As a parent, you want what’s best for your child. At times, this desire surpasses your own priorities and goals. After all, you want them to be happy and fulfilled, and you want them knowing they’re loved.
That said, it can be incredibly frustrating to deal with a disrespectful child – especially an adult child. Are you at your wit’s end? Are you tired of feeling like nothing is getting better? Changing the pattern is challenging, but it’s not impossible.
Educate Yourself on the Core Issues
Disrespect doesn’t emerge randomly. It’s usually a sign of a deeper problem that can be rooted in psychological distress. Let’s identify some common factors that may attribute to their attitude.
Depression impacts 264 million people in the world, and it’s the leading cause of disability, according to the World Health Organization. You may not recognize if your adult child is depressed. That’s because depression doesn’t always look like the cliched image of not being able to get out of bed. Sometimes depression can include severe irritability, withdrawal from others, and even erratic behaviors.
The other common symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sadness that lasts over several weeks.
- Disproportionate feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
- Lack of energy.
- Limited concentration or focus.
- Difficulties with work and school.
- Changes in peer groups and usual interests.
- Unexplained body aches and feelings of slowness or heaviness.
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
When someone struggles with depression, they often find it challenging to connect with others. Their self-esteem is poor, and they may feel like life is meaningless and worthless. As a result, their behaviors may come across as disrespectful.
Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, impacting nearly 18% of the population. Anxiety refers to having disproportionate fear or worries about a given situation. Anxiety can be global, or it can be specific to certain triggers.
Common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Racing thoughts.
- Sleep problems.
- Recurrent panic attacks.
- Phobias around certain objects, people, or situations.
- Obsessive thinking.
- Excess difficulty with controlling the level of worry.
- Fear of being judged or rejected by others.
- Compulsive behaviors.
Anxiety often makes people feel guilty and ashamed. Even if the person knows their worry is irrational, they struggle to stop their thoughts. As a result, they may lash out or withdraw from loved ones. They may become so preoccupied with their anxiety that they have limited room for other relationships.
Substance Use Disorders
Drugs and alcohol impact people in many ways. First, these disorders are both physically and emotionally consuming. People spend excess time obtaining, using, and recovering from the substances. Moreover, substance use is associated with many issues, including:
- Medical conditions.
- Legal problems.
- Financial distress.
- Relationship conflicts.
- Poor performance at work or school.
- Heightened feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and loneliness.
You may or may not know if your grown child is struggling with a substance use disorder. Many people use drugs or alcohol secretly. They also tend to rationalize, downplay, or minimize their behaviors when asked. Pay attention to shifts. Are they acting irrationally? Has their appearance changed dramatically? Are they hanging out with new friends? Is money disappearing without any real explanation?
There are many kinds of trauma, but nearly all trauma can leave lasting effects. Trauma threatens a person’s sense of safety and comfort. Even if the event happened years ago, the implicit memory may haunt people- both consciously and unconsciously.
Unresolved trauma can affect your child’s personality. For example, it may make them more guarded around others. They may be less trusting and more suspicious. They might feel revengeful, as if they need justice to compensate for the awful things that happened to them.
At times, their trauma may be apparent to you. However, some parents aren’t aware of everything that happened in their child’s past. Trauma can be incredibly stigmatizing and shameful- as a result, your child may have concealed the event from you.
Family Dynamic Issues
Although it’s a difficult pill to swallow, your child may disrespect you because they don’t respect you. What could cause them to feel that way?
- You neglected them in the past (whether you are aware of it or not).
- They feel angry over choices you made (i.e., getting divorced, moving geographically)
- You struggle with addiction or mental health issues that have impacted them.
- They feel like you don’t appreciate them or aren’t proud of them.
- They’re involved with someone who doesn’t like you.
- They are testing their limits with you.
- They struggle with authority in general.
Awareness of your family dynamics is key to understanding your child’s feelings. Although this introspective work may feel painful, it’s an important part of the growth process.
In addition to exploring these topics, parents and adult children alike can benefit from understanding their attachment style and attachment theory.
Recognize Your Part in the Dynamic
Do you enable your loved one when they disrespect you? Do you walk on eggshells around them- afraid that they will explode at any given moment? When they lash out on you, how do you typically respond?
Your role influences your child’s behavior- whether you like it or not. If you act disrespectfully towards them, you give a motive that such treatment is acceptable.
The opposite can also be true. If you remain calm, balanced, and neutral- even if you feel angry or overwhelmed- you convey stability. You demonstrate that you aren’t letting their words or actions affect you.
Identify Your Boundaries
Boundaries refer to the physical and emotional limits we set with other people. They protect our integrity and help us feel secure with ourselves. All healthy relationships have boundaries, but many times, parents struggle to identify their limits with their children.
Some common examples of boundaries to set with your adult child include:
- Not tolerating being called names or being threatened.
- Refusing to give any more money.
- Prohibiting certain friends from being in your house.
- Refusing to let your child live with you if they continue engaging in certain behaviors.
- Requiring that your child seek therapy if they want to maintain a relationship with you.
- Refusing to lie or cover up for them when they make mistakes.
- Stopping when it comes to bailing them out or helping with legal issues.
Parents often struggle with boundaries because they don’t want to come across as harsh or punitive. They don’t want to abandon their child or have them suffer.
That said, boundaries benefit both you and your adult child. When people are required to adhere to boundaries, they have no choice but to follow the structure- or deal with the consequences. Subsequently, you may find that they start respecting you even more. After all, instead of acting like a punching bag, you’re standing up for yourself and prioritizing your well-being.
Many people have found value in Henry Cloud’s book, “Boundaries.”
How to Stop Enabling Your Grown Child
Love Without Enabling
As mentioned, boundaries help maintain limits between you and other people. Boundaries can come from a profound place of love. You love your child, and you want them to succeed.
At the same time, you don’t want to perpetuate or condone negative behaviors. Setting boundaries is one thing. Implementing them is an entirely different story.
Many parents say they’re going to do something, but they fail to follow through. As a result, their child often recognizes and exploits this pattern. This chaos results in you feeling helpless, resentful, and torn. It also results in your child feeling like they can take advantage of you.
If you want to stop enabling, you have to follow through with your boundaries. Every single time. Even if it’s one of the hardest things you ever do. Even if you don’t want to do it after you’ve said you’re going to do it.
It’s best if you can have other family members support you in implementing boundaries. If everyone can present as a united front, the child receives the message loud and clear.
Get Your Own Support
It’s crucial that you take care of yourself when trying to work on your relationship with your adult child. You need support and compassion during this time.
Meeting with a therapist can help you identify your own self-improvement goals. A therapist will also offer you healthy coping skills and methods for reframing difficult situations. Therapy provides a safe place to process any thoughts or feelings that are impacting you. Likewise, it can be extremely helpful to sit down and talk with an objective professional about your situation.
You and your adult child may benefit from family therapy to work on relationship issues. A therapist can help you all learn healthy communication skills, boundaries, and respect for one another. Additionally, family therapy also raises awareness to the roles each member plays in a dynamic. Rather than point fingers at one another for the problems, every person learns to take responsibility for their own actions.
There are many support groups available for parents. Some groups are led by professional therapists. Others, like Codependents Anonymous or Al-Anon, are peer-led and designed for free, confidential support. All groups focus on a sense of community and leaning on one another when needed.
Practice Healthy Coping Skills
Regardless of what’s happening with your child, it’s essential that you learn to manage your stress levels. Good emotional regulation can help you feel more in control and objective.
Prioritizing Your Physical Health
When we get stressed, we often neglect our bodies. However, this becomes a vicious cycle. By ignoring our physical health, we tend to feel even more depressed and anxious. Focus on optimizing your physical health by:
- Eating regularly and choosing nutritious foods.
- Exercising consistently.
- Getting enough sleep and adhering to a manageable sleep schedule.
- Going to all necessary medical appointments.
- Taking medication as prescribed.
Mindfulness is an integral part of self-care, and it’s a skill that can help you manage your adult child. Mindfulness refers to being in the present moment and accepting the current reality for what it is. That doesn’t mean you have to like what’s going on- however, acceptance means that you choose to surrender any attempts to control the moment. You can achieve mindfulness by:
- Taking several deep breaths before you talk.
- Meditating regularly.
- Practicing active listening when others speak.
- Engaging in single tasks without multitasking.
It’s important to know that mindfulness is a developed skill. Most people don’t do this skill naturally. It takes concentrated practice and discipline.
Focusing On Gratitude
If you are really struggling with your child, gratitude might be one of the last things on your mind. However, in times like these, appreciation may be one of the most important skills to harness.
What do you love about your child? Their tenacity? Their fearlessness? The way they smile at you when they’re in a good mood?
Remind yourself of these positive qualities when you find yourself becoming irritated or stressed. Your child has many attributes. Right now, they might just be misguided or misunderstood. Again, this isn’t about condoning unwanted behavior. It’s about recognizing that someone’s behavior doesn’t necessarily define who they are.
Staying Busy With Other Interests
If you’re solely focused on what your child is (or isn’t) doing, you’re dooming yourself to disappointment. Hovering doesn’t help anyone grow. It also doesn’t help your mental health or self-esteem.
Aim to keep yourself occupied. Can you make regular dates to spend time with friends? What about signing up for a new class or trying a new hobby?
You deserve to have a meaningful, fulfilling life. Additionally, your backing off may be the thing your child needs the most from you right now.
It can feel challenging to deal with a disrespectful grown child. You want to see them succeed and be happy- but it’s tiring if it’s at the expense of your own mental health.
Remember that your needs also matter. You deserve respect and compassion. You don’t have to tolerate threats or other volatile behavior. Parent-child relationships can be healed, but it does take work. Start by focusing on what you can do to improve your part in the dynamic.