. She descends into addressing Apple Bloom in Baby Talk. She baby-proofs the entire orchard, driving Apple Bloom to desperate measures to prove she is capable of self-reliance. She only snaps out of it when she sees Apple Bloom is capable of quick thinking in a crisis even if she didn't take the dangers of the delivery route into consideration.
    • "Forever Filly": Rarity drops in on Sweetie Belle without checking. Sweetie Belle takes off from the CMC and spends the day with her sister, but Rarity treats her like a tiny filly barely older than the Cake Twins. Meanwhile, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo's client seems to have the same problem: Zipporwhill hasn't realized her "puppy" is now a full grown dog and is too old for puppy toys. Thankfully solving Zip's problem in Rarity's earshot saves Sweetie Belle from having to explain, and Rarity acknowledges her sister has grown up since the last time they spent the day together.
    • "The Parent Map": Starlight Glimmer's father Firelight still treats her as if she was a little filly, calling her baby names like "pumpky-wumpkins" and giving her a very old Security Blanket. It not only brings her no end of embarrassment, but when she finally can't take it anymore, Starlight screams at her father to stop treating her like a kid in front of the entire town. Firelight gets the hint, but Starlight still realizes she shouldn't have yelled at him. She apologizes, but Firelight also admits he went a bit overboard.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • Doofenshmirtz's daughter Vanessa is 16 and he's usually good about treating her as such. But in "Getting the Band Back Together" he throws her a party that's suited to a six year old. Only resolved with Perry's help.
    • And in "Skiddley Whiffers", Vanessa wants to go camping with a bunch of other teens. Doof doesn't want her to go because he's worried and protective. He sees her as about six years old.
    • In "Finding Mary McGuffin" the trope is played with. Doofenshmirtz finds a Little Mary McGuffin doll at a garage sale, and remembers how much little Vanessa wanted one and that she said if he got her one she'd be happy and he'd be the best dad in the world. He gives it to sixteen year old Vanessa, who is nonplussed at first, but when she thinks about it becomes very touched that he went to so much effort to find this thing for her to show her he loves her.
  • Teenage Fairytale Dropouts:
    • Fury is 16, and has an aunt Sugar Plum who insists on calling her "Sweet Cheeks" and throwing her little kid parties with ponies, puppies, pink, and sparkles. Fury doesn't want the baby parties, but also doesn't want to hurt her aunt's feelings. The Mean Girls eventually reveal what Fury was trying not to say, and Fury gets her rad teen rock-n-roll party in the end.
  • Steven Universe: "Sadie's Song" has Sadie's mom Barb, who displays traits of My Beloved Smother as well; Sadie has an enormous pile of cutesy plush toys which she describes as "not really hers". Sadie's mother comes home and adds a bear with a cutesy bib reading "I wuv you woads".
  • Dr. Drakken, the major recurring villain in Kim Possible, has visits from his mother on occasion. Since he's taken care not to tell her that he's a supervillain, she believes he's a radio doctor. She also regularly smothers and lectures him as if he still were a child, which he tolerates for her sake.
  • In Family Guy, Death stalks the world claiming souls. But when he returns home, he's still a little boy to his mother.
  • Bunnicula: Mina's dad throws her a pink, sparkly, princess and pony party, "like she has always loved" ... when she was much younger. Now she's 13 and the princess dress she used to wear is way too small for her. But dad forces her to wear it anyway.
    Mina's dad: I found it in the garbage, of all places!
  • Recess: "Bonky Fever" deconstructs this trope with Gentle Giant Mikey and his mother Mrs. Blumberg. When Mikey's tenth birthday approaches, Mrs. Blumberg tells him that he'll soon be walking to the bus stop by himself as opposed to waiting with her. This innocent comment sends Mikey into an existential crisis about getting older, and he copes by regressing to a Kiddie Kid obsessed with Bonky the Dragon, a character for kindergarteners. Mrs. Blumberg tries to help by dressing up as Bonky for Mikey's birthday party, but the Recess Gang intervenes for fear of Mikey being mocked. When things have settled down, Mikey and Mrs. Blumberg have a heart-to-heart in the backyard, and she gently points out that he shouldn't be acting like a preschooler any more. Mikey admits that he's terrified of losing her and their special relationship, and Mrs. Blumberg acknowledges that while he'll always be her little boy, there will be changes that they both have to accept as part of growing up.


How Doof sees Vanessa

She's 16 but he sees her as 6

How well does it match the trope?

4.53 (17 votes)

Example of:

Main / AlwaysAChildToParent

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