A grown child disrespecting their parent in their home is a stressful, difficult situation.
It’s difficult for a parent to handle this type of disrespect because they often don’t feel empowered to make rules like they would with a younger child or enforce boundaries like they would with a disrespectful adult that they were not related to.
The grown child is an adult, likely with their own stresses and responsibilities, and they may not be handling the stresses of life in a healthy way.
That is still no reason to accept or enable disrespectful behavior. Everyone needs to learn how to manage their own stresses and emotions.
In situations like these, it’s easy to get angry after all of the sacrifices, time, and energy that went into raising the child.
The adult child acting ungrateful or disrespectful can feel like a slap in the face, but anger usually makes the situation worse because it reinforces that the adult child has the right to think the way they do or act the way they do.
How to deal with a disrespectful grown child really depends on where the disrespect is coming from. That’s the angle that we would start from.
1. Try to identify the cause(s) of their hostility toward you.
Disrespect doesn’t come from nowhere. It has a source. And if you can identify that source, you can gain a better understanding of why your child is behaving the way they are toward you.
What might some of the causes be?
They still act like a teenager toward you.
The saying, “Old habits die hard” is relevant to the relationship between parent and grown child.
There’s every chance that they were rude and disrespectful toward you when they were growing up, particularly during their teenage years when their hormones were going haywire and they were trying to figure out who they are.
And you probably reacted to their behavior in ways that might be considered antagonistic or confrontational. That’s pretty normal when it comes to parenting.
This pattern of behavior from both them and you might be a legacy of what your relationship was like when they were growing up. Until healthier means of communication are found, the emotionally charged atmosphere between you will remain.
Their brain simply hasn’t fully developed yet.
Many societies consider people as adults when they turn 18. But that isn’t reflected in the way our brains develop. There is a growing scientific consensus that suggests that the adolescent brain continues to mature well into our 20s.
This development is both in a cognitive sense and an emotional sense. We don’t fully understand (or at least, we don’t consider) the consequences of our actions, nor do we have the emotional wherewithal to regulate our behavior.
So, in essence, you aren’t arguing with a grown child until they are nearer to 30. If they are younger than this, it might help to accept that they are still on the path to becoming an adult in a neurological sense.
You’re a safe space for them to vent their feelings.
There aren’t many people in this world whose love for us is unconditional. Parents are probably as close as any of us will get.
And a strange consequence of this love is the freedom it can create to treat our parents poorly.
Your love provides a safe space in which your grown child can vent and rage and show their innermost feelings. They know that you’ll love them no matter what.
They are stressed about something in their life.
Maybe their work or studies are getting to them. Perhaps being unemployed is harming their self-esteem and self-worth. Or it could be that their romantic relationship is in a bad place.
So they take their frustrations out on you because you’re there and you’ll take it.
In psychology, this is known as displacement. They feel unable to direct their emotions at the cause of said emotions, but they feel able to express them toward you in the form of disrespectful behavior.
They are struggling to find their place in the world.
A person’s sense of identity plays a role in their emotional well-being. When you don’t know who you are or how you fit into the wider world, it can be disheartening.
If your grown child doesn’t have a strong sense of identity for one reason or another, they may be feeling low. This can explain why they treat you poorly.
But there may be something else going on. Part of their identity may come from a feeling of independence. They need to spread their wings to find out who they are and what they stand for.
If they still live at home, they may be struggling to experience any kind of real independence which could be frustrating their efforts to develop their sense of identity.
Responsibility may terrify them.
As your child becomes an adult, they will have to face the reality of a life of responsibility. That can be a difficult reality to accept after having most of their basic needs met when growing up.
So they may do all they can to shun that responsibility. They may stay living at home and avoid taking a job so that they can continue their easy existence.
This can cause disrespectful behavior in two ways.
Firstly, you may try to encourage them to get out and find a job so that they can move out. They may push back against this and even resent you for trying to get rid of them. This entitlement can cause a lot of tension between you.
Secondly, they may not be happy in themselves for not chasing their dreams of living up to their potential. They could be terrified of trying and failing and so they remain in the comfort zone you provide for them, where they subsequently get depressed about the life they are choosing.
They are disappointed by their lives and need someone to blame.
Whether or not they are living at home or if they have a job, they may not be particularly happy about the life they are leading.
And they may want to blame someone other than themselves for that life because taking the blame is difficult to do.
So they lash out at you because you are an easy target. They can blame their current problems and life on the way you brought them up or treated them, regardless of the real reasons.
The world feels like a really hard and horrible place.
Many people grow up somewhat oblivious to everything that goes on in the wider world. Or if they are aware, they don’t grasp the full meaning of it.
That’s actually a good thing. It allows children to remain children, to live as carefree as they can as they learn and have fun.
Now, as an adult, your child may have realized that the world is not always a nice place, and people are not always good. They may watch or read the news, see things on social media, or come face-to-face with the grim realities many face.
Don’t underestimate the impact this can have on someone, or the time it takes to come to terms with what the world can be like. It can make for tumultuous emotions and lots of stress and worry.
They have mental health issues.
If you are already aware of your child’s mental health concerns, you may realize that this is a core reason for their treatment of you. Poor mental health may also feed into many of the other reasons on this list.
But you may not have the full picture of your grown child’s mental health because you are no longer responsible for it. They may be suffering from depression or anxiety or any number of other issues that cause them to act out.
They have an addiction problem.
A person who is addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling or something else can behave in ways that don’t reflect who they really are. When they are in the grip of that addiction, they will do whatever it takes to keep feeding it.
That may include abusing you and your kind nature to continue their habit.
It could be a cry for help.
If your child has only recently begun being rude or aggressive toward you, you might want to consider whether this is a cry for help.
Perhaps there is something going on in their life that they can’t deal with on their own, but they don’t know how to ask for help. They might be lashing out at you or appearing ungrateful because they want you to ask them if something is wrong.
If they get upset after hurting you, it could be a sign that they didn’t mean to or want to, but that they are really struggling with something.
They don’t feel able to express their true feelings to you.
Sometimes, when we have something on our minds but don’t feel able to communicate that with others, we lash out at them instead.
Your adult child may want to talk to you about something important, but if you don’t have a very close relationship or you just don’t communicate well with each other, they may be holding back.
This can lead to resentment if they don’t feel they can rely on you, or anger at themselves for not being able to open up. Either way, you may be on the receiving end of their ill-feeling.
They may resent their upbringing.
No parent is perfect and some make more mistakes than others. And some of those mistakes can be serious and cause a long lasting effect on their child’s mind and perception of them.
Sometimes, the best we can do as parents isn’t all that good. And it’s hard to face up to that truth.
Your child may disrespect you because they are upset about the way they were raised or about some specific event that happened when they were growing up.
You may not know what their grievances are if they have never spoken about them before. Or they may bring them up time and again in arguments with you.
Either way, they resent you for something.
They feel criticized or judged by you.
Everyone wants to feel like they can run their own lives and choose which path to take in it. But if you often criticize or judge your child’s actions and choices, it’s going to lead to some pushback.
Perhaps they have children of their own now, and you are forever lecturing them about how to raise those children under the guise of ‘helpful advice’ that your child probably didn’t even ask for.
Or maybe you don’t like how they dress or who they choose to be in a relationship with or what their religious leanings are.
If you direct a lot of criticism or judgment in the direction of your child, they’re going to get angry at you. You may see it as guiding them or helping them, but they probably see it as you sticking your nose into their business. Speaking of which…
They resent you for trying to control their lives.
Do you still try to dictate how your child should live their life? Do you push them to do or not do certain things based on your preferences?
When they were young, you had to take some control because they weren’t capable of doing things for themselves. You had to help them, and you got a bit too used to helping them.
So now, maybe you have expectations in terms of which career choices you want them to make, or how they will fit into the family business. But perhaps your child doesn’t want to go down the route you have intended for them, and so you lecture them about how they are making a mistake.
Of course this will lead to some conflict and disrespectful behavior. But they will see it as you not respecting them either.
2. Have a conversation with your adult child about the disrespectful behavior.
The conversation can be easy enough to start:
I want to talk to you about your disrespectful behavior toward me. What’s going on with you? Why are you acting this way?
Opening up this conversation gives you an opportunity to hear what is going on with your adult child.
They may divulge information or stresses that you didn’t know about that may be affecting their behavior.
This should also help you better empathize with their situation or stresses.
It’s important to maintain your composure and stay open-minded when asking this kind of question.
The adult child may have some harsh criticisms about you or they may be acting out as part of their desire to flex their own wings and conduct their life.
That can be difficult, particularly when you know you’re doing everything that you’re able to for your child to have a good and happy life.
3. Acknowledge your role in the hurt you child feels.
Parenting is the hardest job in the world. Despite all the books and advice there is on how to be a good parent, nobody gets everything right all of the time.
Your child may have identified times where they feel you got something wrong with regards to raising them.
And it’s important that you accept responsibility for your actions if you are to heal any rift between you. Those actions may have been to the best of your knowledge of abilities at the time, but if you child feels they were the wrong actions, it’s reasonable to accept their position on this.
If you try to defend yourself and tell them that they’ll thank you for it one day, you invalidate their feelings and give them more reasons to be upset with you.
You can acknowledge how you acted without necessarily taking on guilt for it. Chances are you didn’t act with neglect or malice; you just did what you thought was right at the time.
4A. The adult child is willing to talk about what’s going on and wants to find a compromise.
Best case scenario, the lines of communication get opened and you can sort out the issue with your child.
They might not have realized they were acting so negatively or didn’t realize just how much their behavior was affecting you.
It happens. No one’s perfect.
They may decide to change their behavior altogether or the two of you may need to find a compromise that honors you both.
Do take the time to carefully consider any compromises that you’re going to make to ensure that they still respect your personal boundaries and feelings.
It’s okay to give a little ground, just make sure that you’re not the only one that is giving it.
It is reasonable for you to expect improved behavior and following whatever the rules of the house may be.
4B. The adult child is not willing to talk about what’s going on and refuses to compromise.
Should the adult child not be willing to talk and find a compromise, you’re going to have to set down some rules and enforce your boundaries to protect yourself.
They may not think what they are doing is that bad, may want to find their own way as an adult, or may be having other issues that they don’t understand or aren’t willing to talk about.
Whatever the reason, you are allowed to make rules and have boundaries for yourself, even if that means that your grown child chooses to not live under your roof, rules, and boundaries.
“But I can’t do that to my child!”
Few parents want to be perceived as mean or unkind to their own child. The reality is that boundaries are important and necessary for people to grow.
Setting and enforcing boundaries is a strong catalyst for healthy growth. It teaches the adult child that they cannot just do what they want, get what they want, whenever they want.
Kind does not have to mean nice. Kindness doesn’t always come with a smile.
Sometimes it’s an adamant refusal to bend to something that you feel is wrong, so others can see that there is a better way to do things, facilitating their own growth.
5. Follow through on whatever rules, boundaries, and compromises that you reached.
The hardest part of the process is the long-term follow through.
The rules will get broken, boundaries will be tested, and compromises may be breached.
When that happens, you have to be willing and able to enforce the consequences of your adult child’s choices.
Ultimately, how they choose to act and respond is their choice.
Be clear with your child about the consequences of their disrespectful behavior and enforce them.
People will generally treat you how you allow them to treat you. If they know they can walk all over you, they will. If they know they can’t get away with doing that, they will generally be more respectful.
You essentially dictate what you are willing to put up with by not giving or enforcing consequences. It needs to be a part of your playbook.
6. You and your adult child may not have compatible personalities or living styles.
Some people just don’t mix well, and sometimes those people can be related.
You can love someone but not necessarily like who they are as a person.
Or you may like the person, but their personality and the way they conduct their life is a bit much.
You and your grown child may not be compatible to stay in each others’ personal space for an extended period of time.
The two of you may just need a break from each other to help clear the air, create some space, and give everyone an opportunity to breathe.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a break from one another. Relationships can improve dramatically with some time and space between the conflicting people.
7. A family counselor may be the best option.
The process covered in this article can work for people who are experiencing general problems with their adult child.
Sometimes those problems are far deeper than we may realize.
The adult child may have things going on with them that they don’t necessarily want to share with their parent.
Their anger or disrespect may have roots in problems that you are not able to meaningfully address, such as mental illness or trauma.
Don’t hesitate to consult with a certified mental health professional about the problem.
They can also serve as an integral emotional support as you work through the difficulties that you’re facing with your child.
It’s a difficult road to try to navigate alone. Professional help can make that process much clearer, if not easier.
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