How to Deal with a Disrespectful Grown Child

Being a parent is difficult and complicated. On top of parenting being a full-time job, it costs an estimated quarter of a million dollars to raise each child to the age of eighteen. We dedicate ourselves to keeping our children safe and healthy for nearly two decades—a huge feat in this crazy world. Even after they’ve grown up, we have heartstrings connected to them 24/7, no matter where they live or what they’re doing.

You’ve done your best as a parent. Maybe you’ve made a few mistakes; perhaps you didn’t have great parenting yourself. Nonetheless, you loved and still love them, and your children know that.

A grown daughter ignoring her mother disrespectfully

Grown Children Disrespecting Parents—What's Up with Disrespectful Behavior!?

You believe that you taught the importance of respect throughout their developmental years, too. But then you find yourself the target of your grown child’s snide remarks, entitlement, and disrespect. Ouch.

What do you do? How do you hold your adult child accountable to be loving while also letting them know how much you care?

As parents, with everything we’ve given to our children over the years, it can feel like the least we can expect is a little respect, right?

A reasonable expectation, no matter how flawed. Why is it a faulty expectation? Because parents are meant to be a safe zone. We are a secure place for our children to erupt because they know we’ll always love them. This understanding doesn’t mean disrespect and angry zingers feel good on the receiving end. Nor does it mean that the behavior is acceptable; it is, however, understandable.

First off, remember that just because your grown child is acting disrespectful, or perhaps having an off day, it doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong as a parent. Nothing gives them the right to mistreat you. Respect is non-negotiable. However, if they’re disrespectful, there can be a multitude of reasons. It’s best to seek to understand their disrespect, which is probably what brought you here, right?

Young man shutting out his father

Reasons Why Grown Children Are Disrespectful to Their Parents

Before we get into how to deal with disrespect, or perhaps even anger, let’s explore some possible reasons for your grown child’s behavior:

  • Living on their own is much harder than they thought it would be, and they resent you for not preparing them better.
  • They never learned how to regulate themselves or process emotions adequately.
  • They’re being treated disrespectfully at work and are taking it out on you—a cry for help.
  • They’re overwhelmed with big feelings, and you’re a safe space for them to vent.
  • Disrespect is more comfortable than engaging in challenging and necessary conversations.
  • Something is bothering them, but they haven’t acknowledged it. Or something happened that upset your adult child, and they don’t know how to deal with it. Disrespect can be an S.O.S.
  • They want to talk to you about a vulnerable feeling, yet they don’t know how to broach the subject.
  • As adults, they’ve realized some of their unresolved pain or emotions stem from things you did and said or didn’t do or say.
  • They were pampered as children creating an unrealistic view of the world; they’re angry that they don’t get coddled anymore.
  • Your grown child is a parent him or herself and overwhelmed with life.
  • They feel criticized or judged by you, and disrespectful behavior is their armor.
  • They felt controlled as a child, and now as an adult, you can no longer control them.

My point is that there are as many reasons as there are cornstalks in an Iowa cornfield. Each parent-child relationship is unique. Every upbringing is different, and no solution is one-size-fits-all.

Regardless, disrespect is a red flag. It tells us as parents that something is needed, like a boundary or a heart-to-heart conversation.

Argument between a mother and grown daughter

Behavior Is Communication

Have you ever thought of behavior simply as communication? It is beneficial to ask yourself, “What is my child trying to tell me through their behavior?” All behavior is communication. And “misbehavior” is driven by unmet needs, lack of skill, and unprocessed emotion or pain. From this viewpoint, as parents, we can take a step back and get curious, even when we feel insulted by our children’s behavior. Releasing judgment and looking at your child’s behavior in new ways will increase compassion and empathy.

Related reading: “Using Boundaries and Empathy to Deal with People’s Anger Effectively.”

Often, our adult children are a mirror of our collective investment in the relationship or lack thereof. Relationship health is always at risk if we do not honor, nurture, and fertilize it with love and respect. It can be a stark realization if we find out that our relationship isn’t as strong or healthy as we once thought, and it’s not what we desire it to be either. Every parent wants to stay connected and have a great relationship with their kids, no matter how old they are.

Three Critical Actions to Eliminate Disrespect

Now, let’s turn our attention to solutions. What can you do to shift the disrespect and reward you both with greater understanding and closeness in the relationship?

ACTION 1:  Seek to understand.

Find out what’s going on with your child. Choose a good time to talk. Tell them what you feel and how their disrespect affects you. Don’t try to address an issue on the fly, with divided attention or when you’re already stressed. It’s essential to pick a time that supports success.

Ice breakers to try:

  • “You may not realize how you hurt my feelings yesterday. Have I done something to upset you?”

  • “I’d like to talk to you about something bothering me. Is now a good time?”

  • “It’s so unlike you to be disrespectful. Is something wrong?”

Son helping his father with technologyACTION 2:  Repair the relationship if your child feels hurt by something you did.

Most situations can move from strife and tension to closeness and understanding if we are willing to be open and lean into discomfort. You must lead the way to repair hurt and restore closeness. When a parent takes responsibility for their part in a relation-SHIFT, it usually inspires the child to own their part. What you’ll often receive is a voluntary apology for their disrespect.

However, the more strained your relationship is, the more empathy and understanding you’ll need to provide when confronting disrespect.

How do we repair trust in a relationship?

  • First, admit your part as you see it. Answer your child’s questions honestly without defensiveness. (If you’re too upset, take a moment to self-calm and get in touch with what you love about your child before discussing further.)

  • Next, empathize with how your action may have felt to your child.

  • Then, ask what they would like in the future and if there is anything else that they need to restore the safety and trust between you moving forward. Apologize and commit to doing things differently next time.

The best way to teach a child respect is by modeling it—even when it’s challenging to do so.
Mother empathizing with her overwhelmed daughter

ACTION 3: Set a healthy boundary for disrespect with your grown child.

A crucial action for any relationship is self-advocacy. It is not kind to us if we allow disrespect, and it’s not kind to our child to allow it because it teaches them it’s okay. When our child disrespects us, it is our responsibility as a parent to hold them accountable to be better. We can understand and empathize as a precursor, yet we must help them understand their impact and help them communicate in respectful ways.

Deep dive: “Learning How to Set Healthy Boundaries for Families.”

Disrespect causes static in any relationship, especially with those we love. Whatever way you decide to handle your grown child’s insolence, lead with love and empathy. Your relationship with your child is precious, and they are now adults. Give the respect you want in return. Unconditional love says, “I love you” no matter how you act, and I will hold you accountable to be respectful, to be your best self, too.

If you'd like to develop better boundaries, try out our online mini-course.

Yes, help me set better boundaries

Need some customized parent coaching and support with disrespect or other behavioral challenges, call us at Heartmanity 406-577-2100 or email jennifer@Heartmanity.com.

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Jennifer A. Williams / Parent CoachJennifer A. Williams / Parent Coach
Jennifer’s mission is to create thriving relationships at home and work. She coaches children, teens, and their parents in her private practice located in Bozeman, Montana. Jennifer is a parenting instructor of Redirecting Children's Behavior and an Instructor Trainer for the International Network for Children and Families. She's been a parent educator for the past twenty years. Jennifer is also the author of "The Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence for Children" and co-author of "Hacking the Teen Brain" courses. She frequents homes and schools as regularly as a behavioral consultant to help with challenging behaviors. Jennifer is married to her beloved husband of 39 years and is the mother of three grown children.

Posted in Perfectly Imperfect Parenting