Dealing with adult children requires as much tough love as dealing with younger ones. It just looks a bit different if the child in question is old enough to get a job, move out, and pay their own bills.
The following tips will help you put your relationship in perspective.
Table of Contents
- 1 1. Stop trying to be your kid’s BFF or savior.
- 2 2. Notice disrespect and call it what it is.
- 3 3. Clarify the real-world consequences of your kid’s behavior.
- 4 4. Get on the same page with your partner.
- 5 5. Be respectful when correcting your child.
- 6 6. Set realistic expectations — for them and for yourself.
- 7 7. Set clear boundaries, and expect your kid to honor them.
- 8 8. Empathize without enabling.
- 9 9. Focus on the present — not on past mistakes and regrets.
- 10 10. Schedule discussions on hot-button topics.
1. Stop trying to be your kid’s BFF or savior.
What kids expect from their best friends is different from what they expect from their parents.
And while it’s natural to want to save your kids from every disaster they seem determined to dive into, it’s not your job to save your grown-up children from themselves. You can’t be the eternal buffer between them and the real world.
You’ve taught them all you can up to this point. But you can’t help thinking, “I owe them a better foundation for living in the real world. I haven’t done enough.”
The problem? It will never feel like you’ve done enough.
Every time your adult kid gets ready to do something stupid, you’ll want to stop them and steer them in a better direction.
But sometimes you have to let them find out what happens when they do what they want.
2. Notice disrespect and call it what it is.
When your adult kid is criticizing you, complaining about something, or constantly pestering or arguing with you, ask yourself what you would do if anyone but your own kid treated you that way.
It’s no surprise that your adult kid wants to be independent.
They want to be allowed to do what they want, even if what they’re doing is self-destructive or harmful to others.
And if they can use your parental mistakes against you to get what they want, they will.
None of this means you don’t have a right to call them out on their disrespectful behavior and spell out the consequences for it.
3. Clarify the real-world consequences of your kid’s behavior.
Here’s where you’ll make it clear what consequences your adult kid will face if they persist with their disrespectful behavior toward you.
Depending on your kid’s level of independence, those consequences might look like the following:
They’ll test you, of course, to see if you’ll keep your word. And if you do, they’ll use everything they’ve got to punish you for it.
But their survival and well-being depend on what they learn from this experience.
4. Get on the same page with your partner.
Make sure you and your co-parent are on the same page regarding how to react to your adult kid’s disrespectful behavior. Have each other’s backs when the kid tries to manipulate you into fighting each other.
Share notes. Get the real facts about what happened and who said what.
Try confronting your kid without the united front, and they’ll probably say something like, “Well, Dad said…. “ or “Well, according to Mom….”
Better to know ahead of time whether those statements are true or not.
5. Be respectful when correcting your child.
You want a relationship based on mutual respect, but your adult kid just isn’t mature enough for that, yet. Still, when you come together to talk about something, you’re far more likely to reach them if your language and tone are calm and respectful.
Because even if they’re prone to drama and quick to respond with emotional outbursts, they want to be treated with respect.
They want you to try to understand where they’re coming from.
Young adults typically have a harder time expressing their thoughts without becoming emotional. You remember how that was, right?
It takes years of conscious effort to learn to balance those emotions with wisdom.
And as condescending as they can be in their approach to you, you won’t get far with them if you demand respect without showing them what that looks like.
6. Set realistic expectations — for them and for yourself.
When you undertake the challenge of teaching your grown-up child how to treat you and others with respect, it’s best to approach it as you would any worthy goal.
If your expectations — of yourself or of your child — aren’t based on reality, all your effort will end in either disappointment or complacency.
You’ll either go into it with low standards and rest on your laurels while your kid continues to struggle with basic adulting.
Or you’ll go into it with unrealistically high standards and exhaust yourself working toward a goal you can never reach.
Both extremes lead to failure and damaged relationships.
Know what you expect, and make sure those expectations are realistic, given your circumstances. Then make those expectations clear to your adult child.
7. Set clear boundaries, and expect your kid to honor them.
Once you’ve communicated your expectations to your grown-up child, make sure they have a clear understanding of your boundaries.
Make it clear to them that you respect their boundaries, too. If you’ve disregarded their boundaries in the past, they need to hear you apologize for that. They need to know that you’re not the only one allowed to have boundaries. Neither do they have a right to disrespect you in retaliation for past failures. Then let it go. And expect them to do the same. No more dwelling on the past.
Make it clear that, from then on, both of you will be held accountable for failing to show each other due respect and consideration.
8. Empathize without enabling.
If you’ve been shaming yourself into letting your grown-ass adult son or daughter get away with their disrespectful behavior, stop it.
This isn’t about karma. You’re still the parent. And no one promised you’d be a perfect one.
This doesn’t enter the conversation nearly enough, but most of us start parenting before our brains even have adulting figured out. So, of course, you’ll make mistakes.
While you’re trying to empathize with your kids, don’t forget to show yourself some love.
Parenting is a classic sink-or-swim scenario. Both the parents and the kids are flailing about, convinced they’re going to drown, until they finally learn how to tread water.
It would be funny if there wasn’t so much screaming.
9. Focus on the present — not on past mistakes and regrets.
Focus on what’s going on between you and your adult child in the present.
This is not the time to beat yourself up for ruining your kid, when you did everything you thought you were supposed to do — based on what you knew. You’ve learned since then, and you know you could have done better if you’d started out with better information.
Focus on how you’re treating each other now. Focus on what they’re trying to tell you with their words, their body language, and their actions.
Your adult kid still needs you, and they need you to be fully present for them. How else will they learn to be fully present for others if not from you?
You can’t fix the past or the future. The present is all you’ve got.
If you know you need to talk to your grown-up child about a sensitive topic, schedule a time to discuss it privately.