Dealing with a disrespectful grown child may leave parents feeling alone, but it is actually a normal transition point in the family. In fact, only about 1 in 5 families with adult children do not report having conflict in six major life areas.
To resolve this situation, a parent will have to have some honest, hard conversations with their child. First, try to understand the child’s perspective. Then, use that knowledge to repair some of the sources of conflict. Finally, setting and respecting boundaries will put the relationship on track for future success.
Parents dealing with disrespectful grown children must be careful not to further inflame the relationship. Naturally, this feels unfair, but that is key for improving the relationship. Rather than dealing with a disrespectful grown child, take steps to fix the relationship.
How to Deal With a Disrespectful Grown Child?
Unfortunately, family conflict is common. The reason for this is that the relationship shifts to a group of adults rather than adults and a kid. Tensions arise because the two generations have differing needs.
The conflict between parents and adult children is so common that scientists have coined a name for it – developmental schism. These competing developmental needs lead to many of the relationship challenges parents encounter.
Sometimes the conflict continues to grow and fester until the relationship seems untenable. For many parents, that is the point where they decide they need to do something about it.
Parents dealing with a disrespectful grown child do need to decide how committed they are to working on the relationship. This article presumes that parents want to deal with a disrespectful grown child in a way that improves the relationship.
Of course, it is a parent’s prerogative to step away from the relationship if needed. Also, parents experiencing abuse or financial exploitation should always put their own safety first.
And unfortunately, if a child is suffering from addiction or mental illness, those problems may have to be addressed before the relationship can improve.
Parents put in a lot of work to raise their children and keep them safe. Maintaining and improving that relationship into the child’s adulthood also requires some work.
1. Try to Understand Your Child’s Perspective
Understanding the feelings behind your child’s behavior gives you the best chance of finding a way forward. Listening while feeling defensive and hurting yourself is no easy task.
Parents who lash out and blame their child run the risk of permanently alienating them. This is not a time to prove who is right and wrong.
Many parents wonder why the burden is on them to appreciate their child’s feelings when that child is causing them pain. Remember that you are the one who is trying to be the peacemaker and fix things. Sometimes this means taking the high road.
2. Take Steps to Repair the Relationship
Once a parent understands whatever turmoil the adult child is experiencing, they can take steps to patch up the relationship. Sometimes the source of the rift is surprisingly small. Other times, it seems insurmountable.
Taking concrete steps that your child sees is the best way to generate good will and start rebuilding trust. Sometimes it is as simple as knowing a certain question makes your child feel like you do not trust them. Avoiding that question also avoids the conflict.
3. Set and Respect Boundaries
Boundaries give us the rules of play in all of our relationships. Parents both need to set them for themselves and respect their child’s.
Relationships where one or both people routinely violate boundaries can never meet their full potential. But boundaries can be especially hard for parents and children.
The parent/child relationship is one that changes so dramatically over the course of decades. What is a parent to do when the tiny baby they showered with love no longer wants their embrace?
Setting boundaries gives parents a way to protect their heart from rude children. It can look like ending a phone call or cutting a get together short.
Likewise, parents must respect their children’s boundaries. Constantly breaking through them will leave your child resentful and distrusting.
Why is My Child Rude and Disrespectful?
The first step of understanding the child’s perspective discovers a closer look. This is frequently the hardest part, but if done right, sets the parent up for success.
Sometimes the parent learns that this is another phase their child is going through. Much like their toddler and teenage years, the child is again testing boundaries.
Or, you may recall the pediatrician saying it is normal for a young child to choose a favorite parent. It was because the child felt confident enough in their relationship with the parent.
In the same way, a grown child may be behaving badly as a way to vent or as a cry for help. Usually, this happens when things are going badly in other areas of their lives. Researchers call these individual tensions because they are really more about the child than the relationship.
Their relationship with their parents may feel like a safe place to unleash their feelings. Or, their behavior could be the result of something traumatic that they do not know how to tell you about yet.
Disrespect Can Come from Significant Parent-Child Relationship Issues
Unfortunately, many parent and child relationships suffer strain from internal factors inherent to the relationship. Researchers label these as relationship tensions. These are the hardest ones for parents to understand because it implies wrongdoing or poor parenting.
The child may feel overly criticized or judged by the parent, so they mirror the behavior. Additionally, as adults, children may realize some of the parent’s behaviors had negative impacts on their emotional or physical health.
Worst of all, the child may feel unloved or disliked by their parents.
Children are most likely to report that their conflict with their parents stems from these relationship tensions. Specifically, communication and interaction styles were the most dissatisfying.
Parents most commonly reported unhappiness with their children’s actions, like their work or lifestyle choices.
Navigating Changes in the Parent-Child Relationship
Many parents go through a period of struggle when their child reaches adulthood. Somewhere along the way, the relationship has to change to accommodate two adults instead of one.
So in many ways, some conflict in the relationship is really normal as both stretch the boundaries to create a new normal. The key is keeping the conflict healthy and safe.
Mothers are more likely to experience tension with their children than fathers. This is because mothers generally have a closer, more intense relationship with the child.
But parents still have an important role to play. Ongoing emotional support has great value to young adults.
Perceived emotional support, or whether a child would turn to their parents for advice, is a marker for success in adulthood.
How to Have Hard Conversations With Your Grown Child?
Having difficult conversations is a real skill. Preparing for one with your child is an important way to set the relationship up for success.
Here are some important things to mind when trying to talk with your child about the source of the tension and how to repair it:
When having a tough conversation, try not to worry about what to say next. Instead, hear what your child is saying and try to process the information.
The goal of the conversation is to understand where the tension is coming from; it is not to prove yourself right. Do not respond by casting blame.
Stay on Topic
Keep the conversation on the specific topic at hand. Do not use it as a way to air all past grievances. Similarly, avoid distractions and do not have the talk when either of you are in a hurry.
Validate Their Feelings
Acknowledge what your child is saying, even if you disagree, and try to understand. Ignoring or discounting what your child told you can destroy the relationship.
When talking with your child with the goal of improving the relationship, remember you can only control your own actions. Your child may not have the same communication skills as you, which makes it all the more important for you to use the techniques in this article.
These talks can be really painful. Consider meeting with a licensed therapist well before you try to address your child.
A therapist can help you look at the relationship with new eyes and to process whatever your child tells you. Most importantly, you can work with the therapist to make an action plan to move forward.
We often have to work through conflicts with friends and romantic partners. Mothers have to do the same hard work to improve their relationship with their adult children.
Most importantly, remember that it is very normal to go through periods of tension. It is as normal as the terrible twos and cranky teenager years.
The way a parent addresses the tension determines the future of the relationship. Approaching it with understanding and genuine attempts to meet their child emotionally bodes very well for the future.