Parents today face a unique challenge: navigating long-distant, sometimes fragmented, grown-children relationships. What a shock when disrespect is hurled our way, and we thought we raised our children to be respectful, empathetic adults. It can be challenging—even disheartening—when they don’t show us respect. Although you might want to dodge the hard truth that your relationship needs to change, there’s no escaping that adult children are no longer children!
The interactions between your grown child and yourself might be difficult right now, but there are helpful strategies you can employ to put both the parent-child relationship AND the respect back on track.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
My previous article, “How to Deal with Disrespectful Grown Children,” received a tremendous response and resulted in many parents reaching out for help. Here are a few of the common challenges I’ve heard about:
- Parents are receiving reactions over what they deem “little” or “insignificant.”
- Parents feel ignored by their grown children.
- Grown children don’t know how to control their anger; parents feel helpless dealing with an angry, disrespectful child.
- Grandparents are being denied visits with grandchildren.
- Parents feel criticized and rejected by their children.
- Adult children are living at home but isolating and not contributing.
- Grown children cut off contact with their parents, blocking them on their phones.
Very few things are more painful than feeling like we’re losing connection with our children!
How to Parent Grown Children
As our children become adults, it's only natural for our relationship with them to evolve. When children leave home and start their own life, the freedom can be exhilarating. For some, a bit overwhelming. Each young adult will approach their independent life based on their upbringing, experience, and skills (or lack of skills).
First, recognize as they make their way in the world, unanticipated feelings might surface for both of you. They might identify things you did or said they didn’t like, or that hurt them. You might feel sadness or even relief to have them on their own. Regardless, your adult children now have choices they didn’t have when they were young and you most likely will have a lot less say in their lives.
As troubling as it may be as a parent, children who don’t feel heard or respected themselves are choosing to take space. Many don’t know how to ask for what they want or share unresolved issues in a respectful manner. Distance and space can be a boundary. Why might they need space or a different kind of relationship?
When Grown Children Show Disrespect, Do This!
There are underlying reasons for disrespect, which could have been simmering for a long time without you realizing it. The rift can be driven by something as small as repeatedly pointing out their extra pounds or as big as them grappling with a recent divorce or job loss. Their feelings could have been hurt by criticism about their parenting style or how you don’t like the way they dress. Or it could be a bigger zinger such as how they “could do better” in their career or life choices that linger as a thorn in their heart. (Even though these comments might be meant to show you care, they can sting instead).
When grown children show disrespect, the best thing to do is look at what you CAN control: your own actions. Temporarily take the focus off their behavior and get curious. Although disrespect needs to be addressed, it’s also vital that your adult child isn’t reacting from a place of hurt that needs to be talked about and healed.
Parenting Tips to Build (or Rebuild) a Loving, Respectful Relationship with Your Adult Child
It is possible to have a strong and loving connection with adult children. Here are several keys to building a healthy relationship. Try them on. Pick one or two of the tips and strategies below that speak to you the most.
How do we support independence while staying connected and involved in our grown children's lives?
Your children are no longer children and want autonomy and a life separate from you. The relationship dynamics will change. They no longer answer to your rules. Their values may differ or even contradict how you raised them.
As parents, it can be tricky to navigate the dynamics of disrespect with adult children. It’s natural to want your children to respect you, but it’s not always easy to achieve, especially if they live out of state and you only see them a couple of times a year. It never feels good to have someone lash out in anger or to be disrespected, particularly by our grown children. Yet, many parents I’ve spoken to are concerned that if they set a boundary for disrespectful behavior, their grown children may cut them out of their lives altogether! Understandable, yes. However, the consequence is that the issues go unresolved.
Understanding will help you navigate the relationship with compassion and grace. Suspend judgment of how they’re acting and go underneath to what might be disturbing them that is legitimate. Truly listen to your children and try to appreciate their point of view.
Remember, as adults, they may have a unique perspective, preference, or expectation of what the parent-child relationship is meant to look like, including how often they want to talk or visit. Be open to creating a relationship that both of you love but may look drastically different than you imagined!
Communication is one of the most essential parts of any relationship, yet it can require uncomfortable conversations. As a parent, sometimes we’re afraid to express our true feelings or needs because we don’t want to hurt our child’s feelings or fear their reaction. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to have open and honest communication with your loved ones to ensure that both of your needs are met in the relationship and that you’re on the same page.
A softer, more open and reciprocal approach takes practice and patience, yet it is vital for maturing your parenting role in the adult child-parent relationship. And no—it doesn’t mean we allow disrespect! It means being assertive and responsive to your child, the situation, and your relationship. Encouraging an environment where you can both feel safe in discussing your feelings and needs can ultimately strengthen your relationship and bring you closer together.
So, take a deep breath, be kind to yourself, and approach these conversations with an open mind and a compassionate heart.
Of course, we want to be respected by our adult children. However, to nurture the loving relationship you’d like, it’s imperative to use restraint when disrespect comes your way. Heated arguments and angry rebuttals won’t result in greater respect or apologies. This conclusion may seem obvious, but in the heat of the moment, many parents step into battle. Keep in mind that anger is usually a cover-up for more vulnerable feelings, such as hurt and sadness. So, emotionally regulate yourself first, so you can respond instead of react.
For a better outcome, “I” statements can invoke less defensiveness and help you disarm your own defenses. Try calming and expressing yourself from a more authentic place. For instance, instead of saying, “You never return my phone calls or texts,” which may feel like an attack, you could say, “I recognize you have a very full life, yet I feel disregarded when my phone calls or texts go unacknowledged.”
Or instead of saying, “Your disrespect is unacceptable and will not be tolerated!” or “Stop being so rude,” try saying, “I feel sad when our conversation turns into a heated argument. I want to understand your viewpoint" or "Did I say or do something that hurt or angered you?” Curious and empathetic responses open doors to improved communication.
These subtle shifts in language can make all the difference in ensuring your message is received and understood. Using “I” statements shows that you are taking ownership of your feelings, and they create a safer space for open communication—a small change that holds great power.
Although these suggestions may seem simple, they are not necessarily easy, especially when upset. Communicating effectively is a skill; when we feel intense emotions, it can be especially challenging. Like any other skill, it takes practice. So, don’t be afraid to start small and take one step at a time. Your relationships and inner peace will thank you for it.
Another important aspect is to set clear boundaries while being loving and firm. This practice can help create a foundation of mutual respect that supports open and honest communication. Setting boundaries is crucial to maintaining healthy relationships.
However, expressing these boundaries can often be problematic and might seem confrontational if you’re:
- Judging your adult child’s behavior.
- Piggy-backing multiple hurts or situations all at once.
- Angry yourself and have lost touch with your deep love for your child. (When survival reactions eclipse love, the outcomes are less than desirable!)
First, take time to calm yourself when upset. Do not risk damaging the relationship by saying something you might regret. When your child was a middle schooler or teenager, they may have slammed the door and not talked to you for a while, but they depended on you. Adult children have choices that you can no longer control.
Second, get clear on what you want. Many times, when I ask a client what they were expecting or wanting, they don’t know. They only know what they don’t want. Clarity is power. Clarity empowers us to communicate far more lovingly without the static of unresolved emotions.
Third, pick a good time for a successful outcome. If you’re going to set a boundary, don’t make a sarcastic remark as your adult child is picking up the grandkids or arriving for a short visit to chat. Treat the conversation with the same respect you want in return. Honor the timing that will allow for a complete discussion without interruption if you want an honest and accurate answer.
If the need for the boundary is in the moment, and there’s not enough time for a conversation, keep it simple, “Ouch, that bites!” Or reflect back the emotion like a mirror, “Wow, you sound frustrated!” Then, take note to follow up with a conversation about the change you’d like to see in your interactions and visits. If you’re talking on the phone to them, you could say, “I’m going to get off the phone; this conversation isn’t feeling good to me. I love you and will talk to you later.” Then hang up.
Remember, it’s never too late to improve your relationship with your adult children and up-level the quality of interactions. Fostering respect at your end can go a long way in creating a positive and fulfilling parent-child relationship. Establishing healthy boundaries with your adult children isn’t just a one-off; it’s an ongoing and ever-evolving process.
Learn a step-by-step process through our “Healthy Boundaries, Healthy Life” emotional fitness mini-course that provides a step-by-step template and has helped hundreds. If you'd like to develop better boundaries, try it!
Related reading: "Using Boundaries and Empathy to Deal with People's Anger Effectively."
In our current world, with all its disagreements and division, it’s more important than ever to model acceptance and compassion. A conversation can get tense when our grown child digs in their heels and defends their position or beliefs. However, we can begin to bridge the gap between us by practicing empathy, listening actively, and acknowledging the validity of their viewpoints (even if you disagree).
They have a right to feel whatever they feel; they have a right to believe anything they want. Honoring their feelings and beliefs doesn’t mean we relinquish our own values or beliefs, but we can learn to approach discussions and interactions with an open mind and heart. It takes self-regulation and patience, but the rewards are huge.
Remember, it’s okay to disagree, but it’s unhelpful to judge or diminish how your grown children choose to live their lives or criticize them when they see things differently than us. Seek to understand and find common ground.
As an expert in family dynamics and relationships, I understand the complexities that come with adult children disrespecting their parents. It’s vital to stay hopeful. One of the most important things is not to give up when it gets challenging; instead, commit to staying focused on establishing an atmosphere of understanding, cooperation, and respect. As this journey evolves, the trust in your relationship will grow—creating a platform for meaningful conversations and strengthened connection.
Start with compassion for yourself. Then, extend empathy to your adult children so you can work together to improve the relationship and overcome any disrespect that may be present. There’s always a way to understand better and strengthen family bonds.
Check out Heartmanity's Emotional Intelligence online course to help you implement what you're reading. This downloadable course is designed to guide you through the practical steps to establish inner peace, create emotional stability, and set healthy boundaries in relationships for a happier life.
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