When a young child is disrespectful towards you, you can just put them in time out or send them to their room. But when a grown child acts that way, the dynamic is entirely different. They’re an adult now, and navigating a disrespectful relationship with them may be much more challenging.
It’s natural for any parent and grown child to have disagreements. There’s no need to panic just because you and your adult child don’t get along all the time. Sometimes the problem can be sorted out with a simple, honest conversation. But your problem may run deeper than that. We’ll have more on this later.
Several significant variables play a role in how to deal with a disrespectful grown child. Chief among them is whether or not they still live at home with you. There are things you can do to repair your relationship in either arrangement, but we’ll help you decide how to alter your approach based on whether they’re living with you or on their own.
Having a perpetually disrespectful grown child can seem like a completely hopeless situation. It may feel like this is what your relationship is destined to be now for the rest of time. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Follow along, and we’ll discuss some of the tools you’ll need to help deal with a disrespectful grown child.
What to Look For in Your Relationship
As we mentioned, it’s natural for parents and grown children to have disagreements. No family is perfect all the time; sometimes you won’t get along, and that’s okay. Even the best parent-child relationships are complicated and challenging. Possibly, you could sort out the disrespect by merely talking about it, and communicating more.
But sometimes, things cross the line from ordinary disagreements to extraordinary disrespect. Here are some signs that your grown child has gone too far, and that you might need to take more significant steps to get back on track:
They Consistently Lie to You
Dishonestly can be one of the most common causes of toxic, disrespectful relationships between parents and their grown children. But lying can take many forms, some of which may be difficult to detect if you’re not looking for them.
The form most people think of is an outright fabrication–when people make something up and state it as fact even though it simply isn’t true. But many types of dishonesty are far subtler than that. Keep an out for the following:
- Lies of omission: when someone intentionally leaves out a vital aspect of the truth, that would alter your reaction to the situation. Technically they’re not saying anything that isn’t true, but they’re not giving you the full story.
- Distortion: when someone gives you the outline of a true story but changes key pieces like the context of the situation, who was involved, or what their role was.
- Selective memory: when someone always “forgets” about something they’d agreed to do. If your child does this once or twice, maybe it was an honest mistake. If it becomes a pattern, they are likely being dishonest with you.
- Denial: when someone refuses to accept the gravity of a situation. This form is particularly tricky to navigate because someone in denial is lying to themselves as well.
- Minimization: when someone understates the effect of a mistake or a fault. This form is particularly common and can be particularly tricky to discern. But your reaction to your child’s behavior is legitimate. Don’t let them undermine you.
Keep an eye out for this type of behavior. Even if your child isn’t consistently fabricating things altogether doesn’t mean they aren’t being dishonest with you. But if they are, you’ll need to take some steps to address that.
At the same time, though, try not to come down too hard on your child over honest mistakes. If something on the list above happens now and then, that is natural. But when it becomes a consistent pattern, that is when you have a problem on your hands. We’re not telling you to be paranoid here, merely to be aware.
They Won’t Accept Responsibilities
This is one of the most widespread (and one of the most problematic) causes of toxic, disrespectful relationships between parents and their grown children. If you are taking on their responsibilities for them, that is a major red flag.
The most obvious example in this category will be if they resist the idea of getting a job. Rather than generating their own income, your child turns to you to provide them with money. If that is what you’re dealing with, this is an open and shut case. That is not an acceptable arrangement; read on, and we’ll discuss some of the ways you can deal with the situation.
But once again, there are also subtler tells to look out for as well. If your children live with you, they should be expected to contribute to the household. Just because you did all their laundry and cooked all their meals when they were a child does not mean you should be expected to continue doing so now that they are grown.
We will have much more on this issue later on. But the fact is, if your child is refusing to take on the responsibilities that adult life entails, they are being disrespectful to you and doing a disservice to themselves. And you need to take action to right the ship.
They Act Differently When They Want Something From You
Is it like your child has two different personalities? Sometimes they’re incredibly sweet and respectful, acting as the perfect child when they want a favor from you. Other times they’re distant and rude. And if you turn down their request, they act out worse than ever. That is another major red flag.
Some parents will even go out of their way to make sure they always give their children what they want because they want their child to treat them well. That is not how a parent-child relationship should work, and it is not healthy or respectful. Doing so does nothing but reinforce the cycle of your child’s negative behavior.
The fact is, if respect is always conditionally tied to a request or a favor, it isn’t really respect at all. That type of behavior should be the default; your child should be respectful because it’s the right way to act, not because they want something. If this pattern sounds like your adult child, you’ll need to take action.
They Lash Out When You Ask Them to Contribute
One way that many grown children maintain a dependent relationship where their parents continue to support them is by throwing a tantrum whenever you broach the subject of them moving forward with their lives. If you ask them about getting a job, they instantly lash out, doing everything they can to get away from the subject.
That is obviously a problem and one that can be quite a challenge to navigate. If your child acts in this way, it’s likely because you’ve unwittingly reinforced this behavior. That can happen in one of two ways: either you quickly back down when they act up or you match their heightened energy and get in a screaming match. Both are natural reactions, but neither will break the cycle.
We’ll get into this more in-depth later, but this type of behavior is typically a manifestation of some more deep-seated unhappiness. Your child doesn’t want to act this way; they simply feel lost and don’t know how else to express their fear of moving forward or the shame they feel towards themselves.
Engaging with their outbursts, or allowing them to push you around, is not going to help. Clearly, a new approach is necessary here.
Disrespectful grown children come in all different shapes and sizes. No two relationships are alike; we can give you advice, but ultimately you’ll need to forge your own way forward based on your own individual relationship with your child.
But there is one crucial distinction that will have an outsized influence on the way you’ll need to approach this endeavor: whether or not your child still lives at home. There are several key distinctions and things to keep for each scenario. Let’s take a look at them now:
If They Live On Their Own
A challenge for many parents of adult children is making peace with the fact that their relationship with their child is different now. They’ll always be your baby, it’s true. But they’re also a grown person now. A common cause of tension between parents and grown children is the parent having difficulty letting go.
That can be an obstacle for parents of children who live at home, as well, which we’ll get to in a moment. But if your child is striving to make it on their own, it is likely frustrating for them if you refuse to accept that they are their own person now. The cause of their disrespect towards you could merely be a manifestation of their perception that you are not acknowledging their growth and their successes.
Of course, the opposite is sometimes true as well. Just because a child has moved out does not mean that they have stopped relying on you. If you help them with their rent while they try to get their career off the ground, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if they come to expect that help and feel entitled to it, that’s when significant problems can arise.
Either way, the most important thing for both you and your child in this situation is to acknowledge that the nature of your relationship has changed. They need to be their own person now. That does not, however, mean that you will stop being their parent, or they will stop being your child. As you pursue some of the strategies we’ve outlined below, it’s important that you maintain this perspective.
If They Still Live at Home
Research indicates that about one in three adults aged 18-34 live at home. Contrary to popular narratives, this is not an all-time high; in 1940, 35% of young adults lived at home, and the number has never dropped below 23% in the time since. So if your grown child still lives at home, that’s not an uncommon arrangement, and it’s nothing for either party to be ashamed of.
It does, however, mean your dynamic will be different than if they lived on their own. Your child needs to contribute to the household, in one way or another. You’re their parent, and they are your child. Of course, you want to take care of them. But there is a line between supporting them and doing everything for them. Allowing them to live in your home without pulling their weight does both of you a disservice.
The fact is, your child probably isn’t very happy with the situation either. Even if they don’t show it, a lot of the disrespect they’re channeling towards you is likely rooted in frustration with the fact that they haven’t been able to get their life off the ground. It might seem like they’re content, especially if they’re not actively looking for work. But it has likely become a vicious cycle of discouragement and inertia.
They need you as their parent to help them get out of this funk–not by enabling them, but by pushing them and providing them with structure. When it’s your house, it’s your rules, even if they’re grown now. Find an arrangement, so they consistently contribute to the household. And as you incorporate some of the strategies laid out below, do so through that lens.
How to Deal With a Disrespectful Grown Child
Each relationship between parents and their children is different. There is no single approach that will work for every single family; the perfect strategy for one might be counterproductive for another. But by and large, there are several key strategies you can employ to help get your child to stop being disrespectful and get your relationship back on track.
The best approaches for how to deal with a disrespectful grown child include:
- Breaking the cycle
- Avoiding guilt and shame
- Always follow through
- Let your child fail
- Take time to prioritize yourself
- Explore professional help
Let’s take a look at each one in-depth now.
Breaking the Cycle
While no two families are the same, every disrespectful relationship between parents and their children has its array of toxic patterns that they consistently fall into, which always makes things worse. Perhaps your child throws a fit whenever you try to have a difficult conversation, and you back down.
Maybe you have consistent knock-down, drag-out fights that lead nowhere productive. Perhaps you have a habit of developing a path forward, together, which you’re both excited about… and then your child backs out when it’s time to execute. Whatever your pattern is, you need to recognize it, and then you need to take steps to break it.
To repair your relationship with your child, you need to get out of the typical status quo that has led to their disrespectful behavior in the first place. That, of course, can be easier said than done. Those patterns are likely deeply entrenched in your life and your relationship with your child.
But if you identify the patterns, then you can choose to defy them. When faced with your typical fork in the road, choose to go the other way, Break yourself—and your child—out of your toxic comfort zone. Once you do that, then the healing can begin.
Avoid Guilt and Shame
It’s essential as you undertake this process to do so from a place of love and care. The goal shouldn’t be the absence of disrespect, but rather the restoration of the positive, loving relationship you once shared. In pursuit of that, it’s critical that you start things in a positive way, by putting your best foot forward—and avoiding guilt and shame.
When you discuss the idea of changing your relationship with your child, there’s a good chance they may start off on the defensive. Employing guilt will only exacerbate that, and it will likely doom the entire healing process before it begins. Emphasize with them that you love them, and that is the driving force of this entire process.
It’s also important to keep in mind that guilt and shame your child feels themselves are likely the cause of much of their disrespectful behavior, especially if they live at home. If they’re unhappy with their situation and ashamed at their lack of success, making them feel guilty is only going to make things worse, not better.
Be sure, then, to be positive as much as you can. That’s not the same, though, as enabling your child’s behavior and allowing them to act however they want. When you do have to be negative, though, connect it with specific actions and outcomes—not their character.
Always Follow Through
Nothing undermines your authority faster than threatening consequences and then not following through. That is true of young children and adult children just the same. If you threaten a consequence for an action, they do that action, and the consequence doesn’t come, your child will quickly come to believe all consequences are nothing but empty threats.
That is especially true of grown children who live at home. Avoid significant threats as much as possible. Don’t say, “I’ll kick you out of this house if…” unless you truly mean it. Doing so backs you into a corner. Either you have to follow through, even if you change your mind and don’t really want to kick them out, or you don’t, in which case those words will carry no weight for your child moving forward.
It’s essential to attach consequences to disrespectful behavior and shirked responsibilities. But only threaten things that you are completely comfortable enforcing, and then make sure you always do so without fail.
Eventually, your child will learn that you are completely serious now. After a few times following through, they will understand that when you say something, you mean it. And hopefully, that will affect their behavior. It also means that if you ever do reach a point where you have to threaten something severe, they’ll be a lot less likely to call your bluff.
Let Your Child Fail
This can be an exceedingly difficult thing to do. As parents, we want to protect our children at all costs. We don’t want them to feel pain or experience failure. The idea of our children suffering is challenging for any parent to bear.
But the fact is, sheltering them in this way is for our own benefit alone, not theirs. We don’t have to watch them fail, and that makes us feel better, but it is actually to their detriment. By sheltering our children, we deny them valuable life experience. Failure is an inevitable part of life; by preventing them from experiencing it whenever possible, we make it more of a challenge for them to handle failure later in life.
Now that your child is grown, it can be more difficult to impart this lesson. But it’s not too late. Sheltering them still as an adult just reinforces the patterns of dependence and shame, which feeds their disrespectful behavior.
By letting them fail, you also let them develop the tools they need to be self-reliant. Failure breeds growth and builds character. It may be painful for you, but resist your urge to protect them. Let them learn and succeed on their own well-earned merit.
Take Time to Prioritize Yourself
When you have a disrespectful grown child, your relationship with them can dominate your life. You are bickering with them for much of your day, and they are at the forefront of your thoughts when you’re not. It’s possible this is even the very intent of their disrespect; they know that even if it is negative attention, by acting out, they are still able to dominate your focus.
They are your child, and it’s natural that you are going to prioritize them. But it’s not healthy for them to completely dominate your attention in this way. You need to take time to prioritize yourself and your own wellbeing. If your child is indeed acting out for attention, showing that you are still willing to focus on yourself may help break the cycle. And even if that’s not their intent, it is still beneficial for you.
If you have any hobbies or interests that you’ve been neglecting because of the attention you’ve devoted to your child and their disrespect, now is an excellent time to resume that activity. If not, consider something as simple as a daily walk around the neighborhood. This easy activity gives you a chance to get fresh air, clear your mind, and spend some time alone with your thoughts.
Ultimately, prioritizing yourself will benefit everyone involved. You are your own person. Your child is a big part of your life, but they don’t define you. If they’re going to stop being disrespectful, they need to respect your boundaries and understand that your relationship needs to change.
This may sound like an extreme step to you, but it’s not. The stigma surrounding therapy is wholly undeserved, and as a practice, it’s being normalized more and more every day. Going to therapy doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your child; it simply means they are looking to expand their emotional wellbeing and develop more tools with which to move forward in life.
It will, however, likely be a fairly difficult sell for them. That stigma is undeserved, but it does exist. Your child may feel as if you’re attacking them, or telling them that something is wrong with them by suggesting it. You’ll need to be delicate in the way you bring it up. If they are not invested in the idea, it won’t be successful.
But if you do convince them to give therapy an honest chance, the benefits can be life-changing. A grown child being consistently disrespectful to their parents is not normal behavior; it is likely a projecting of some other negative emotion. A therapist will help them discover what the cause is and give them the tools to deal with that in a healthier way.
In the end, hopefully, your child desires a better relationship with you just as much as you do. You are their parent, after all. And if that’s the case, exploring therapy can be one of the most effective things they can do to forge a path forward.
The Bottom Line
Having a disrespectful grown child can be incredibly deflating. It is an entirely different dynamic than when a young child acts out. But it’s not hopeless. Even if your dynamic exceeds the natural disagreements that take place between any parent and kid, there is a path forward for you to once again build a positive, healthy relationship with your child.