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 empathize with your adult child to see where their hostility is coming from.
First and foremost, this is going to be a sticky activity because it requires a great deal of self-awareness and willingness to be honest with oneself.
No parent is perfect and some make more serious mistakes than others.
And some make serious mistakes that enabled abuse or negative circumstances that caused a long lasting effect on their child’s mind and perception of them.
Sometimes, the best we can do isn’t all that good, and it takes time and concerted effort to come to terms with that fact.
The adult child may be trying to work out their problems and come to terms with the life that they’ve had up to that point.
Sometimes, they might decide to blame the parent for those problems, whether they are responsible or not.
They may also be trying to find their feet as an adult and make sense of an oftentimes nonsensical world.
The news is scary, social media highlights everything we don’t have and reminds us of the happiness that we think we should have, and people can be not all that great.
The stress and pressure to perform at work and in school can cause any person to lash out, particularly at those around them.
Not everyone is able to handle that stress well. An adult child may not yet have the experience or emotional intelligence to handle their own load well.
They may also be struggling with mental health issues which are on the rise everywhere. Mental illness is common and can have a drastic effect on how a person interacts with the world and their loved ones.
Try to put yourself in your adult child’s shoes for a moment.
Can you see what they are dealing with? If there is something that is easy to identify, then that is something you may be able to work with your adult child on.
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.
On the other hand, they may not respond well to such an inquiry, in which case you’ll need to set down and enforce some boundaries, the same as you’d do with any other disrespectful person.
For ease of navigating this process, we’ll call these steps 3A and 3B.
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3A. 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.
3B. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.