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5 Parenting Tips to Successfully Deal with Disrespectful Adult Children

Today's families are up against tremendous challenges, and many family members are estranged. When your adult child lashes out, disrespects you, or tells you they "need space," and cuts you off, their responses can really sting. Of course, it is understandable for any parent to feel hurt, confused, and even angry when their adult child ignores them or doesn't want anything to do with them. A parent may feel rejected, even a sense of guilt, wondering if they failed as a parent.

Fortunately, there are some proactive steps you can take as a parent to help improve relationship boundaries, address underlying issues that led to your current situation, and parent adult children successfully.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

KEY POINTS... jump to the section that piques your interest!
Possible Disrespectful Behaviors of Adult Children
Possible Reactions from Parents of Adult Children
5 Reasons Why Disrespect Should Be Handled Openly and Honestly.
Understanding Your Adult Child's Behavior.
Common Reasons Adult Children Act Out
What Is the Appropriate Involvement in My Child's Life as an Adult?
5 Parenting Tips for Parenting Your Adult Child
Final Thoughts

Let's explore some typical behaviors and reasons children might become ornery when reaching adulthood. And I encourage you to keep the lines of communication open.

Possible  Disrespectful Behaviors of Adult Children

If you're a parent of a grown child reading this article, chances are you are experiencing some pushback. Perhaps certain distasteful behaviors are bouncing around family members or upsetting family dynamics. Maybe some of the behaviors below will sound familiar:

  • getting angry and yelling
  • criticizing your parenting
  • creating a power struggle
  • being dismissive
  • blaming you for their situation
  • giving you the silent treatment
  • threatening to withhold visits with grandchildren
  • blocking you on their phones
  • ghosting you on texts
  • telling you that you're "too sensitive"

Possible  Reactions from Parents of Adult Children

When adult children living at home act out consistently, it can be even more stressful. But regardless if your children are at home or not, you might be at the end of your rope. And if so, you might react in some of these ways to your grown children:

  • threatening to cut them off financially
  • not talking to them
  • name calling
  • refusing to return texts or pick up their phone calls
  • sending repeated texts
  • complaining about them with relatives and friends
  • ignoring or criticizing their spouse
  • demanding an apology

All in all, miserable, right?!

Not just for you, but for your child. (And when living with their parents children may want it THEIR way (e.g. messy room, not joining you for dinner, etc.—after all, they're adults!)

As a parent, it's natural to want to be close to your adult kids. However, far too many parents try to protect them from bad choices, criticize their lifestyle, and offer advice when the parent-child relationship should be evolving.

Unsolicited advice is rarely appreciated! As children grow up, they often develop different perspectives and priorities from their parents, sometimes leading to disagreements and tension. If they feel criticized, it can cause distance between you.

FIRST STEP: Listening and respecting your adult kids is critical if you want respect reciprocated!


Parenting Disrespectful Adult Children: 5 Reasons Why Disrespect Should Be Handled Openly and Honestly

Some parents tolerate outrageous behaviors from their grown children because they fear that they will be cut off altogether. However, here are a few reasons to help you understand why you need to be assertive and get on the same page with your adult kids.

REASON #1: You are setting the ground rules and a precedent for future interactions and relationships.

If your child is allowed to disrespect you without setting limits and with no consequences, they may think it's acceptable behavior with you, in friendships, and intimate relationships. If you tolerate the behavior regularly, poor boundaries create feelings of resentment that disrupt a healthy connection and will continually resurface.

Whether in romantic relationships, the workplace, or in families, if young adults continue to exhibit reactive behaviors, they may face consequences that could have been avoided with a healthy model in their transition to adulthood.

Disrespectful grown children need support, too. It's not too late to redirect your child's behavior and help them to become more successful young adults. And if they have their own child, it will assist them in parenting as well!

REASON #2: Disrespect can hinder your adult child's continued growth and development.

Children want us to set limits for unloving behavior. They're adults but while your child is no longer a child, they still need their parents, and their guidance and support. By not challenging them to self-correct, you can hinder their growth and development. As a parent and adult, it's your job to set limits and set a healthy model.

Setting limits is respectful because you require them to be a better version of themselves. By setting boundaries and enforcing consequences, you help your child continue to grow and develop into a more responsible and respectful adult, while also protecting your own emotional health and psychological well-being.

Learning to communicate in a loving manner is an important skill that will benefit them in all aspects of their life. By setting clear boundaries and enforcing consequences for discourteous behavior, you are helping your grown child develop emotional intelligence skills while showing them how to resolve conflict effectively.

REASON #3: A high standard of respect can improve your relationship.

While it may seem counterintuitive to set boundaries, clear expectations for respectful behavior can improve the relationship between a parent and child. Why? Because both parties know what is expected of them and can work towards a healthier relationship built on mutual respect and understanding.

When expectations are clear, and everyone feels heard and respected, open communication is possible and makes all the difference! By requiring greater respect from your grown kids, future conflicts and misunderstandings can be avoided.

REASON #4: It demonstrates the importance of self-respect.

By asserting yourself without being critical, you are demonstrating the importance of self-respect. You are showing your adult child that it's okay to set boundaries and prioritize emotional and mental well-being. Mutual respect can sprout from your love. This model can be a valuable lesson for them to apply in their lives and relationships and can lead to a healthier and more fulfilling life for all.

Ultimately, by requiring respect from your adult child, you are setting the tone for how you expect to be treated. These actions develop essential emotional intelligence and life skills that will benefit them immensely.

REASON #5: It's detrimental to your own mental and emotional health.

In my parent coaching, I speak to parents who need support. They've reached out to me for expert advice and their mental health is suffering from the onslaughts of criticisms, arguments, fighting, and sometimes even boundary violations.

At other times, their children depend on them too much, living at home and not contributing. They're often worn out, experiencing emotional exhaustion while also mourning the relationship they imagined they would have, but don't. It's crucial to relinquish what you "think" the relationship "should" be so that you can create a new relationship with a rapport that considers everyone's needs and desires. Accept what is and move forward from there in healing and understanding.

Be more mindful in your approach, and set kind and firm boundaries to vouchsafe your own personal and emotional boundaries and health.

Get Support from a Parent Coach Today

Understanding Your Adult Child's Behavior

When an adult child starts to push back or infringe on our personal and emotional boundaries, it's important to try to understand the root of their demeanor. There is likely a legitimate reason for how they are behaving. Adult children's lives are complex.

By seeking to understand, parents and their adult children begin to unravel the negative emotions and patterns that have begun to form.

Below are some reasons I've heard from young adults in power struggles with or struggling in their relationship with one or both parents:

  • feeling smothered or controlled
  • deeply hurt by parents' behavior at past events, such as embarrassing them in front of their in-laws.
  • a cry for help!
  • struggling with their own identity and autonomy
  • having physical boundaries encroached upon
  • trying to separate from an enmeshed relationship
  • living in their parents' home and resenting it
  • having their opinions, personal values, or perspectives ignored, judged, or criticized by one or both parents
  • clinging to parental past mistakes when growing up
  • battling mental illness or substance abuse
  • going through a difficult phase or experiencing life stressors in their life

As a parent, you spend years providing for your child, nurturing them, and making sure they have everything they need to succeed. But then, they grow up, leave the nest, and spread their wings! And sometimes, that means they push back against the very people who have always created security and been there for them.

It's easy to feel hurt and frustrated when it seems like your adult child (living in the same town or across the country) doesn't have time for you anymore as they carve their own way in the world. 

But the truth is, children become adults and no longer want to be treated like a child. Your job and relationship with your adult children are very different than when you were parenting young toddlers, preschoolers, or even teenagers! However, when children reach adulthood, they still need you and desire heart-to-heart conversation as much as you do!

Be mindful that your adult kid is looking to you for answers, for ways to manage themselves better. To accomplish this feat, you both need to make a conscious effort to be on the same page.

Check out Jennifer's podcast featured on Bite Your Tongue with a lively discussion on the challenges parents are facing with today's young adults.

Common Reasons Adult Children Act Out

Let's unpack and go a little deeper into a few common reasons driving the behavior of a disrespectful adult.

Another possibility is that your child is dealing with personal issues they don't feel comfortable discussing. If they feel like they can't open up to you about their problems, they may resort to pushing you away instead. Maybe they're struggling with mental health problems, a physical health challenge they're embarrassed about, dealing with a difficult breakup, or trying to figure out their sexuality. Or even a vaping addiction that started as a teen and they know you'll disapprove of.

Personal space is essential in adulthood, especially when struggling with difficult issues. They may withdraw if they don't feel like they can confide in you.

Alternatively, your child might feel smothered or controlled by your behavior. Perhaps, you dote on them or continually offer your two cents. Even if your intentions are good and you offer helpful tips, they may feel you're not respecting their autonomy or giving them the space they need to grow. And if they sense criticism, it might cause them to take further distance.

Yes, your experience is valuable, but when unsolicited, it can feel like you don't think they can handle their lives. Remember, our parental responses can be interpreted differently than how we intend them.

And it's also possible that your child is simply going through a rebellious phase... yes, maybe a little late :) They may experiment and try new lifestyles, attitudes, or behaviors that clash with your values or beliefs.

In addition, a lot can surface when they marry and have children. They could feel pressure to support a family or think they are ill-equipped to be a parent. Parents may struggle with "sharing" time with spouses, in-laws, and friends. However, your adult children need to decide what's most important for themselves. They'll need to prioritize their work, significant other, and family members, which will naturally affect how much time they spend with you.

To forge independence, your child needs to make their own way in real life; make their own decisions (and learn from their mistakes).

If you disregard their right to live their life the way they desire and ignore their requests or what they've told you they want, you'll be the one to behave disrespectfully.

RESPECT equates to honoring another person's boundaries and free will—and it's a two-way street!

Let them make their own choices—even if YOU think they're making a BIG mistake. Even if YOU feel their choice is wrong and will come back to bite them in the future. It's their life and learning curve! 

As noted in Psychology Today, "Even well-meaning parents may act in ways that hurt their adult children and make it hard to communicate."

Remember: The goal is a connected and loving relationship. If you lose that precious connection in your parent-child relationship, you'll also lose the ability to influence, help and support them, too.

Read our popular blog: "How to Deal with a Disrespectful Grown Child."

What Is the Appropriate Involvement in My Child's Life as an Adult?

Parents and adult children vary in uniqueness just like the leaves on a maple tree. However, every parent I speak to asks me, "What is the 'appropriate' involvement in my child's life now that they are adults?" and "What is a normal amount of time adult children want to spend with their parents?"

So, what's realistic? And what is ideal?

Adult children may want to spend holidays and vacations a home, especially if they have children. Their lives are busy and they value friends, recreation, and travel. For the most part, gone are the days when family reunions dwell at the center of family activities. Gone are the days when adults and their parents dwell with multiple generations under one roof (at least for now).

A father and adult son having pizza together and laughing.

This phase of parenthood is your opportunity to create joy in connecting without conflict—be a magnet so your kids WANT to spend time with you. 

They're living in a culture where the choices are unlimited. A relationship with your child depends on not just what you want, but what your son or daughter envisions. Even though you may have an empty nest and yearn for the days when your house was a hub of activity, it's time for many parents to face that the parent-child relationship has changed!

You are no longer raising children.

And no matter how much you desire your children to communicate regularly, spend time hanging out with you, or live by your values, you can't force them to do anything. An autocratic parenting style may have worked when they were young, but I guarantee, it won't work now. Only healthy communication will—modeling healthy communication and empathizing with each others' experience.

It's time to work toward a new kind of relationship—one where there is joy in connecting without conflict! Forget about past mistakes, and just love your adult daughter or grown son.

5 Parenting Tips for Parenting Adult Children: How to Handle Conflict and Challenging Behaviors

Love is a daily choice, even when it's hard. However, our relationship can get strained and when your adult child asks for space, respect it. And understand that it doesn't necessarily mean it's permanent. 

It's important to approach your relationship and challenging times as they arise with flexible boundaries, empathy, and understanding. Rather than reacting with anger or defensiveness, take a step back and take a deep breath. Seriously discern if you've created a loving and safe space for your grown-up child to flourish.

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TIP #1: 

Connect authentically through open communication and genuine listening.

Try to have open and honest conversations with your child to foster closeness. Be genuinely curious about what's going on in their lives and why they believe or view something a certain way. Use encouragers such as, "Tell me more about ..." Ask open-ended questions (ones that can't be answered with a "yes" or a "no") about their decisions and perspectives that spur a meaningful dialogue. 

Listen to their concerns, empathize with their emotions, and let them know that you're willing to see their perspective. Your parental support is still needed but resist the temptation to give unwanted advice.

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TIP #2: 

Set flexible and compassionate boundaries.

Healthy boundaries are the foundation of every healthy and happy relationship. While it's understandable to want to maintain a close and loving bond with your adult child, it's unsustainable for either party to tolerate unloving behavior. Many parents make the mistake of remaining quiet because they are afraid that they will be cut off. However, you gain respect when you model self-care and take responsibility for the quality relationship you desire.

Set healthy boundaries and have clear expectations for appropriate behavior.

It is critical to set boundaries and clear expectations for the behavior expected from both parties. This mindset could include setting a specific time for weekly or monthly conversations and agreeing to discuss certain topics, such as family matters or personal issues. It is also helpful to discuss the consequences of breaking the previously set boundaries.

Lastly, respecting your adult child's boundaries is vital, too. Listen to how your child feels. Parents who've taken the time to REALLY listen have found their adult children to be more receptive. If they have asked for certain things, like not stopping by their house unannounced, respect their request. And make sure to follow through on any promises you make; if you say you'll not stop by without letting them know—then don't! 

Perhaps they prefer texting over phone calls. Even if you dislike texting, communicate with texts if that is best for them. Then carve time for more meaningful conversations on the phone or in person when it works for both of you. 

Yes, help me set better boundaries


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TIP #3: 

Give an empathetic apology as needed.

And, as necessary, give an empathetic apology. Regardless if you disagree with your child's perspective, try to see things from their point of view. This willingness and nonjudgmental stance doesn't mean you have to agree with everything they say or do, but it does mean approaching the situation with an open mind and a willingness to apologize when they feel offended.

While you will always be their parent, you must respect them as adults and give them the space they need to live their own lives. With patience, understanding, and effective communication, you can work through this difficult period and come out with a stronger, more respectful relationship on the other side.

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TIP #4: 

Be ready to change as a person and parent.

Show them that you are trying to improve yourself, understand them better, and work on the relationship. Showing your children that you care enough to take responsibility for any way you might contribute to difficulties between you will mean a lot! Your willingness to make the effort to improve the relationship can go a long way toward a more positive and healthy relationship.

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TIP #5: 

Call to mind what you love about your child.

It is key to keep top of mind what you love about your children and remind yourself of all the wonderful memories covered over by strife or disconnection. This practice is extremely helpful when you're feeling frustrated, or like you're walking on eggshells, or feeling like giving up.

This simple mindset will shift you from being on guard to your brain releasing feel-good chemicals that help you center in your heart.


Final Thoughts

It may take time for your grown child to open up to you, especially if there's been a falling out. Recognize that shifts in relationships take time, and for relationships to shift and improve.

The key to healthy relationships is being patient, understanding, and consistent. The above tips can help show your loved ones that you desire to be a part of their lives. Whatever you do, don't give up on your adult kids! 

Seek support if you're struggling. One of Heartmanity's specialties is parenting coaching, reach out!  We're here to support you so email us at support@heartmanity.com

Get Support from a Parent Coach Today

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Jennifer A. Williams / Parent CoachJennifer A. Williams / Parent Coach
Jennifer is the Heartmanity Founder and a parent coach and behavioral consultant with two decades of experience. She is a Parent Instructor and Instructor Trainer for the International Network of Children and Families and author of several parenting courses, including How to Bully-Proof Your Child and Hacking the Teen Brain. Jennifer is happily married and a mother to 3 fantastic grown children.

Posted in Perfectly Imperfect Parenting

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