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Parents of Criminals Like Anna Delvey Learn to Let Go

Parents of criminal offspring sometimes "divorce."

Key points

  • Blaming parents for their offspring's criminality is misguided.
  • Children often become criminals despite their parents' efforts.
  • Psychological survival of the parent may require a "divorce" from their child.

The highly popular Netflix series, Inventing Anna, is about a “German heiress” who turns out to be a master con artist, “Anna Delvey" steals from the elite of New York society. Facing serious charges of grand larceny, as her trial approaches, she needs all the support she can get. However, Anna’s parents, who are neither wealthy nor German, but are Russian small business owners, want nothing to do with her.

“Vivian,” the journalist covering the story, is appalled by Anna’s parents’ denouncing and disowning their daughter. Her mother wistfully tells Vivian, “Anna was always beyond us. We learned to let go.” She added. ”We don’t form them. Anna was a stranger her whole life.”

The statement, “We don’t form them,” flies in the face of what some psychologists say, that parents help shape their child’s personality as though it were a formless lump of clay. Parents are blamed for their son’s or daughter’s criminal conduct. The assertion is often made that you can figure out how a child will turn out by knowing the parents.

Contrary to this thought, child-rearing is not a one-way street. The child brings up the parent as well as vice versa. Children differ from birth in their level of activity, how they interact with the environment, how fearful they are, as well as in other aspects. Parents respond to those characteristics. It is a mutual interaction.

Many mothers and fathers of delinquent boys and girls are superb role models, responsible, honest, diligent, nurturing, and firmly committed to child-rearing, no matter how difficult this turns out to be. Despite all the heartache, they do not reject their criminally inclined son or daughter. The child rejects them and takes his own path in life.

Some parents are inadequate, neglectful, or abusive. Their offspring suffer but by no means do they all become criminals. In a half-century of interviewing juvenile and adult offenders, I have found that in nearly every instance, the delinquent boy or girl has a sibling who becomes a responsible person. The child rejects the parent. As the personality of the criminally-inclined child unfolds, efforts to stem the tide of irresponsible or criminal behavior are rebuffed. If his mother or father allows him more freedom, he exploits it. Cracking down has no lasting impact. Baffled and distraught, many parents blame themselves.

With the family under siege, parents experience emotions that they never imagined possible, the most upsetting is an incipient dislike of their own child. No matter how destructive the child is, the parents do not give up. The emotional and financial toll is staggering. Parents psychologically beat themselves up, trying to figure out how they have failed. If the parents didn’t flagellate themselves enough, mental health professionals continue to do so because they are convinced that the problem is with the parents, not the child.

Even when these parents are frustrated and angry they continue to grieve. Most report that they cannot stop thinking about their son or daughter. Each time they think they are witnessing a change for the better, Delvey, learn to let go. Even though they sever ties with their child, the pain never leaves. Through it all, the child continues to exploit his parents and remains unaware or indifferent to their suffering. As was the case with Anna Delvey, the relationship with a parent is a one-way street.

Vivian the journalist says to Anna’s parents incredulously, “You let her go?” What else were they to do?


David Cohen. Strangers in the Nest, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1999, pp. 4, 7

"Is temperament determined by genetics?" Medline Plus, Sept. 17, 2020

William B. Carey, Understanding Your Child's Temperament, NY: Macmillan, 1997, p. xxi

Rick Naubert, "Childhood Abuse can lead to Adult Criminality, Psychcentral, August 12, 2015

Anna Delvey Instagram

Inventing Anna/Netflix

Stanton Samenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, NY: Broadway, 2014, pp. 20-47

More from Stanton E. Samenow Ph.D.
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